May 3, 1987
Redeemed by An Everlasting Love
(I Peter 1:17-23)
If you are aware of the mood of the country now, you know that we are in a time of personal insecurity, self doubt and disappointment. Psychology Today recently reproduced a survey that was originally done in the early 70s and it revealed that we think less of ourselves than we did a decade ago.
It is a plague the human race must deal with in every generation. We are a part of a sinful world and we as Christians must meet the challenge of the degenerating view of life that many folks hold. We must respond to the fact of sin.
I. We can respond to sin with condemnation
We have in us the desire for things to be right, fair, done in decency and order. But that is not the case in much of life. Whether we are the instigators or the victims of sin, the effects permeate our lives. The crucial question is how we are going to deal with the fact of sin.
Many of us become very sad when we run up against the tragedies of life. We give into feelings of hopelessness and despair. Often these emotions are followed by feelings of frustration and anger. These God-given feelings are the result of our desire that things be right and fair. The guidance of these feelings into constructive courses of action is the difference in a Christian and non-Christian response. We can just become angry and lose control.
A church basketball league was being held in our church. The job of referee wasn’t filled that night and they asked me to blow the whistle. “No problem,” I thought. “I did this in college. This ought to be a piece of cake.”
Well, it wasn’t. The teams played sloppy ball. One team got behind and started pushing. One fellow was sandwiched so hard by two fellows I thought he wouldn’t be able to get up. I didn’t even blow the whistle, I just yelled in anger. They were playing so far below their potential, I was really upset.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until more pushing happened in the open court. I lost all control and threw both fellows out of the ball game. I realized I was through for the night and as soon as possible I bowed out. I wanted them to do it right and they refused. I let my anger get away from me.
Jesus experienced more trouble with the religious leaders of His day than anyone else. These men wanted people to live correctly, according to the law. When they were disappointed in someone not behaving according to their standards, they became critical and even destructive.
We can become investigators for God, finding out who has done wrong and judging them appropriately. The difficulty in this approach is that we find everyone guilty. We then start judging according to our own standards, often set by our culture, our race, our self-defined measures of success. We lose the ability to respect all persons equally. Jesus defined for us the way to respond to sinful persons.
II. We can respond to sin in love.
Jesus gave persons of little worth in the eyes of the world great value. The gospel of John points out several events in the life of Jesus that serves as examples. In chapter 4 He met and redeemed a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He also healed a child through the faith of that child’s father. In chapter 5 He made well a man so impotent and friendless that he had lain in one spot for 38 years without help.
In chapter 6 He took a child’s lunch and made him an example of giving while He fed the multitude. In chapter 8 He was interrupted in His teaching by the Pharisees as they brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. They wanted Him to punish her, but instead they received a lesson concerning their own sin. In chapter 9 He healed a handicapped man blind from birth.
In every instance, Jesus demonstrated a loving response to persons not considered valuable or worthwhile to their culture. He taught us how to love.
There was an occasion when I discovered how that kind of love can last. I was 14, big enough to ride my bicycle anywhere I wanted, yet young enough to do some foolish things. I heard there was a party that Monday night. I was supposed to be at Scouts.
I rode my bike to Scouts, checked in and slipped out the back door. I went to the party and got home at the time I normally arrived from Scouts. But what I hadn’t noticed in all this was the assistant scout master (who also had a 14-year-old) followed me to see if I arrived safely. He then called my parents.
When I arrived I knew I was in trouble. Dad took me into the bathroom and pulled off his belt. I stood eye to eye with him in size, and the pain of the belt wasn’t that tough to take. The pain came when I looked in his eyes and saw the disappointment.
When he was finished he took me in his arms and told me how much he loved me and how disappointed he was in how I had acted. I will never forget that moment. He never spanked me again. It wasn’t the last time I did something wrong, but the pain of falling short of what he expected stayed with me.
The truth of the gospel is that we have been redeemed by a love that will never perish. It will stay with us forever. (SNW)
May 10, 1987
What is the Church?
(Acts 2:41-47)
A number of books have been published in the last two decades announcing the impending death of the church. The church is irrelevant, an antique that is out of place in our modern society.
Sadly, there are some churches that fit the description, and many of them are, indeed, dying or already dead. Why? They are dying because they have abandoned the biblical concept of what the church is all about.
If we want our churches to be dynamic and relevant to the needs of our world, we have a model: the earliest days of the Christian church following Pentecost. They turned their world upside down, and if we want to make an impact on our world we must follow their example.
I. They Were A Redeemed Community
Those early Christians had an experience with God and it resulted in changed lives. What happened to them?
A. They received the Word (v. 41). They received Christ into their lives and made His life the center of their lives.
A present is not yours until you receive it. You can leave a gift unopened for days, weeks, even years, and it does you no good. Only when you receive it, open it, take it to yourself does it truly become yours. The same is true of a relationship to Christ — you must make the decision to allow Christ to become real in your life.
B. They were growing (v. 42). The Christian life involves maturing. Just as a little baby must grow physically, so a Christian is called on to grow spiritually. How do we grow: study, fellowship, and prayer.
II. They Were A Rejoicing Community (v. 46)
A. They rejoiced at worship. There is something special that takes place when Christians unite their hearts and spirits in worshipping God. The Spirit of God moves in our midst, and the result is a joyous power.
B. They rejoiced in their homes. Groups of Christians gathered in homes to praise God and to encourage one another. Do we share in that kind of positive experience when we gather with fellow Christians?
C. They rejoiced in their praise(v. 47). We miss so many blessings because we fail to express our praise to God. Praise is like a window that allows light into a house; it doesn’t benefit the light but it does wonderful things for the house. So it is that praise opens our hearts to let God’s love and power shine in.
III. They Were A Reproducing Community (v. 47b)
Too many churches are like pools of water which are cut off from other water. Nothing flows in or out, and the result is stagnation and death. The New Testament church was nothing like that, for they saw as their ultimate purpose reaching their world for Christ.
A reproducing church doesn’t leave the task of sharing the good news of Christ to the missionaries and the pastors. The job is too great, the joy too precious, the judgment too sure to fail in our responsibility to share Christ’s love with those around us.
God help us to be that kind of church, that we may also see our world turned upside down for Jesus’ sake. (JMD)
May 17, 1987
The Conquering Christ
(John 14:1-14)
It was the winter of 1777 and Washington’s troops were at Valley Forge. They were hungry and ill clothed, and a sense of defeat hung in the air. The future seemed dismal, yet from this rag-tag army came victory and independence for the United States. Certain defeat became certain victory.
Jesus and His disciples faced a similar situation. One would deny Him, another betray Him. Their cause would seem hopeless, headed for certain defeat. Yet Jesus told them to hold fast, to trust in God, because out of seeming defeat would come certain victory. He assured them — and us — that He is the conquering Christ.
I. He Is Conquering In His Person
A. Because He is trustworthy. Christ does not hide from His disciples the fact that the road won’t be easy. They face persecution and a cross. Likewise, He tells us not to expect an easy road if we will truly follow Him.
B. Because of His task (v. 6). He became the “way,” the road we must travel. If you’ve ever tried to follow some people’s directions, you know how much easier it is to have someone take you to your destination. Christ takes us with Him.
He became our “truth.” Unlike other teachers, Christ Himself embodies truth: all we need to know and do is found in Him.
He became our “life.” Christ is the source and guiding principle of life. He alone makes life worth living.
Christ combined all of these things to lead us to God. As the songwriter said, “Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living.”
C. Because of His triumph. Before Jesus, the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame, humiliation, defeat. Jesus took that awful symbol and made it a tool of God’s glory. His triumph came through obedience and sacrifice on our behalf.
Perhaps we experience so little real glory because we look in all the wrong places. We look for triumph and glory in status, power, position. Jesus found His triumph in serving a lost and hurting world.
II. He Is Conquering In His Provision
A. He provides a vision of the Father (v. 9). Throughout history, men have held various understandings of what God is like. The Greeks, through their elaborate mythology, saw the gods as brutal, capricious, much like humans in their emotions. Many primitive tribes have seen their environment as full of gods and spirits — in trees, animals, and so on. Even many people who have accepted the notion of one God have had little understanding of what that God was like — He was draped in mystery and fear.
In Jesus Christ, however, we have the ultimate revelation of God. As Christians, we understand that we serve a God of love and mercy, because we have seen that God reveal Himself in Jesus.
B. He provides strength for daily living (v. 12). Because Christ has triumphed and is with the Father, we have strength to live each day in the power that only God can give. We have that power because He lives in and through us (vv. 19-20).
The same power that overcame death and darkness is the power that is available to you and me each day as children of God. (JMD)
May 24, 1987
Marks of Discipleship
(John 14:15-21; focus, v. 14)
Have you heard about the robber who was holding up the train and came to one man with an empty wallet. “Why don’t you have any money?” he asked, to which the man answered, “I’m a Baptist preacher.”
At that the robber thrust out his arm to shake hands with the preacher, saying, “Well what’ya know about that. I’m a Baptist, too!”
Too often there’s an inconsistency between what people profess and what they do. The world scoffs at the church because our actions so often fail to match our words.
Jesus spoke about the lifestyle He expected of His followers. In this text Jesus indicates two things are expected to mark the life of a disciple.
I. Discipleship Is Marked By Obedience
In an age when there seems to be so little respect for law or rules, obedience is becoming a less common trait among both children and adults. Yet Jesus said that obedience is a necessary mark of discipleship. A disciple seeks to know and do God’s will, no matter what.
Obedience may be OK if it doesn’t cost me any time, money, popularity, influence — as long as I don’t have to give too much or give up too much.
But obedience to Christ means rejecting the world’s values and adopting God’s values. It means to bring my lifestyle into accordance with the standards God set in His Word.
During World War I, a group of Turkish soldiers rounded up a flock of sheep to take back to the troops. The shepherd looked on quietly, knowing that if he objected he would be killed. After the soldiers had driven the flock some distance, the shepherd put his hand to his mouth and gave his peculiar call to his sheep. The flock immediately turned and ran to the shepherd while ten startled soldiers looked on. Just one voice had authority for those sheep. It was the voice that had led them through dangerous country, had led them to food and drink and safety. And at the sound of that voice, they obeyed.
In the midst of a world of varied and conflicting claims, the voice of Jesus is clear and distinct, and His followers hear and obey.
II. Discipleship Is Marked By Christ’s Presence
The result of obedience to Christ is to experience the love and presence of Christ in our lives. What does that presence mean?
A. Christ’s presence gives purpose to life. No matter what difficult turns life takes, Christ’s presence is a reassurance that life has meaning, that God is in control.
While in a time of crisis, British Christian and educator George Turell wrote: “Again and again I have been tempted to give up the struggle, but always the figure of that strange man hanging on the cross sends me back to my tasks again.”
B. Christ’s presence gives power for life. People use all sorts of artificial means — alcohol, drugs and more — to “get through the day.” Yet the presence of Christ is the only real source of ultimate power for daily living. Christ’s presence brings power that can breathe new life into us.
A British officer was leading his company of weary soldiers back to the front lines during the Second World War. It was raining, the road was muddy, the countryside was scarred by war, and each man knew he was returning to possible death. No voice was heard as they marched. Passing alongside a bombed-out church, the officer saw still standing in the ruins a statue of Christ on the cross. Immediately he gave the command, “Eyes right! March!” As those discouraged soldiers captured a vision of Christ, heads were lifted and bodies straightened as they gained new hope, marched with new confidence. The presence of Christ brings new strength and power to our lives.
Our challenge is to live lives of obedience, seeking to know and do God’s will. When we do, we know Christ’s presence in a new and dynamic way, experiencing purpose and power in our lives. (JMD)
May 31, 1987
The Church and Its Mission
(Ads 1:6-14; focus, v. 8)
The lighthouse stood on the rugged coastline for years, and many were the stories of the ships that had been saved along the dangerous coastline by the lighthouse. The volunteers who manned the outpost had performed many heroic rescues through the years.
One day a group of those volunteers decided to expand and beautify the lighthouse and station. Many designs were proposed for this worthy cause, and many in the community contributed financially. As time went on the renovation and building became so time-consuming that the volunteers could no longer afford the time to participate in the rescue missions, so they hired some employees to do that while they dedicated themselves to their important project.
How could they have lost sight of their great cause and been caught up in the outward trappings while negotiating the central purpose of the lighthouse? Could it be that this is a parable of the church? In its earliest days the church was a rescue operation, reaching out to offer love and grace to a lost world. But how many churches now spend most of their time on buildings and programs, maintaining the status quo at the expense of their original purpose? The church was created for mission. Our mission is to proclaim the message of Christ.
I. We Have A Purpose For Mission
We are to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to continue His work of revealing God and redeeming lost humanity.
What is a witness? A witness is someone who can testify that something is true based on personal experience. The court doesn’t want hearsay evidence; it wants to know what you have seen and heard personally. You can only be a witness for Christ if you have personally experienced His love and grace; once He has touched your life, you share in that mission.
II. We Have A Plan For Mission
Jesus gave His disciples a plan for accomplishing their mission — a plan that is still workable today. He told them to start at Jerusalem, where they were at then, and work their way out until they had proclaimed the gospel to the farthest parts of the world.
Have you ever thrown a stone in a pond and watched the ripples flow outward from the center point where the stone hit the water? That is our plan.
A. We must share Christ where we are now. There are people in this community who do not know God’s love. Our responsibility and our privilege is to share that love with them. Why not wait until they come to church to hear? Most people without Christ will never come to the church; we must reach out where they are, just as Jesus did. He did not hide in the Temple and wait for people to seek Him out; He went to the marketplace, to the streets, to the homes, to find people and share God’s love with them.
B. We must reach out beyond our area. Not only can we share God’s love in Christ where we are, but we can have a part in spreading the good news around the world. As we join with other churches in supporting missionaries in our own country and abroad, we help fulfill the Great Commission.
III. We Have A Power For Mission
In November 1965, the northeastern United States experienced a massive power blackout. The lamps and streetlights and other appliances were still there; the only thing missing was power.
As a church we can find ourselves in the same predicament. We can have organization, methods, programs and plans, but none of them have value without power. Power for mission comes from the Holy Spirit. He provides the power to reach out in Christ’s name. The Spirit works in the life of the person with whom we share at the same time He works within us. As we share Christ’s love with another person, we are never alone.
In one of our major cities a few years ago a magnificent new post office was built. Several million dollars went into the construction, which featured modern design and the latest equipment. It was on the dedication day that someone made an embarrassing discovery: there was no slot to deposit the envelopes. In the concern for all the beautiful extras, the designers forgot the purpose of the building: to deliver mail. Let us not be so concerned with good things that we forget the most important thing — sharing Christ. (JMD)
June 7, 1987
Empowered and Gifted for Ministry
(Acts 2:1-21; I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23
I once heard Dr. Harrell Beck of Boston University say that we Christians frequently are guilty of asking the wrong questions in life. For instance, many Christians never get beyond the question, “Am I saved?” They run around checking their spiritual pulses at every opportunity, never having enough faith and trust to believe that God took care of the salvation issue, once and for all, at Calvary.
Rather than always asking, “Am I saved?” Dr. Beck says that we should ask, “Could God possibly use me to help somebody else be saved?”
That question raises the whole issue of ministry. Once we enter into God’s gracious offer of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we enter into ministry. Our ministry becomes helping others to have the same type of experience in their lives. We carry out that ministry under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I. Why does the Spirit come?
In I Corinthians 12:7, Paul tells us why we receive the Spirit. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Jesus sends us the Spirit for the sake of the community. The Spirit works in and through us to help others, and that’s what ministry is all about.
Paul goes on to delineate the kinds of gifts (vv. 8-11) that the Spirit gives to us. Such gifts differ from talents in that they are not inherited or learned, but are literal gifts.
Those gifts — “the utterance of wisdom,” “the utterance of knowledge,” “faith,” “healing,” “the working of miracles,” “prophecy,” “the ability to distinguish among spirits,” “various kinds of tongues,” and “the interpretation of tongues” — do not exist for one’s own benefit, to exalt oneself above others. Rather, the Spirit gives these gifts that everyone may be blessed.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus met with His disciples on the evening of the resurrection. During that time together, Jesus gave them their “marching orders” for ministry, as He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” After speaking these words, Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus gave the Spirit to empower His followers for ministry. Those followers, He said, go out as God’s representatives, just as He was God’s representative. They enter into ministry to others, under and with the Spirit’s power. That ministry involves helping others experience the forgiveness of sins.
Even the story of the Pentecost event itself emphasizes the role of the Spirit in empowerment for ministry. Once the Spirit rushed in upon Jesus’ followers, they began their ministry in His name. Immediately, Peter began to preach to a crowd that had assembled to see what was going on. He told them about Jesus and why He had come. By the time he concluded, some 3,000 were ready to become disciples of Jesus. Peter urged them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins that they too might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
By living under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and receiving the gifts that the Spirit gave, those early disciples participated in one of the most thrilling eras of church history. Their ministry made a difference that the world still feels today.
II. When the Spirit comes to us
The experiences of the early Church brings us back to Harrell Beck’s question: “Could God possibly use me to help somebody else be saved?” And, of course, the answer is “Yes.” The Holy Spirit has empowered and gifted us for that ministry.
As a teenager, I remember hearing a story about a man in Georgia who learned that he was terminally ill. The doctor told him that he had about a year of fairly good health left before he would become bedridden. The man left the doctor’s office shaken to the core of his being. He sat in his car in the parking lot taking inventory of his life. As he did, he thought to himself, “I have been a Christian all my life. I know that. Yet, does anyone else? Oh, I go to church, but I’ve never told anyone else about the joy I have known as a follower of Jesus. I have a year to go before I won’t be able to do so any longer.” At that, he bowed his head and asked God to help him lead others to Christ.
The year passed. During that time the man helped seventeen others become Christians. Then, as the doctor had predicted, the illness began to take its toll. He had to be confined to his bed. One day, his pastor came for a visit. As they talked, the pastor commended him for his faithfulness in the ministry of evangelism during the last year.
The man began to cry, much to the surprise of the pastor. The pastor waited a moment, then asked why he was crying. After all, he should be full of joy over those seventeen new Christians. The man answered, “Oh I am. I am. But I have been a Christian for well over fifty years, yet I never let the Holy Spirit use me effectively until the last twelve months. Just think what the Spirit could have done during all those other years!”
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower and gift you for ministry. Just think what the Spirit can do in your life. (RMR)
June 14, 1987
We’re In Charge
(Genesis 1:1-2:3; II Corinthians 13:5-14: Matthew 28:16-20)
Have you ever noticed when something goes wrong, you can never find out who’s in charge.
Whenever there is a colossal foul-up in government, just watch the “buck passing.” No one wants to take responsibility. A spokesman will appear and say, “This department did not have jurisdiction over that particular operation at that point in time.”
The same thing happens in the lives of individuals. All sorts of excuses fly when we make a mistake: “I didn’t really have proper training to do that … Nobody told me what to do … I was just following orders … I wasn’t feeling well that day … You know the stress I’ve been under.”
Or, as Flip Wilson’s character “Geraldine” used to say, “The devil made me do it.” Such excuses may be valid at times — especially when I make them — but most of the time they are just excuses.
I’m reminded of a sermon that Bob Miller allegedly preached at the Covington United Methodist Church one Sunday several years ago. He titled it something like “Who Killed the Church?” He even went so far as to get the local funeral home to bring a casket to the church for the service. He had it placed right down under the pulpit.
In the course of the sermon Bob painted a sorry picture of the person who killed the church and who now lay before them in the casket. Oh that person had offered all sorts of excuses for inactivity, not giving, not serving, not being supportive, and so on. After all, they paid a preacher and the preacher should do the work.
At the conclusion of the sermon, Bob stepped down from the pulpit to stand at the head of the casket. Then, he directed the ushers to have the members of the congregation to pass by for a final look at the one who had killed the church with excuses.
As you have probably guessed by now, Bob had placed a mirror in the casket, much to the shock of many, especially those who had excused themselves from taking charge in the life of the church.
As Pogo said once, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
We’re in charge, like it or not; and we’re in charge because God put us in charge.
Let’s start with the earth.
In Genesis I we hear the familiar creation story. God moved through six days or stages of creation, culminating with the creation of human life (vv. 27-28).
After God had completed the creation process, He looked out over it all and declared that it was good. Then, in effect, God stepped aside to leave us in charge of His creation.
I can’t help but wonder what God thinks as He looks out over His creation today. Would he still be pleased with what He sees? How would He rate our performance as keepers of the earth, as those in charge?
Oh, don’t wring your hands, saying, “There’s nothing I can do about all the problems.” You are in charge here, and so am I. Nothing can happen without our compliance; that scares me, because I am just as responsible for this world and its destiny as President Reagan or Premier Gorbachev. And so are you, because God put us in charge.
Our Lord Jesus Christ also put us in charge of His church before He left earth. In Matthews’ gospel, we see Jesus meeting with the disciples one last time, and there He authorizes them and us, to carry on His ministry (Matthew 28:18-20).
Our Lord has given us authority, has put us in charge of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching people to obey His commands-and there are no valid excuses for failing to do so.
Several years ago I participated in the funeral of 70-year-old Jean Bass. Jean spent the last 33 years of her life as a victim of Multiple Sclerosis. She literally couldn’t scratch her nose if it itched. She couldn’t feed herself. She was totally helpless in almost every regard.
Yet Jean Bass continued to share Christ’s love right up to the very end of her life. Everyone who visited her came away with a sense of God’s presence as she shared her faith in her Lord.
If anyone had valid excuses for side-stepping the Great Commission, I would have said that she did. Yet Jean kept alive the faith within her and shared it with others all the way to the end. She knew that she was in charge of doing so, so she simply obeyed her Lord’s command.
Finally, the Apostle Paul hints that we are responsible for our own lives and our own faith (JJ Corinthians 13:5).
Oh, nobody wants to examine themselves, Paul, except masochists. Why, we might see something there we don’t like. Worse yet, we might realize that the excuses we use to get ourselves “off the hook” in life really are not valid at all.
Paul wrote this part of II Corinthians to a congregation with whom he had had problems — and that is putting it mildly. People were offering all sorts of excuses for their non-Christ-like behavior, hatred of Paul, and of one another.
I hear Paul saying, “Enough is enough. Look at yourselves. You are in charge of your lives. You are in charge of the faith that Christ has given you. You can’t blame me or anyone else. You are in charge and responsible for living and acting right. I say this by the authority that Christ has given me — authority for building up, not tearing down.”
I know that it is difficult to do what Paul says, no one wants to go through the painful process of self-examination. Let’s face it, we all have a dark, mean, ugly side that we would like to avoid as much as possible. And we would all like to continue in the illusion that our excuses for our problems in life and for our weak faith are valid.
But it is time to quit deluding ourselves. All of us have problems in our lives; we all have hurts, pains, greed, nastiness, meanness — in short, sin. And sin continues to raise its ugly head in our personal lives and in our relationships with one another.
Now is the time to take charge of our lives; to say, “I can excuse myself no longer. I am responsible for this world, this church, my life. Cod has put me in charge, so I must take the authority that God has given and live as God wants me to live.”
Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? And it is unless I add one more thing: You can take charge because Christ is with you. As He said, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
That assurance is all we need. We’re in charge. (RMR)
June 21, 1987
What a Contrast!
(Romans 5:12-21)
On a summer day like today, can you remember what it was like just four months ago? The trees are leafless and surrounded partially by snow and brown grass … temperatures hover in the low teens and the sun refuses to shine … the squirrel outside depends on the corn I supply him and has difficulty finding a hiding place in the naked oak tree. Little says that nature lives!
Yet in a relatively short time the snow will melt, the grass will turn a luscious green, leaves will reappear on the trees, ducks and geese will return from their Florida vacation (along with the people we call “snowbirds,” who go south for the winter), the butterflies will flutter, the mosquitos will bite. All will live again. What a contrast!
Paul offers us a contrast as well. Dr. William Greathouse wrote that the apostle reaches “a veritable Everest of biblical revelation,” from which we have a panoramic view of redemption. Paul oscillates like a fan contrasting Adam’s sinful humanity and Christ’s life-giving victory over it.
On the stage of life bows Adam. Let’s identify his supporting cast on stage. The first cast member to appear is sin.
Adam sinned. He missed the mark. He did so not because of poor marksmanship, but because he chose the wrong target: Adam instead of God. John Wesley wrote: “Man was created looking directly to God, as his last end; but falling into sin, he fell off from God, and turned into himself.”
Because of this fall sin entered into the world. Great house indicates that Hamartia with the definite article occurs at least 28 times and always means sin, “the sin principle” or “the principle of revolt issuing in many transgressions.”
This brings us to the second character: disobedience. It was Adam’s disobedience that opened our human existence to indwelling sin, which is an irrational, tyrannical force of evil — a slumbering power which appears when God’s command comes calling. Adam’s disobedience was a calculated denial of God’s authority and a clear statement of his intention to go his own way.
The third character on stage is judgment. Because of Adam’s sin and our own we face God’s judgment. I like two-dollar bills, but store clerks and my wife hate them. When I go to my bank the tellers automatically ask “how many two’s do you want today, Rev. Keefer?” It’s interesting to see if the circulation of those two’s come back to me. I put a small mark on the ones I get and now those tellers tell me they look for “my mark” everytime a two comes into the bank.
In a sense we are daily putting “our mark” on the deeds we do that will identify them as ours at the close of life. They become our judge!
Sin will not only be judged; it will be punished. H. G. Adams wrote: “Hell is truth seen too late.” Bailey said: “Hell is the wrath of God-His hate of sin.”
What a bleak outlook. Yet now, what a contrast! Christ comes to bring summer, and life. A new stage produces new characters.
Christ brings life through obedience.
A great captain, after a battle, was talking over the events of the day with his officers and he inquired as to who had done the best that day. Some spoke of one man who fought bravely, and some of another. “No,” he said, “you are all mistaken. The best man in the field today was a soldier who was just lifting up his arm to strike the enemy, but when he heard the trumpet sound a retreat checked himself and dropped his arm without striking the blow. That perfect and ready obedience to the will of the general is the noblest thing that has been done today.”
Christ requires obedience. It is not optional; it is life supporting.
Christ brings life through mercy.
The Old Testament concept of “mercy” denotes a coupling of two other principles: “righteousness” and “love.” Some biblical scholars thus translate mercy as “steadfast love.” This vital concept implies a covenant relationship between God and humanity. God stand ready to pardon and forgive. As one Bible dictionary puts it: “mercy is compassion in action.”
With that thought, we as Christians need to take God’s example of compassion in action and apply it to our fellow man.
Christ brings life through forgiveness.
A busy judge was about to rebuff a poorly-clothed and trembling soldier who had entered his office, when he caught the handwriting of his own son in a letter that the soldier extended to him. It read:
“Dear father. The bearer of this is a soldier-friend, discharged from the hospital, going home to die. Assist him in anyway you can for Charlie’s sake.”
All the tender feelings of the father’s heart burst out. He took the young man home. He let him sleep in Charlie’s bed and clothed and supplied him with every comfort, for the sake of his own dear boy.
Will not God, the loving heavenly Father, do for His dear Son when He presents His pierced hands, and pierced feet, and pierced side, and precious blood, and says, “Father, they confess their sins; for My sake, forgive them.”
What a contrast: spiritual death versus spiritual life. The most amazing thing is that God gives us a choice! (DGK)
June 28, 1987
A New You
(Romans 6:3-11)
Augustine wasn’t always a saint! Prior to his conversion he lived a very wild, sensuous lifestyle. He had a mistress named Claudia. Shortly after he found Christ, Claudia saw him on the street in the city. “Augustine! Augustine!” she cried after her old paramour. “Augustine! Augustine!” she cried out again, “it is Claudia!” “But it is no longer Augustine,” he replied, as he continued down the street.
For those who have experienced Christ we can say: “it’s a new you!”
I. The New You Died to Sin
Paul sails into deep theological waters in Romans 6. He draws word pictures attempting to symbolize for us what happens when we become new. He states boldly that the Christian becomes a part of Christ and so figuratively “dies” with Christ as He died on the cross. With that death we are no longer under sin’s complete dominion! As Fritz Ridenour aptly puts it, “we really believe that sin’s fangs have been pulled.”
If we serve sin, it means frustration, disillusionment, a hardening toward the gospel. That’s not the lifestyle that Christians desire. It is important that we know ourselves as we are by nature.
Many today are familiar with Freud’s analysis of the psyche which distinguishes the instinctual drive (id), reason (ego), and conscience (superego). Similarly, transactional analysis deals with the “parent,” the “child,” and the “adult,” who make up each self. But it is equally essential that we understand ourselves by grace.
When Christ came He brought to light the truth that sin could be conquered. Conflict arose because I desired to live like Him, but sin still sought a place in my life. In the symbol of baptism I died to that. I desired to put it away by faith in Christ.
II. The New You Is Relational (v. 4, 6, 11)
Christ has taken over. I am now alive unto God! We have been grafted into Christ. Greathouse wrote: “Everything Christ procured for us by His atonement is now ours in Him.”
Christ’s death for me made possible my justification; Christ living in me is my sanctification. It all starts at the new birth.
Ridenour calls it “positioned sanctification,” when every believer is now positioned in Christ. My own theological upbringing defines it as “initial sanctification.” Whatever we choose to call it, a holy lifestyle begins because Christ-the holy Christ — now lives in me.
This holiness of life can only be entire as we permit the risen Christ to possess us completely.
Bishop H. C. G. Morle said: “Christ for us on the cross, as our peace with God … Christ in us for our emancipation from the tyranny of self, for the conquest of temptation, for the power to ‘walk and to please God …’ Christ over us, the Master, by every claim of Lordship, sovereignty and possession.”
It is actually allowing Christ through His Holy Spirit to help me experience triumph over sin in daily life. Ridenour puts it as the “experiential sanctification,” while Wesleyans call it “entire sanctification.” But it cannot take place if we are not in a relational position with Christ-if He does not dwell in us.
III. A New You Is a Person of Choice (v. 7)
I must allow Christ to make the difference in my life. He isn’t going to be like the old western hero who “breaks down the door” in order to save us. He doesn’t make us mechanical robots or programmed computers. We are living, breathing people who have daily choices to make.
The power of sin can be broken, but temptations to sin still come. Paul is simply saying, “Sin is not your only alternative.” Another route has opened: obedience to Jesus. As we make those decisions we will actually be turning toward sin or Christ. There is no “no man’s land.”
Robert Schuller, in his book It’s Possible, told about a man who was selling balloons on a street corner of New York City. He knew how to attract the crowds before he offered his balloons for sale.
First he took a white balloon, filled it up and let it float upward. He did the same to a red one and then a yellow one. As the balloons floated overhead all the kids of the neighborhood pulled their parents over to his cart to buy balloons.
A hesitant little black boy looked up at the balloons and finally asked, “If you fill a black balloon, would it go up too?” The man looked down and said, “Why sure it would son, it’s not the color of the balloon, it’s what’s inside that makes it go up!”
Schuller wrote, “What’s inside of you decides whether you succeed or fail …” Paul says, it’s Who is inside you that makes the difference in whether you succeed or fail!” sin. Let God create “a new you!” (DMK)
Outlines are provided by R. Michael Reed, Pastor of Center United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, IN; Derl G. Keefer, Pastor of Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI; Sam Wilson, Associate Editor of Preaching; and Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching.

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May 4
“Promises of the Savior”
(John 14:23-29)
A promise is a special, sacred thing. When we receive a promise from a friend or a loved one, we hold it as something we can trust. Likewise, few of us hand out promises lightly. If I promise something to you, I will do my very best to make good on that promise.
If we consider promises something to be kept, how much more will our Lord keep His promises? In our text we have two precious promises of Christ to His people.
I. Christ Promises His Spirit
There have been times I didn’t want to do something or go somewhere, and as I made my apologies I said, “I’ll be with you in spirit!” If I’d been fully honest I’d have added, “Because I sure don’t want to be there in body!”
Yet when Jesus promised His Spirit, it was no empty promise. The presence of the Spirit in our lives brings a dynamic power to our lives in Christ. One way is through providing guidance and understanding, as Jesus told the disciples in verse 26.
The disciples would come to see how significant that promise was on the day of Pentecost and beyond, as they were able to move out on a bold mission for Christ as the Spirit gave them wisdom and understanding.
Many of us can recall a time when we were in a difficult situation or needed understanding beyond our own. It was at that point that God’s Spirit gave us that insight or guidance that was just what we needed. The promise of the Spirit is one of the most wonderful parts of life in Christ.
II. Christ Promises His Peace
In the New Testament era, the Roman Empire promised peace to the world: Pax Romana, “the peace of Rome.” Yet even that was an uneasy truce, enforced by military might while it lasted, and eventually Pax Romana became a distant memory. Even in our own age peace between the superpowers seems to be held together by the threat of mutual destruction.
The peace Christ offers, however, isn’t held together by fear or force, but by love. Christ offers a peace that can relieve troubled hearts and heal wounded souls. As He comes into our lives with new direction, new strength, new meaning for life, our Lord gives peace of mind, peace of soul. (JMD)
May 11
“A Prayer for God’s People”
(John 17:20-26)
John Killinger tells of a man who served as a gunner in the nose bubble of a B-17 bomber during the Second World War. As the pilot was landing the big plane on a narrow jungle landing strip, the gunner saw that there was a ditch across the runway. “I knew it was curtains,” he recalls. He tried to warn the pilot, but couldn’t speak fast enough. When he finally got the intercom switched on, he knew the pilot had seen the obstacle, because he was saying, “God, don’t let me panic. Don’t let me panic.” Somehow that pilot was able to bounce the plane on the ground and back into the air, leaping over the ditch.
Though we may not have had any experience quite so dramatic, most of us can relate to such prayers when things are looking grim, when life seems to be tightening its grip on us. In fact, some folks don’t pray at all except in such difficult times.
Jesus had spent His life developing a prayer relationship with the Father, so in His final hours it was natural that He turn his attentions heavenward. Yet even then Christ was interceding for us. What was it that Jesus sought for His followers — both the twelve disciples, and also for us? He prayed for unity.
I. Christ desires unity among Christians
Even as he stood in the shadow of the cross, Jesus prayed that the Father would bring a supernatural unity to His people.
Nothing harms the cause of Christ in our world more than the bitter, unloving spirit that marks the lives of too many within the church. Though we are not all alike – as people or as churches — yet there should be a unifying love that links us across the barriers to make us one in Christ.
In a world which knows such hatred and division, what would it mean for people to see Christians love one another? As William Barclay said, “Christian unity should be a supernatural fact requiring a supernatural explanation.”
II. Christ desires our unity with God
Perhaps the reason there is so little unity among Christians is that we Christians have so little unity with the Father. Just as Jesus prayed that we might have a love and unity among fellow Christians, so He prayed that we would enter into a bond of love with the Father.
How do we have that kind of relationship with God? The example Jesus set is a model for us; He developed His relationship with the Father through (1) Obedience; (2) Time in Prayer; (3) Service.
What is the evidence of this unity with God? In verse 26, Jesus identifies it as love. When we are one with the Father, we will share in His love and reflect it to others. (JMD)
May 18
“When the Spirit Comes”
(Acts 2:1-21)
In Jesus’ day there were three great Jewish festivals which drew throngs of people to Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth” — the day falls 50 days after the Passover celebration. Pentecost was a celebration of the giving of the law to Moses at Mount Sinai.
For Christians, Pentecost has come to have an entirely different significance, for it was on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came in a special way to fill the followers of Jesus. Although that first infilling of the Spirit was a unique event, even today we can share in that Pentecost experience as we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our lives.
What happens when the Spirit comes into our lives?
I. There is power
I could have a powerful lamp sitting in my house and still be without light. How? I have to have some kind of power source, either through an electric socket or a battery. Until power reaches the lamp, it doesn’t accomplish anything for me.
So as Christians, we need the power that the Holy Spirit brings to our lives. As those early disciples heard the sound like the “rush of a mighty wind” and saw the “tongues of fire,” they experienced a special power from beyond themselves.
As long as we accomplish only what we can do in our own power, we will continue to see a lost world rush headlong to its own destruction. We need the power that’s provided when the Spirit comes. When we have that power, well notice something else happen…
II. There is proclamation
In Acts 1:8 Jesus told His followers that when the Holy Spirit came upon them they would become witnesses to His truth. Giving expression to the gospel is not an option of the Christian life; its absence is an indication that the Spirit is not in full control. Wherever the Spirit of God comes, the gospel will be proclaimed.
Part of this proclamation was a miraculous occurrence; the disciples began to utter languages unknown to themselves, but understood by individuals gathered there from around the world. It is good to remember that our task is to share Christ as we are given the opportunity; the rest is up to God. If he can arrange for people to hear the gospel in dozens of languages at one time, He can overcome any barriers we may think are too great.
And when we proclaim God’s good news in the power of the Holy Spirit, something will inevitably happen…
III. There is response
Verse 41 tells us that some 3,000 new believers came into the church that day. In a matter of moments, the size of the young Christian movement was multiplied dramatically.
Whenever the Holy Spirit comes in power and God’s people are faithful to proclaim His Word, people will respond. Are we willing to allow God to use us? (JMD)
May 25
“Faith in Our Trials & Troubles”
(Romans 5:1-5)
The trials and travails of Charlie Brown are at the center of attention in the musical play, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” In one scene, he is sitting in the playground at lunch time, eating his peanut butter sandwich, when he spies that pretty red-headed girl. At the sight of this love-of-his-life, he is suddenly embarrassed, and instinctively takes his emply lunch bag and pulls it over his head. Then he is caught in a dilemma.
“What am I going to do about this lunch bag?” he thinks. But how will he know if she’s looking? He could peek out and see, but what if she is looking — then he’ll be even more embarrassed! What can he do?
Some of us have found ourselves in just such a position — not wanting the world to look at us because we’ve hidden behind and invested our energies in things that don’t last. What we need is a faith that won’t embarrass us — won’t fail us — in times of trials and troubles.
I. The Credentials of Faith Are Found in Trials
Paul uses a word in verse two which describes a man stepping into the throne room of an Oriental monarch. The word is used only twice by Paul. Paul himself did not arrive at his destination before the King easily. We read of his thorn in the flesh … his letters from prison. He was a man accustomed to trials, yet he was ready to step confidently into the throne room of the King.
A plane was arriving at the Naval Air Station, and a large crowd gathered to see the Prisoners of War return home. Friends, families, fellow aviators, all crowded the ramp area to see the returning heroes. They would be welcomed into any living room — from the White House to your house — because of the trials they had endured.
II. The Hope of Faith is Found After Trials
If we experience the devastation of disappointment, lost dreams, imprisonment by circumstances, we discover the only source of hope is found in our faith in God. Our temporary idols born of self-interest lose their power quickly. We discover our only real hope is outside ourselves.
New Testament professor Bruce Corley tells of planning the year ahead with his wife. They planned for him to teach in churches for ten weeks at the beginning of the year. He then committed to stay home for the rest of the year. Tragically, she died in the first of those ten weeks. He wrote:
“I was pushed to the dilemma of having to live with the faith I had. Right then I could not define it, but I had to live with it. I have experienced the fact that we have a great hope that will not embarrass us.”
Faith when tested becomes more real, more whole, better able to hold the hope of glory to which God is calling us. (SNW)
June 1
“Presuming or Depending”
(Galatians 1:1-10; Luke 7:1-10)
If you travel to Great Britain you can visit the Tower of London, that historic structure where the British crown jewels are kept. This splendid collection of valuable jewels and precious metals are available for viewing. After surveying the dazzling array, one would wonder how anyone could presume to wear such impressive decorations.
We’re like that sometimes with our faith. We often wear what is for show, for decoration, and avoid the seamless robe of service worn by our Lord. The one who would follow Jesus will understand the servant’s role as the true model for the Christian life. Yet it is a role that does not come easily.
I. The More We Know of Christ, The Less We Presume for Ourselves
You remember the story in which Jesus’ disciples argued about who would be greatest in the Kingdom. The followers of Jesus were busy claiming special places, at least in their own minds. The road to Calvary was strewn with the egos that were reluctantly let go by the disciples. They were not at all reluctant to presume on the goodness of Jesus, but found it difficult to follow the path of sacrifice.
It is interesting to watch Paul’s gradual change of understanding of himself in relation to Christ. In our Galatians text, Paul begins by introducing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” To claim that title was a reminder to his readers that he occupied the highest place of authority within the early church.
Several years later (some say 7) Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He began that letter, “Paul, the least of the apostles and one not worthy to be called an apostle.” More years passed (perhaps 8 years) and Paul wrote to the churches around Ephesus. This time he said, “Unto me less than the least of the members of the church is grace given.” Near the end of his life, Paul wrote Timothy and said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
The older Paul became — and the more he understood his role as a servant of Christ — the more he identified himself as one with no claims apart from the grace of God. That is where each of us stands.
II. The More We Know of Christ, The More We Depend on His Strength
In the passage in Luke, Jesus recognized the faith of the centurion, based on his acknowledgement of Jesus’ power. He had absolute confidence in the Lord’s ability to meet his need. See how delighted Jesus was with the centurion’s willingness to trust in His power.
Though we claim to believe in God’s power, our refusal to depend on Him often betrays our claims. We continue to try to act in our own power, with our own wisdom. No wonder we are able to accomplish so little for Him.
The power of God is available to each of us. Let’s not presume so much for ourselves that we fail to see our real source of power: the strength provided only in and through Christ. (SNW)
June 8
A Model of Compassion
(Luke 7:11-17)
Jesus expressed his compassion for the widow of Nain both with words and action. The comparison which He expressed is a human emotion, but much more. For Jesus, the words and actions of compassion are a witness to His power as the Son of God. For us acts and words of compassion are also evidence of our being the children of God. For Jesus to say to the widow, “Weep not,” is more than kind words. Those words are a statement of a knowledge of the outcome of His actions.
Jesus touched the bier and spoke to the young corpse. Our Lord delivered the young man to the widow. He spoke to the widow. The actions of Jesus had direct results as well. The young man sat up and began to speak. The widow received her son. The people realized that God was in their midst.
The key verse of this portion of Luke is verse 13, “And he had compassion on her.”
I. Compassion is a Learned Skill
Compassion is not a human emotion which some people have and some people do not. It may appear that some people are uncaring while others are always bringing “orphan puppies” home to care for. Compassion is learned, rather than innate.
II. Compassion is Learned as We Develop an Ability to See the Needs of Others
Some needs are easy to see. A picture of starving children in Africa tells us that persons need food. The tears of a friend tell us that person is sorrowing.
Other needs are more difficult to see. Starving children may also mean the need to restructure the methods of food distribution in an underdeveloped nation. The beggar who asks for a meal may also need counseling for alocholism rehabilitation.
The skill of seeing the immediate and the long term needs of persons can be learned. As this ability develops, we are more compassionate.
III. Compassion is Learned by Finding Ways to Offer Help
Jesus saw the need of the widow and found a way to help her. The gift of a living son assured a future, a home, and food for her. The priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan saw a need, but did not find ways to offer help. The ability to translate the vision of need into avenues of action is a vital part of having compassion.
A church may have a food pantry to serve the needs of the hungry in their community. A church may also organize a letter-writing campaign to help bring pressure on an undeveloped nation to change its methods of food distribution. Both are avenues of expressing compassion.
Jesus is our model for compassion. It is a feeling and an action which he often expressed. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, and gave himself for His people. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, and raised him to life. Our Master had compassion on the crowds which followed Him, and gave them “the bread of life.” Jesus had compassion on the sick and the infirm, and gave them healing.
When we follow the example of Christ, we also express that compassion which is a human emotion and a divine gift of grace. (HCP)
June 15
“When Winning Becomes Losing”
(1 Kings 19:1-8)
There are many examples of athletic teams — or individual athletes — which were on their way to winning a game, when all at once their performance declined and they ended up losing. Some have called that “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
That’s also a perfect description of Elijah as we meet him in this text. He had just experienced an incredible victory over the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel. God had vindicated Elijah and shown the impotence of Baal worship, and the prophets of Baal had been destroyed.
It should have been a moment of supreme faith — yet within hours, Elijah had turned tail and was running for his life. What happened to turn Elijah’s faith into fear? We see two factors that became a destructive duo in his life — and which can also destroy our faith if we allow them to exist in our lives.
I. He Concentrated on His Opposition
Just as Elijah was exulting in victory, word came that Jezebel was on the warpath. At that news, Elijah was filled with fear. He let his attention become focused on the forces that opposed him, instead of the power that protected him. No wonder he went into a quick retreat!
The same thing can happen in our Christian life. If we spend our time looking only at our problems — family struggles, money crunches, difficulties on the job, uncertainty about the future — we’ll face depression and defeat.
II. He Concentrated on Himself
Just as focusing on our opposition can destroy our faith, so looking only at our own abilities can give us a sense of defeat.
We can be defeated by the demon of self-pity. For too many Christians, “poor little me” is a favorite tune.
Millicent Fenwick expressed it well: “Never feel self-pity, the most destructive emotion there is. How awful to be caught up in the terrible squirrel cage of self.”
We can also be defeated by the demon of self-doubt. It is easy to spend our time anxiously focusing on our own inadequacies and feeling helpless.
How do we maintain our faith and win the victory?
III. We Must Concentrate on God
Instead of looking at the problem, we can concentrate on the problem-solver, who will provide for our needs from His own abundance.
It’s not always easy to trust. A man was standing on the edge of a cliff, and in the darkness he lost his footing and tumbled over the side. As he fell, he grasped a branch growing out from the side of the cliff. The man cried out “Is anybody there?” and in a few moments he heard a booming voice say, “This is God. Let go and I’ll protect you.” He thought for a moment, then said, “Is anybody else up there?”
It’s not easy to let go — to quit concentrating on our problems, to quit focusing on ourselves, and focusing our attention on God. Yet it is in just this that we find the way to victory over our problems and ourselves. (JMD)
June 22
“Becoming One in Christ”
(Galatians 3:23-29)
Several years ago there was a popular song that said, “One is the loneliest number.” In the sense in which one means being alone, there is great truth there.
Yet in another sense, one is the most complete, fulfilling number. To become one with a life partner, to become one with a dear friend — one in heart, one in spirit, one in purpose — is a wonderful experience. But best of all is to become one in Christ; to become part of His life and to allow Him to become part of my life is the most wonderful experience possible. One becomes the happiest number.
I. We Become One With Christ Through Faith
In verse 16 we understand that faith is the key to becoming one in Christ. Faith in Christ is not inherited; it is accepted. I cannot live on the faith of my friends, family, pastor.
Faith is belief put into action. I believe in Christ as the Son of God, and I act on that belief by committing my life to Him. To stake your life on what you believe — that is faith.
When Adoniram Judson was translating the New Testament into the language of Burma, he struggled with the word “believe” in John 3:16. When his servant entered the room and dropped into a nearby chair, Judson asked for the word that described the act of falling into the chair. It was that word Judson used to translate “believe” in John 3:16. That is what faith is: falling into Jesus, putting your weight on Him, trusting Him to hold you.
II. When We Become One in Christ, We Adopt His Lifestyle
When verse 27 says we “put on Christ,” it literally means we are “clothed” in Christ. His life surrounds us, covers us. Just as people who look at us see our clothes, so they should see the life of Christ reflected in us.
The key to lifestyle is motivation. Since the supreme motivation of Jesus was love — for God and for people — love will also have to become my motivation if I am to experience His life. That will not come naturally or easily; it will only happen as I submit my will to God’s will, allowing Him to direct and guide my life.
III. When We Become One With Christ, We Become One With Each Other
When we become one in Christ, He eliminates the artificial barriers and distinctions that separate us from one another. Hatred, prejudice, bigotry have no place in the Body of Christ; where they exist, it is evident that Christ does not have full control.
We are one in Christ Jesus. We have become part of God’s new community of faith. Have you experienced this new family in your own life? (JMD)
June 29
“The Challenge of Discipleship”
(Luke 9:51-62)
It was a decisive moment in Jesus’ ministry. He knew that to start toward Jerusalem was to march to His death. The road to Jerusalem was one-way for Jesus.
That was also true for His followers. For those who walked with Jesus, their lives would be altered forever. They experienced first-hand the challenge of discipleship.
As Jesus began His journey, three prospective disciples were faced with the question of becoming one of the Lord’s followers. We, too, face the question of what is involved in following Jesus.
I. We Must Count the Cost
Jesus never tried to trick anyone into the Kingdom of God. There was no manipulation, no high-pressure tactics. He insisted that potential followers count the cost of discipleship; they had to realize that it took more than good intentions to follow Him.
Too often in the church we are guilty of downplaying the demands of the gospel in order to bring people into the church. Yet that is not New Testament evangelism. If we are to disciple people as Jesus did, we must challenge them to count the cost of following Jesus — and to show in our lives that the cost of obedience is more than rewarded by the joy of life in Christ.
II. We Must Commit Completely
At first Jesus’ reply to the second man may seem harsh. Yet it is likely that the man’s father was not even dead. Since the highest obligation of a Jewish son was to care for his father in old age and insure him a proper burial, the man may well have been saying to Jesus: “As soon as my family obligations are fulfilled, I will follow you.”
Such partial commitment is unacceptable for true discipleship. The claims of Christ must take priority over all other commitments, no matter how worthy they may seem.
There is an intense basketball rivalry between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. When he was governor, John Y. Brown solved the dilemma by wearing a jacket that was half red (for Louisville) and half blue (for Kentucky). He would sit on one side of the gym during the first half of the game, and on the other side during the second half. That’s good politics, but too many Christians want to run their spiritual lives that way — one foot in the world, one in the faith. Jesus calls on you to make a total commitment; anything less is not enough.
III. We Must Face the Future
Discipleship means looking ahead, not back. As Jesus illustrates, there is no way for a farmer to plow a straight furrow while looking over his shoulder. He must focus straight ahead — whether that future leads to a cross in Jerusalem or to some other challenge.
If we wish to follow Jesus, we can’t be imprisoned in the past. Are you willing to walk the way of discipleship, moving boldly into the future in faith? (JMD)
Outlines this month are provided by: Harold C. Perdue, Pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Sun Antonio, TX; Sam Wilson, Associate Pastor of Murray Hill Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL, and Associate Editor of Preaching; and Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching.

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