The Crux

What is the Christian message today? What is the essential core of Christian teaching?

What is the crux? Because nothing has happened in the past 2,000 years to change God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the needs of man, today’s message is the same as it was in the beginning.

At Pentecost, the first sermon that was given by the apostles of Jesus remains the authentic message: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power…This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses…Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-24,32,36).

 

Those who gladly responded to this message repented of their sins and were baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). This was the beginning of the church. Throughout the lifetime of the apostles, the essential, saving message was always the same: Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, resurrected, seen by witnesses, ascended, is reigning, and is coming again.

 

We will never outgrow these fundamental truths. The popular “theology light” or “health and wealth gospel” centering on felt needs and consumerism perverts the original message. It’s only in the cross and the resurrection that God forgives our sins and puts us right with Himself (Romans 1:16,17; 4:25). Faithful believers will want to “know Him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May we be able to say with the apostle Paul: “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

Fully Committed

“Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.” (Philemon 21)

 

Have you ever sat at the dinner table with a group of people, and noticed that everyone has finished their meal? Everyone, that is, except for the child who is also sitting with you? He stares at his food and asks, “How many bites do I need to take to be finished?” He wants to know the least amount of bites it will take to be excused from the table. He is interested in the bare minimum and nothing more. This is pretty typical behavior for a young child, but if we were all honest with ourselves, we would admit there are areas of life where we behave the same way. In those areas, all we want to know is what we need to do to get by.

 

Paul makes a fascinating statement in his letter to Philemon. He boasts of his confidence that Philemon will do even more than he asks. He is certain Philemon will go above and beyond what is required of him. Paul knows Philemon, and when it comes to following Jesus, he knows he is not just interested in the bare minimum. Philemon is all in. He is committed. He is fully devoted to serving God and living out his faith.

 

What do people see when they look at you? Do they see a Christian who is only interested in the bare minimum, or do they see a Christian who is entirely committed to following Jesus? This is not about perfection; it is about commitment. It’s fine for a person to stumble while striving to go above and beyond. As Christians, we are to love God with ALL of our heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:36,37). We are to seek FIRST the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Before becoming a Christian, we are told to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33). Christianity is not about bare minimums or doing just enough to scrape by in life. It is about understanding that Jesus died to save us, and therefore, we now fully, wholly, and completely give our lives to Him. Don’t hold back anything!

A Brick

A successful businessman was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. All of a sudden, THUD, a brick smashed into the door of his expensive car. He slammed on the brakes, put the car in park, and swung open the door, bounding out of the car, desperate to catch the culprit.

 

He spotted a young boy, and thinking him to be the one who threw the brick, ran up to him, grabbed the boy around the arm, pushed him up against the rear bumper of a parked car, and shouted, “Just what do you think you are doing? That’s a brand-new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

 

“Please, mister, please,” the young boy pleaded. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do. I threw the brick because no one else would stop.” Tears were dripping down the boy’s cheeks as he pointed around the parked car to another young boy laying on the ground. A toppled over wheelchair was on the ground next to him.

 

“It’s my brother,” the first boy explained. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair, and I can’t lift him up.” Sobbing, the boy asked the businessman, “Would you please help me get my brother back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt, and he’s too heavy for me to move.”

 

Quite surprised, and moved beyond words, the businessman tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He walked over and lifted the brother off the ground and into his wheelchair. Taking out his handkerchief, he wiped the scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be okay.

 

“Thank you, thank you,” both young boys said. The businessman then watched as the protective young boy pushed his brother down the sidewalk and toward their home.

 

It was a long walk back to the Jaguar for the businessman. A long, slow walk. He never did repair the side door of his car. He kept the dent to remind him to not go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

 

Does it take a brick to get your attention, or are your eyes and ears opened to people in need?

Disciples

 

Although the word Christian is only found three times in the New Testament, the word disciple is found over 250 times. Scripture has much to say about being a disciple, and yet it is not often mentioned in current church settings. We know what a Christian is, but what is a disciple?

 

The definition of the Greek word translated disciple is “to become a pupil.” Disciples were people who sat at Jesus’ feet and learned from His teaching (Matthew 5:1), but they were also people who followed Him and imitated His actions. To be a disciple of Jesus is to desire to be like Jesus in every way, even in suffering. Peter wrote, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21).

 

Discipleship is about transformation. It is learning to live like Jesus. It means we must continually study the teachings of Jesus so that they become a part of who we are. It also means we must surround ourselves with people who are living like Jesus and have been doing so for quite some time. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:1). In the same way, we must spend time with seasoned disciples and imitate them as they imitate Jesus.

 

In addition to these things, Jesus points out three characteristics that His disciples will have. These characteristics are found in John’s gospel. Jesus says His disciples will “continue in His word” (Jn 8:31), “love one another” (Jn 13:35), and “bear fruit” (Jn 15:8). How would you grade yourself in these areas? Are you doing the things that Jesus said a disciple of His would do?

 

I hope that you understand that becoming a disciple is going to require more time than an hour or two a week. We cannot expect to become a disciple of Jesus simply by attending Sunday worship. We must spend time in God’s word, and we must practice living like Jesus. We must devote ourselves to daily training. “’Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.’” (Luke 14:27).

FAITH FOR THE TOUGH DAYS

Some days our faith takes a beating. The stresses, cares, and disappointments of life can come on strong and hang around for a long time. Sometimes people just give up on faith. But to what end? Jesus once asked his disciples if they wanted to go away from Him. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). How can we have faith in the toughest of days?

 

Pray as much as you can. Maybe on the toughest of days you can’t say much. The words won’t come. Still, pray all you can. If it is only a little, then pray a little. If it is only a silent time with God, then do that. In prayer, we fall down at the Lord’s feet in our weakness. There we will find the victory and power that comes from His love. Even our smallest prayers, our silent prayers, are heard by the Lord who never leaves our side.

 

Work all the possibilities you can. What can you do about it? Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, while at other times you can work toward solutions. Do you need to seek forgiveness? Do you need to forgive? Is a bad habit contributing to your discouragement? Can you take one small step today toward an answer? With God’s help you can move towards better days by just doing what you can to alleviate the situation.

 

Endure all the days you can. Some of the troubles we encounter in life are not going to go away anytime soon. Some may never go away. Someone once said, “It often takes the darkness of a storm to show us the light in God’s presence.” We endure in faith by continually turning our hearts toward God. Every one of us needs His presence and strength daily. In the trials of life we become aware of how much we need Him for each day. The Bible reminds us to put our faith in God, not in our circumstances. Matthew 6:34 says, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In this, Jesus acknowledges our trouble and also our need to trust in Him to see us through.

The Shepherd

Psalm 23 is one of the most loved passages in Scripture. In this Psalm we see God as…

 

MY SHEPHERD (23:1a). Jacob is the first one to call God his Shepherd, upon his death bed as he blessed Joseph (Genesis 48:15). We are like sheep. We tend to wander. We face enemies from which we need protection. We are dependent upon our Shepherd.

 

MY PROVIDER (23:1b). Everything we really need in life is found in relationship to our Shepherd. Every good thing we enjoy in our lives is provided by God. Even among the ones of us who have the least, we can say that God has provided for our greatest needs.

 

MY PEACE (23:2) Our lives are seldom serene, often overrun and overcommitted, stressed, and plagued by mental fatigue. Quiet, peaceful times seem a rarity. God shepherds us into a more peaceful life.

 

MY RESTORER (23:3). A line in a familiar hymn reminds us that we need to be restored often. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.” Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing reminds us that even when our souls have wandered, the gentle Shepherd restores our soul.

 

MY COMFORTER (23:4). Dark valleys are common to us all. Death, divorce, discouragement, and defeats of every kind. We need to know that God walks with us personally and closely through them.

 

MY HOST (23:5). The table, the oil, and the cup remind us that God is the host of our lives. We sit in His presence and He blesses us with confidence, refreshment, and satisfaction.

 

MY PROMISE (23:6). God is with us no matter what we face in life. He keeps us focused on the promise of eternal life. His goodness and mercy assure us when we are fearful or anxious. (Psalm 16:11)

 

  1. B. Meyer says of Jesus: “He has a shepherd’s tenderness; no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it, no saint so weak that He will not gently lead, no soul so faint that He will not give it rest.” We have a strong and caring Shepherd. Psalm 95:7 says, “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hands.”

 

Diary of a Bible

January: A busy time for me. Most of the family decided to read me through this year. They kept me occupied the first two weeks, but they have forgotten me now.

 

February: Clean up time. I was dusted and put in my place. My owner did use me for a few minutes last week; he had been in an argument and was looking up some references to prove he was right.

 

March: I had a busy day the first day of the month. My owner was elected president of the P.T.A., and he used me to prepare a speech.

 

April: Grandpa visited us this month. He kept me on his lap for an hour reading and meditating on 1 Corinthians 13. He seems to think of me more than some in my own household.

 

May: I have a few green stains because some spring flowers were pressed in my pages.

 

June: I look like a scrapbook. They stuffed me full of newspaper clippings—one of the girls got married.

 

July: They put me in a suit case today. I guess we are off on a vacation. I wish I could stay home; I know I’ll be closed up in this thing for at least two weeks.

 

August: Still in the suitcase.

 

September: Back home at last and in my old familiar place. I have a lot of company. Two women’s magazines and four comic books are stacked on top of me. I wish I could be read as much as they are.

 

October: They read me a little bit today. One of the family members is very sick. Right now I am sitting in the center of the coffee table. I think the preacher is coming for a visit.

 

November: Back in my old place. Somebody asked today if I was a scrapbook.

 

December: The family is busy getting ready for the holidays. I guess I will be covered up under wrapping paper and packages again as I am every year.

 

* If your Bible could talk, what would it say? Remember, if you’re not in God’s word, God’s word is not in you.

Two Idols

We tend to either idolize the past or the future. We look back to what we believe was a better time or we look forward to the changes the future will bring. We are not content with the present and believe that either going back or forward will solve our problems.

 

In Ecclesiastes 7:10, Solomon warns against longing for the good old days. He writes, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” What is remembered about the past is often an idolized version of what really took place. We remember the good rather than the bad. We forget the past was not good for everyone, and that sin was as much of a problem back then as it is today. The past does offer the advantage of wisdom that has been tried and tested. Although we should not idolize the past, to dismiss it completely would be a grave mistake.

 

Others look to the future and progress to solve the problems of our age. An idolized version of what will come to be is paraded as the answer to what ails us. It is believed there are better days ahead of us if we could simply get beyond the things and ideas that are holding us back. What is forgotten is that the future will come with its own set of problems. The future does offer the possibility of a new beginning. It is a chance to right wrongs and learn from our past mistakes, but it will never be the idolized version we think it will be.

 

Both of these views share the same mistake. We may believe our problems can be solved by time, either going back or forwards. The truth is time will never be able to deal with the problem of sin. Only Jesus offers a solution to sin. We can gain valuable wisdom from the past and we can set out to make a better future by following Jesus, but we must be careful not to idolize either. May we have a proper perspective on our past and future, while realizing that today is all we can affect.

Time & Effort

The cartoon movie “The Road to El Dorado” had a budget that was $95 million and took 4 ½ years to make.

 

I recently saw it in one of those movie bins at Wal-Mart. Guess what the price tag was for a $95 million movie which took 4 ½ years to make? All of $3. Actually $1.50 because it was a combo pack with another movie. All that time and effort done by so many people (watch the credits sometime and see how many people it takes to make a movie) just so you can get it for $1.50 at a Wal-Mart movie sale.

 

Time and effort are not always appreciated. We pour our hearts into a project we are doing, and at the end of the day we get a, “That was nice” or, “Good job” and life goes on. It is the nature of the beast. What impresses us today does not impress us tomorrow. We are looking for the bigger, better buy. Where does this path lead us?

 

In Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 the writer talks about the meaninglessness of toil. We work hard to create something only to pass it on to others who will not appreciate it like we do. It is meaningless! What is the point of it all if we see our hard work and sacrifice be squandered by those who come after us who don’t care like we did?

 

The answer is that we do not live for the toil. The writer continues, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

 

As is repeated throughout the book, true purpose only comes from following God. Why? Because everything else fades away eventually. This week keep your eyes on what’s important.

 

Unrecognized Blessings

God freed the people of Israel in the book of Exodus and yet God still identified Himself as Israel’s savior centuries after this happened. Why would He do this? Didn’t Israel know their history and everything God had done for the nation? Yes and no. They knew the events, but they became blind to the implication of what the events meant. They took their knowledge and allowed it to become equal to bedtime stories and fairy tales. God saving them from bondage became a distant memory Israel no longer cared anything about. Since they did not care about their history, their history lost its impact. Since the impact was gone, gratitude went with it, and thus started their downward spirals into sin. All of this because of unrecognized blessings.

 

Sometimes the path of destruction begins with unrecognized blessings. America has set a world record by having one form of government since 1789. Now let’s have some comparison for the sake of perspective:

 

France—15 forms since 1789

 

Ecuador—20 forms since 1830

 

Russia—4 forms since 1918

 

Thailand—17 forms since 1932

 

South Korea—6 forms since 1948

 

Ghana—4 forms since 1957

 

America has a level of stability unknown in the world, and yet how often is this addressed in schools, colleges, politics, etc? In a period of time when the uniqueness of America is downplayed, and some parts of our society teach how evil our nation is, do we sit back and thank God for how blessed we really are to be here? We have been blessed with stability for so long-in comparison to the rest of the world- we think the stability is normal, but it is not normal throughout the world.

 

If we are not careful, we can become lackadaisical to the blessings of God. We can take the blessings of God and become unimpressed by them to the point of contempt with God. If blessings become unrecognized then for what will we thank God? This thinking led to the downfall of Israel in biblical times. Pray we continue to recognize God’s blessings, so we do not follow the same path.