We don’t live for Jesus. He lives his life through our lives. He expresses his purposes and glory through each of us in unique and important ways. This takes a lot of pressure off us. Mainly, we simply need to trust him to do it, and make ourselves available to him. This is the meaning of: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

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Colossians #11. Colossians 1:25-27

Paul has just said that he rejoices in his sufferings, and that he is engaged in suffering for the sake of the church. He continues:

25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (CSB, Colossians 1:25-27)

Paul records that God had a special plan for him to serve the church by making known the Word of God. Paul’s call was, in some respects, unique. God called him, and several other apostles, to teach and write the very words that would become scripture to us. But in another respect, there are others whom God has called, in a lesser way, to make the word of God fully known. This is a special call, given to some, not all, to teach the Bible to others. One reason I point this out it because in certain places, this idea has been lost, and it hurts the church. Where I live and minister, it is often called “the Bible Belt,” because Christianity is strongly rooted here. But often, though it is strongly culturally rooted, the Bible is not well understood, and there are many people who take it upon themselves to “become a preacher.” Many of these people are neither called by  God, nor properly equipped, to make the Word of God fully known, and they sometimes do great harm.

Martin Luther and those who led the Protestant Reformation taught about the “the Priesthood of all believers.” This is often misunderstood. What it means is that every believer has direct access to God, and every believer is called to use his or her energy and abilities in God’s service. It does not mean that all believers are equally called and equipped to teach God’s word to others. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul makes this clear.

4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. 7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. (NLT 1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! (NLT, 1 Corinthians 12:29-30)

I think that at times, at least in my area of the United States, these things are not considered carefully enough. If someone is to be a teacher of the Word, he should be called, trained, equipped, and have the explicit approval of a church. In addition, the church needs every kind of gift, not just the gifts of Bible teachers. There are some who seek to become preachers who are depriving the church of their other, better gifts and calling from the Lord. I also want to make sure that we understand every gift is important and significant. Being a teacher of God’s word does not make me better than someone who, for instance, is called to glorify God through his work as a mechanic.

Paul says that part of his call is to make known “the mystery, hidden for ages and generations.” He often uses the term “mystery.” Although we get our English word for mystery directly from the Greek word here (mysterion), Paul’s meaning is slightly different than we might think. He doesn’t mean that it is a puzzle that needs to be solved. He means two things: First, that human beings cannot understand it or know it unless God reveals it. Second, he means it is a truth that has been hidden until a particular God-appointed time for it to be revealed.

Paul is talking about the gospel, and all of the meaning of it. The idea that God would enter the world and die in order to save his people was not something that ever entered the imagination of human beings. But even more, Paul lays out specifically the unique thing that was hidden for ages, and now has been revealed by God’s grace: “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.” This is a very theological phrase, but stick with me. There is something extremely important here, something that can make a real difference in our lives now, and for eternity.

Many Christians use this sort of terminology: “Jesus lives in my heart.” That is true. But sometimes, we get the idea that Jesus is like a roommate. We think of it a bit like this: Jesus is there, relaxing, his arms up on the couch, hanging with us. He’s there to comfort us when we’re down, or give us advice when we remember to ask it. Sometimes, he’ll warn us, other times, tell us we’re fine. Overall we get the sense of Jesus just “chilling” somewhere inside of us. But that isn’t really the Biblical picture. The Biblical picture is that Jesus Christ expresses his life through your life, and mine. That is what the phrase means: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Now, I want to be clear. We aren’t living for Jesus. We are letting Jesus live through us. The first one still relies on our own flesh-based efforts – we have worthy goals that we are accomplishing (or not) by our own effort. The second one is about completely relying on Jesus to do it. We have to give him our response – we have to say “yes” to Him and let him use our arms and legs and words, but we recognize at the same time that it is His Life flowing through our unique body and personality.

Jesus lived this way in his own relationship with the Father, while he was on earth. He said:

 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”  (John 14:7, HCSB)

The one who has seen Me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works.  (John 14:10 HCSB)

In that same passage, Jesus himself gives us a clue that he will live the life in us, just as the Father lived the life in him:

“I assure you: The one who believes in Me  will also do the works that I do. (John 14:12)

We often think this means we will imitate what Jesus did. I think, in light of the rest of the New Testament, that it means Jesus will live his life through us.

Either Jesus will do it as you let him, or you are on your own. Letting Jesus live through you calls for faith that in our passage today: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So maybe you are in a situation where God is calling you to speak and act in love toward another person. You don’t feel very loving. Maybe some people wouldn’t even pray. They’d just grit their teeth and try to be loving. Maybe others would pray something like this: “Lord, give me the strength to love this person right now.” But that isn’t exactly right either. That means we are still living the life ourselves, even if it is with God’s help. I think our attitude should be more like this: “Lord, I don’t feel loving. I can’t love this person right now. You do the loving through me. I am willing for you to do that. I make myself available to you for that.” And then we trust Him to come through.

Maybe you need to forgive someone for something they have done to you. This is often one of the hardest things to do and let go of. Many times, we try to do it on our own strength. Sometimes, we begin to get a glimmer of a clue, and we say, “Lord help me to forgive them.” Again, the focus of that prayer is still myself and my own performance.

Remember what Jesus prayed for those who crucified him: “Father forgive them…” We often think of this as Jesus asking the Father for forgiveness on our behalf. And perhaps that is what it was. But what if it was the human-nature of Jesus, who was dependent on the Father to live his life through him, asking the Father to do through him what he, the human-nature of Jesus, could not do on his own? Given the verses in John above, that is a real possibility – this was Jesus, praying in dependence that the Father would continue to work through him and speak through him even in this extreme and terrible situation.

And so we can say, “Jesus, I feel bitter toward this person. I can’t forgive him myself. Even so, I give you permission to forgive through me right now. Lord forgive him – through me.”

Do you see how this could change everything? Our performance could never, will never, achieve our salvation. Jesus did that on our behalf. But our own performance will also never be enough live the Christian life either. Just think of it: It is the CHRISTian life. It is his life. He is the one who will live it. Our part is to allow him to; to respond when he speaks through the bible or in our hearts; to let him have our arms and legs and mouth and thoughts and the rest of us, so that he can life our life. This is why Paul puts it like this:

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Rom 12:1-2, ESV)

We are to present our bodies to Jesus, so that he can use us. We are to let him renew our mind, to transform us from the inside out so that we can hear and respond to Him living his life through us.

One of the wonderful things about this, is that we do not lose our person-hood when we do this. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the goal is to completely lose yourself into a kind of cosmic one-ness. But the Bible teaches that as we become one with God, we retain our individual personality, and in fact, he has plans and purposes for our unique individuality. This is where we come back around to the first point: we all have unique callings and giftings. Each one of us is important and significant.

Jesus wants to express his life through all these unique people. No one personality could possibly show all the many facets of Jesus’ power, His creativity, His person, His purposes. That’s why Paul says “we are the body of Christ, all of us parts of it.”

Jesus wants to live his life through me because he can show others some of his words and thoughts in a unique way through me. He can think and write through me in a way that he can’t through anyone else. Jesus wants to live through Kari because he can make a unique kind of music through her, songs that he can’t make through anyone else. I’m not saying we are better than anyone else. But we are different from everyone else. So are you. You get the picture?

He can show his compassion to people through you in a way that he can’t show it through anyone else. He can make a beautiful painting through you that he can’t make through anyone else.

I’m a poor craftsman, but at times I am forced to do farm or home-improvement projects. I have  dozens of tools. Each tool is there to do my work. They all express my will and purpose (or they would, if I was any good), but each one expresses it differently. The saw expresses my purpose in a way that looks completely different from the hammer. But they are both used to create what I am building or repairing. A tool that tried to be both and hammer and saw at the same time probably wouldn’t be very useful for either task. Even the hacksaw has a task that is different from the wood saw.

I am not asking you to try to be good on your own. I am asking you to trust Jesus to live his life, to express his life, through you, as you. You don’t have to become someone or something else – Jesus has already done all the becoming for you. He wants to use the unique person that he has made you to be. Your part is to trust that he wants to do it; to let him do it; and to trust that he is doing it, and the results are up to him.



Following Jesus is not a reliable way to wealth, health and earthly security. But Jesus is unequivocally promising his disciples that their sacrifices will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

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Matthew #69. Matthew 19:27-30

27Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us? ”28Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.29And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life.30But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matt 19:27-30, HCSB)

After the encounter with the rich young ruler, and the discussion about the difficulties of riches, Peter points out to Jesus that he and the others did what the rich young ruler was unwilling to do. In all of the Gospels, the disciples are usually portrayed as very human and fallible. In some ways, this is both a very human moment for Peter, but also a touching one. Peter sees the rich young man keeping his great wealth. But he, and James, and John, and Matthew, and perhaps some of the others, left thriving businesses to follow Jesus. They didn’t have the same kind of wealth as the rich young man, but at least those four certainly appeared to have viable livelihoods until they started following Jesus. You almost get the sense that as Peter watches him walk away he wonders “Did I do the right thing? Was this guy smarter than me?” I don’t see Peter here as a failure, or dense. Instead, I think he is just being very real. He left an actual business, and actual way of making a living, for something very insubstantial: faith. Peter was a fisherman. You can see fish, you can smell them, and you can trade them for coins that you hold in your hand. He owned boats and nets and sails and oars – real things that hold real value for people. But you can’t see faith, you can’t smell it, and you can’t touch it physically. You certainly can’t trade it for money. It is only natural for him to be insecure from time to time. It is only natural to wonder: “What kind of future can I really have, when I have left everything that might have given me security?” Following Jesus can feel very lonely at times, especially when you see others who are not as “sold out” as you are, and yet they appear to be thriving in this life.

Especially in these types of sermons, I feel a little funny pausing to ask for your prayers, because I have all these fine words about giving up everything to follow Jesus. But the truth is, we all need help in that journey, me no less than anyone else. We don’t do this on our own. So I do deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry of Bible Teaching. I believe the Lord works when we invite him to, so please invite him to work in and through this ministry, and to provide for us. Thank you!

It seems like these days, most Christians make one of two errors when we start talking about Jesus rewarding his followers. The first error, I mentioned last time: the prosperity gospel. Some people, calling themselves Christians, teach that following Jesus is a way to wealth, health and prosperity. We considered this in the previous message in this series. But there is another error. For some Christians, perhaps because of the falsehood represented by the prosperity gospel, it has become “unfashionable” to talk about being rewarded for faith. However, clearly, in our passage for today, Jesus promises rewards to those who make sacrifices for him.

Mark and Luke record Jesus as also saying that his followers will receive some of these rewards “in this time” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30). In fact Mark has, “now, in this time.” I think there are three things to consider about this.

First, there are a few main Greek words for “time.” One is hora which is literally, “hour.” Another is hemera which is literally “day.” A third is kronos, which you may recognize in English as the root of chronological, or chronograph. It refers to specific moments. A fourth word is kairos which is used to designate a special or proper moment in time, as in “My time has come.” Kairos is the word Jesus uses in Mark and Luke. So it isn’t necessarily “chronological time” (that would be kronos) – it is the proper time, the right moment in which the apostles will receive their reward.

Second, let’s suppose for a minute that we should take it literally as “in this very moment.” The fact is, Peter and the others did not receive literal houses and fields and so on in that moment, nor did they literally receive them during their lives on earth. But it could be something like this: at the moment they made their sacrifice for Jesus, their reward in heaven was set apart, and reserved for them. So, in a sense, they received their reward immediately, but they had no way to make use of it until after they had died and gone to be with Jesus. By the way, this does not contradict the first point.

A third idea is that in following Jesus they found 100 times the joy that they might have had with the families that they left in order to follow the Lord; they found 100 times the peace and security that they might have had from possessions and money; They found, leaving home for Jesus, that they were at home anywhere in the world in his presence. That sort of reward begins now, in this life, and continues on in eternity.

I think it is clear that Jesus is not speaking literally. When he says they will receive brothers and sisters, I highly doubt that he means their mothers will conceive and give birth to more siblings for them. But they did indeed find relationships with other Jesus-followers that became as close and wonderful as those between brothers and sisters. They did not receive literal houses; and yet, within a very short period of time they could go to almost any city in the Roman empire and find a house where they would be welcomed, where the Jesus-following owners would invite them to stay and be refreshed.

By the way, I have found this true in my own life, going all the way back to my childhood as a missionary kid. We left behind friends, uncles, aunts, and grandparents when we went overseas. But we found people there who are now just as close and dear to us as our blood relatives. I have many “aunts and uncles,” dozens of “cousins.” I too, have houses all over the world where I know I would be welcome. In terms of relationships, I have already been richly rewarded for following Jesus.

I could even say the same, in terms of “fields.” I don’t love cities. We live in a semi-rural area, on ten acres of land. Ten acres is really nice – much better than the tiny little lot we came from, but we do have neighbors on either side of us, probably 100 yards away or less. Shortly after we moved here, we met the man who owns 400 acres and a tall hill, running up against back of our property. He invited us to go hiking on his land anytime we wanted to. His is a beautiful piece of land, with trees and rocks and little creeks and from the top of the hill, views that go on for twenty miles or more. One day I was hiking up there, and I prayed, “Lord, why can’t we have all this?” (yes, sometimes I’m that shallow). I don’t hear audible voices from God, but sometimes I get a sense of a “conversation” between He and I. What I heard that day was: “What is that you want here that you don’t have? Did you want to pay to keep the meadows mowed? Did you want maintain the fences or pay taxes on the land?”

I realized that I “had” the land in any way I wanted it – which was simply to roam around and explore and look at wildlife and views. I don’t own it, of course, and I’m deeply grateful to my neighbor for letting me hike there, but I don’t have to own it to enjoy it. So sometimes, when we give up ownership for the Lord, he gives us the enjoyment of things we don’t own. And frankly, I probably enjoy my neighbor’s land more because I don’t have to maintain it.

Now, I don’t want to get too caught up in material things. I am saying that Jesus promises some sort of sense of being blessed for following him, even here and now. But of course, the main reward is spiritual things, not physical. I also think it is clear that many times scripture uses things we can see and touch – like fields, houses, brothers and sisters, to describe spiritual truths that we cannot fully grasp, this side of heaven. So, for instance, part of our reward in the spiritual realm, will be something sort of like a house is to us in physical realm. It isn’t necessarily an actual house, but maybe something like the joy and security and rest you get from a physical house will be given to you in some way (100-fold, says Jesus!).

Again, following Jesus is not a reliable way to wealth, health and earthly security. But Jesus is unequivocally promising his disciples that their sacrifices will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

At first, the promise seems a little, well, underwhelming. We give up real things like houses and fields and boats and money, and we get insubstantial things like love and joy and peace. We give up things we can hold and smell and touch for things that we don’t actually “get” until after we die. But stop and think about it for a minute. We know that everyone dies. In the entire history of earth, no one has ever managed to take a single physical thing from this world with them when they die. So we know that whatever we accumulate here – the things we smell, and touch and hold – are temporary, and useless to us after we die. But Jesus offers us rewards we can have even after death. It’s like he is saying, “If you give me your monopoly money, your pretend money, I will give you solid gold ingots.” We are trading the temporary for the eternal, and that’s a darn good trade. As missionary-martyr Jim Elliot said:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose.

Jesus says something else here, in verse 30, that I find tremendously comforting:

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

At first, I felt ashamed that these words comfort me, but, as usual, Jesus is saying something very profound and important. As a Christian, it is a great temptation for me to compare myself to others, especially when I’m feeling insecure. Peter might have been comparing himself to the rich young ruler. The young man kept his wealth, and Peter gave up his own. In this life, it appeared that the young man had made the wise decision, and Peter the foolish one. Peter had nothing, the rich man had everything. But Jesus says, “things are not always going to be the way they seem right now. Those who appear to be making it here and now, those who are ‘winning’ by the standards of the world might actually be ultimately losing. In the same way, those who appear to be ‘last,’ the losers, they might be the ones coming in ‘first.’”

What I get from this is that it is pointless to compare yourself with others. We can’t see, here and now, whether who is really “getting ahead.” As much as we might feel like we are being left behind, left out, the opposite may be true.

I think it is important to remember that this life is not all there is, and that sometimes, the greatest rewards are the hardest to quantify. Jesus is telling us that he will not forget what we have given up for him, and he will not fail to reward it, starting now in some ways, but more fully in the Life to come.



At some point, anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is faced with a call to daily deny himself or herself, die to self, be willing to actually die, and follow Jesus. This isn’t just theoretical. It will affect the way we relate to other people. It will affect what kind of jobs we take, and when and where we take them. It should make an impact on how much we indulge ourselves. It may even at some point cost us our lives.


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Matthew #35. Matthew 10:32-42

Remember, Matthew chapter 10 begins with Jesus sending his disciples out on a training mission. He gave them certain instructions, from which we can gain certain principles, and we looked at those already. Last time, we looked at the words of warning that Jesus gave his disciples. He told them to expect persecution and trouble. But he also gave them (and, by extension, us) many wonderful words of comfort and promise, words which we can hold on to in times of trouble.

After these comforting promises, Jesus begins with this: “Therefore…” One of my old Bible school teachers always used to say “What is that therefore there for?” It’s a useful little question. In this case, it is to remind us that what Jesus is going to say next is connected with what he has already said. In other words, because we have these warnings, and especially because we have these promises, Jesus says this:

“Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. (Matt 10:32-33, HCSB)

Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Acknowledge me before men.” He first gives us instructions, and a sure and beautiful promise of his presence and his grace to us in the middle of hard times. Considering those things, he now says, “All these promises are connected to me. To receive them, you must confess me. You must put me before all things.”

The Greek word that is here translated “acknowledge,” might also be “confess.” The two root words of the Greek term, put together, really mean “to say the same thing as,” or “to speak with.” Some translations make it “confess.” I like this better than “acknowledge.” We are to confess Jesus. Confession means not only to admit something, but also to agree with something or someone. We are to say the same things that Jesus says, to agree with him. Jesus makes it clear that we are to do so not only privately, but also in public.

Jesus goes on. He makes reference to a verse in the book of Micah, implying that it is a messianic verse and he is fulfilling it:

Surely a son considers his father a fool, a daughter opposes her mother, and a daughter-in-law is against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. But I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will stand up; though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. (Mic 7:6-8, HCSB)

He also says “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This is one of those things Jesus said that many people don’t seem to know about. You don’t have to go far to hear Christians and non-Christians alike saying, “Why do conservative Christians have to stir up so much trouble? Christians are supposed to get along with everybody. It isn’t Christian to cause controversy.” In light of these verses, I guess maybe Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He is quite clear: He is a polarizing personality; those who follow him will find themselves at times embroiled in conflict, even within their own families. This isn’t an endorsement of violence in any way, shape or form. It isn’t a license to be rude, or to bully. But Jesus does want us to recognize that following him can lead to controversy and difficult relationships.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this preached by anyone else before. But obviously, it is right here in the text. If Jesus said anything at all, he said this as well. We can’t ignore it. These days, when we agree with (that is, confess) the things that Jesus said, or the things that his Holy Spirit inspired his apostles to write, it is easy to draw flak. If we agree with the Bible about what the Holy Spirit calls “sin,” we are called hatemongers. If we agree with what Jesus actually said about himself, we are called narrow-minded and intolerant. Following Jesus does indeed lead us to be peaceful and loving. But it does not mean that others will see us that way, or even that our lives will be free from conflict with those who do not follow Jesus or his word.

Now, Jesus ratchets it up a notch. Not only does he suggest that following him can lead us into conflict, but he demands that when there is a conflict, we choose him above anything and anybody else.

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matt 10:37, HCSB)

It’s easy to breeze through these words of Jesus. But hold on a minute: we are supposed to choose Jesus even above our own children? That is what He says here. Now obviously, much of the time we are not faced with choices like this. Following Jesus is usually compatible with loving our children. But Jesus is saying, flat out, that we should always love him more than we love our own children, or anyone else for that matter.

Let’s step back a minute and look at this message. This is not merely a great moral teaching about loving other people. It is, in fact, a demand that we love Jesus, and that we do so at a higher level than we love anyone else. Unless Jesus is God, this teaching is either nonsense or pure evil. There is no sense in which Jesus is saying “Follow your own path to enlightenment.” He is not saying, “Follow me, follow Buddha, it makes no difference as long as you are sincere.” He is not saying, “Just love everybody else and you’ll be fine.” Instead, he is clearly saying: “Everything comes down to how you relate to me. I am the basis upon which you must prioritize your life and make your decisions.” To put it another way, the central teachings of Jesus are about himself. No wonder he was such a polarizing figure.

Next he says this:

And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. (Matt 10:38-39, HCSB)

Over the years, this little part of what Jesus said has morphed into this: “I have my own cross to bear.” But this is not at all the meaning that Jesus had in mind. It’s true, each person has their own unique struggles in life; I think it’s fine to recognize that. But when Jesus was talking about taking up our cross, he wasn’t talking about that. This was the period in history when the Romans used crucifixion as a method of execution. Typically, if the condemned person was healthy enough, he had to carry the instrument of his own death to the place of execution. In other words, condemned people could be seen from time to time carrying the crosses upon which they were to be killed. To carry a cross was to be on your way to death. So when Jesus tells us that we must pick up our crosses and follow him, he is saying that we must follow in his example of dying.

I think it is appropriate to understand that Jesus means, among other things, that we must die to our own ambitions, comforts, and goals. Jesus actually repeats this teaching again later on in his ministry. Luke records that the second time Jesus said it, it was “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” I think this definitely captures the meaning. Taking up our cross means that we deny ourselves. We don’t deny ourselves just to show that we are self-disciplined, but we put Jesus’ goals and ambitions and desires for us ahead of our own. I think it’s useful that Luke says this needs to happen “daily.” But even more than dying to our own desires, right here, Jesus is telling us that in order to follow him we need to be willing to go as far as actual physical death. Throughout the past 2000 years, many Christians have been faced with the choice to either deny Jesus or give up their physical lives. I live in a time and a place where that is unlikely to happen, even so, Jesus wants my willingness. Not even continuing to live should be more important to me than Jesus Christ. As Jesus says, if you save your own life, by compromising your relationship with him, you have actually lost it.

In the next few verses Jesus’ claim is emphasized once more. He says that he is so central to everything, that when people offer respect, regard, or even a cup of water, to his followers, because they are his followers, they will be rewarded. The point here is not the reward, it is the fact of people recognizing who Jesus is and honoring that in the way they relate to his followers. It is about honoring Jesus.

I hope you understand that these words of Jesus are confrontational. He is presenting us with a choice: does he have the preeminent place in our lives? Do we love him more than we love anyone else? Is Jesus our number one priority? He is claiming here that he should be. This isn’t about following a moral code, it isn’t about living according to some sort of principle. It is about making Jesus Christ, the person, number one in our lives.

When controversy comes because you confess Jesus Christ, or you agree with what he says, what is your response? It isn’t wrong to seek peace with those with whom you disagree. But when peace is impossible, when agreement cannot be reached, Jesus unequivocally calls us to side with him.

At some point, anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is faced with a call to daily deny himself or herself, die to self, be willing to actually die, and follow Jesus. This isn’t just theoretical. It will affect the way we relate to other people. It will affect what kind of jobs we take, and when and where we take them. It should make an impact on how much we indulge ourselves. It may even at some point cost us our lives.

Now of course, we can’t be perfect in putting Jesus first. I know I fail to do that in many ways. I believe Jesus offers me grace and forgiveness when I fail. But I do think he wants me to make the choice to put him above everything, even if at times I fail in following through. It is good to know, that my failures are not the final word.

Once again, we do not have the comfortable choice of viewing Jesus as a kind, harmless moral teacher. In some ways, he has been at the center of controversy for the past 2000 years. We can reject what he has said here, and call him a lunatic, or a megalomaniac. Or, we can receive him as our Lord, take up our crosses, and follow him.


narrow way

Sometimes it feels hard to be a real Jesus-follower when so many others seem to get by just fine ignoring most of what he said, and even call themselves Christians while doing it. But Jesus told us right here that that is how it would be. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, it seems only right that we don’t dispute what he said.


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Matthew #23 . 7:12-29

Matthew 7:12 deserves honorable mention, but it isn’t my intention to preach an entire sermon on it. Jesus said:

In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets. (Matt 7:12, NET)

We call this “the golden rule.” It isn’t complicated to understand, so just do it. If you have trouble doing it, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you – ask him to do it through you. There.

Now, let’s move on to verses 11-29. Jesus begins with this statement:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14, HCSB)

I think many Christians often forget that Jesus said this. I know I do. I get to feeling uncomfortable that I am so out of step with the culture around me, that my values are so different, or that so few people seem to have the same outlook on life. Sometimes it feels hard to be a real Jesus-follower when so many others seem to get by just fine ignoring most of what he said, and even call themselves Christians while doing it. But Jesus told us right here that that is how it would be.

John records some other words of Jesus that explain this a little bit:

So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9, HCSB)

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, HCSB)

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

The gate, the door, the narrow way, the life – is Jesus. If we have Jesus, we have life. If we trust Jesus alone, we are on the narrow way. If we do not have Jesus, we do not have life, and we are on the road to destruction. This is the exclusive claim that Jesus himself makes. This is what makes Christianity different from all other religions. It isn’t about earning points with God. It isn’t about bettering yourself, or peace, or making the world a better place. It is all about Jesus Christ. Some of those other things happen, but they are side effects of trusting Jesus and letting him be our king.

Claiming that Jesus Christ is the exclusive road or gate to heaven may make some people uncomfortable. But it is what Jesus himself teaches, as evidenced right here. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, it seems only right that we don’t dispute what he said.

He also said “few find the narrow road.” This is an uncomfortable statement, but obviously, Jesus said it. We should not expect the majority of people to be on the narrow road, the road to life through Jesus. On the positive side, it should not discourage us when we don’t encounter many people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus. It should also not discourage us when many other people do not understand what we believe or how we are living. As Jesus said earlier in the sermon on the mount, we are supposed to be different.

On the other hand, it should encourage us to tell others about Jesus. If He claims to be the only way (and He does), we shouldn’t be apathetic about Him, or about how others feel about Him. If we really love someone, and we really believe that Jesus is the one narrow way, the loving thing to do is to tell other people about Him,

Jesus goes on, with a related topic:

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. (Matt 7:15-20, HCSB)

First Jesus says the way is narrow. Now he adds that false prophets will come. To put it another way, not every preacher or leader who claims to speak the truth is actually doing so. Jesus gives us a way to know who is “false” and who is not. He says we should know them by their fruit.

Now, I’m afraid sometimes we Christians forget what the Bible actually calls fruit. Spiritual fruit does not mean “outwardly successful.” Sometimes following Jesus brings outward success, sometimes it does not. Fruit does not mean “something that works.” We can’t say, “Hey I did what this preacher said, and it works for me, so he must be from God.” The bible is actually quite clear about spiritual fruit. First, good spiritual fruit comes only from staying connected to Jesus:

Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. (John 15:4, HCSB)

There are many verses talking variously about the fruit of righteousness or of peace or good works. There are many other verses talking about “fruitless” behavior. Galatians 5:22-23 pulls it all together for us:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:19-23, HCSB)

Fruit is found in these spiritual qualities, manifested in connection with Jesus Christ: love, joy, peace patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Galatians passage also lists “the works of the flesh.” We can discern if someone is a false teacher or not by examining whether or not the fruit of the spirit is present and growing, or whether or not the works of the flesh are present and increasing. We can also know them by their attitude toward Jesus Christ. Jesus said we can’t produce fruit apart from him, so if someone appears to be loving and peaceful on the outside, but denies Jesus or His words, we know that person is also not from God.

But then, Jesus adds this sobering thought:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matt 7:21-23, HCSB)

First, this confirms what we said above – true spiritual fruit does not consist in the achievement of great deeds, or outward success. Prophesying in Jesus’ names and even exorcisms and miracles do not mean that a person is from God.

I once met a woman on a plane who worked a conference for a famous Christian healer. I know people who have been healed and delivered at his events. Even so, I have heard him preach on television, and it didn’t sound right to me. What this woman told me, along with the preaching I had heard, suggests to me that this man may be a false teacher, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, he has healed people and performed miracles in Jesus name. But according to this passage, that does not necessarily mean that he actually knows Jesus and has surrendered his life to Him.

You may wonder, how can this be? Actually, there are a number of places where the bible teaches that miracles can be done by false prophets and those who would lead people astray. The magicians of Pharaoh’s court duplicated Moses’ first few miracles, in Exodus chapters seven and eight. A slave-girl at Philippi prophesied through the power of a demon (Acts 16:16). Jesus himself reiterated this later on, as recorded by Matthew:

False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note: I have told you in advance. (Matt 24:24-25, HCSB)

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, also taught this same thing:

The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved. (2Thess 2:9-10, HCSB)

In some ways, it is in the book of Deuteronomy that we hear mostly clearly how to evaluate false miracles:

“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the LORD your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. (Deut 13:1-4, HCSB)

The fruit of the Spirit is important in evaluating false prophets. So is the truth. No matter what kind of miracles someone works, if what they are teaching goes against the truth of God’s Word (the Bible) then we consider them to be false teachers who work miracles either through trickery or demonic power.

I have a friend who really doesn’t like this verse about people who said they did all kinds of things in Jesus’ name. He worries that maybe he’s one of the people doing that. You may have the same fear. I have a few responses. First, I hope you can see now that this is connected to the business of false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. In other words, it is partially about understanding the things I have just laid out in the previous few paragraphs. Second, I think the whole passage is all about knowing Jesus. The gate is Jesus. The road is Jesus. The way is Jesus. The life is Jesus. And Jesus is a person. So the way to have the life, the gate, the road etc is to “have” Jesus.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s like marriage. I’m married. That means I “have” a spouse. What “having” a husband or wife means is that you have a certain kind of relationship with that other person, a relationship that is not like any of your other relationships. In the same way “having” Jesus means you have a relationship with him. It is unlike any of your other relationships. It requires a lot of trust on your part, because you can’t see him or feel him physically.

Suppose I get married. I go through the ceremony with my wife, consummate the relationship, and then leave her. Maybe every few years I find my wife again, and spend a long weekend with her. But on a regular basis, I don’t live with her. I don’t interact her. In fact, I almost never act like a real husband. If that were the case, would our wedding really mean anything? Could you really say I am a husband?

Now, imagine that after a lifetime like this, when we are old, I find out that she has inherited a huge amount of money. I find her in a big, beautiful new house, and say, “OK honey, I’m ready to share my life with you. Let’s take a trip around the world, and maybe buy a private island.”

Wouldn’t such a husband be thoroughly despicable? Wouldn’t the woman have every right to say: “Forget it. You’ve never been a true husband. You’ve had nothing to do with me for years. You come back and use me when it suits you, but you’ve never wanted to even live with me. You think you can just waltz in her, now that I am wealthy, and have whatever you want? No way.”

Too many people treat Jesus like that despicable husband. Doing things “in his name” is not the same thing as having a relationship with the Person, Jesus Christ. The relationship starts with trusting Him and letting Him be the King of our lives. In other words, how you live and what you do should be directed by Jesus, starting with what He says through the Bible. That’s what Jesus is saying here. If you get baptized as a baby, and later confirmed in the church, but have nothing to do with Jesus afterwards, you are not in a relationship with Jesus. You are not his follower. If you “get saved” in church, and baptized, and then afterwards have nothing to do with Jesus, you are not his follower. You are in danger of being someone who says “But Lord, I got baptized in your name. I got saved, and said a prayer in your name!” And Jesus might reply: “But you never knew me. You never trusted me, you never obeyed what I said.”

You see, we are not called to be just converts, or church-goers. We are called to be disciples – people who trust Jesus and increasingly seek to let him work in and through us. Jesus makes it clear that we should also be people who seek to trust and obey what he says. The whole bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So when we seek to trust and obey, it isn’t just the “words in red,” the words of Jesus. It is the whole bible.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ” (Matt 7:24-27, HCSB)

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Jesus with the Disciples_discipleship

Jesus is calling you – not just to be a member of a church, not only to repent of your sins and receive his forgiveness. He is calling you to walk with him daily; To have a relationship with him that is more important to you than anyone or anything else in this life.

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Experiencing Life Together #5: Single Purpose

John 18:36; Ephesians 2:10

The very first Christians exhibited a very important characteristic. Their lives had a single focus:

The believers had a single purpose, and went to the temple courts every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. (Acts 2:46)

The key phrase here is “single purpose.” Their lives were aimed at one target. Their focus both individually, and as a church, was on one thing. They were led by this purpose in everything they did, and every decision they made. Their purpose was discipleship. Jesus told them to be disciples, and to make disciples.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The word “disciple” in Greek is closely associated with learning from a teacher. As we look at Jesus’ disciples in the gospels, we see that they listened to his teaching and tried to put it into practice (Mark 3:31-34). They were “followers” of Jesus’ teachings. The disciples often asked Jesus questions, but didn’t understand when he explained the answers to them (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 4:10-14). Even so, though they had their struggles, they made his teaching central to their lives.

They not only followed his teaching, but they followed Jesus physically, wherever he went. They shared his life and had experiences with him. They walked together with Jesus on the rough mountain roads of Galilee. They lodged together, ate together and talked together.

They went across the lake with him, and experienced the storm, and then were awed by his power over it. They went to a lonely place with him, and saw him feed 5,000 people. They watched him drive demons out of people, and heal others. They went to Jerusalem and saw him die and later they saw him alive again.

Jesus’ disciples also had relationships with each other. They weren’t isolated in their relationship with Jesus. They talked with each other, fought with each other and helped each other. Jesus called them (and us) to love each other (John 13:34-35).

Besides teaching and sharing his life, Jesus also trained his disciples. He recruited them for the same work that he was engaged in – spreading the good news (Luke 10:1-24). He involved them in exercises of faith and ministry (Matt 14:18). He gave them instructions, sent them out on tasks, and then debriefed them (Luke 10:1-24).

Jesus wanted his relationship with his disciples to be the closest, most important relationship they had. He was dramatic in stating this. He said that in comparison to their relationship with Him, it would seem like they hated their own families (Matt 10:37-39; Matt 12:48). All this is to say that He became absolutely the most important person in their lives. He took precedence in everything.

Even before he returned to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples authority to be a part of His mission, authority to accomplish His purposes in the world (Matt 10:1). He promised that he would be with them spiritually at all times (Matthew 28:18-20).They were witnesses to His life, death resurrection and power (Acts 1:8), and they had a responsibility to tell about their life with Jesus, and to recruit new disciples to Him.

In John chapter 15, Jesus called his disciples to “abide” in him. He said this just a few hours before he was captured and crucified. One of the things he meant by it, was that the disciples were to keep on being his disciples, even after his death and resurrection. Their relationship – the sharing of Jesus teaching and their lives together – would go on. Jesus would come and live with them again, this time in their spirits, through His Holy Spirit. Discipleship goes on.

So what does it all mean for us? Now that we see how the first disciples were, how can we be disciples? How can we live with a single purpose? First, I think we ought to recognize that Christians were called “disciples” before they were ever called “Christians” (Acts 11:25). In other words, the very first followers of Jesus understood that it was not about being a member of a church, or even of being converts, but rather of being learners who lived life in the midst of their on-going relationship with Jesus.

Jesus is calling you – not just to keep things as they are, not just to be a member of a church, not only to repent of your sins and receive his forgiveness. He is calling you to walk with him daily. To have a relationship with him that is more important to you than anyone or anything else in this life. To engage with him as you work, as you eat, as you rest. To be trained and equipped by him to take your part in recruiting and training more disciples. He is calling you to listen to, and follow his teachings. He is calling you to be a part of a group of disciples – folks who are a bit rough around the edges maybe, but who love one another and love Jesus like you do.

When you are a disciple, everything in your life is filtered through your relationship with Jesus. We still have to go to work, and pay the bills, and deal with crises. But we do all these things with an awareness that we are not living our own life anymore. We are here to let Jesus live his life through us. That is our single purpose in everything.

When you let Jesus live your life, that is, when you live as his disciple, you are immediately confronted by the temptations and challenges of what life offers us apart from Jesus. If we live for the single-purpose of discipleship, we might find that many things we are used to doing are actually at cross purposes with the life of Jesus. Sin, of course, diverts us from the purpose of Jesus in us. But sometimes, I think the biggest threat to Christians is not outright sin, but rather, good things; things, however, that Jesus does not want us to waste our time with. Jesus said something very challenging:

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36, HCSB)

Are you struggling and fighting for something in this world? I know I can get sucked into this all too easily. I want to follow Jesus, yes, but I also want other things: comfort and security while I am on earth. The moment I pursue comfort and security in addition to being a disciple, is the moment I lose my single purpose. That takes me a step backward in following Jesus. Jesus’ kingdom, his life and purpose are far beyond the temporary, cheap things of this world.

This is one of the reasons the Christian faith has always appealed to the poor more than the rich. If your life right now is a struggle, and you have little hope of improving it, it is easier to place your hope more fully in eternity. Poor folks know that security in this life is not really attainable. People with more resources tend to keep believing that their salvation is in this life. They tend to keep striving for the temporary treasures and goals that this life offers.

Ephesians 2:10 says this:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Have you ever wondered about your purpose in life? Well there it is – to do the “good works” which God created you to do. And those good works ultimately all lead to encouraging believers and reaching out to those who don’t believe. This was the single purpose of the church in Acts 2:42-47. This is what they lived for. This purpose influenced all of their decisions, particularly decisions about the use of time.

Especially in America, living with a single purpose has enormous implications for the way we use our time. I am convinced that most of us try to live with more than one purpose in life. When I try to do that, if I was honest, my purpose in life could be described as: “ To serve God, and to be comfortable.” The first part is OK, but that “to be comfortable” makes it a dual purpose. And that causes problems when the purposes conflict with each other. What if being comfortable isn’t conducive to serving God, or vice versa? Others might want to “serve God, and have a good career” or “Be a disciple, make disciples, and achieve certain financial goals.” There is nothing Biblical about this. Sometimes, God makes his servants comfortable. Sometimes he gives them fulfilling careers, or wealth. But we need to pursue God – not the other things. If wants to give the other things also, well and good. If not, can we still say, “well and good”?

Others of us really do live to “be a disciple and make disciples”. But we fall into the trap of doing many good things, instead of the two or three best things. We might run all over town participating in workshops, ministries and conferences – all good and wonderful things. But often these wonderful spiritual things, keep us from truly connecting with Jesus, and concentrating on the two or three things that will be most effective, and are most important. Many times, perhaps almost always, we need to turn down the good things for the best things; the non-essential for the essential.

In most house-churches, things are deliberately structured so that members focus on just two or three important things in the process of becoming and making disciples. They generally don’t have “programs”. They focus on ministry in the group, outreach, and equipping (worship & prayer are underlying elements of all of these). None of these things should be “programmatic” – instead they are structured so that they take place in the context of lives that are lived with a single purpose. Thus, our “community life” can be oriented to that single purpose; and we are not so distracted with the “busyness” of many other things going on all the time.

Our personal lives ought to be structured this way as well. America is the land of opportunity, but enough already! We put our three-year-olds in T-ball in spite of the fact that they will almost certainly never become professional athletes. We put in extra hours in case we miss the opportunity to make more money. We run from activity to activity and it absolutely drains us spiritually and emotionally. The crucial and difficult task in learning to orient our lives around a single purpose, is saying “no” to things that are good, but which are not best, or essential.

We strongly encourage you to pray about this during the next week, and then ask your house church for help and prayer in determining what is essential and best for you to be doing at this point in your life. Make sure to address that question with an open Bible and an open heart.