Monday, September 28, 2009

Called to Follow - Matthew

Have you ever known anyone who was thought of as a traitor? What about a person who goes against what most believe? You know the person. They are considered an outcast. They do things there own way. They push against the norm of what is expected.

That was the man Jesus met as He passed on from Capernaum. Levi the son of Alphaeus was considered a traitor by the Jewish community, he was a tax collector. This is the man we know more accurately by his name given to him after following Jesus. We know him as Matthew, meaning "gift of God."

During the time Jesus walked on this earth, Rome ruled over Palestine. Rome collected several taxes from the people. Tolls for transporting goods where collected by private tax collectors, who in turn paid a fee to the Roman government for the right to assess the levies. The tax collectors charged extra for their own profits. They would hire what were called, publicans who did the actual work of collecting. The publican charged extra for their own wages. Those in this position were often corrupt and tacked on larger amounts than were acceptable.

Matthew was a publican who collected tolls on the road between Damascus and Accho, just outside the city of Capernaum. He was a tax collector, considered corrupt and a traitor by his own people. The Jews would have considered his money to be unclean and would not even ask for change back from him. He was not allowed to testify in court or bring a tithe to the temple. His position rendered him an outcast in his community. He was a Jewish man with no Jewish rights.

But Jesus evidently saw something that others didn't see.

Matthew 9:9 - As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.

Jesus, the Son of God, the one doing miracles with many, walks to the tax table and speaks. "Follow Me" He says to Matthew. I am sure all that had taken place on the other side of the river had reached the ears of Matthew. His response amazes me. It says, he got up and followed Jesus.

This would have been no small feat. He was in a prosperous position. He was a home owner which was not common for those without wealth. But he got up and left his position as a tax collector behind. He didn't try to work out a deal with Jesus so he could keep his lucrative position and still be a follower. Instead, he turned from his corruption and went with Jesus.

Next thing you know, Matthew is throwing a party to welcome and celebrate Jesus. He wants those he knows to see the real Messiah and meet Him face to face.

Matthew 9:10 - Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house , that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.

This was the real face of Jesus. God coming to save the sinner and heal the sick. Jesus was not upset to see the tax collectors and sinners at His table. I'm sure, instead, He was thrilled. These were the ones He had come to save. But the Pharisees saw it, and said to the disciples "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" They did not get the chance to answer the Pharisee's though. Jesus answers them Himself. He didn’t owe them an explanation but decides to make a strong point to everyone listening.

Matthew 9:12-13 - When Jesus heard that, He said to them "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But you go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee's, to those who thought they had everything right. They were righteous, the ones doing all the right the things, obeying the law. They were even teaching the law. But they were also the ones whose hearts were full of evil intent and desire. They believed they were righteous but they had no mercy within them. Instead, there was pride in their hearts.

He tells them, if you think you have it all figured out and need nothing then I didn't come for you. I came for those who are sick. Sadly, they were among the ones which were the most sick of all. Sick full of pride and a hardened heart.

We can learn so much from this piece of scripture as he says to the prideful, "go learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice."

Jesus doesn't need our sacrifices of time or energy. He instead asks our heart to be right. When we are willing to show mercy to those that we see as full of sin, we have a tender, humble heart. That is the heart God can reach. That is the heart that God can use.

So what do we learn from our new friend Matthew. Well, we can see why God would name him a gift. He penned the gospel of Matthew for us which gave us quite a gift. His writing, the gospel according to Matthew has probably been the most influential of all the gospels.

Mostly, I personally have learned from Matthew that there is no one to far gone to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. If Jesus could consider this man as worthy to be one of the twelve, He can make us into anything He desires.

Matthew paid a big price to follow Jesus. He gave up everything, including a position that paid big financially. I am grateful to Him for his decision. It makes mine easier to make. I, a great big sinner, need to see redemption like his.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Called to Follow - Bartholomew also called Nathanael

Today we meet Bartholomew or in Hebrew, "Son of Tolmai" meaning "God has given."

Don't you just love that meaning of a name? I do! As a mother, I relate. If I wasn't already done having children I would name my next one Bartholomew. God has given. Maybe I can convince a grandchild to be named this. It's at least worth a try. Most likely though, I’ll just hear "Mom!" as they roll their eyes at me and ignore my suggestion.

Back to our disciple....

Bartholomew was also known by another name, Nathanael. More often in scripture, we see him as Nathanael than Bartholomew. To make it easier on all of us, I will hereby refer to him as Nathanael.

Our disciple Nathanael was a student of scripture. He was always in search of true knowledge of God. We discern this by the way Philip tells him about Jesus.

John 1:45 - Philip found Nathanael and said to him "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Nathanael was well aware of the promises in scripture pointing to the Messiah's coming. So Philip knew that if he was to have his friends’ attention he had better reference the promises made by Moses and the prophets. Philip also knew Nathanael would see the fulfillment when he met Jesus himself. So he said to his friend "Come and see." In spite of the prejudice Nathanael had for Nazareth as an unrefined and undereducated area, he goes with Philip to meet Jesus.

John 1:47 - Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said to him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"

Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward Him and greets him from afar. He calls him an Israelite with no deceit. What a comment for someone to make as you approach them. This person could see who Nathanael was and not only that, he saw his character.

He knew that Nathanael had no deceit in him. Nathanael was not the type to be sly or use trickery to get his way. Instead he was straight forward and honest. Maybe even honest to a fault, some might think. But he when you dealt with him you knew what you were getting into. There was no reading between the lines or trying to figure out what he really meant. I believe Nathanael was transparent and open.

Fit me right in there with this guy! I know the downfall and the up side of this trait. I have been told by some that they love it and others, well, they just stay away. I am transparent about my life and my faults. So much so that it has made people uncomfortable at times.

Believe me; I am not trying to make anyone uncomfortable. I just realize that God already knows and sees where I've been and what I've done. He sees my downfalls and short comings. I no longer need to feel ashamed for these things. It’s called grace and I plan to live in it daily and to the fullest.

I still must repent when I sin and try to live in righteousness. But I refuse to feel shame for what I have lived through in my past. I lived through abuse as a child, and talking about these things can make some people uncomfortable. I know and understand there discomfort. I just don't allow myself to take on anyone else’s shame or go back to mine that’s gone and forgiven.

Jesus knows our transgressions and everything about us. He took one look at Nathanael and knew who he was and what he was all about. He sees this about us also. Jesus sees inside us. He knows who we are, what we are thinking. He knows our next move before we even do.

How often do we believe we can hide things from God? We seem to think if we don't talk to Him about it that He doesn't know. What are we thinking? He can see it all. How much better off would we be if we were just honest and approached God instead of running away?

John 1:48-49 - Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!"

Jesus knew Nathanael before he had ever met Jesus. He had seen Nathanael under the fig tree and knew everything there was to know about him. Philip was right; Nathanael did recognize the Messiah when he met him. He called Jesus, Rabbi and exclaimed You are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!

This pure hearted man with all sincerity knew who he was committing his life of service too. He would not waver later when he would be called to stand up for the truth. He would instead finish well, just as we are called to do.

He knew what was at stake. He knew that he might well have to die for his Savior. But his sincere heart called him to the one he had heard about probably from his early years.

Nathan shows us that having a pure heart after the true Messiah is worth the cost we might have to pay. He also shows one of the qualities we will need to finish the job we are called to. We will need to be without deceit. A heart with no guile, that’s pure and sincerely in love with Jesus.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Counting the Cost to Follow

Have you ever been swept up in the moment? Excitement surrounds you at every angle. You seem to be on a high that will never end.

I have experienced times where the spirit of God is so strong in the room that I have felt if He pours anymore of Himself on me I would burst. Those emotionally, spirit filled times are amazing but we all have to come down eventually.

It must have been exciting to be called by Jesus Christ personally and become his follower. What an emotionally charged feeling it must have been to know that the Messiah was calling you to be his disciple. Just like us though, they had to come down to reality eventually. They too were given the truth of what it would cost them to follow.

Let's explore that today. What did it cost them to follow and what will it cost us also?

Matthew 8:19-22 - Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then another of His disciples said to Him "Lord let me first go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

Here we see Jesus with a multitude coming after Him; he had taught them and is ready to climb into the boat to go across to the other side. A young man, a scribe amongst the throngs of people has heard the call to follow. He has wrestled with his decision and in the last instance before Jesus is gone; he says "Teacher, I will follow you where ever you go."

What does Jesus tell this young man to do? Does he tell him come along, the more the merrier? No. He tells him to count the cost. He tells him that even the foxes have holes to sleep in and the birds have nest but the Son of Man lives in poverty and has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus is showing this young man the cost he will pay to follow. Jesus is asking him if he is willing to pay that price. Is he willing to give up everything and live in poverty just like Jesus does?

Then another following says to Jesus "Let me first go and bury my father" and He says "Follow Me, and let the dead bury the dead."

Seems a little harsh doesn't it? You would think this person had just lost his father to death and needed to go do his duty and bury him. Not the case.

Back in those days, it would have been part of the son’s responsibility to care for the father until his death. What this young man meant was he could not leave and follow Jesus until his father had died. Jesus tells him to let someone else care for his father. In other words, Jesus was posing a decision to this man, "Who will you put first, Me or your father?"

Just like these two men, we are asked the same things. Will we pay the price to follow? Will we put Jesus first before all things?

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus spells out the cost for us:

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower does not sit down first and count the cost , whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him. Saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish." Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple."

We too must count the cost. Spelled out in black and white, Jesus calls for all. Everything must be given. Forsaking all things. There is no compromising. There is no holding on to old things or people. There is only Jesus and the path he has planned out for you.

He also asks, will we finish? Will we get down the road when the going gets tough and fall short, leaving ourselves open to be mocked? Or will we stay strong and cross the finish line?

For Jesus, there is no dragging along baggage with us. We are called to make the sacrifices needed to remain on the road with Him. We must shed the things of the past, maybe even the things that we love. Are we willing?

Now, I know that the cost looks high and a huge price to pay. But we are not asked to pay such a high price for no reason. We are also not called to pay the price alone. There are benefits that make it well worth the sacrifice here on earth.

In Mark 10:28-31 we see Peter remind Jesus "We have left all and followed You." Which in reply Jesus acknowledges there sacrifices and tells them they will reap a hundredfold in eternity those things they sacrificed. He tells them that many who are first will be last and the last will be first.

We may not reap all we would love to have here on this earth, but we are assured of great rewards lasting eternally. Our reward awaits with lasting benefits. We are assured of an eternity with Jesus in heaven. What better reward could there be?

There are however also some rewards that we are given now. When we choose to follow Jesus, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. That in itself is a great reward. The more we rely on the Spirit and leave behind our human nature we are given the blessing of fruit in our life. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) We are filled with these things in the midst of strife, struggle and trials.

Imagine having a peacefulness and joy filling you even in the midst of horrible circumstances. It is those qualities that gave Paul the ability to sing and praise God while chained in prison. It was also how the disciples were converted and sustained during much persecution.

I myself consider such abilities to be a great benefit and reward right now. We will never escape the bad in this world, whether we follow Jesus or not. Tragedy, murder and evil are here to stay. But we can have the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to navigate through difficult times.

John 8:12 - Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

We are not left alone to navigate through this world. If we choose to follow, we are given the light of the world to shine the way. We are not left in darkness but instead we are given a light to guide us through this life and into the next.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Redeemed & Transformed by a Personal God

Just as the twelve disciples were called over two thousand years ago to follow, we are also called to do the same. We are not called to follow at a distance but to an up close and personal walk with Christ. Just as the twelve walked with Jesus in a very intimate and personal way, we too are called to the same.

When the twelve disciples were called, Jesus was here on earth in the flesh. Today, Jesus calls us with the Spirit He left behind. The Spirit I am speaking of is the person of the Holy Spirit. The third part of the trinity, fully God. The Holy Spirit is continually wooing us, or rather, calling us to “follow.” Calling us to leave everything the world has to offer behind and walk in the foot steps of Jesus. Will we join him?

When making any big decision, we should probably take a look at a few things first. We should evaluate the risks, requirements, consequences and the benefits of following Jesus. What better way to do that then to look at those that served Jesus as His first followers?

Matthew 4:18-20- And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brother, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

Follow me, Jesus said to Andrew and Simon Peter. They left their nets and followed Him.

Matthew 4:21-22 – Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

James and John were called by Jesus. They left their boat and father and followed Him.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

Follow Me, Jesus said to Matthew. So he arose and followed Him.

John 1:43 - The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me”

Follow Me, Jesus said to Philip. So he followed.

Repeatedly we are shown in scripture that when Jesus calls someone, the request is simple. Follow Me, He says. He speaks two very simple words that carry a huge impact. What exactly did He did mean?

Looking back at the Greek meaning of follow, there were two different words for it. The first being, akoloutheo meaning “as a particle of union.” The second word being, keleuthos, meaning “to be in the same way with or to accompany.

So the word follow itself is used literally and metaphorically. Literally, as if walking together with Jesus day by day and metaphorically as in being united, part of a union spiritually.

How fabulous is that? We are called to be in union with Jesus. Called to a personal relationship with the Almighty God. Not to a list of rules and regulations but a personal friendship, companionship with Jesus Christ. Now who wouldn’t want that?

Jesus wants us to know Him, to be with Him, to spend our days walking with Him as the first twelve did. Imagine a day with Jesus where He is walking with you, talking to you and teaching you as you go about your daily business. You are asking questions and He is telling you more than you had anticipated. What a journey that would be.

I think the one on one face time the twelve disciples got was priceless. What I wouldn’t give to see Jesus in the flesh. To be able to ask Him all the silly little things that I think about all day long. Sometimes I like to day dream and imagine about the day I will meet Him face to face. I dream about what it will be like and what I will say to Him. But wait, I don’t have to wait to have personal time with him. I can do that right now. And that is exactly what He wants from me, to be with Him.

Behind my house is about three hundred acres of manicured lawn. I live on a golf course, so I don’t have to manicure all that grass. Praise God for the small things! Thank you Jesus for not making me mow! If it were my responsibility we would be in big trouble. That first sentence above would read more like this, behind my house is about three hundred acres of wild grass and thistles….

Anyway, the view behind my house is a beautiful sight. It’s full of rolling hills, a pond and walking paths. Oh yeah, and golfers but I try to ignore them. In the morning when the sun comes up, the sunrise is breathtaking. Sometimes I like to take advantage of the sunrise and walk along the paths as God is in the process of waking up everything around me. In those times as I walk and talk with Jesus I almost feel as if He is there with me in flesh and bone. It is so personal that I am grateful the golfers have not started to appear yet. It is a time for just me and Jesus to walk alone. I cherish our time as I am sure He does also. But I am sure if I were to ask Him, He would want to walk with me even when were not alone. He would want to be with me in all that I do.

Just as the disciples walked with Jesus all the time, we too need to walk with Him all the time. What will happen as we do is a transformation will begin to occur.

Just as the transformation occurred in each of the disciples, we too will have the changing power of Jesus take the old nature from us and fill us with a new one.

Simon Peter began his walk with Jesus as the unpredictable one. The one that swore allegiance to Jesus, never to deny Him in Mark 14:29. Only to deny Him three times and curse His name later the same day.

Jesus named Simon Peter the “rock” and built His church through him. Through no strength or ability of his own, Simon Peter became the leader of the twelve disciples and also the early church. His first sermon recorded in Acts 2:14-40 shows a new, transformed man full of the Spirit. He went on to preach with power and conviction until he was eventually put to death for his faith.

The brothers James and John were named “sons of thunder” by Jesus. These two young men, full of thunder were a force of nature. They were bold, ambitious and sometimes overconfident. Mark 10:35-41 records their attempt to be seated on both sides of Jesus in His glory. Here they are, vying for position with God Almighty. I would say they were some what self-serving and self-motivated. They were looking for what they could get from Jesus.

That soon changed though. James, the first to suffer a martyr’s death, converts his accuser to Jesus Christ as he stands to die. His accuser goes to his own death along with him. In the end, we see a man no longer self consumed, but a man full of God. We see a new James, transformed by the Spirit into a strong and powerful witness for Jesus Christ.

John became known to all as the apostle of love. No longer was He the ambitious young man he once was. Penning one of the gospel records of Jesus’ life, the three letters of John and the book of Revelation, John left us much knowledge with his contributions. Living longer than all the other disciples, John was able to leave behind, in his writings, a treasure of wisdom to guide us.

So how does transformation of this magnitude come about for us? How do we get from the old self to the new?

It is only by belief, surrender and repentance that we begin a transformation like this. First, we must believe in Jesus Christ, accepting the good news that He died on the cross and rose again to pay for our sins. Surrender comes in the form of giving over our lives to Jesus and letting Him be the one that guides our life. The final piece comes when we repent. Turning from our old ways and living in the new life we have received.

We are drawn by the Father and no one will come to Jesus without the Father granting it. It is in the privilege of receiving the love God has to offer that we are truly filled with what we are looking for.

John 6:44 – No one can come to the Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.

Drawn to Jesus by the Father. Jesus then says “Follow Me” to each of us. The decision of if we will or won’t “follow” is left up to us. What ever the case, the question must be answered. Will we leave our old life behind and follow or will we refuse?

Some would say that by avoiding the question we are not answering. The truth is, not answering is really just another way of saying no. When we ignore, avoid and side step, we are telling Jesus “No, I will not follow you.”

On the other hand, when we make the decision to say yes, we are filled with the Spirit and the transformation begins. The power of God then surges through us, giving us the ability to do things that would otherwise be impossible. We are given the power to stand boldly at the cross while our savior is crucified. We are given the power to preach the gospel in the midst of those that hate Jesus. We are given the power to live a life full of grace, love and mercy for others. We are even given the power to die for our belief.

Everyone is looking for a reason for why we are here on this earth. We each need to know that our life is not in vain. All of us are searching for a supernatural connection. We are looking for something that is bigger than ourselves. Something with power behind it that can overcome what we feel inadequate to control ourselves.

That supernatural power resides in heaven with the Father, by His side in His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit left behind to fill His believers. God in three parts is the only thing that can give us that power. He’s the only thing that can fill the empty holes inside our heart. He’s the only thing that can bring meaning to what we see in the world around us.

That supernatural connection, that transformation is available to all, but we must first begin to “follow.” What will we decide?

Called to Follow - Philip

I have the feeling that many of you will relate to today’s lesson about Philip. His story is much like most everyone’s story. An ordinary person, full of fault and failures comes to Jesus in spite of those things. He is used by Jesus even though he has flaws and little faith at first.

Philip, called to "follow", just like the other disciples we have looked at this week. We see his story begin at Bethabara beyond the Jordan River. As Jesus is on his way to Galilee, he finds the young Philip.

John 1:43 - The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me."

Jesus, once again sees an ordinary young man and decides "this one, I'll ask this one." Although, this scripture doesn't say "he followed", we know that he did. We know this because he was included in the list as one of the twelve in other scripture.

What we do know about Philip though, is he had the heart of an evangelist. The first thing Philip does after his encounter with Jesus is go find Nathanael. He brings Nathanael to meet Jesus and he becomes a follower himself.

Like Andrew, Philip knew right away that Jesus was the Messiah. He knew the importance of finding Jesus and wanted others to come to the same knowledge. He ran immediately to find his friend Nathanael and bring him to the Messiah.

Philip and Nathanael must have studied scripture together. The way Philip tells Nathanael indicates knowledge of the prophecies about Jesus. He says to him "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:45) Philip had no doubt that he had encountered the Messiah written about by Moses and the prophets. He was fully confident of his decision to follow Jesus and willing to bring others to the same.

Confidence in his decision didn't change some of his character flaws though. He was still full of flaws as all of us are. Being pessimistic and the facts and figures type, Philip sometimes had wavering faith. We see this unfold in the story of feeding five thousand in John 6:5-7.

Jesus seeing a great multitude coming toward him said to Philip "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" Jesus knew what He would do to feed all these people; he didn't need the help of Philip. Instead, this was an opportunity for Philip to show his faith. How did he respond?

Instead of responding with faith, his bean counter mentality kicked in and he began to tally the cost and concluded it could not be done. He saw the impossibility of the situation not the possibility Jesus brought to it.

"Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little" was Philips response to Jesus.

How often do we do this ourselves? Assess the situation and decide that it’s impossible? Never once looking at it the way Jesus would. We approach the impossible situations in our life with a narrow focus, pragmatic and cynical instead of with vision and faith. Just like Philip, we can see only the here and now and forget the power Jesus brings to the table.

Philip missed the opportunity to step out in faith again in John 14:7-11.
We see him not fully getting the bigger picture when immediately after Jesus tells him something he makes the following request.

"Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us."

Jesus had just said "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him."

Hello! Philip, get a clue! Jesus has just told you that if you see Him, you have seen the Father. Evidently he was thinking of practical down to earth matters and missed what Jesus meant.

Once again, guilty myself! I have been in Philip's shoes, how about you? Missing the boat completely and not understanding what Jesus is telling me is familiar to me. Sometimes my rudimentary mind will wait until He slaps me in the face with it before I finally get what I am supposed to. Those of us with practical, simple, stubborn minds take a little longer sometimes.

Good news! It's those of us that are simple and full of weakness that God intends to use. It is the weak God can make strong.

I Corinthians 1:27 - But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.

Jesus did just that with Philip. God chose him not because he had great ability but because he had a moldable, pliable heart. He created Philip into a mighty warrior for the good news. Multitudes came to Jesus from the preaching of Philip. In spite of all his human frailty and faults, he was greatly used by God.

Like the rest of the disciples, Philip stood strong in faith in life and death. He too was eventually martyred for the cause of Christ. In AD 54 after laboring diligently, he was scourged, thrown in prison, and afterwards crucified.

That my friends, is a transformed man. Transformed from a pragmatic man lacking understanding and faith, into a bold, spirit filled man, faithful to Christ to the end.

Lord, I want to be like that!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Called to Follow - John the brother of James

John the brother of James. Sounds so familiar to me.... As I said in the last posting about James, I was often spoken of in the same way. For many years I was Sherri, the little sister of Tammy. I hated to be called that.

Looking back now, I believe I was upset that my identity was so closely tied to someone else. I was nothing like my sister, although we had similar facial features. Because she had gone through the school two years before me, people thought I would be the same as my sister. It was as if I had no identity of my own.

What they did not realize is that I was a very different person with my own talents and abilities. I was not just Tammy's little sister, I was Sherri. A person created by God with her own purposes. I believe the same could be said about John. Although we see him referred to as the brother of James, he was his own person. John had his own individual reasons that Jesus called him to be a disciple and we will see that unfold for us.

John was called to follow Jesus at the same time as his brother was and shortly after named along with James "sons of thunder." Both of the brothers were zealous, ambitious and overconfident but John had some individual characteristics we need to look at.

John was bold and impulsive but he was also very emotional. His emotions would often erupt in his conversations with Jesus. We see in Mark 9:38 a very emotional reaction as John tells Jesus they forbade a man from casting out demons because he was not a follower of theirs. Jesus tells John not to forbid him because anyone that works miracles in His name would not speak evil of Him after doing that.

In Mark 10:35-41 John, along with James ask for a favor from Jesus. They ask to sit on the left and right sides of Jesus in His glory. How ambitious! Jesus asks if they can drink the cup he drinks and their answer is yes. Talk about overconfidence.

Our young John at the time called by Jesus was indeed bold and confident. Maybe even a little too confident. But his boldness and confidence would serve him well a little later in his journey.

At the time of Jesus death, John was the only disciple who dared to stand at the foot of the cross. (John 19:26-27) He gave not concern to the consequences that he might face and instead stayed as the ugly scene of Jesus' crucifixion played itself out.

Then Jesus speaks his last instruction to John. As Jesus is hanging there, with little life left and not much breathe, He commits his mother into John's care. From that hour, John took Mary the mother of Jesus as his own mother to care for.

What sadness and doom he must have felt as he watched his master die. Then to have insulted added to injury just a few days after when Mary Magdalene comes to say the tomb is empty. The horror! The tomb empty, now His body taken?

In John 20:1-10, we see as John outruns Simon Peter to look for himself. Stooping down to peer into the grave, he finds Mary’s words to be true. All that remained in the tomb was the linen cloth used to dress him. Since the disciples did not know the scripture that the Messiah would rise again, they left and went back to their homes. The walk back would not be like the run there. Instead it would be a slow pace with feet made of lead. A final blow. The Messiah gone.

Thankfully this was not the last encounter we see John have with Jesus. In John 20:19-21, we see this. That very evening, the same one where John finds the tomb empty, John is assembled with the other disciples behind closed doors. As the meeting goes on, Jesus comes and stands in the midst and says "Peace be with you." He shows them His hands and His side and sends them out to do as He had done, share the good news.

What rejoicing must have taken place behind those closed doors! Did they sleep after that? I sure wouldn't. I can imagine that John was riding three feet off the ground, not to touch down for some time to come. Who would even try to put their head on a pillow after seeing the risen Lord right before your eyes? Who needs sleep, Jesus is alive!!

I often think about what it will be like when I see Jesus in person. What will I feel? Will I laugh, cry, weep uncontrollably or just be speechless? Maybe I will be able to do nothing but fall to my face and worship. But until this very moment, I have not thought about meeting the risen Lord like the disciples did. What an amazing moment that must have been. I would have loved to of been there.

John, the bold, ambitious and overconfident young man was also one who was transformed by Jesus Christ. Given the power of the Holy Spirit, he became a force used by God to preach the good news.

He was to become known as the Apostle of love. Besides teaching of Jesus death and resurrection, John taught of the character of God. Penning the three letters of John, he taught that God is love, showed us to walk in the light and that there is no life with out God.

In his final years, John left us with two jewels. Recording the life of the one he loved so dearly, John wrote for us the Gospel according to John. Then while exiled on the island of Patmos before his death, John penned the book of Revelation. Known to be the only book telling us the end of the story. This book brings a great hope to all believers. It gives us an eternal hope, just as it must have given John.

Called to Follow - James Son of Zebedee

Were you the eldest sibling amongst your brothers and sisters? The one looked to first by family or maybe friends and teachers at school? I was not. Instead I was the younger of two girls born just two years apart. I remember so vividly everyone looking to my older sister first and feeling a bit under appreciated. Especially at school. I heard the words, "Your Tammy's sister aren't you?" so often that I began to reply, "NO! MY NAME IS SHERRI."

James, unlike me, did have the privilege of being the eldest sibling. We are told in scripture he was the older brother of John. When we see James mentioned in scripture, we always see his brother John also mentioned. Unlike my sister and me though, sibling rivalry didn't seem to divide the brothers. Instead, we see two brothers working very closely together. Maybe that says something for the character of both James and John in the way they handled their position in the family. James instead of using his position as a form of control over his brother became an inspiration and encouragement for John. John instead of being petty or jealous looked up to the one who could teach him much.

It is no surprise that they were called to be followers of Jesus at the same time. Mark 19-20 shows us this.

When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.

Just as Andrew and Peter had, they left everything and followed after Jesus. James and John even had there father present, leaving him behind still in the boat. Once again we see, when we are called, we must leave behind our personal choices and begin to just follow Jesus.

Both of these brothers were seen at some critical places while following Jesus during His earthly ministry. First we see them on the mountain when Jesus' transfiguration occurred in Matthew 17:1-3. We see them question Jesus on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 17:10. Once again we see them witness the grief and passion of Christ as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before he was to go to his death. (Mark 14:33)

The picture painted for us in scriptures is one of two brothers that stuck together like glue. Although there is much value and many lessons about brotherly love we can take from there togetherness, I would like to pull them apart for a just a little bit and look at James by himself.

Each of us being of a very different make up from our creation, we have our own uniqueness and contribution to offer Jesus. Let's see what James individual contribution was.

In Mark 3:17 Jesus gives both brothers the name Boanerges, meaning "Sons of Thunder". What a curious name to be given. What did it mean?

James being a passionate, fervent man, was zealous for the things of God. Sometimes zeal can go to the extreme, which was the nature of our disciple James. He was thunderous, a force of nature.

Maybe this became his nature because of the experiences he went through with Jesus. To see the one you are following transfigure in front of you must have been an incredible experience. In Matthew 17:2 it says Jesus' face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light. Verse 3 says that Moses and Elijah (who had long been dead) appeared and were standing there talking to Jesus. How incredible would that be to see the glory of God exposed right before your very eyes? Then not only is Jesus a glowing light, as bright as the sun, but Moses and Elijah appear! WOW! That's got to make you just a little bit zealous for Jesus.

But that wasn't all our friend James saw. In Mark 14:33 we see his journey to the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. As the hour of betrayal approached, Jesus takes James along with Peter and John with him into the garden. Jesus is troubled and deeply distressed. Here in his humanness, just like us at times, he is deeply troubled inside. He then says to them "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." His soul, being fully God but yet fully man, was overwhelmed with sorrow. So much sorrow that it felt like death. Jesus then goes a little further, falls to the ground, weeping tears of blood he asks of the Father, “if possible let this cup be taken from him.”

What it must have been to see someone you loved go through such pain and betrayal. To be present in those last moments, then witness Him arrested and dragged away.

James, full of zeal was the first of the disciples to be martyred. Hated by Herod Agrippa for his fervent belief, the King hoped to squash the Christian movement with James' death. Instead the word of God grew and multiplied. According to Foxe's book of Martyr's, James' accuser was brought to repentance at the death of James. This man saw his extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at James feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone.

What courage and extraordinary character this elder brother had. If only we too could be so steadfast in faith. Steadfast in life and even unto death just as James was.

What must we learn from James? I believe we must first see his amazing transformation from a man willing to go off the deep end for no reason to a man full of zeal for Jesus Christ. We also must learn to have an undying belief in Jesus that will sustain through all things. It is in that kind of faith that we will not only live life well but also live death well, leaving a lasting legacy behind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Called to Follow - Simon Peter

Called to faith in Christ by his brother Andrew we see Simon also called Peter. Andrew who ran to his brother to share the good news, "I have found the Messiah." He tells Simon Peter.

How quickly Simon Peter grasps a hold of the news and believes. This fisherman from Galilee did not know that his destiny was to become the strongest disciple and leader of the early church of Jesus Christ. He only knew what he was being told by his brother.

Andrew brings his brother to Jesus for his first encounter with the one he will soon follow. Jesus looks at him and says "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas."

What a curious encounter. To meet up with the one his brother emphatically claims to be the Messiah and be given a new name by Him. Not just any name but one meaning the "rock". What would this mean to him and his future? This impetuous, volatile, unpredictable young man with a temperament of varying from one extreme to another would be called "rock." Not plausible or even possible, he must of thought.

After returning home with Andrew and resuming there fishing career, along comes Jesus. We are not told how long in between these two encounters but we know they were convinced of Jesus' position. Because they dropped their nets and went with Him at His command to follow. After Jesus spoke the words Follow Me, we see in Matthew 4:20 that they immediately left their nets and followed Him.

I find it interesting that it speaks to the immediate response by the two brothers. There were no questions raised or remarks made, only obedience.

So how does an unpredictable young man respond to the life of a follower of Christ?

In Matthew 16:15-16 we see Peter answer who Jesus is "You are the Christ, Son of the Living God." And Jesus commends him in verse 18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

Seven verses later we see Peter take Jesus aside and rebuke him. Jesus, tells the disciples of his impending death and is told by Peter "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"

Jesus turns to Peter and says “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."

This was often the dialog with Simon Peter, from one extreme of emotion to the other. Even up to the end, when Jesus is about to go to the cross. Peter emphatically proclaims his devotion to Christ and that he will never deny him in Mark 14:29. Only to turn around in verse 71 and not only deny him but to do it three times, then curse the very one he swore allegiance to.

Let’s not stop the story here though. If we did we would only see the tragedy in his denial. If we move forward past Jesus' resurrection we see a transformation that shows the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, which included our friend Peter. This once impetuous, volatile young man became the incredible leader of the early church. He was known by the other disciples as the strongest of them and the leader. He was molded by the Spirit of God into a stable, dynamic man that led many to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

In Acts 2:14-40 we see the new man emerge as he preaches the gospel to all who will listen. Here we see the Holy Spirit led Peter deliver the first bold sermon that would lead others to Christ.

So what can we learn from Peter?

We can learn many things from him, but the one that stands out the most to me is this. What ever our character, our identity, our behavior is before we meet Jesus Christ, it will certainly not be the same once the Holy Spirit does its transforming work in us. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is beyond the transforming power of Christ.

We may be in a bad place, but we need not stay there. There is a God. There is a powerful life changing God that wants to transform our lives. Not only does He want to transform our lives but also our character. He is in the business of renewing, restoring and transforming. He will not stop until the end comes and we descend to heaven.

In the end when the job is complete we will stand before the Father in heaven. I believe He will then say, "You look just like my son, you look like Jesus"

The transforming work will be complete.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A New Study Underway

Good Morning everyone!!! Or maybe I should say good afternoon.... I guess it just depends on what time I post this or what time you may be reading it. So what ever time it is for you I hope it finds you good.

As you can probably tell, my postings have been random and sporadic at best. I have been writing as time allowed and inspiration struck.

Well..... Things are about to change. I have a brand new study I’ve been working on that will be posted here first. You will get the first glimpse of the work that God has set a burning fire in my heart about. God has set my heart to a high temperature for sharing a new view of what it means to follow after Jesus. The name of the study is "CALLED TO FOLLOW" and it will cost you nothing but your time to join in. I pray you will be overwhelm by the spirit and changed by it!

Please feel free to leave stories, comments and input as we go along. I would love, love, love to hear from you!

Here a taste of what’s to come:

I am the one crying in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the Lord" John the Baptist spoke when asked who he was. "It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose."

John was speaking of Jesus, the one worthy of our worship, praise and dedication. He was crying out to all who would listen "THERE IS “GOOD NEWS”, THE MESSIAH, HE IS COMING."

The very next day, John is awed with the sight of Jesus coming toward him. He says "Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" This was Him! The very man he had spoken of the day before. This was the one who was preferred before him because He was before him. This was the one John felt he was not worthy to even loose His sandal straps. Coming towards him was God made flesh and set on earth to change everything. There He was, He was coming, heading straight towards John. What excitement and joy must have filled his heart as he waited.

There with John the Baptist, was a young man, probably of teenage years. Andrew was his name, a strapping, physically strong, devout and faithful young man. It didn’t hurt that his name in Greek meant manly.

As Andrew heard Johns proclamation "Behold the Lamb of God!" and then heard Jesus speak, he followed after Him. Jesus seeing him follow turned and asked him what it was that he sought from him. "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Andrew replied. So Jesus took him to see where he was staying. Andrew remained with Him the rest of that day and soon after went to find his brother Simon also known as Peter. “We have found the Messiah” he told Simon, winning over his brother to the Lord with his testimony.

What must Andrew of thought about this man, Jesus. He called Him Rabbi, so he knew Him as a Teacher. But what else must have been in his mind? All his life, growing up in the area of Capernaum, an area despised by the polite Jewish society. Knowing only the trade of fishing and then to hear from John, the one discipling him, this IS the one we have waited for. This is the Chosen One, the Lamb of God. His heart believed. He knew what John spoke was true. We see this with his testimony to his brother. Not only did he believe, but he believed enough to tell his brother and bring him to belief also.

"I must know for myself...." I am sure he thought, as he followed Jesus to where He was staying.

But Jesus didn't call Andrew to follow Him at that time. For whatever reason, He waited. We see it in Matthew 4:18-19, Jesus walking long the Sea of Galilee, sees the two young men Simon Peter and Andrew casting a net into the Sea. Being fishermen by trade, they were doing there job as usual.

Jesus spoke only these few words to them "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men."

How did they respond? Did they ask what the plan was or where they would be going? Did they need to put there affairs in order first? Did they need a job description, a daily agenda, a finance plan or a benefit package with 401K match?

The answer is NO. They needed nothing but the clothes on their backs and a belief that Jesus was the God He said He was. They needed only to trust the heart within them to know that Jesus would be all they would need. He was the Messiah, the coming King, the one they had waited for.

As we end today.... What is in your life that you need besides Jesus? We are called to "follow" like Andrew and Simon did. Will we lay down our nets and just go?

Check back on Monday of next week for the continuation of "CALLED TO FOLLOW" a study on discipleship... Jesus style