All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

– Rom 10.13

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Go, sell your possessions.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

– Matt 19.21

The cost of discipleship is steep.  But yet, salvation is a free gift.  There is an apparent paradox exemplified in the reality that “it is by faith you have been saved, through grace and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so that no man may boast”, and “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Eph 2.8-9, Luke 9.23).

While it is true that God gives freely His salvation unto all who call upon His name, it is understood then that the calling upon His name is in complete and utter surrender and sacrifice.

Jesus, as fully God, had insight into the hearts of people who would question Him.  He called the twelve disciples.  He went to them and chose them before they even knew who He was, and called them by name.  And they left everything and followed Him!  Then throughout His earthly ministry, others came wanting to follow Jesus, but were unwilling to lay down their lives fully.  A scribe (religious leader of the day) told Jesus he would follow Him wherever He went, but yet turned away because to follow Jesus meant he would have no home; “no place to lay his head” (Matt 8.20).  Another man wanted to follow Jesus after burying his father and receiving his inheritance, yet Jesus said that the one who loves father and mother or son and daughter more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matt 10.37).

And then there is the story of the rich, young ruler.  He had kept the points of forbiddance of the Law, but devoid of the spirit of the Law:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.5

Jesus exposed his heart in the command to sell everything that he owned, give it to the poor and come after Him.  Jesus is not making the blanket statement that all who desire to be saved must sell every possession they own, but He is making the heart matter clear that the one who is unwilling to do so has not fully surrendered to God, and therefore is not saved.

Rarely do we see people literally do this.  Even missionaries do not do this, on the whole.  Most of them sell all of their belongings in the states, collect the revenue from the sales and then re-buy everything once they get to their place of service.  It is not super-spiritual to buy things locally in a host country.

Jesus is also not saying that all believers must own nothing.  But Jesus is saying that if there is anything which we are unwilling to give up, we have a god other than Him.  Something is more important to us than Him.  And this can be a material possession, it can be family, it can be a sin or a hobby.  And it is because of the severity of this statement that the disciples were led to ask:

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

– Matt 19.25

And Jesus very simply responded:

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

– Matt 19.26

It is impossible for us to generate a true and full surrender of our lives to God in love and unto salvation.  Only God can work that in our lives.

I have moved a lot during my lifetime.  In fact, since I was 18 years old, I have not been in the same house/apartment for more than 3 years.  Much of that was natural transitioning between college, grad school and work, but it also included a move halfway around the world.  Leading up to the age of 26, I knew I was headed overseas, so for the entirety of my independent life pre-moving, I did not collect many material possessions.  I minimally decorated my apartments, kept a cheap car, and saved most of the money that I made.  (Well, what was leftover after paying for school!)  Why?  Because I knew I could not take things with me, and it was worthless to buy fancy furniture that I was going to turn around and sell in a year or two.  This was not a spiritual discipline, it was simple economics.

Much in the same way, Jesus wants us to maintain an eternal perspective.  When we get to the judgment seat of Christ, He is going to require of us an account of how we used the blessings He bestowed upon us.  How did we use His money?  How did we use His house?  How did we treat His children?  And did we cling to any possession, person or sin so much that we were crushed or devastated at its loss?  Or did we so value something that we were unwilling to give it up to follow Christ?  Jesus says it is impossible for us to do this on our own.  But God will do it in and through us, working His will in us unto salvation, if we call upon His name and ask Him for the free gift of salvation.

What do you love?

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.20

treasure

Are you gathering or scattering?

When I was in the 8th grade, my family started attending a Southern Baptist Church.  In Philadelphia we went to a non-denominational church with a lot of structure and tradition, and when we moved to Indiana we found ourselves in a new setting.  Every denomination has a strength and Southern Baptists are traditionally excellent at evangelism and getting people in the door.  Having grown up in a more discipleship and liturgy oriented setting, it was exciting and intriguing to me.  I remember vividly one Thursday night at youth group hearing and misinterpreting the verse:  “for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matt 12.33).  I was beginning to understand fruit bearing as reproducing: bringing lost people to know Christ.  For quite a while I questioned the authenticity of my faith because I could not remember anyone with whom I had shared the Gospel and led to salvation.  It was a few years later when I realized that Jesus was speaking not of the work done upon someone else, but the work happening within the believer.  This fruit which identifies the believer is the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22

The pendulum cannot fully swing the opposite direction, however.  Because when we are transformed and exhibit the fruit of the spirit, we are living Christlike lives and others will consequently be transformed.  Thus Jesus can make this radical statement:

“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

– Matt 12.30

To be with Jesus is both to grow and deepen in the fruit of the Spirit.  And in doing so, we naturally gather unto Christ the harvest of souls.

Do you gather with Jesus?

If we are not gathering, then Jesus says we are scattering.  How can that be?  One might say, “I’m not out talking badly about Jesus” or “I’m not telling people to not believe”.  And while that might very well be the case, if you are in conversation with someone and you have received the gift of faith, the promise and hope of eternal life, abundant life here on the Earth and unsurpassed joy and peace, and you do not bring it up, that person will either consider your faith to be fake or not truly important to you – if he knows about it at all.  And he might very well continue on his path of destruction having never heard the story of hope, hardening his heart one step further every day.  In that way we scatter.  And when our attitudes fail and we dishonor Christ by our actions, in that way we scatter too.

This is true on the micro level within our communities, cities, states and countries, and it is also true on the macro level of the world.

“Every believer is either a goer, a sender, or in sin. Give or go, send or be sent, spend or be spent. A lost and undiscipled world awaits!”

– David Sills

Senders are not off the hook of daily fruit bearing in the Spirit and gathering of souls in the Spiritual harvest at home.  But our primary command, our “Great Commission”, or utmost responsibility as the Church is to make disciples of every nation.  And while the home church does that in it’s local community, it also does it by sending spokesmen out around the world.

“…for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

– Rom 10.13-15

Beautiful feet are not feet that are well groomed, clean and pretty.  Beautiful feet are those that walk the miles, go to the hard places, carry the load and reach the lost.  Are you bearing fruit?  Are you gathering with Jesus or are you scattering against Him?  Are you obeying the primary command of Jesus and serving the lost by making disciples of the world?

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Oh ye of little faith.

I grew up in a home of believers.  My parents were both raised in the church, we read the Bible together as a family every night after dinner, we were at church “every time the doors were open” and Bible stories/doctrine were common conversation.  We became so familiar with stories and verses that we would joke Scripture to each other.  One of us picked up a song put to the melody of “Frere Jacques” from Rev 21.8:

Revelation, Revelation,
Twenty-one eight, twenty-one eight,
Liars go to Hell, liars go to Hell, 
Burn, burn, burn.  Burn, burn, burn.  

It is quite irreverent, I know.  But as a child and youth, it certainly served its purpose of helping maintain a healthy fear of God and keeping His statutes!  And, of course, it was a good way to taunt my sisters.

But one phrase of Jesus that we, as a family, would often quote to one another and with which we would tease was “Oh ye of little faith”.  (My father still reads the King James Version, and most verses I memorized as a child were in Old English).  You are afraid to jump off the diving board?  Oh ye of little faith.  You do not think I can get ready in time?  Oh ye of little faith.  You are afraid I will wreck the car, again?  Oh ye of little faith.

But this week I was reading the story of Jesus walking on the water.  In the midst of the storm, He walked out on the sea to reach the boat where His disciples were, and they were afraid:

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.  After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.  But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was  contrary.  And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.

– Matt 14.22-32

It caught my attention as I read this time that Peter believed Jesus when He declared His identity, and he got out of the boat and walked on the water to meet Jesus.  He was the only disciple to request of Jesus and to get out of the boat and to walk on the water with Jesus.  Only when he was out away from the boat and became fearful of the waves did he become frightened and doubt.  And Jesus called him a person of little faith.

Little faith!

Have you ever walked on water?  I mean literally.  We like to allegorize this story and apply it to our walks of faith.  And while I think it is extremely helpful to remember that we must keep our eyes on Jesus and trust Him, even when the going gets tough and the proverbial waves begin to overtake us, Jesus states very clearly that faith the size of a mustard seed will leave nothing impossible for the believer (Matt 17.20).  That was in the context of casting demons out of people and exhibiting Spiritual authority, with the understanding that nothing is impossible for God or the believer when asked according to God’s will (Luke 1.37, 1 John 5.14).

Now, please don’t hear me incorrectly, I do not believe that if we have enough faith we will be able to walk on water.  I believe that God uses miracles for the furthering of the Gospel and the provision of His people, but not that He doles out supernatural powers just for the fun of it.  But imagine the depth of faith it took for Peter to do it.  He did not even have the story in the Bible to reflect on, He just trusted Jesus and did it.  But then He doubted and became afraid, and Jesus chastised him as one with little faith.

To what extent to you expect God to keep His word?  I find it curious that we say that we trust God with our eternity but not with the small and trivial things.  Do you trust God to provide food and clothing?  Because Jesus promises that He will.  He knows what His children need and is a good father (Matt 6.8, 25-34).  Do you trust Him to provide work?  Support?  Faith?  Everything that you need?  Or do you leave Him on the sidelines to handle Heaven while you deal with everything else?

Will you get out of the boat?  Because getting out of the boat and walking a short distance, on the water, is the mark of only little faith.  Let us ask God to give us faith, His great gift to us, such that Jesus will praise and marvel at our faith like He did the Samaritan woman and the Centurian (Matt 8.10, 15.28).

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; Not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

– Eph 2.8-9

walking-on-water

I don’t know what to say.

You know the feeling:  the Holy Spirit pounding on your rib cage from the inside, your heart is beating like a freight train and adrenaline is pouring through your muscles because the conversation in which you are engaged is about to turn Spiritual and you want to honor God and submit to the Spirit but you are simply terrified that you will not know what to say.  Perhaps your christian friend is falling into sin and you long so badly to pull him back before it is too late.  Perhaps there is a non-christian teetering on the abyss of eternal life and you want to offer him hope through Jesus Christ.  Perhaps your family member has just learned of the radical decision you made to surrender your life to Jesus Christ and thinks you have lost your mind.

You do not want to come across as a “know-it-all”, because we have all heard the counseling advice that sometimes we just need to listen.  Maybe he is not looking for an answer?  You do not want to presume upon someone who has not asked for your advice or input.  That is, after all, bad manners.  And what if he asks the hard question?  What if he brings up a point that I am not prepared to answer?  What if he stumps me and I look stupid and un-grounded in what I say I believe?

There once was a man named Moses.  He was a Hebrew, born while the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt.  Pharaoh had ordered that all male babies be murdered when they were born to keep the population under control, but Moses was fortuitously saved and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter herself.  But at the age of forty, he had a crisis of identity and attempted to connect with the Hebrews by killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.  When the story got out of what he had done, he fled the country.  He met a woman and married her in the wilderness, working for her father as a shepherd for forty years.

Then God rocked his world.  He appeared to Moses, and chose him as His mouthpiece before Pharaoh to free the Hebrews from Egypt.  God caught Moses’ attention by causing a fire in a bush, but the bush was not burnt by the fire, and from the fire God spoke.  For the first time since creation He named Himself, and promised Moses the details of the work that He would do:  the plagues, the miracles, hardening Pharaoh’s heart, freeing the Israelites and killing the Egyptians.

But guess what Moses said, to God Himself:

“Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

– Ex 4.10

God had just shown Moses the miraculous signs he would preform in Egypt:  turning his staff into a snake, causing his skin to be leprous and then healed, and he promised to turn the water of the Nile into blood.  But Moses, one of the fathers of our faith, standing in the presence of a miraculous sign, speaking audibly to the God of the universe protested and asked to get out of what God was asking him to do!

The Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”

– Ex 4.11-12

God is compassionate and slow to anger.  We do see in the story that God became angry at Moses and allowed his brother Aaron to get in on the action because of how cowardly Moses was, but He answered his fear thus.  He was with Moses’ mouth and taught him what he was to say.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples what they were to say in the event that they were taken before the court or religious authorities in regards to their faith:

“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

– Luke 12.11-12

He went into more detail a few chapters later:

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.  It  will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.  So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.”

– Luke 21.12-15

Jesus instructed the disciples not to prepare a defense, but to rely on the Spirit for inspiration and wisdom as to what should be said.

The disciples had clearly been with Jesus for three years.  They listened to his teaching every day, they spent much time in prayer and when the Spirit was given to them, they went out and began preaching boldly the things that Jesus had taught them, as He had instructed them.  Jesus’ instruction was not advice to ignorance.  We ought not ignore God and expect Him to work through us and speak through us without our involvement.  We must be in the word getting to know God and His heart daily.  We must be saturating our minds and our hearts with His truth and love, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6.45).

But we also need to be attuned to the Holy Spirit, and when we find ourselves in situations where Truth needs to be proclaimed, we must let Him speak through us.  He will draw on the things that have been rooted in our hearts.  He will bring verses to mind that we have memorized.  He will awaken our hearts and minds and when the Spirit speaks through us, only then can people’s hearts be changed.  God alone changes hearts, we cannot do it.

So do not fear what you are to say.  Let God say it through you, and let Him use you as His instrument to love and speak truth.  He created the mouth, and He created the person (or people) with whom you are speaking, and He will be faithful to give you the words when you surrender and let Him take over the conversation.

burning bush

What happens when we die?

I was young.  Four or five, and we had a big yellow/orange tabby cat that lived outside.  I loved that cat.  I loved all animals, but our golden retriever was so big and had so much energy that being only as tall as him, he would run circles around me.  In contrast our fat tabby cat liked to lay on the driveway and warm herself in the sun, be scratched and cuddle.  One day she got hit by a car and my dad and I went out to bury her.  We had a good sized back yard, and there was one section of the yard that fed into some woods behind us, and we went and buried her there.  While he was digging the hole, I asked him what happened to her next.  He said he was not sure, but probably nothing.

That was not actually true, as there was a pest of some sort that kept digging up her skull, so my dad got to rebury her multiple times, and when we realized her skull would not stay in the ground, my older sister took it to show-and-tell at school!

Death.  It is ugly.  It hurts.  It breaks families apart and causes mourning too deep for words.  It is terrifying.  How much time have you spent thinking about the reality of what happens after you die?  We are all going to die.

With medicine, security measures like seat belts and food availability what it is in the western world today, I know quite a few people well into their thirties who have never experienced the loss of death or even attended a funeral.  This is mind boggling to me, as I lost six peers in as many years when I was a teenager, on top of losing grand parents and others from churches along the way.  But I vividly remember beginning to wonder about eternity at the point that we buried our cat.  

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

 – Heb 9.27

Scripture does not give us step-by-step details about what happens after we die.  Some people in the Bible are accounted for having died and then raised back to life, but never do they testify about what they experienced in the meantime.  Lazarus was dead and buried for four days and restored to life.  So dead that he “stinketh” according to the King James version (John 11.39). 

But the authors of Scripture deemed that detail insignificant because of the clarity with which Jesus spoke of the eternal kingdom of God.  The resurrection by which everyone who has ever lived will be gathered before the throne of God, and we will all be judged – each one according to our works (2 Cor 5.10).  

Jesus, when he was speaking to Lazarus’ sisters, reminded them that he would live again.  They knew of the resurrection of the dead, whereby everyone would be restored to life.  And Jesus taught them that He Himself is the resurrection.  He is the one who will call everyone to the judgment, and then He will judge us.  

Paul makes an amazing claim about Jesus when writing to the Church at Colosse:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

 – Col 1.15-18 

The first time Paul says that Christ is the firstborn, he is referring to status and not chronology.  Jesus is the preeminent son of God; the only, and the heir.  But when it says the firstborn from the dead, he means that Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead in the eternal sense whereby we will all be restored to life for an eternity of reward for our deeds on earth.  Yes, Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, and the widow’s son was raised by Elijah hundreds of years before Jesus came to the earth.  But these people died again.  Their resurrection was not the one unto judgment and eternity.  

There are two judgments mentioned in Scripture.  When we are first raised, the sheep and the goats will be separated (Matt 25.31-46).  It is at this point that those who have not repented of their sins and come to Jesus Christ for salvation by faith alone will be damned to Hell.  Forever.  Then the believers will give an account for their deeds in the flesh, and their bad deeds will be burned up like chaff while their good deeds remain as reward to be used in worship to God (Rev 20.11-15).  

What happens in the meantime?  This is an unanswered question in Scripture.  Some believe we are in a paradise-like state.  Some believe we are unconscious until the judgment, while others believe at the point of death we leave the confines of time, much in the way God exists, and arrive at the judgment as it is occurring, with everyone else.  This is an unanswerable.  But we do know that we will be judged according to what we did on the Earth and therefore there will be no time for repentance once we die.  

God will require from us an account of how we used those gifts, talents and possessions with which He has blessed us.  He will take account of every careless word that was spoken (Matt 12.36).  How do you want to answer the creator of the universe?  

You are going to die.  And then you will be judged.  Are you ready?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 – Matt 6.19-21

graveyard

And if you were curious, even Solomon – the wisest man to ever live – said that no one knows what happens to animals when they die (Ecc 3.21).  

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

-J. S. Bach