Are You a Believer or a Disciple?

Wanted24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 16:24-25).

In the late 1800’s Ernest Shackleton, the famous explorer, when he was about to set out from England on an expedition to the South Pole, put an ad in the London Times, “Men wanted for hazardous journey to the South Pole. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” How many people do you think responded to the ad? (Scrolling further down can see the answer).

We have a tendency in the Western church of Jesus Christ to want to make it easier for people. We’re afraid that the message of Jesus Christ and His call to commitment will put some people off. We put coffee cup holders at the back of the seats, and only brew premium coffee. We make the room warm, but not too warm in case we put people to sleep. The music has to be just right, with perfect sound reproduction. The children’s classrooms have to have enough toys, with no hint of a stain or blemish on any of them. Our Western culture has permeated our church culture. As a result, we have a marketing mentality. People in the West are used to this. The churches in Asia are not bound by such marketing strategies; they have grown strong by deep commitment to the cause of Christ. When we think of Shackelton’s advertisement, why would this draw anyone? When calling for a commitment, Earnest Shackleton told them that this would not be easy, and only those who were ready to give up their lives for the cause should apply. He wrote, “Safe return doubtful.” This would be a trip of great hardship, with a small wage, bitter cold and long months of darkness. What would move anyone, we would think, to desire to go with Shackleton? In speaking of it afterward he said that so overwhelming was the response to his appeal that it seemed as though all the men of Great Britain were determined to accompany him. In fact, Shackleton had over 5000 replies to his ad.[1]

Why do you think 5000 men responded to such an advertisement?

I think many are looking for something to give themselves to that would live on after their deaths. Men need a challenge. Even though there was a possibility of death, the response was overwhelming and surprising. However, out of those 5000 people only 27 were chosen for the trip. Advertisements for young men to join the Marines play on this desire for challenge, commitment, hardship, honor and recognition. I would think that if we could have questioned the 5000 responders their main motive would have been the same as those that join the Marines, that of the challenge, glory, hardship, and the desire to be part of something that will make a difference. The most inspiring thing you can ever say to somebody is that they have made a difference through what they have done. Many today are aware that the future does not look bright for anyone who has a mind to look at what is happening in the world. It will become increasingly dangerous to be a Christian as we approach the end times, yes, even here in America. There will be increasing pressure to compromise your faith and your values. What things do you see happening that is pressuring Christians to compromise their faith?

Without a deep commitment to the cause of Christ and an intimate love for the King of Love we will be swept away from the centrality of Christ and obedience to His Word. We are called to go beyond being believers to being disciples. Let me ask you this question, if it were illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Your answer to that question may shed light on whether you are a believer, or a disciple. I pray today that these words today may find an opening in your heart to desire to be a disciple rather than just a believer.

Read more on this study by scrolling down to the Becoming a Disciple Series and click on the second study, “A Revolution of the Committed.”

Keith Thomas

[1] Quit You like Men, Carl Hopkins Elmore (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944).

Is God Testing You?

anvil-fire

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).

10For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance (Psalm 66:10-12).

Sometimes our lives are full of burdens and it seems as if God is nowhere. In fact, it seems as if He is letting men ride over our heads and lay burdens on our backs. Why would God allow these things to go on in the lives of His children? I am presuming that you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. If not, then maybe today is your day to place your trust in His finished work in full payment of the debt of sin you owe. If you are a Christian, God views our testing as a refining of our character. Just as a metal sword made for combat was put through the fire, refined and hammered on the anvil, in the same way God allows for trials and difficulties to come to our lives so that we may grow spiritually through them. We do not know God’s plans and purposes for our lives. Our life experiences would make more sense if we could only look into the future and know what we are being made into. Often we don’t see God’s plan until twenty years later when we are enjoying the fruits that come from the trial. What are the fruits of trials? I would say that it is a greater presence of the Spirit on your life and a maturing of our character—these are the things that please God. Of course, this can result in other blessings in our lives and in the lives of others too. God has a purpose and a plan for each one of us. How do I know that? The mother of the two disciples, James and John, asked that they would be able to sit in the best positions in the Kingdom of God, on the right hand and on the left hand side of Jesus. Jesus replied saying that those places are for those who will endure the cup of suffering in the same way as Jesus would and did. He said to James and John:

“You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23).

What can we infer from this passage and several others? God knows what He is doing. John and James wanted the seats of honor on either side of Jesus, but were they ready to take the same cup of suffering that Jesus was to take? To be great in the sight of God is to be a servant of all, and to put self on the altar in order to serve even through times of suffering. The way up is the way down. Christ must become greater, and we must become less important. God has seen ahead of time those who, in their heart of hearts want to go all the way with Him. In the preparation of His people, God prepares ahead of time opportunities for His servants to be exercised in their servant hood. He has seen the end from the beginning. He has a picture of the finished product of your life that He is making you to become. You are a product of the choices and responses to different trials that God has prepared in advance for you. When the cup of suffering is handed to you, will you choose to take the way of suffering or will you opt for the easy way out of the trial and compromise your faith?

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

What does this scripture say? First, it says that God Himself is working on you—you are His workmanship. Secondly, it says that you were created to do certain works that God Himself, outside of time, before the creation of the world, prepared in advance for you to do. Will you allow Him to shape and mold you to be the person you were created to be? Lay your life down before Him today and sincerely ask Him to have His way in your life—you will never regret that decision!

Keith Thomas

Why Was it Necessary for Christ to Die Brutally?

Copy of Passion of Christ PictureWhy was it so necessary for Christ to die such a brutal and violent death? Surely God could have planned an easier death for His Son? The answer, I believe, is this: only a violent death could have exposed sin in the way it so sorely needed revealing. One preacher said, “Could Jesus have exposed sin in all of its foul horror if He had died in His bed, or by accident, or by disease?” It is one of the tragedies of human life that we fail to recognize the sinfulness of sin. God’s plan was for Christ to die as a substitute for all those who would put their faith in Christ’s death as their own death, thereby showing the sinfulness of sin and the just punishment placed upon it. Out of God’s love for man, He came in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus, to take man’s place and bestow mercy and grace upon us. Another example of this kind of substitutionary legality is found in history:

During a war between Britain and France, men were conscripted into the French Army by a kind of lottery system. When someone’s name was drawn, he had to go off to battle. On one occasion, the authorities came to a certain man and told him he was among those who had been chosen. He refused to go, saying, “I was shot and killed two years ago.” At first the officials question his sanity, but he insisted that was indeed the case. He claimed that the military records would show that he had been killed in action. “How can that be?” they questioned. “You are alive now!” He explained that when his name first came up, a close friend said to him, “you have a large family, but I am not married and nobody is dependent on me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place.” And that is indeed what the record showed. This rather unusual case was referred to Napoleon Bonaparte, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free. He had died in the person of another.[1]

In the viewpoint of God, when Christ died, He died as a substitute to release you from the legal claims that Satan had against you because of your sin. Christ died for you and as you. God sees Christ as taking your place just as the one man went to war in another’s place. When Christ died, God sees you as having died too:

20Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20).

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-3).

The Lord Jesus, through His death, burial and resurrection came to give us the gift of life. We received physical life from our forefather, Adam, but Christ came to give us the life of God, and this life is imparted to us when we wholeheartedly put our faith and trust in Him. That’s what Jesus meant when He said that we must be born again, or born from above (John 3:3). When we believe, our sins are washed away and the Spirit of God baptizes us into the spiritual organism of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The life of God flows into each of us that are connected to Him by faith. God loves you and wants to invite you to abandon your sin and walk the rest of your life in freedom from the bondage of sin. Will you give Him your life? Pray a simple prayer from your heart asking Him to forgive your sin and come into your life. Receive the gift of God—salvation in Christ.

Keith Thomas

[1] 1500 illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Edited by Michael P. Green, Printed by Baker Book House, Page 360.

We Have an Eternal House in Heaven

images1For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

When Paul the apostle writes to the church at Corinth, he compares the earthly body that we live in to a tent, a short-term, impermanent home. What he is saying is that the real you, your spirit, is clothed with your fleshly body for the fifty to seventy years that you live on Earth. He says that when this “earthy tent” is destroyed, we have something much more permanent in heaven, a building from God, a home that is eternal, a body that is not built by human hands (v.1), a heavenly dwelling (v.2). As we get older, we become more and more aware of our mortality—we groan and are burdened and become more and more convinced that there has to be more to this life than what we see with our physical senses. If only we could see this truth—that we are created for eternity and not just for this world, that we are just passing through. It would change everything for us if we truly believed it. Paul goes on to say that we are fashioned for this very purpose and that what is beyond death is the true life. The Holy Spirit living in us is a guarantee of what is beyond the veil of death:

5Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5).

A Christian enters heaven without a break in consciousness. Back on earth our friends bury our body, but they do not bury us! Personhood survives the death of the body. In the Bible, the Book of Acts, there is the story of a man of God named Stephen. As he was dying, he said, “Lord, receive my spirit.” He did not say, “Receive my body.” There was no break in consciousness for him—the Lord was standing up from His normal seated position at the right hand of the Father to receive him (Acts 7:59). We would live very different lives if we truly believed that our life on earth is just transitory. If we believed that when we put off the tent of this body, we enter into true life (I’m presuming that you have received the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus), we would invest our time, energy, gifts and resources into more things that will last after we get rid of our earthly tent. What would God have us invest ourselves in this side of heaven? He would have us invest in what is important to Him—people. Seeking to help as many as we can to know God and be saved from the penalty of sin.

Sometimes as people are dying, their spirit often drifts between earth and heaven where they can see both worlds. A few hours before Dwight L. Moody, the great American evangelist died, he caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him. Awakening from a sleep, he said: “Earth recedes, heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go!” His son who was standing by his bedside said, “No, no father, you are dreaming.” “No,” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming; I have been within the gates; I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed and then, following what seemed to the family to be the death struggle, he spoke again: “This is my triumph; this my coronation day! It is glorious!”

My prayer is that you would ask the Lord to give you the free gift of eternal life that Jesus has bought for you in dying in your place. My prayer is that we will see Mr. Moody together and rejoice in the finished work of our Savior on our behalf.

Keith Thomas

Christ: The Light of the World

4f6894a25bfd9eb488118bdfc1488c1812When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:23). 

Jesus was speaking on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This passage does not tell us the timing but from the preceding passages it seems as if it is during the Feast of Tabernacles. There were two great ceremonies at this particular feast. The first one was the pouring out of the water on the Altar of Burnt Offering. At that time, just after the crowd had shouted to the priest to lift the chalice containing the water higher, before he poured it upon the altar, Jesus had shouted out for all to hear, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). The second ceremony was called the Illumination of the Temple. In the Court of the Women were four large candelabra’s or candlesticks. The Mishnah (Sukkah 5:2-3) tells us that each candlestick had four great golden bowls with a ladder at each, enabling the younger priests to climb up and fill the bowls with oil and set them alight when it got dark.

Because the Temple Mount was the highest point in the city, it is said that the blaze of the candlesticks lit up most of Jerusalem. During the Feast of Tabernacles they were commanded by God to celebrate for seven days (Numbers 29:12), so all night long there were dancing and rejoicing before the Lord. It could very well be that at twilight, as the young priests were lighting the lamps, Jesus said the words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Notice that He didn’t say, I am a light or even one of the lights, but the statement is exclusive, “I am the Light of the world.” The Pharisee’s were listening in, which again says a lot about the character of Jesus—He didn’t say these things just to His disciples. He spoke to all people as to who He was, whether they were for Him or against Him. These things were not spoken in a corner, but Christ courageously spoke the truth and let the chips fall where they may. He was not fearful of speaking the truth in the slightest. The Pharisee’s immediately challenged Him because they understood that it was a claim to divinity. The Lord had spoken to them a number of times that He was their light, “The Lord is my light” (Psalm 27:1). “The Lord will be your everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:19). “By His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:3).

When God dealt with the Egyptian nation because of their enslavement of the Israelites, He darkened all of Egypt, but where the Israelites lived, they had light (Exodus 10:21-23). After their deliverance from Egypt, when Pharaoh and his soldiers chased them to wipe out Israel at the Red Sea, God brought darkness to the Egyptians but to the Israelite side, there was light (Exodus 14:19-20). Christ Himself was the Angel of the Lord, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, who watched over Israel providing them bread from heaven, water from the Rock and light in the darkness while they crossed the Red Sea:

1For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

No matter what darkness you have to walk through, Christ will be your light. Hopefully you have come to a point in your life where you have asked the big questions of yourself, “Who am I? What am I here for? What reason do I have for living? Where am I going?” These kinds of questions can be depressing if you do not know the Light of the World, Jesus the Christ. When a person is in darkness, he cannot see the next step before him. One blunders around trying to find out where to go. In the same way, a person who comes to Christ begins to understand who he is, what he is living for and where he is going. Light is a picture of knowledge, whereas darkness speaks of ignorance and the things of this world. The more light or knowledge a person acquires, the less stumbling through life he experiences.

There are times in our lives, when we go through great difficulties, when everything seems dark. When we lose a loved one, it seems as if the darkness is crowding in. When we are sick, and want to just lie in bed, or even hope to die, it is often because we have no hope and no light—no reason to live. These are the times when God wants to reveal Himself to you in a special way, if you will seek Him and ask Him. He will not come where He is not invited. He has given each of us the will to choose to walk towards the light or to stay in darkness. Coming to Him and learning of Him will bring us much light to walk through difficult times—seek to know Him intimately. It is written of Jesus, “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).

Many people experience darkness in their lives by not following Christ. Jesus said, “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (verse 12). We must follow hard after Him, for His light is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). Often times, we would like to see far down the road of life, but God has only promised light for the next step, not the next mile or the next year, just the next step. Why is that, you may ask? The reason is that He wants us to trust Him in the difficult times of darkness. Whatever darkness you may be in, it’s time to have the darkness of your life lit by the presence of the Lord within you. Call upon Him in the day of darkness and let Him shine on you.

Keith Thomas