What is a Faithful Disciple of Jesus Christ? Part 3

So, what’s the foundation that Jesus is alluding to and that I’ve been hinting at in the last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2)? It’s his words. And what makes a person wise or foolish is what he or she does with those words…and therefore, what he or she does with Christ himself. Both builders heard the words of Jesus. They looked just alike in that respect. But only one of them put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. But for whatever reason, he ignored them. Jesus called him a fool.

James, the brother of our Lord, must have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25…

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. [23] Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

If I could use one word to describe what Jesus is talking about here it would be “obedience.” Jesus wants more than people who “talk the talk” of faith. He wants people who will “walk the walk” of faith. That’s faithful discipleship.

And this isn’t just a New Testament thing. God said the same thing through his prophet, Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 33:31-32…

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. [32] Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

You see, the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the rest of God’s Word) isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. Our men’s ministry, the Baxter Boys, studied a book a few years ago entitled, “Point Man.” It was about how Christian men can be godly husbands, fathers, workers, churchmen, and so on. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Steve Farrar, the author wrote…

“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”

He continued…

“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”

He concluded this thought with these words…

“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”

I love that! From ignorance to knowledge to obedience! You see, we don’t read or study the Bible purely for information but for transformation. Now…to be sure…we have to know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ aren’t simply collecting Bible-information so they can win Bible-Jeopardy one day. We have to obey God’s Word if we would be transformed.

Well…finally…let me ask you this: Have you ever read (I mean really studied) the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what happened to me when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. And I think that’s the whole point. But maybe you’re asking why I felt that way. Well, because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like…

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)

“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)

Beloved, that’s just from the first half of chapter 5. There’s still the second half of chapter 5…and all of chapters 6 and 7. So much for “Gentleman Jesus, meek and mild.”

My point is that it’s those words…and the many, many other words like those that Jesus is declaring that we are to read, study, and put into practice. That’s why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.

But as I said…I think that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are to drive us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus put those words into practice and perfectly practiced them. And that’s why he was and is the only acceptable sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.

That’s why we are saved only when we place our trust in him and him alone… and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not contradicting everything I just said. We are indeed to strive to be more and more obedient to God’s Word with each and every passing day, week, month, and year. It’s how we glorify God and become more like Christ. We must put his words into practice. That’s a non-negotiable.

But the difference is that at the end of the day, you aren’t trying to obey Jesus in order to save yourself with your own good works. You can’t do that anyway. Instead, you’re seeking to obey Jesus by putting his words into practice because he has already saved you by his grace. Your obedience, while required in a very qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart. And it will be his Spirit working in and through you that will give you a desire to obey him and will enable you to do so.

And that’s how you show Jesus and the world that you love him…by obeying him… by bearing much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15…

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

And in John 14:21…

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

That’s what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. What could be better than that?

Grace and Truth,
Dale

What is a Faithful Disciple of Jesus Christ, Part 2

Yesterday we left off with Jesus referring to those who listen to “these words of mine,” meaning all that Jesus had been speaking about in the Sermon on the Mount up to that point. So the question we want to begin with today is this: Just what are those “words” to which he referred? What, in particular, are the words of Jesus?

The message(s) of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. What’s in the Sermon on the Mount? Are the words and teachings found there relevant to us today…some 2,000 years later. Well…you tell me…

In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on…

  • Our character
  • God’s blessings
  • How to influence others
  • God’s Law
  • The righteousness God expects from us
  • Murder
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Reconciliation
  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Divorce
  • Taking Oaths
  • Truth Telling
  • Revenge
  • Going the extra mile for another person
  • Loving your enemies
  • Giving to the needy
  • How to pray
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How to fast
  • Humility
  • Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
  • Putting God first
  • Priorities
  • Worry
  • God’s provision for you and your family
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Judging others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Persistence in prayer
  • God’s goodness to his children
  • How to enter into heaven
  • True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
  • True and false disciples of Jesus and how to tell the difference between them.

So you tell me: Is any of that relevant to your life?

Now, to bring his teaching to life as well as to drive home his point about being a faithful disciple, Jesus tells us a story about two builders – one he calls wise…and one he calls foolish.

But before we look at this familiar story, there’s one part of it that may not be so obvious. It’s easy to miss. I know I did for many years. You see, Jesus is not, in this parable, comparing and contrasting a Church-goer from a non-Church-goer. He’s not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian to an outspoken pagan who’s never darkened the door of a church.

I think we would all breathe a collective sigh of relief if that were the case because we would all say, “Whew, well at least he’s not talking about me.”

Now, to be sure, Jesus has plenty to say about the “official” unbelieving world…but that’s not his focus here. In this parable…Jesus is comparing and contrasting you…and the person sitting right next to you this morning. OUCH!

Jesus is talking about two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, look just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we could say that both people go to church. Both can recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both sing every verse of every hymn or song. And both will sit and hear every word of the sermon.

That’s the point that Jesus is making: Both houses that the builders built looked identical with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place…on nothing but sand. And Jesus will later share why that’s a big deal… and just how catastrophic building your house on the wrong foundation can really be.

So, Jesus calls the builder who built his house on the rock, wise. The builder who built his house on the sand was called, foolish.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look and see what the two different foundations of rock and sand stand for in our lives and why it matters. (Click here to read Part 1 of this series)

Grace and Truth,
Dale

What is a Faithful Disciple of Jesus Christ? Part 1

Almost 13 years ago, my church’s Vision Committee, after much prayer and discussion, decided that Southside’s Mission Statement would be:

Building the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.

But they also wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just another church with just another mission statement. They didn’t want to simply talk the talk…they wanted to walk the walk. And so, with that in mind, the church put together a search committee that would be tasked with the goal of finding a person whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In doing this they were showing how seriously they were taking the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel –what we call the Great Commission. Jesus said…

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

By God’s grace…at least from my perspective…I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to do what I at Southside.

Can any church be faithfully living out its calling… its commission… if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? But that, of course, raises the question: What exactly is discipleship and what text would be helpful in giving us a deeper understanding of it? I mean, after all, you can be a disciple of anything or anyone? What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ a faithful disciple? Obviously this subject is not peripheral in Scripture. It’s front and center throughout God’s Word.

Having said that, as I pondered what text to preach, one stood out in my mind that I thought would help us in understanding what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Matthew 7:24-27.

Our text comes at the very end of what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount.” For three chapters Jesus taught what we might call, “The norms of the Kingdom.” Or, what I like to call Kingdom Discipleship. Our Lord is basically focusing on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom. (By the way, this character and conduct are grounded in the Gospel that Christ preached in Matthew 4. This is no “self-improvement” program Jesus is running.)

Jesus begins these concluding remarks in verse 24 with these words…

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”

His very first word here is “therefore.” And remember my number one rule about the word, “therefore.” Whenever you see the word “therefore,” always ask what it’s there for. The reason why is because it usually means something like this: “Based on what I’ve just said…go and do such and such.” And that’s exactly what it means here.

Again, Jesus says in verse 24…

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine

In this verse, Jesus is telling us exactly what the “therefore” refers to – “these words of mine.” He’s referring to the words that he had just been preaching, which we call…”The Sermon on the Mount.” Of course, Jesus’ words can never be separated from who he is. You see, Jesus embodied everything he said. His person, works, and words are all part of the same package. They always point to his Father in heaven…and to him.

Next time we’ll take a look at what “these words of Jesus” are and what they mean… and why it matters.

Grace and Truth,
Dale

Watson Martial Arts

In the spirit of integrity, I must say at the outset that this is in no way, shape or form an unbiased post. I am a huge fan of Jason Watson and his martial arts school, Watson Martial Arts.

Having been a part of Jason’s school for the last five or six years, (all three of my sons are trained there), I have witnessed firsthand Jason’s skill as a Taekwondo instructor. (Jason himself is the holder of many national titles in the sport.) The word “competent” seems to be insulting to just how fantastic Jason is.

Certainly my wife and I appreciate how much our sons have learned regarding the sport of Taekwondo. However, what we have really appreciated is how well Jason connects with the children he teaches. He learns their names immediately (There is no, “hey you,” sort of thing going on.). He encourages them. He helps them set goals… not just for Taekwondo, but for life. He teaches them life-principles to help them grow as well-balanced children… and then, hopefully, well-balanced adults. The other instructors, Oren Wilcox and Zane Murphy are wonderful with the children as well.

Children are supported as they move at their own pace, but always encouraged to move forward, building confidence through their continued accomplishments. You should see the look on the students’ faces when they break their first board or complete their first form unassisted.

Watson Martial Arts is not just another “drive thru” martial arts school… something akin to a marketing scheme. Jason and his other teachers produce national champions in both sparring as well as forms, as I have seen for myself over the last five years. While no child is forced to compete in tournaments, they are given all the tools they need if they choose to do so. And, again, you can’t imagine the pride (the good sort of pride) of personal achievement for those students who compete in tournaments, regardless of “how well” they did.

I would encourage you to check out Jason’s website to learn a little more. Better yet, if you live in the Jacksonville area, I would encourage you to stop by his school, meet Jason and watch a class or two.  I know you’ll be convinced, just as I am (click here for directions).(By the way, Jason also teaches adults if you want to learn Taekwondo yourself.)  Who knows… you may write your own blog post one day saying the same thing!

Grace and Truth,
Dale

It’s the Doctrine, Stupid

Right away, let me ask you to please forgive me for using the word “stupid” in the title to this post. My wife and I teach our kids never to use the word “stupid.” In this case I was just trying to be clever by using a phrase that was similar to one used in a presidential campaign not too long ago.

When I was appointed to my first church after seminary (back in June, 1992), I remember how popular the church growth movement was. I remember many of my United Methodist colleagues going to the latest and greatest conferences and seminars and buying the most current and “relevant” books that would solve all of our membership woes. And yet, what seemed so glaring to me, even then, was that everything seemed to revolve around “new and improved” programs and strategies. What I kept saying to myself was, “Don’t they understand that all these mega-churches they are seeking to imitate have core doctrines that they actually believe in and teach to their people.” (This was before Joel Osteen’s doctrine-free “success.”)

It seems that not very much has changed in the 20 years that I’ve been serving in the local church. My beloved UMC is still working through a “new and improved” paradigm or program every two years or so. It doesn’t seem to be working very well.

What’s so frustrating is that we have such wonderful, life-transforming core doctrines as well. (Parenthetically, I might also mention that John Wesley left us a wonderful legacy for “how” to preach the Word of God, do discipleship, etc.) However, it appears that our denomination often seems more enamored with fruit…while ignoring the root that provides it. We want inclusion, mercy to the last, least and the lost, everyone in service, etc., and yet it seems that we’re undermining the very means by which all of those things (and far more) will ever come to pass.

When I read about Scriptural Holiness, I read about inward transformation happening first before societal transformation can occur. Being must precede doing. Belief effects behavior. Confession, creed, and character shape our conduct. We ignore doctrine to our peril. Mack Stokes wrote,

“…for Wesley, scriptural holiness was seen as “inward holiness” produced by the supernatural pardoning and re-creating power of God through Christ, which impels us into “outward holiness.” The tree, being made good, bears good fruit.”

Doctrine really does matter. It shapes and forms who we are and helps us to understand whose we are. It’s with that foundation that we’re able to go out into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ and extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. But we must first be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ (new creatures in Christ) who have truly had our hearts changed and who submit to his Lordship. If we aren’t, then all we will be are Pharisaical workers who will be destined to burnout and crash because, like a branch cut from the vine, there will be no life-giving nutrients and power running in and through us. If we would bear much, good, and lasting fruit, then we must abide in Christ and he must abide in us.

Grace and Truth,
Dale

Choose This Day

Choose This Day

Joshua 24:14-15

Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. [15] But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

James 4:4

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

The road of life is filled with many choices:

  • Whom will I marry?
  • Where will I live?
  • What will I do for a living?
  • How will I raise my children?
  • Who will educate my children?
  • Will I believe in God? And if I do, is there more to it than simply believing he exists?
  • What will be the standard of my moral conduct?

Today’s Scripture highlights the most important choices we must make. And, as the rock group, “Rush,” observed, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

In the preceding verses of Joshua 24, Joshua took the children on an historical reconnaissance in order to remind them of who God is and what God had done for them in the past. Implicit in this was the covenant that God had made with Israel and how they could, therefore, also look to the future fulfillments of God’s promises…IF.

When God made covenant with Israel, it included blessings and curses. Obedience, faithfulness, and loyalty would be rewarded with divine blessing beyond their wildest imaginations. Disobedience, unfaithfulness, and treason, on the other hand, would result in God’s curses. It seems so obvious as to which should be preferred.

And so, after laying out the history of God’s love for his people, Joshua presented the people with a choice. He told them to serve God only and to throw away the idols of their past. Whom would they serve – the gods of their ancestors or the living God? Joshua answered as the covenant head of his home by declaring publicly, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is interesting, and quite telling, to see how this theme of choosing between the Living God and the god of the age – between covenant-faithfulness and spiritual adultery – is repeated over and over again in God’s Word. The fact is, we will all bow before something or someone, simply by the living of our lives. Who will be the object of our worship is the choice ever before us.

James lays out the choice before us with crystal clarity. He says that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. What exactly dos he mean here? Well, he’s not talking about loving people and desiring to minister to them. Instead, he has in mind what Paul had in mind in Romans 12:2 – love for and conformity to the sinful, fallen, disobedient patterns of this world, this present age of man and its ruler, this kingdom of darkness (as Paul puts in Colossians 1).

James follows by saying that “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world [in the way described in the previous paragraph] becomes an enemy of God.” James is essentially putting before God’s covenant people in the New Testament the same choice that Joshua put before God’s covenant people in the Old Testament: Who will they bow their knees to: the gods beyond the River, the gods of the Amorites, the state, secular worldviews, modern American materialism, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy hedonism, the falsehood of neutrality in education propagated by secular humanists, the superficial entertainment mentality of much worship in today’s churches, selling out the gospel (compromise?? Embarrassment??) by watering down the message, and on and on and on?

James calls people who do this “adulterous.” They have left their first love to cozy up to the gods of the Amorites and the gods of Egypt.

People cry out for their free will, their rights, and their autonomy. God gives them that option, but not with impunity. There are consequences to foolish choices. This seems to be so patently obvious, that it needs no examples. People may choose Baal or Molech or Ra or the god of this age if they so choose. They can exercise their moral choice to their heart’s delight. They can revel in their “free will.” But the wrath of God will be leveled against all such unrighteousness and ungodliness as a manifestation of the curse.

This curse can come in countless ways. After all, its dispenser is an infinite Being. A corrupt culture, pagan children, radical illiteracy, increased levels of crime, escalating godlessness in the public square, countless babies born to unwed mothers and into extreme poverty, babies who never make it outside the womb, drugs, violence, sexual and monetary hedonism, the worship of self (even in…or especially in the church), etc. Don’t misunderstand me: God is not going to curse us for these things. These things are the curse.

Had God’s covenant people not spent the last 100 years committing spiritual adultery with the temptress of the age, we might not be experiencing all that we are.

By God’s grace, however, we learn that God’s people are always being called back to covenant faithfulness – to throw away all the other gods of our past and love, obey, worship, and serve the one true God… and him only. Each and every day that we are granted another day to live, we are given another opportunity for repentance and covenant-faithfulness. And like all covenants, it starts with an individual and his family.

So choose this day whom you and your household will serve. There’s only one right answer.

Grace and Truth,
Dale

Lifelong Learning

Part of what I share with folks when they ask me about my call to ordained ministry goes something like this: When God called me I was already a Christian, but in and through that call to ordained ministry, I became a born-again student.

The word “squandered” aptly applies to what I did with four years of high school and four years of college. I cringe when I think back to wasted opportunities. In fact, I try not to bring that up around my parents too often as I can see their minds working to figure how much of their hard-earned money was put to disuse.

With my call to ordained ministry came clarity and passion to learn and grow… to develop into the man God called me to be. Certainly study is a key component of being a pastor as I’m called to teach God’s Word and all of its ramifications for every sphere of life. But my newfound love of learning (well, “newfound” as of 23 years ago) goes beyond that. I thoroughly enjoy reading about many topics as well as taking advantage of the increasing number of audio and video resources becoming available, not to mention all the FREE resources online.

My goal in the days to come is to tell you about some of those resources and to encourage you to take advantage of the wonderful (and easy) opportunities to enjoy and grow from God’s special and general revelation.

By the way: I would LOVE it and be very grateful if you would also share resources that have you served you well in your pursuit of lifelong learning. Let’s grow together!

Grace and Truth,
Dale