My Experience in a Discipleship Group

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I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.

One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.

This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.

The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.

I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.

What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?

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You Are What You Pray

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We are familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but did you know you are what you pray? Our prayers connect us with God, but they also reveal our priorities. The things we prioritize, we pursue, and the things we purse we become. If you thank God for your food, you become grateful. If you pray for the safety of your friends and family, you become caring. If you pray for unbelievers to come to Christ, you become evangelistic.

Jesus focused on his mission and his followers throughout his earthly ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us that when he prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion, he prayed a selfless, mission-focused prayer. The prayer recorded in John 17:1-26 has been labeled many ways but it was Jesus’ last words before he was taken away and killed. In it, Jesus prayed for three distinct things.

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR HIS MISSION TO BE COMPLETE (v. 1-5).

Jesus came to earth with a mission to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that he could save the world and share his life with his followers. If Jesus didn’t finish his mission his disciples wouldn’t have a mission of their own or a message to share. Jesus knew how important his mission was.

Notice three principles from this section of Jesus’ prayer that helped Him finish. First, Jesus was God-centered (v. 1). Prayer is more than a task, it is a relationship. Second, Jesus has an eternal focus. Eternity begins at conversion, progresses with Christian growth and discipleship, and continues on into heaven. Third, Jesus was totally surrendered. Jesus gave us his own will so that He could accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father.

2. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-17).

Jesus prayed for three things in regards to the character of his followers. First, he prayed that they would be kept in God’s name (v. 1). Someone’s name usually represents their character in the bible. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept close and their character would mirror his own.

Second, Jesus also prayed that his followers would be kept from the evil one (v. 15). Jesus acknowledged that Satan’s destructive influence in the world. Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from that influence. Satan may be a bully, but he should not be feared.

Third, Jesus prayed that his followers be set apart in the truth of God (v. 17). God’s Word should have a prominent place in the lives of Christ’s followers. There are five practices today that allow God’s Word to permeate your life: hearing the bible, reading the bible, studying the bible, memorizing the bible, and meditating on the bible.

3. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE MISSION OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-26).

Unfortunately, there are many people today who do not finish their God-given mission. The average church loses 3% of its membership each year. Thousands of pastors leave the ministry each year before retirement.

Jesus prayed that his follower would all be one (v. 11). Solidarity is just as important for individual local churches as it is for the Church as a whole. Unity is more than just doing stuff together, its “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

Jesus also prayed that his follower would be with him where he was (v. 24). He has just announced that he would be leaving his disciples behind while he went to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14). Even though he would be leaving, he wanted his followers to be with him eventually so they would see his glory.

Jesus prayed for himself and his followers because you are what you pray. His prayer flowed from his priorities and passions. What do your prayers say about your priorities and passions? Are you working to complete your God-given mission? Are you developing a Christ-like character? Are you contributing to the oneness of your church?

Like in many other area of life, you and I have good intentions. But if you genuinely want to make good on of those good intentions, start with prayer.

The Marks of a Disciple

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Jermaine Wilson experienced tremendous transformation. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kanson and started to sell drugs out of his childhood apartment at an early age. He was eventually incarcerated at the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas where he had a realization. “If I don’t change,” he thought, “I’m either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket.” In a strange turn of events, Jermaine is now the mayor of Leavenworth, according to a story that air on CBS earlier this year. Jermaine credits the transformation to God, education, and volunteer work. After prison, he started serving his community and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.

Jesus used a parable of the vine and the branches to teach us about spiritual transformation in John 15:1-17. Like Jermaine Wilson, the disciples experienced a transformation while they followed Jesus. In one sense, they become disciples the moment they said, “yes” to Jesus. In another very real sense, they didn’t become disciples until they put their faith in the resurrected Jesus. (John 20:29)

The parable of the vine and the branches invites the question, “When does an unbeliever become a disciple?” This metaphor and the explanation follows gives us three marks of a disciple. Notice that these marks are dynamic, not static, meaning they grow and develop over time.

1. Disciples build a friendship with Jesus.

Social media has changed the way we view friendship. It used to be that you had to be physically present with someone to make a friend, but now you can become friends with people all over the world with the click of a button. Social media can increase our ability to communicate, but it can’t increase our capacity to care.

A friendship with Jesus is based on trust and affection. Friends depend on each other because they have a two-way bond. Jesus calls us to “abide in me and I in you” (v. 4). We are branches and branches can do nothing by themselves, they are just sticks (v. 5).

Friends are better than servants because they care for each other. Jesus considers us friends because he gave his life for us (v. 13). He also reveals God’s Word and will to us (v. 15).

It takes time to build a friendship with Jesus. It takes up to three years to grow grapes on a vine. After the vine and branches are established, grapes grow like the life of the vine moves into them. Jesus could have downloaded everything he wanted his disciples to directly into their brain the moment he called them, but he didn’t because he wanted to develop a relationship with them.

2. Disciples bear fruit that lasts.

Spiritual fruit is the Word of God put into practice. In a broad sense, it’s every act done in obedience to Christ. Spiritual fruit is every display of Christ-like character, ever prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will, and every deed done to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. The beauty of the vineyard is in the sheer magnitude of grapes produced, not just one particular grape. In a narrow sense, its ever act of love done for another believer (more about that in a moment).

God prunes us to make us more fruitful. The vinedresser removes all the old growth to make room for new growth and fruit. God uses His Word to prune and clean us (v. 3). He works to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our fruitfulness. Those things might be sinful habits, misplaced priorities, or even harmful relationships.

People who don’t bear fruit aren’t disciples, they’re imposters (v.6). True spiritual fruit remains to the end. Anyone can do something that looks spiritual on the outside. Only the deeds done in the power of God will make a lasting impact.

3. Disciples demonstrate love for other believers.

Spiritual fruit has a broad and a narrow definition (see the previous point). Demonstrating love for other believers is a prominent mark of a disciple because grows out of the first and second Greatest Commands revealed by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40.  The first command is assumed in this passage while the second command is reinforced (v. 9).

We must follow Jesus’ example in demonstrating love for others. Jesus laid down his life for the ones he loved – his friends. We must show love to everyone we meet as our “neighbor,” but we have a special responsibility to love our fellow disciples.

Our special relationship with Christ must not become a source of pride. He chose us, we did not choose him (v. 16). Back to the parable, he planted us we did not plant ourselves.

In summary, an unbeliever becomes a true disciple when he or she builds a friendship with Jesus, bears fruit that lasts, and demonstrates love for other believers. These activities cannot be accomplished without the transforming power of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you tapped into that power?

Photo by Nacho Domínguez Argenta on Unsplash

Left Behind

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Jesus left the world better than he found it. He came into a world darkened by sin and showed his light. He overcame sickness and need with his God-sized power. He told the lost about God’s plan to save them and invited them to follow him.

When the time was right, however, he left his disciples behind and broke their collective hearts. But Jesus didn’t leave his disciples without a plan. He told them about his plan to continue his ministry through his disciples even though he was returning to his Heavenly Father in heaven.

In the Farewell Discourse found in John 14:1-31, we read about three realities that Jesus left behind that changed the world forever. As we align our lives to these three realities we participate in God’s plan to save the world. We also experience his care as he takes care of the little details in our lives.

1. Jesus Left Behind Disciples Who Look Forward to His Return      (14:1-6).

Jesus promised to return after preparing a place for each of his disciples in heaven. The disciples were stressed out about the details, but Jesus assured them that if they knew him they had all they needed. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (v. 6).

The world was and is better off with a growing group of disciples working to make Jesus known while they look forward to his return. Jesus didn’t just leave his disciples behind, he sent them out into the world to make more disciples on his behalf (John 20:19-21) I praise God for the disciples that have been made through the Church.

2. Jesus Left Behind Churches that Do Greater Work than He Did (14:12-14).

Jesus also promised his disciples would do “greater works” than he did. There was no way his disciples could top Jesus’ works in terms of importance or degree for there is no way to do better than walking on water or raising someone from the dead. The disciples could, however, do greater works than Jesus in terms of size and scale.

As often as churches use the Word of God to exalt the Son of God, they do “greater works” than Christ himself. Instead of 11 disciples gathered around to hear from God, there are hundreds of thousands of churches around the world with millions of disciples gathered to hear from God. Those with the gifts of service are just as important as those with the gifts of speaking if they are glorifying God (1 Peter 4:11).

3. Jesus Left Behind the Holy Spirit that Ministers on His Behalf (14:16-17, 25-29).

Jesus rounded out his discourse with a promise to send the Holy Spirit to help his disciples. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit teaches His disciples through the written Word of God and reminds them of the Word they have studied. The goal is to get in Word of God so that the Word of God gets into you.

Jesus left the world better than he found it by leaving behind three important realities: disciples, churches, and the Holy Spirit. That brings up three closing questions:

Are you a disciple of Christ?

Are you engaged in the work of the church?

Are you hearing from the Holy Spirit?

If you align yourself with the big stuff in God’s plan, the details that we so often worry about will fall into place. Jesus left the world better because he left us behind to multiply his ministry. If you align yourself with these three realities, God will take care of the rest. He may be gone but he’s not gone forever. Are you ready for his return?

Serving the Undeserving​

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Eating a meal together is a relationship-building event. When we gather around a table we gather in a specific place and build memories, if only for a little while. Whether it’s causal of fancy, we experience meals together.

Jesus’ most famous meal with his disciples was his last meal with them. The Sedar meal was an important part of Passover in the first century. Jewish family groups would eat a meal of roasted lamb and bitter herbs and remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

We read about the Last Supper in John 13:1-30. In this passage, John describes the meal from a different angle than the other Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the emphasis on the ceremonial elements of the meal itself. John places the emphasis on a surprising event at the start of the meal.

As the meal was about to start, Jesus got up, took off his out garment, wrapped a towel around himself, and began washing the disciples’ feet. With this one act, Jesus made this a meal that could never be forgotten. With this one act, Jesus signaled that things were about to change. With this one act, Jesus served the undeserving in three distinct ways.

1. Jesus Served in Ways No One Else Wanted to Serve (13:1-11).

Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew his earthly ministry was about to end. He knew Judas was about to betray him. He knew why the Heavenly Father had sent him.

People in the first century walked almost everywhere they went and while wearing open-toed sandals. Foot washing was reserved for the lowest of the servants, usually a Gentile or a woman. Jesus intentionally took on this role to serve his disciples.

The disciples were shocked by Jesus’ undignified actions. Peter went so far as to refuse Jesus. It’s significant, however, that none of the disciples volunteer to wash feet Christ’s place.

It’s probably not service if everyone is eager to do it. Service requires a certain amount of humility and sacrifice. Service means putting someone else’s comfort and desires above your own.

2. Jesus Served Out of Love for Others (13:12-20).

Jesus explained that those who wished to call him their Teacher or Master must also follow his example. To avoid service is to place oneself  “above” Jesus. If he can humble himself to serve others, so must his followers.

Jesus clarified his motivation for service in his closing summary (John 13:34-35). Service and sacrifice are born out of genuine love for other people. This “command” is built on the first and second Greatest Commandments in the Old Testament: to love God and love others.

There are lots of reasons to serve, but only love is inspired by the gospel. Compassion is important, but it withers without the gospel. Some people serve because it’s their job or because they need community service hours. You can serve out of pride to show how “humble” you are.

3. Jesus Even Served Those Who Didn’t Like Him (13:21-30).

Jesus finally came out and said what he knew all along – one of them was about to betray him. The disciples all questioned each other as Jesus took a morsel of food and gave it to Judas along with his “permission.” For some reason, the disciples all missed this sign.

The most amazing part of this story is that Jesus washed Judas’ feet right along with the rest of the disciples. He didn’t leave him out or single him out. True service views everyone the same, regardless of how they treat us.

Jesus gave us a picture of the gospel by serving the underserving. He served others who weren’t willing or able to return the favor. He sacrificed himself out of love for those who were more interested in status than sacrifice (see Luke’s account in Luke 22:24-27). He humbled himself in front of someone who was working against him and waiting for an opportune moment to stab him in the back.

Like the Bread and fruit of the vine of the Lord’s Supper, the basin and the towel teach us that we are undeserving of God’s grace. They also invite us in at least three ways. The first is to lead through service, not a title. Positions and titles are important, but not as important as servant leadership. Second, is to look for ways to express genuine love for others. It may be through washing someone’s feet or washing their car, but the goal is the same – to show God’s love through tangible acts of service. Third, is to lean on God for the grace to serve the undeserving. Serving is complicated when you are working with someone who doesn’t appreciate your gesture. That takes an extra dose of God’s supernatural power.

Jesus served the undeserving so that we could have a clearing picture of the gospel. He also gave us an example to follow as we share the gospel with others and expand his kingdom on earth.

 

Lord of Life

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There are lots of names in the Bible that are popular today, but not Lazarus. You know a Noah and an Elizabeth, but do you know a Lazarus? Probably not.

Lazarus is a name that is associated with life and death. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life at the peak of his ministry. Like all the other signs that Jesus did, this miracle was designed to reveal something about our Savior.

Jesus brought Lazarus back to life in front of three different groups of people. These groups all had there one question for Jesus. These questions help us understand this pivotal event.

Why would you risk your life? (John 11: 1-16)

Jesus had developed a close relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent word for Jesus to come. This prominent family lived in the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.

When Jesus announced his plans to go to Bethany, his disciples questioned him (v. 8). The Jewish establishment had tried to kill Jesus twice before he escaped to the other side of the Jordan River. The disciples knew that it would be very dangerous for Jesus (and them, v. 16) to go near Jerusalem.

The disciples were also confused about Lazarus’ condition. The message they received only said that Lazarus was sick.  Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping, which didn’t warrant a life-threatening mission to Jerusalem.

Why did you wait so long? (John 11:17-27)

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha came out to meet Jesus and question him (v. 21). She knew that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father, but why didn’t he come two days earlier to heal Lazarus.

Jesus revealed that he was more than a healer, he was and still is “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus claimed to have power over life and death and he would soon prove it.

Why didn’t he do something? (John 11: 28-46)

Mary also came out to speak to Jesus followed by a large group of mourners. Mary’s family must have been well known because a large number of people came from Jerusalem to comfort her and her sister after Lazaurus’ death.

Mary took Jesus to the tomb where they laid Lazarus and she wept along with the crowd of comforters. Jesus also wept, overcome with emotion and his disappointment with the brokenness of sin.

As the mourners watched Jesus they questioned him If was a miracle worker, why didn’t he perform a miracle for this man and this family who he clearly loved? If he could help, why didn’t he?

Jesus commanded that the stone be removed from the entrance to the tomb. Martha objected because at that point Lazarus was definitely dead and the smell would be overpowering. Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of all three groups that were present – his disciples, Martha & Mary, and their comforters –   and called Lazarus out of the tomb. As he stumbled out into the light, they unwrapped him from his grave clothes.

Jesus answered these three questions by defeating death so that…

  1. So that you would love Him. 

    Jesus risked his life to save the life of a friend he loved very much. Will you love him in return? John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

  2. So that you would glorify Him. 

    Jesus waited to visit Lazarus so he could perform a greater miracle. Will you welcome and worship Jesus as God in the flesh? John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

  3. So that you would believe in Him. 

    Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was about one thing – getting people who need to be saved to believe that he was their Savior. Will you accept him or reject him? John 20:31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Four Things I’ve Learned as a Father

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This is one my my favorite pictures of me with my oldest son.
It was taken at the beach in Destin, Florida in 2003.

My education as a father started on August 21, 2002, when my first son was born. I still remember how new and overwhelming everything was as my wife and I drove away from the hospital with a newborn in the backseat. I’ve learned a lot since then about myself, about life, about my family, and about God.

This Father’s Day, I sat down to list five things I’ve learned as a father

1. You have to step up because no one else will do it for you.

Stepping up means saying  “no” to things that could harm your kids. It also means saying “no” to some of the things you want to do for yourself so you can say “yes” to your kids. There are plenty of dads who have failed to step up, including my own, but I never wanted to be one of them.

I admire Joshua’s words in Joshua 24:15 when he said, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua stepped up and lead his family well. He had the courage and conviction to do what is right even if no one else followed.

2. Laughter and roughhousing are the best medicine.

Whether it’s a corny dad joke or a round of “manhandling” (that’s what we call it in our family), boy and girls need to lighten up and have some physical fun. Life can be tough sometimes. Kids need to learn to push through those tough times with a smile on their face.

In The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, authors Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen explain the benefits of roughhousing. According to their study, kids who “horse-around” with their family are smarter, more emotionally intelligent, more lovable and likable, more ethical, more physically fit, and more joyful.

3. What you do is just as important as what you say.

County singer, Rodney Adkins, sings a song called about the importance of modeling good behavior for your kids. The song is called “Watching You.” The song describes the joys and challenges of raising a child who wants to be just like you.

It’s easy to tell your children how to behave, but it’s even more important to show them how to behave. The Apostle Paul challenged his spiritual “children” to follow his example in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he said, “Be imitators of me, just as I am also of Christ.” He talked the talk and walked the walk.

4. My Heavenly Father is really patient with me

From time to time, my children do things that really test my patience. In my better moments, I remember that I’m also a child as well – a child of God. He has put up with a lifetime of crazy questions and selfish behavior from me, but He still loves me.

God is amazing because he proved his love for me before I could earn it or ask for it. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” I can love and care for my kids because God loves and care for me – I’m still working on the patience part.

Can you identify with some of the lessons I’ve learned as a father? Have you learned your own lessons as a father? Can you remember some of the lessons you were taught by your earthly father? If so, please leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

A Test of Faith

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Fathers can be excellent examples of faith. Martin Luther King Jr. father, a pastor, and a civil rights activist. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This fits very well with the Bible’s definition of faith found in the book of Hebrews 11:1: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB).

Abraham is a father in Scripture that stands out as an example of faith. Abraham stepped out in faith when God called him to leave his homeland and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-3). That blessing included a new land and family to pass that land to (Genesis 13:14-18, 15:1-4). Abraham’s faith was tested many times as he and Sarah passed out the childbearing years without an heir. When the finally had a son of their own, Isaac, it was a confirmation of their faith in God.

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested one last time. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son on an altar. As we follow Abraham along this particularly hard part of his faith journey there are three lessons we must learn if we are going to walk by faith.

Genesis 22:1-6 describe the toughest test as Abraham’s faith was tested by God. A test is simply a way for God to reveal obedience, produce reverence, and discover authenticity. For Abraham, it looked back to the way His relationship with God began, and it looked forward to the way his family would relate to God in the future.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.  The next morning, Abraham rose early and made preparations for the trip. After three days, Abraham arrived at this destination and left his helpers at the base of the mountain. As he climbed to the place of sacrifice, Abraham carried the torch and the knife and Isaac carried the wood for the fire.

God tests us for our benefit. Sometimes our faith is strengthened like a muscle under pressure. Sometimes, we reconnect with the purpose for which we were made: to listen to and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.to enjoy Him forever. Tests aren’t always pleasant, but they are effective.

Genesis 22:7-8 describes the longest walk as Abraham and Isaac approach the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw the wood and the fire, but he asked where the offering was. Abraham responds with a tremendous amount of faith explaining that the Lord would provide the offering. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham trusted God to work out the details of the sacrifice and to raise his son from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises.

God wants us to trust Him in spite of the benefits we may experience. I wonder if some people would trust God if heaven or hell wasn’t hanging in the balance. I wonder if some people would still pray if their prayers weren’t answered. I wonder if some people still give to the Church if there were no tax incentives.

Genesis 22:9-14 describes a last-minute pardon as the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham at the last minute. Abraham had built the altar, arranged the wood for a fire, and tied Isaac up on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife high over his head to kill his son, the Angel of the Lord cried out, “Stop, now I know that you fear me!”

As Abraham caught his breath, he noticed a ram caught in a nearby thicket. He took the ram and offered it up in place of his son. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, or “the Lord Will Provide.”

God cares for the long-term and day-to-day issues of life. God provides an eternal home in heaven for his children when they graduate from this earthly life (John 14:3). God also provides for the ongoing needs of our current reality (John 10:10). I like to think about it as the “here and the hereafter.”

Father Abraham’s test of faith teaches us about our faith as well. I hope it encourages the fathers to be men of deep faith and conviction. I also help it encourages others to pay attention to their examples of faith.

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

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If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.

A Blessing or a Curse

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Light can either be a blessing or a curse. The lamp beside your bed can help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it will also annoy your spouse who is trying to sleep. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting, but a fire in the kitchen is terrifying.

In John 8, Jesus introduces himself as “The Light of the world.” In the next chapter, we see what happens when Jesus shines his light in the world. His light divides the world into two groups. Those who see Jesus as a curse and those who see Jesus as a blessing.

The Apostle John tells the same story about from the viewpoint of these two groups. First,   he shares the story from the view of a hopeless man who was blind from birth. Next, John shares the story from the view of the conceited Pharisees who were blind to their spiritual need.

From the view of helpless beggar blind from birth (John 8:1-41)

“Something amazing happened to me right after the Feast of Tabernacles. I was sitting beside the road begging for money when Jesus walked by with his disciples. My eyes didn’t work, but my ears worked just fine and I overheard Jesus and his disciples talking about me. One of his disciples asked whose fault it was that I was blind: me or my parents. I was relieved to hear that neither one of us were to blame, but that God wanted to show His mighty work in me. At that point, I heard Jesus spit on the ground and then I felt him wipe clay on my eyes. He told me to wash my eyes out in the nearby pool of Siloam, and so I did. As I washed my eyes in the cool water the most amazing thing happened – my eyes worked for the first time and I could see!”

“I was so excited about what had happened, I told everyone around me, but they didn’t believe me. People that had walked past me for years didn’t recognize me. It was if I had become a different person.”

“Then, I was called before the Pharisee for an interview. I explained what had happened to me, but they were upset because Jesus had violated some of their restrictions on the Sabbath. The Pharisees began to argue among themselves about Jesus. Some were saying, He can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others were asking, ‘How could he heal people and do all the other miracle he has done if he wasn’t from God?'”

“The Pharisees didn’t believe that I used to be blind so interviewed by parents too. My parents were terrified they would be thrown out of the synagogue. The Pharisee can do that, you know. They can just kick you out of the synagogue and the temple and then you have no way to make things right with God.”

“After that, the Pharisees called me in for another interview which felt more like an interrogation. They kept asking me about Jesus and all I could do was tell them what I knew: ‘I once was blind, but now I see.’ It was obvious to me where Jesus was from. He healed me and gave me hope after a lifetime of hopeless. Miracles like that don’t happen, they come from God. It was clear that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say because they threw me out the synagogue.

“Jesus came and found me after that. He asked me if I believed in the Messiah and that he was him. I was so excited I put my trust in him and bowed low in worship. Some of the Pharisees overheard our conversation and they weren’t pleased, but I knew right then and there I had found the hope I had been looking for.”

From the view of one of the Pharisees who excommunicated a troublemaker. (John 9:13-41)

“I am one of the Pharisees and I’m also a scribe too. We help preserve God’s law and teach it to the people. God continues to bless us because we go above and beyond in obeying His law. God is lucky to have us around. Otherwise, it would be like the ‘wild west.’

For example, there was a blind man recently who claimed he was healed by Jesus, that troublemaker from Nazareth. His story didn’t add up, however, because the people who knew him from the road outside of town didn’t think he was the same guy. We talked to his parents too, but I don’t think we can trust them. Jesus has been a threat to the establishment for a long time. He’s a good preacher, but I think he’s a trickster with all of those so-called ‘miracles’ that he pulls off. He claims to speak for God, but he doesn’t have any formal training and he doesn’t follow the rules.

He supposedly healed the blind man by making clay out of his spit and anointing his eyes – on a Sabbath. Everybody knows that you can’t do that on a Sabbath! The beggar was so sure that Jesus was a messenger from God, we had to excommunicate him from the synagogue. He even suggested that the Pharisee wanted to be followers of Jesus – how ignorant! We had to get rid of him; we couldn’t afford to have a Jesus-supporter like that spreading lies in God’s house.

“I’m glad we excommunicate him because later on one of the other Pharisee’s overheard that beggar talking to Jesus near the temple. The beggar was worshiping Jesus like He was a ‘god’ or something. Then, Jesus said he came into the world so that those who do not see may not see and those who see may become blind. I have never heard of something so preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus had the nerve to tell my friend, another Pharisee, that he was a sinner when everyone knows we always obey God.”

From the perspectives of these two men, we learn that Jesus helps the hopeless and condemns the conceited. The helpless are drawn to Jesus. You may not think of yourself as helpless or hopeless, but spiritually, we all are. God. Isaiah 53:6 says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. Thankfully, the Lord has caused our iniquity to fall on Jesus. 1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a moth to a flame, the helpless are drawn to Jesus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the conceited are driven from Jesus. We prefer labels ourselves “well-prepared” or “confident.” the Prophet Jeremiah warns us, however, not to trust in the wisdom, or physical strength but to trust in the Lord “who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24a) Like a racoon running from the headlights, the conceited are driven from Jesus.

Are you more like the hopeless blind man or the Pharisee who was blind to his spiritual need? How you see yourself is an indication of how you see Jesus, “the Light of the world.” The choice is yours.