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Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been tried and found difficult.”

He’s right – being a disciple of Jesus Christ is hard. It isn’t easy to follow Christ. Perhaps that’s why Paul told Timothy, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). The word “discipline” has the meaning of agonizing – working to the point of agony – in order to pursue the goal of godliness (which should be the goal of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ).

It’s hard to study God’s Word and properly interpret it in it’s context. It takes work and too often we’re tempted to wait until God “whispers the answer in our ear.” It’s easier to rely on a study Bible or our favorite teacher (or church) to tell us what it means, or even go so far as to say, “There are so many different interpretations; nobody reals knows what it means.”

It’s hard to pray. Our prayer should be fervent and continual, but that’s not easy. Our minds wander and it’s not hard to forget. It’s easier to neglect it and tell ourselves that “God knows what’s in my heart.”

It’s hard to apply God’s Word to our life – to actually try to do what it says. Success in obeying and putting into practice what the Lord has told us involves agonizing work  with a lot of starts and stops. Hearing the Word is easier than hearing it and then doing it.

It’s hard to evangelize. We find it easier to remain quiet and “let our life do the witnessing,” as if that were even possible. It’s easier to leave it to “the professionals.”

It’s hard to have real fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and I mean the kind of fellowship that goes beyond “Hi! How are you?” over coffee and doughnuts. It’s easier to keep to ourselves and not mix too much with those who don’t always think like we do, don’t have the same life experiences that we do, and are just, well, different.

It’s hard to minister to and serve other people. It’s easier to say we don’t have the time or the talent to lend a hand where and when it’s needed, then it is too actually help. It’s easier to see it as an interruption rather than as a divinely given opportunity.

It’s hard to “mortify the flesh” (Rom. 8:13) – to put to death the deeds of our sinful nature. We have to work at it every day, and the truth is that we won’t complete the task in this lifetime. It’s easier to give up and say, “That’s just the way I am; I’ll never change,” or “God understands; He’ll forgive me.”

It’s hard to stand for and defend biblical doctrine and values in a society that denies (and ridicules) all of them. It’s easier to give in and compromise for the sake of “love,” “unity,” and “compassion.”

The list could go on and on, but the point is simple: being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is hard – not easy. I’m persuaded that this is a reason some people leave the church (in may cases joining the Roman Catholic church, Eastern Orthodoxy, or some form of Protestant leftism): they get tired of the fight. Sure, they want to identify as a Christian, but the don’t want the fight, the hard work that goes along with it.

The good news is that God gives us the strength and ability to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness through His Holy Spirit! Hard doesn’t mean impossible when the Spirit of God is involved.

Don’t be deceived into thinking that being a disciple of Jesus is easy – it isn’t. It’s hard, but it’s what God has called us to as His people.

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JC-Ryle

 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

J.C. Ryle comments about this passage saying:

We should notice first, in these verses, Christ’s question to Peter–“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Three times we find the same inquiry made. It seems most probable that this three-fold repetition was meant to remind the Apostle of his own thrice-repeated denial. Once we find a remarkable addition to the inquiry–“do you love Me more than these?” It is a reasonable supposition that those three words “more than these,” were meant to remind Peter of his over-confident assertion–“Though all men deny You, yet I will not.” It is just as if our Lord would say, “Will you now exalt yourself above others? Have you yet learned your own weakness?”

“Do you love Me” may seem at first sight a simple question. In one sense it is so. Even a child can understand love, and can say whether he loves another or not. Yet “Do you love Me” is, in reality, a very searching question. We may know much, and do much, and profess much, and talk much, and work much, and give much, and go through much, and make much show in our religion, and yet be dead before God, from lack of love, and at last go down to the pit. Do we love Christ? That is the great question. Without this there is no vitality about our Christianity. We are no better than painted wax figures, lifeless stuffed beasts in a museum, sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. There is no life where there is no love.

Let us take heed that there is some feeling in our religion. Knowledge, orthodoxy, correct views, regular use of forms, a respectable moral life–all these do not make up a true Christian. There must be some personal feeling towards Christ. Feeling alone, no doubt, is a poor useless thing, and may be here today and gone tomorrow. But the entire absence of feeling is a very bad symptom, and speaks ill for the state of a man’s soul. The men and women to whom Paul wrote his Epistles had feelings, and were not ashamed of them. There was One in heaven whom they loved, and that One was Jesus the Son of God. Let us strive to be like them, and to have some real feeling in our Christianity, if we hope to share their reward.

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on John 21:15-17. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: If God has graciously forgiven your sins, you will love Him greatly and serve others gladly.

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The goal is not conformity to a standard; it’s loving the standard.

Those are the words of Doug Wilson as he gives advice to parents wrestling with the question of whether or not to give their children smart phones (and at what age).

He’s not against standards (no Christian should be). We all have standards to which we must conform. Those include “house rules,” the laws of the land, and ultimately the Law of God. The issue (and this is what I liked so much) is deeper than simply obedience versus disobedience, conformity on the one hand and non-conformity on the other. The issue is where does this conformity of obedience to the standard come from?

We all know how easy it is to obey on the outside and be in complete raging rebellion on the inside (in our heart). To put it another way, obedience can be external without the heart being “in it,” so to speak.

The goal – the deeper goal, the goal that makes the most difference in the long run – is to love and delight in the standard. If that happens, conformity to the standard will follow. If the heart (from where delight springs) is right, actions will follow.

Psalm 1 begins like this: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night (vv. 1-2).

Psalm 40:8 takes it one step further, as it says, I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart. A delight in the Law of God produces obedience to it.

If, in our hearts, we delight in God’s Law (and love it), and in the One who gave it, we’ll conform to the standard. Delighting in God’s Law/Word means that we desire it, and derive great pleasure and joy from it. We love God’s Law and delight in it because we know that God always has our good and His glory in mind, and that He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Here’s a question for dads and moms: Do your children know the reasons behind God’s Law and your house rules? Do they know that both standards (yours and God’s) are meant to help the household operate in a way that’s orderly and glorifies God? Are they (and you) aware that it’s dangerous to confuse God’s Law with your house rules? Something to think about.

Here’s a question for churches: Are we simply telling God’s people to “conform to the standard,” or are we urging them to “love the standard”? Another thing to think about.

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After reading through the Bible in a year, Bear Grylls made this statement – “What did I learn? I am a great sinner, Christ is a great redeemer.” Amen!

Reading through the Bible from cover-to-cover is something every Christian, and every person who wants to consider themselves educated, should do. It doesn’t matter if you do it in a year or not, just do it.

This year, I’ll be using the “5 Day Bible Reading Plan” from http://www.bibleclassmaterial.com. It’s “basically chronological” with readings from both the Old and New Testaments. It’s different in that there are only five days of reading per week, giving time to catch up if you need it. You can print out a copy of the reading plan here.

There are a number of other good plans, too. Ligonier has several here. All of the ESV’s reading plans are here. Whichever you choose, stick with it, and you’ll learn what bear Grylls did.

“Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?” is a very interesting op-ed written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He asks Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, a series of questions. Keller answers his questions in what sounds like a conversation between the two. You should read it. Most of us have been asked questions like this before, and it’ll help us prepare and think through our answers. You can read it here.

We saw Rogue One last week, and thought it was very good.

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RGB básico

As I sat in the chair in the examination room of the ophthalmologist’s office, I received a diagnosis that made official what I already knew – “You have a cataract, and it needs to be removed.”

In the past year, it’s become more and more “clear” that there was a fog-like substance, or “glaze,” growing on the lens of my eye. Trying to see out of that eye was like looking through a fogged-up window that I couldn’t wipe off. I couldn’t focus on anything when I looked out of that eye – nothing was clear.

It wasn’t long after that I realized cataracts have a spiritual application, too. After he recounted the “Hall of Faith” in chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2). We can only fix our eyes on Jesus if we have clear vision, and not cloudy vision. If we can’t “see” Jesus, and keep our focus on Him, we won’t be able to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” or “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” 

We can develop spiritual cataracts in quite a few ways, but ultimately they come from the same source – neglect of the spiritual disciplines God has given us that we might grow and mature in Him. When we stop reading and studying God’s Word; when the only time we pray  is to get a good parking spot; when we neglect fellowship and attendance at church; when we don’t truly worship from the heart; when we aren’t good stewards of the gifts God gives us; when we don’t evangelize; when we stop serving and ministering to others; when we see obedience to the Lord as an option and not an obligation; and when we stop learning, we can be sure cataracts will develop that will cloud our vision  of the author and perfecter of faith, Jesus Christ. They may come quickly or slowly, but the cataracts will certainly develop.

Cataracts, at least of the spiritual nature, can be avoided, therefore, by the regular and consistent practice of all of the spiritual disciplines. Only then will we be able to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus with vision that is clear and bright.

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“I do not ask You to take then=m out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

J.C. Ryle wrote:

We need not doubt that our Lord’s all-seeing eye detected in the hearts of His disciples an impatient desire to get away from this troubled world. Few in number and weak in strength, surrounded on every side by enemies and persecutors, they might well long to be released from the scene of conflict, and go home. Even David had said in a certain place, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove, then would I flee away and be at rest!” (Psalm 55:6). Seeing all this, our Lord has wisely placed on record this part of His prayer for the perpetual benefit of His Church. He has taught us a great lesson that He thinks it better for His people to remain in the world and be kept from its evil, than to be taken out of the world and removed from the presence of evil altogether.

Nor is it difficult on reflection to see the wisdom of our Lord’s mind about His people, in this as in everything else. Pleasant as it may be to flesh and blood to be snatched away from conflict and temptation, we may easily see that it would not be profitable. How could they do any good in the world, if taken away from it immediately after conversion? How could they be duly trained for heaven, and taught to value the blood and intercession and patience of their Redeemer, unless they purchased their experience by suffering? Questions like these admit of only one kind of answer. To abide here in this valley of tears, tried, tempted, assaulted, and yet kept from falling into sin, is the surest plan to promote the sanctification of Christians, and to glorify Christ. To go to heaven at once, in the day of conversion, would doubtless be an easy course, and would save us much trouble. But the easiest course is not always the path of duty. He that would win the crown must carry the cross, and show himself light in the midst of darkness, and salt in the midst of corruption. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).

If we have any hope that we are Christ’s true disciples, let us be satisfied that Christ knows better than we do what is for our good. Let us leave “our times in His hand,” and be content to abide here patiently as long as He pleases, however hard our position, so long as He keeps us from evil.

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