The Cost of Discipleship

Salvation has a price. It cost God the Father the life of His only begotten Son! He was the One who required that cost because he valued the only creatures on earth that He made with His own hands and into whom He blew His precious breath. Christ’s incarnation cost Mary her reputation, and for Joseph, the apparent cost was deferred gratification in the consummation of his marriage and perhaps ridicule for being a cuckolded husband.

The whole purpose of Christ’s dying on the cross was to fulfill the desire of His Father to make sure once and for all that all men would have the opportunity and the right to eternal life through acceptance of salvation. Through His obedience, He left His royal home in heaven, divested himself temporarily of immortality, took on human flesh, and paid the cost for human sin by dying on a rugged cross (Philippians 2:6-8). He humbled himself as a babe in the womb of a young virgin and was born into a poor family and raised by a carpenter in a village where few people would care to settle.

To say that he did not grow up in the lap of luxury is an understatement. His earthly father died early, as was customary, since he was the eldest male sibling of His mother’s children, had to help to support the family. The Gospels of Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56 point to his vocation as a carpenter and state the names of his brothers: his sisters are also mentioned, but not named. Even after his ascension, Jesus is still paying the cost for mankind’s redemption, having gone to prepare a place for us so that we can be with Him eternally (John 14:1-3). He also continually “[watches] over [His own] word, [making sure] it is fulfilled” (Jeremiah 1:12 NIV) and He is “at the right hand of God, who is making intercession for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV). Moreover, Jesus goes over and above, although He is more than capable of keeping us, by sending the Holy Ghost to be our Resident Protector and Comforter Extraordinaire:

 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them”(John 14:16:21 NIV).

 

 

He also knew that not everyone would receive this gift readily, therefore, he instructed His disciples before He ascended into heaven that they should:

 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

2Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

He also revealed to them that:

[they would] receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).

 

Considering that “God commended his love toward us for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), we should have no doubt that he takes soul winning and discipleship seriously. He has showed us the pattern in the Bible while He worked with His disciples during the course of His earthly ministry. Some of His followers were tough, stubborn, weak, fearful, impulsive and with passions like some of us, but Jesus prayed for them and taught them the word in ways that would help them understand kingdom living and building. He chided them when necessary, saw to it that they rested, showed concern for their daily needs and often encouraged them.

He did it all, so we would understand the cost of discipleship is not cheap because man’s life is worth a whole lot to God. We must be willing to try to invest in others what God has invested in us (although we will never reach His mark). As we have freely received, we must freely give without any complaining. I learned a lesson about going the extra mile to see others saved and live a sanctified life in the book of Mark. In Mark II:3-12 (NIV), some friends of a paralyzed man demonstrate exceptional love for him by using unconventional means to get him to Jesus so that he could receive healing. They tried to press through an extremely large crowd with his bed without success. Realizing that it was almost impossible to get through to the Master, they:

 … made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (vv.4-5).

Think about what the men did for the sick man. Although the distance that they travelled to bring the paralytic to where Jesus was, we can glean from the story that they either had to carry or transport him and his litter on a beast of burden. On reaching the site they had to try to push their way through, and after gouging a hole in someone’s roof, they had to pay the owner to cover the cost for repairs -and not to mention the coordinated effort and care to lower him to the floor without causing further damage to his body.

No wonder when Jesus saw their faith, He was moved to forgive the man’s sins and heal his disease. The passage did not mention the man’s faith to diminish the importance of personal faith, but to teach us that we who know about the power of God to cleanse us from unrighteousness should persevere in telling others about Jesus, praying for their salvation, and letting our light shine so that they will come to repentance.

God has not given us a choice in the matter of evangelism and discipleship. WE MUST WORK WHILE IT IS DAY. If the men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus had not worked while they had daylight to get through the roof, he would not have been healed. We must also seize every opportunity to labor for souls because “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous availeth much” (James 5:16). Our heavenly Father takes note when we intercede for loved ones, coworkers, bosses, students, teachers, enemies and all our neighbors. He is pleased when we stay in the trenches with the fledgling believer and we strengthen our fellow Christians when they are weak.

Don’t give up on an unbeliever! Don’t abandon your Christian brother or sister who has slipped. Keep digging until there’s an opening to Jesus. If the cost was little or nothing, we would lose sight of how much God loves us. Salvation is not cheap because souls are valuable to God. It will cost us to care but it is worth every bit of sacrifice to walk with another on their Christian journey.

 

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Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech in the United States is the right of individuals, groups, and communities to express their opinions without fear of reprisals, censorship, sanctions, or any form of retaliation.  It is part of the over-arching freedom of expression that includes the reception, production and dissemination of ideas and information through various media forms.

The United States is not alone in supporting freedom of expression: it has affirmation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 that consists of 30 articles recognizing an individual’s right in a free society. Article 19 of the UDHR reads: “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

The article was later amended for clarification in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and asserts that the exercise of the free expression is not absolute. Too often, people tend to believe that their right to free speech cannot be challenged in court.  It can be and should be challenged; albeit, the burden of proof is laid heavily on the plaintiff because offensive expression is not necessarily harmful.

 

Free expression may be limited by the intent of the originator to do or incite others to do harm. Some examples of harmful expressions and limitations of speech are libel, slander, obscenity, and divulging classified information and information that may be potentially harmful to public security. Limitation on the latter two examples are important for the protection and security of not only individuals, but for the nation.

 

America stands out among democratic nations as the model for civil liberties and free expression, and it would be a shame if she does the opposite. She cannot lose face by curtailing one of the most cherished rights of her people: yet, she must know when to stop the barrage of apparently innocuous information that may ultimately have dire consequences for the very populace whose freedom of expression she seeks to protect.

 

Who can leash the appetites of a people who have gorged themselves on so much information that many have lost their ability to discriminate between bad and good? America is a world power for many things, but it is no secret that she is dominating the 21st century because she controls how information is distributed in the world. Power names like Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are as American as apple pie: few places on the planet have escaped their presence – if there are any. Neither can one fail to mention the ubiquitous McDonalds and Coca-Cola who indirectly appeal to their clientele through various media forms while lining their pockets overseas.

 

In the same breath, American music and film industries surpass all that have been mentioned about other industries because these two forms have influence on various groups in any country on earth. Some people in many countries outside of the United States know more about Michael Jackson and Beyonce than what they know about celebrities in their own countries! They listen to their songs and they are affected by what comes from the mouths of these stars and the images in their videos. I was shocked to learn after visiting my native country of Jamaica two years ago, that my relatives were watching more American channels on television than I did here in the United States.

That fact means that American information sells!

 

Therefore, anybody who disseminate information to the public about the government or anything about national security, regardless of how harmless it appears, should think twice about it. Millions of people on this planet are fans of American culture, but there are many on this planet who despise the perceived values of this great country and will use what we publicize for our demise. In this violent political climate that we are living in, tempers flare, impetuous words are spoken, and revenge is sweet. However, there is a price that all will pay when the dust settles.

 

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Life Begins With God

There should be no confusion about when life begins. It begins with God . When He created Adam he formed all men, because He placed in him the seed from which all human beings would originate. God saw each of us as if we were already born. In Jeremiah I:6 (NIV) He informs the prophet:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

He also carefully placed His stamp on every man in the loins of Adam – a stamp that replicates itself from generation to generation. David utters these words in Psalm 139 to remind us that God envisioned us before conception:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (v. 13-16).

Therefore, activity that occurs in the womb is only the continuation of who we are.because we will be what God has fashioned us to be when we receive our glorified bodies. Though death will mar our bodies, our existence will not end. On the other hand,  a baby conceived in the womb is not non-existent because it has not yet been born.

If you think that a fetus has no awareness – think again! Babies are very sentient from the womb and God imparts knowledge to them even there as the psalmist David reminds us:

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place (Psalm 51:5-6, NIV).

 

A Man After God’s Own Heart

 

David the man from whose root sprung the sinless Lamb of God was a “bloody man”. He had killed so many people in war and plotted the murder of an innocent man, therefore, God would not allow him to build the temple, although he requested to do so. Instead, God chose his son Solomon to carry out the task because he brought it to David’s attention that “[You] have shed much blood and have fought many wars” (1 Chronicles 1-15).

However, despite his spotty past, God dubbed David as “a man after his own heart” (Acts 13:22, 1 Samuel 13:14). Why would a righteous and holy God describe a mere mortal in such terms? The answer is clear when he we read David’s history – he was always willing to confess his fault and turn away from his sin. Case in point -when God rejected David’s offer to build the temple, he did not throw a tantrum, but set his to provide materials and instructions for his son to do the task. Who can forget how he lusted after Uriah’s wife, impregnated her, and then plotted her husband’s death to cover his wickedness. Nevertheless, when confronted with his sin, he admitted his wrong and repented (2 Samuel 11:5-27).

God showed that he loved David in all the ups and downs of his life, but God never winked at his sins. He punished David for the wrongs he did while showing mercy to him because he knew David’s heart. He saw that David was a man of humility, righteousness, and honesty. David understood that God despised lying and dishonesty, and like God he hated them too. There are many scriptures in the Bible that expresses God’s distaste for liars and two that stand out are Proverbs 12: 22 ESV: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” and Proverbs 6:16-19:

      There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
 a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
      and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

 

David himself states in Psalm 63:11 (NIV) that:

 

But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God will glory in him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

 

It is therefore a sin to lie continually and support those who lie because God hates deception. Lying has become a pervasive thing in our society because it appears to be the lifestyle of influential people – even the most powerful. It is the norm not to admit that one has done wrong, but to cover up one deception with another deception. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Where will it end if the “righteous” remain silent or continue to approve of the lies of those in high places? What are we teaching our children? Let’s teach them a memory gem I learned as a child in school:

 

Speak the truth,

And speak it ever,

Cost it what it will

He who hides the wrong he did – does the wrong thing still. (Writer unknown)

 

Be after God’s own heart. He will forgive us if we choose to confess our faults.

 

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CELEBRATE LIFE

 

I have been baffling over this anomaly for some time: Why do people come to a church to celebrate death rather than life? Despite the efforts of Christian witnesses in telling people that Jesus loves them and inviting them to church, many have never darkened the doors of a church. They will never celebrate when a family member tells them that they are saved from sin and are getting baptized. In some cases, they will avoid the person or pass them off as a nutcase, fanatic, hypocrite or an enemy. However, they will turn up in droves to honor the deceased, even they ignore them in life.

 

Pastors will often report that congregants that they haven’t seen for years, and some they don’t even know, will call them at the oddest time of the day to ask them to eulogize a family member even if the deceased showed contempt for the church during their lifetime. Families want to save face at the wrong time. However, pastors will honor their requests in order not to add to their grief and to take the opportunity to preach the word of God to the living. Recently, Pastor Chris McNairy of Decision Point Ministries, opened a funeral service with his sermon and not at the end, as is customary. It made a difference because about twenty-two people responded to his message. I mention him not because he is my pastor, but because his focus was on the salvation of souls and not on death.  

 

 He was in lock-step with what Jesus demonstrated to his disciples in Luke 9 that it was more important to preach the gospel than to bury the dead. Jesus asked a man to follow Him who made the excuse that he had to bury his father before obeying the request therefore: Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”(v. 60. NIV).

 

 How often are funerals taken up with eulogizing the dead than with exhorting the living to think about eternity? We must think about what we are doing when we attend a funeral. If the deceased is a follower of Christ, surely, we are celebrating a life well spent because we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  On the other hand, if the deceased has not accepted Jesus Christ into their heart, we are essentially celebrating their passage into hell. Morbid as it may sound, that’s the reality. No one wants to think that hell is a real place and that people we love can go there. However, it is true that good people can go there if they do not accept Jesus into their lives.

 

Talk about the “dead burying the dead!” That’s exactly who we are when we do not know Jesus and we go to bury the physically dead. Saying all the wonderful things about your dead loved one , a friend, or celebrity will not influence where they spend eternity – their life with or without Christ is the deciding factor. Why don’t you accept Jesus into your heart today or encourage someone that you love to do so? There’s nothing to lose. If you do, someone can genuinely rejoice when you die, and you can do the same for someone else. You may weep because you may miss their touch, smile, or their word – but you’ll weep with hope.

                                                             

Think about it. If God did not know that hell was a terrible place, he would not have sacrificed His only Son. In the first place, hell was not created for us. It was created for Satan and his minions. God created man in his resemblance because He wanted us to be a part of us and not unlike Him. Sin separated us from Him, but God did not want us to languish in it and die without hope. Therefore, He sent His Son to give us life and life more abundantly.  Let’s choose life now!

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Be Watchful

via Daily Prompt: Observe

A lion can teach us many things about being observant or watchful. It can also teach us about patience. Moreover, it reminds us that we must be always vigilant. The lion may lack the speed and agility of a jaguar, but it did not get the title “King of the beasts” for no reason. What it lacks in speed, it makes up in strength and cunning. Because of the latter, it has been able to kill animals like elephants that are much larger than its size.

It is interesting to note that a lion’s heart and lungs are very small so it rarely try to overtake its prey and prefer to stalk them. Observers have noted that the lion does most of its hunting under the cover of night and watches its prey for a very long time before attacking. Usually, they travel undetected in groups, stealthily encircling their  prey until they have an opening, and then they pounce. The prey may be able to smell the predator and escape death. However,  if it is alone, it may become food for the lion who immediately suffocates its victim.

Lions look for areas of vulnerability in a group and will invariably attack the weak and young. Satan, like the lion is a predator -the only difference is that the devil does not rest from his pursuit. He and his minions are sizing us up 24/7 to find a weakness in us that the can use to destroy us.  The Bible warns us to be on guard against the Evil one: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

Our only protection against him is the armor of God. We cannot ward him off or overcome him in our strength because he is a wily creature. Therefore, make yourself Satan-proof by:

Finally, [being] strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (Ephesians 6:10-18).

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God’s Plumb line

We live in an age of relativism, moral humanism and alternative truths. There is a tacit acceptance, even among the religious, of the erratic opinions and shifting viewpoints of every pundit and fool alike whose claim to fame is shaped by a media that caters to the human penchant for salacious news. It is understatement to say that the world of communications is big business because it is more than that – it is a mighty conglomerate, crisscrossing worldwide geographical, political, social, cultural, and religious boundaries and exerting phenomenal influence on the many peoples of this planet.

 

Humans communicate, and the media satisfies that need. We are wired to find out knowledge and use it to make decisions that enhance our survival. We receive and give information. However, as societies have evolved, communication has taken on other dimensions. The more we know is the more we want to know; and it is mainly the extraordinary that catches our attention whether it be good or bad. Unfortunately, it is the latter that attracts us more. So why blame the media when they splash provocative imagery on television and the glossy pages of magazines to whet the appetites of information gluttons? They are only employing the tools that will appeal to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” of carnal man (John 2:16). After all, they are in business and they will increase what sells. And what mostly sells in the 21st century is not truth, but versions of it. The reason is that many believe that man is the center of his world and he has the right to view it as he sees fit.

 

This notion is rooted in the humanist belief that human beings are essentially good and can harness critical thinking and evidence to make decisions without reliance on religion. Such philosophy does not appear in contradiction to God’s word because God has given us free will. However, a completely autonomous or self-governing human being is like a piece of paper tossed to and from in the wind without a moral compass. Therefore, although having granted us the ability to exercise free will, God retains sovereignty over His creation and expects that we will admit our limitations and recognize that He is the only absolute authority.

 

God leaves no room for error with his subjects. Just as a carpenter or builder makes sure that His foundation is laid out perfectly, God does the same. He uses the metaphor of the plumb line to talk about the accuracy of his word. A plumb line or plumb is a cord weighted with lead or a non-magnetic object at one end to determine verticality. Builders and painters apply the law of gravity to find right angles and to keep work straight simply because there is no place for error or guesswork in the middle of a job. A mason cannot correct lines and angles in the middle of erecting a building, therefore he trusts the precision of the plumb line to enable him to produce visually and structurally sound work. I have seen buildings that did not line up with a plumb line and the results were not good.

The word of God is the plumb line for righteousness, hope and justice. The building term appears in several scriptures in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the builder who establishes his kingdom with exactness and truth as we see in Isaiah 28:16 -17:

See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
      I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line…

 

He will always continue to keep it intact as the chief cornerstone, though he was rejected) Mark 12:10, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:6). After the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon and they were rebuilding the temple, God sent his word to Zechariah to give them hope: “Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel” (Zechariah 4:10, ESV). Allusion to the latter tool serves as the most effective image to remind the Jews of God’s invariableness.

James pinpoints characteristics that support God’s immutability: “…with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Builders have learned to trust the mathematical accuracy of the plumb line because it is not constrained by the whims or moods of its users. In Amos 7:7-8 (NIV), God draws the prophet’s attention to the plumb to illustrate how far away the Israelites had swerved from His standard of righteousness and holiness:

 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb,[a] with a plumb line[b] in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

 

It is the practice of some Christians in our society to cover up wrongdoing by the roles they perform each day; they show loyalty to charismatic figures, jobs, family, political affiliations; culture; and other associations that they become attached to as an excuse for their disjointed lifestyle. Whenever their consciences are pricked, they concoct a ton of excuses to justify their infidelity to God’s word. They will glibly justify the wrongdoing of themselves and others by the cliché, “Everyone sins”.  However, what they fail to realize is that God’s word is constant like a plumb does when its lines are found, and even more so, because: “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89, KJV).  The word will not conform to the white lies of spinmeisters who do wrong and profess to be Christians: application of God’s word is the same in all situations.

 

If we use any other standard than the Word of God to evaluate our conduct as Christians, we are out of line with God’s word.  An engineer, surveyor or builder knows that a slight error in measurement could cause a bridge to crumble, land to be wrongly divided and a shaky foundation in a home – if they work without a plumb.  A little straying from the word makes us crooked and an enemy of God. Too many times Christians choose allegiance to race, politics, money, and other things over God because they do not fear the Lord.  Unfortunately, they fear people who can destroy their bodies and not the One who can destroy both body and soul. They will lie to cover up wrong although they know it is against the teaching of God. They will ditch their faith to support an ideology, to be loyal to their race, a political party, to get a promotion and for various other reasons. Our total loyalty must be to Christ and no other because He alone is faithful. Jeremiah 17:5, NIV warns that:

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

 

 What good is it to us if we gain the whole world and lose our soul?