Saturday, June 3, 2017

Leading by Example

Nehemiah  8-13

Last week we look at some of the leadership principles we can glean from the life of Nehemiah.  He was an ordinary man in a strategic position with the King whom God used to restore a fallen and broken nation. He was a man who proved himself faithful in his service to the King and was burdened by the report he received regarding the condition of Jerusalem.  He was a man of prayer throughout his life, a man with initiative and a planner/organizer.  He knew how to face opposition and took steps to overcome the threats he received.  He was a motivator and was able accomplish a great project in a short period of time.

Nehemiah had opposition from outsiders but he also had issues that he had to deal with regarding the people who were returning to Judah to resettle and reestablish the nation under the rule of God.

The construction of the physical wall was important for the safety and security of Jerusalem.  But more importantly was addressing the spiritual condition of the people. The people had fallen away from the Lord and they needed to make a commitment and covenant with God to return to him and walk in obedience to his Word. 

One of the priorities of Nehemiah was to reestablish the Law and bring instruction and correction.  The moral character of the people had been compromised during their years of captivity but also in the years before they were taken captive by the Babylonians.

Nehemiah 8 details how the people were gathered for the purpose of hearing the Law read and having it explained to them (8:8) Nehemiah emphasized the importance of hearing and obeying the Word of God.  The people had wandered away from the Law through their years of rebellion and lack of education in the Word. Nehemiah called a gathering of the people to hear the Word read publicly with explanation of its meaning so the people understood what was required of them.  Many were ignorant of the Law while others may have been resistant to following the Law.

As the Law was read the people fell under conviction for their rebellion and cried out to the Lord.  It was a solemn moment and a tearful moment when they realized how far they had strayed from the Lord.  Nehemiah encouraged the people by stating “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  What they were doing with a truly repentant and sorrow filled heart brought joy to God because their relationship with him was being renewed.  They were being reconciled to God through their repentance and commitment to follow his Laws.  God loves to have his people reconciled to him.  No matter how far one may have fallen away there is always joy in the heart of God when the prodigal returns.  His mercies are new every morning and he is compassionate and forgiving when we truly repent.

The reading of the law revealed the moral failures of the people.  God’s Word is our mirror, it shows us who we truly are in light of the standards God has set.  Leaders must know the Word of God, practice it in their lives so they can teach it with authority and impact.  When the Word is neglected or not correctly taught, the people will be led astray and away from the blessings God has for them. The study of the Word of God is critical to the success of a leader.  Moses encouraged fathers to teach the word to their children constantly. It had to become part of their being.  Muslims who are devout memorize the Koran because they are convinced of its importance in their lives.  Joshua was admonished to know the word and obey it if he wanted to be successful as a leader.  Today there is great ignorance of the Word, it has not been taught to many and has been discredited as being the Word of God.  Some reject it completely, some reject parts of it (it contains the Word of God) and others misinterpret it.  Nehemiah stood for the truth of God’s word and was uncompromising in his obedience to it and his expectation of the people to also be obedient.

After the Law was read the people were called to make a covenant with God to obey the Law. A covenant is a serious agreement and cannot be taken lightly. A covenant binds the people to God and God to the people as long as conditions of the covenant are met.  A contract is for a set period of time and when it is completed or if it is not fulfilled according to the terms of the contract can be broken.  A covenant is a lifetime agreement between parties and is not to be entered into lightly. Nehemiah urged the people to swear an oath to God in which they accepted both the blessings and curses that were part of the covenant. (10:29)

The people agreed at the moment but later we will find that they turned away from following the Law and began to do their own thing again.

Nehemiah was the first one to sign the covenant.  He again set the example of a leader who leads by example.  If the leaders is not out in front the people have no one to follow or will be following the wrong person.  Nehemiah demonstrated that you cannot expect people to do something you are not willing to do yourself.  As a leader people will be looking to you as an example.  Your level of commitment and willingness to identify with the demands placed upon the people will speak volumes to them and help them make the same covenant agreement that you have made.  When Nehemiah stepped forward to sign the covenant he paved the way for revival and renewal to begin among the people.

Nehemiah had to return to the service of the King Artaxerxes but found it necessary to return to check up on how the people were doing.  What he found was very disturbing.  He identified four areas of failure among the people that he had to address.

1.  Compromising Companionship. Neh. 13:1-9

The Ammonites and Moabites were forbidden from entering the temple because of their past rejection of Israel.  They did not offer help but tried to get a curse placed on them to keep them from entering the Promised Land.  The priest Eliashib had permitted Tobiah who had previously caused problems when the walls were being built, to have a room in the temple. Nehemiah was very upset and threw all his belongings out of the room and told him to leave.  It reminds me of  a wife throwing out her husbands clothes after discovering he has been unfaithful.  Tobiah was not a man who would have a positive influence on the priests.  Nehemiah did not want him there and took action to remove him.

In our lives we too must be careful of the company and companionship we have.  We are lights in the darkness but we must be aware of the ungodly influences that surround us each day that will try to make us compromise our faith and accept things that are not godly into our lives.  Compromising God’s standards to be accepted by others is not wise and will lead to problems.  It takes effort to make a stand against ungodly people and practices that do not honor God.  We cannot be tolerant of evil but that is the message we hear today when people who are opposing God’s standards want to be accepted as normal.  We are judged as being intolerant when we make a stand for God's truth and righteousness.  The moral boundaries are being moved and the goal is to erase them so people can do whatever they want to do and not feel rejected. 

2. Financial issues 13:10-14

The Levites and singers had to leave their work to support themselves.  They lived off the tithe of the people and when the people stopped giving their support ceased and they were forced to provide for themselves.  Managing money and giving to support God’s work is a challenge to many believers.  If all believers gave a tithe of their income there would be more than enough money available to spread the gospel and support missionaries among the unreached people groups. 

Giving to God of the first fruits was the law and the people were not fulfilling it.  When the tithe is held back and used for selfish purpose God's work and God's people will suffer and so will the person withholding the tithe.  I was reading a devotional series by one of the members of the family that started Hobby Lobby.  He emphasized how important it is for believers to learn to be generous.  Their business gives away 50% of its profits each year.  He has seen how God has blessed their business because they have been generous in giving to help others in need.

Nehemiah re-established the tithe among the people and set reliable people to distribute the tithe among the people who were assigned to work in the temple.  Accountability was needed to ensure the tithes were used properly and distributed fairly. 

Unfortunately today there is still a problem with people in ministry not being honest about the money they are given to manage.  One well known Pastor in Korea was convicted of using 15 million dollars of church funds to help his son with his business.  He was over 80 years old when this happened and could have been sentenced to several years in prison but the judge had leniency because of the good things he had accomplished through his church which had over 700,000 members.

God wants us to be wise stewards of our money, be faithful in giving our tithe and be generous to help others in need.

3. Not honoring the Sabbath.  It was forbidden to work on the Sabbath.  It was to be a day of rest and a day to worship God with your family.  But in Nehemiah’s absence the people returned to their old ways of working, buying and selling.  The day set apart was just like any other day.  Earning money was more important to them than obeying God’s commands.  It was for their benefit that they were to rest on the Sabbath but when one is motivated by the desire to gain wealth, God’s laws become secondary.  Hobby Lobby closes all of its stores on Sunday and they close each night at 8 p.m. to allow their employees time to be with their families in the evening. 

Nehemiah addressed the issue by reminding them of the problems the people had experienced because they did not honor the Sabbath nor did they give the land the rest that was required.  He took action to close the gates to prevent merchants from entering.

1Ti_6:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain,

Honoring God through our obedience produces great gain in our lives.  Overworking can often be a sign of lack of faith for God to provide.  Godliness not greediness is what we must prioritize in our lives of faith and trust.

A day of rest is needed by everyone to focus on meeting with God, relaxing from a hectic pace and reconnecting with your family. 

4.  Problems in the home 13:23-31

Many had intermarried with the nations that they were forbidden to marry. God had a special plan for Israel and he understood how marriage to foreign cultures and false religious beliefs would not keep  the people faithful to him.  God had established Israel to be a Counterculture.  His laws were superior to the heathen nations and through obedience to his Laws the other nations would see how much better it was to live according to his Laws.  Intermarriage led many astray and when the decision had to be made to separate husbands from wives because of the unholy union, it was a very difficult time.  Nehemiah became pretty violent toward the offenders by pulling out their hair and beating them.  He knew that intermarriage was harmful to the nation.  Solomon set a horrible example and the people were following his example instead of following God’s standards.  Communication among the people was adversely affected because they did not speak the same language.  Language is a critical component to a culture maintaining its identity.

Today in the USA immigrants who have illegally crossed the border are being deported and many have children who were born in the USA and have legal status as a citizen to live there are suffering because their parents are being sent back.  It is a heart wrenching situation to see families separated and this is the very thing that was happening in Israel.  Leaders often have to make difficult decisions but when the Word of God is the deciding factor, it must be carried out.

Marriage between people of different beliefs or nonbelief is prone with problems.  Being unequally yoked is not God’s desire for his people. Marriage is not be mission field for a believer to unite with a nonbeliever. Nor is a believer to enter into a relationship with another person when they have committed themselves to their spouse. Recently a missionary related to me that a woman he knows who is a believer has entered into a relationship with a married man.  When confronted about this ungodly alliance she said she would rather disobey God than give up the relationship.  She is headed for disaster a does not seem to care.

It was a challenging time for Nehemiah to confront the problems that developed in his absence.  Evidently the leadership that was left behind was not capable of leading the people and enforcing God’s laws among them.  A leader must always train others who are capable of continuing the work and not allow the people to stray away from the laws and desires of God.  Left on their own many will get sidetracked with compromising companionship, refuse to honor God and support his work through giving of the tithe and being generous to meet needs, neglect of honoring God and choosing to pursue wealth by working  instead of honoring God through observing a day of rest; and enter into ungodly relationships with the unbelievers that will destroy their identity and calling.

Nehemiah addressed these issues because of his love for God and his love for his people.  The nation had suffered greatly because if its disobedience and he did not want his people to repeat the same errors that brought on their calamity.  He was willing to make a stand for God’s standards and made the corrections that were necessary. We must be willing to do the same in the church today, if we are to be a godly influence in an ungodly world.

Leadership Principles

As leaders in YWAM and if you are involved in another organization there are principles of leadership that must be developed in your life if you are going to be successful.  There are differing styles of leadership and each one has advantages and disadvantages. What each person in leadership must do is find the style of leadership that fits their personality, giftings and the needs and goals of the organization that they are working with or for.  There are certain qualities that every leader in a Christian organization must have in order to conduct themselves in a manner that is first pleasing to God and secondly effective in moving the people they work with toward the mission and goals of the organization.
We can study many biblical leaders to learn principles from their lives that will help us develop as leaders.  One leader who has impacted my life is Nehemiah.  He was one of the men taken captive by the Babylonians to serve in the court of the King as his cupbearer.  He had to be a man of good character in order for the King to entrust him with this position.  One of the fears of the King was that someone would poison his food or drink and that would cause him to die.  Nehemiah's job was to make sure this did not happen on his watch. Death to the King would result in death to Nehemiah.

Preparation for Leadership: Nehemiah established himself in his work and won the favor of the King.  He was faithful in his job and this was noted by the King.  Nehemiah did not have a character issue that would ban him from any position of leadership God would desire for him.  How we live our lives each day in service to those placed in leadership over us is very important.  If we are not in submission to leadership and operating within the standards, values and ethics of the leaders we will not be qualified to lead others and expect them to be submissive to us.  Nehemiah learned how to serve the King and did it in such a way that the King trusted him and gave him opportunities that he probably would never have received.

There are many people who would love to leave their secular jobs to work with a Christian organization.  This is a noble desire but the proof of being ready to leave a job is how well you performed your job with your current or previous company or the secular organization.  The work habits you develop, the attitudes toward your work and fellow workers will be carried over into your new work place.  If you have not been a faithful worker and have not worked well with others, you will not find it easier to work within a mission and positions of leadership will not be instantly granted to you. If your previous work record has not been good or pleasing to the Lord, steps will need to be taken to make changes. God is the God of second opportunities but when they are presented we must do everything we can to allow God and those he places over us to bring about the changes.

Nehemiah was placed in a leadership position because of his faithfulness to serve the King. 

A Leader must have a God given vision: When he heard the news of how Jerusalem was in desperate need of repair, it became a personal challenge to him to do something to bring about a change.  His heart’s desire was to go himself and do whatever he could to rebuild the walls of the city and restore God’s people.  He knew that he would need permission from the King to take a leave of absence to do what was in his heart to do.  He knew that the King had the power to release him or retain him but he also knew that God has the ability to change the heart of a King through the prayers of his people.

A leader must have a God given vision, a vision that God will bless and support and provide the people as well as the resources that are needed to see the vision come to pass. If God is not in the vision, it will fail and result in great frustration.  A good idea is not the same as a God idea but a God idea is a good idea.  God had a claim on the city of Jerusalem.  It was his city, he had chosen to have a temple built where the people from many nations could gather to worship him.  His zeal for his name and the name of the city he had chosen would accomplish the mission.

Nehemiah became the man God would use to restore the city and the people.  He had proven himself faithful in his secular job and was ready to be given a God sized vision of what he could do for God and his people.

Leaders must be people who pray:  Nehemiah’s first priority was to seek God in prayer and ask him to give him favor with the King when he presented his petition.  It was obvious to the King that Nehemiah was not his normal self.  Something was bothering him and the King was concerned enough for him that he asked him what was going on.  The King could have replaced Nehemiah but because he had developed his relationship with the King, he wanted to know what was going on.  The burden Nehemiah felt for his people and for the city of Jerusalem brought him to his knees in prayer and fasting.  If this burden was truly from God then he must pray and seek God’s intervention to make it become a reality. Nehemiah's prayers paved the way for his petition to be presented to the King.
Prayer demonstrates our need for God’s intervention and our lack of ability to accomplish on our own what God has placed in our heart to do.  Prayer is God’s channel to communicate to us his desires and strategies that he wants us to use to accomplish the vision. Throughout Nehemiah’s leadership, he focused on prayer.  He knew that task was greater than his abilities and he needed God’s wisdom and favor to accomplish it.  The vision was birthed in prayer and sustained by prayer.  Prayer keeps us in the position God wants us to be.  When we fail to pray, we act on our own wisdom and experiences that often are not in agreement with how God wants us to act.  Whatever ministry we have been given we must constantly be praying for God’s direction, his provision and favor among those we are ministering to.  One of the principle values of YWAM is to pray and seek God before attempting anything and then to continue to pray.  God does not have any auto pilot control feature in our lives.  We can’t sit back and neglect prayer, we will fail or the results will not be what they could be or should be.

Throughout this story of Nehemiah we witness his prayer life.

Neh 1:4  As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Neh 2:4  Then the king said to me, "What are you requesting?" So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Neh 4:4  Hear, O our God, for we are despised

Neh 5:19  Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Neh 6:9  For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done." But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

Neh 6:14  Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.

Neh 13:14  Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

Neh 13:29  Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

 Leaders have to be initiators and planners.  They have to know where they are going, what they need, who they need, how long it will take and how they can best do it.  Nehemiah knew what he wanted to do in Jerusalem to preserve the city and reunite the people under God’s leadership.  He planned his route, asked for permission to pass through safely and asked for some of the building materials he needed. When he arrived in Jerusalem he surveyed the area to determine the condition and know more clearly what was needed to get the job done.

Leaders have to be able to convince others of the need to accomplish the vision.  People have to know why you are doing something before they will commit to joining you in accomplishing the vision.  When Nehemiah talked to the leaders of the community he explained to them why they should partner with him.  He emphasized his commitment to the project, he was going to be involved to see it carried through.  He emphasized the need to have the walls constructed for the protection of the city as well as to remove the reproach it was among the nations.  He also explained how he had been given favor and permission by the King as well as Asaph who could give him the timber he needed. He recounted how God’s hand had been upon him to give him favor.  Nehemiah won their hearts, gained their respect and received the response he needed. The project was more than just a wall, it was the opportunity to restore the dignity of the people, reestablish their identity and preserve the city that they loved for the God who had given it to them.

Leaders must also know how to motivate people to do the work. Nehemiah had motivated the people to build the wall through his organizational skills.  He organized the people to rebuild the wall in the area that would be most identified with them.  He placed families in the section of the wall that would be a benefit to them.  The people had motivation to work because they saw the benefit that they would receive from it.  Nehemiah organized the work in such a way that it kept the people motivated.  They took ownership in the work because they saw the benefit it would be to them personally but also to the entire city. They were “all in”.  He entrusted the work to them, having confidence that working together as a team they could do the work.  The people were highly motivated to do the work and accomplished rebuilding the wall in only 52 days.

Leaders must also know how to handle opposition. There will always be people who the enemy will use to try to stop you from accomplishing your vision. Nehemiah had a couple of people Tobia and Sanballat who did not want the walls rebuilt and they tried several things to distract Nehemiah to cause him to stop the work.

They ridiculed the work. 4:1-3. But Nehemiah relied on God to help and defend them.  They were going against God not just Nehemiah.

Plotted resistance to the project to bring confusion. 4:7-8  Nehemiah took their threats seriously and set guards to protect the people.

Used rumors to discourage them. 4:10-11 Nehemiah encouraged the people to not be afraid and to realize that what they were doing was something God had called them to do and he would be with them.  The work they were doing was going to leave a legacy for future generations and for this reason it was worth continuing the reconstruction.

Nehemiah’s story continues but we are just focusing on the first chapters that establish specific principles of leadership that we can put into practice in our lives.

1. God uses our past as well as our present situations to prepare us for the future positions of leadership.  What is your past and present record say about you?  Are you faithful in what you are doing now to demonstrate that you are ready for a greater leadership role? Nehemiah had established himself as a faithful and dependable worker for the King. 

2. Leaders lead with a God given vision.  What Nehemiah wanted to do was birthed in his heart by God.  Many people must have seen the rubble but only Nehemiah saw the opportunity to bring change. If God is not in the vision do not pursue it.

3. Leaders must be dedicated to prayer.  Nehemiah sought God in prayer and fasting.  He knew he was not able to do the work without God’s involvement through his prayers.

4. Leaders are initiators and planners.  Nehemiah took the initiative to plan the work and carried out his plan to completion.

4. Leaders know who to motivate others. He motivate the people to join in the work by appealing to the benefits it would provide for them and the honor it would bring to God and his people.

5. Leaders know how to handle opposition.  Nehemiah did not give in to the threats of the enemies but relied on God, took appropriate action and encouraged the people.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Do you believe?

Do you believe?
Jesus came to reveal the Father.  He did not conceal his identity or the purpose of his mission. He declared it publicly to all who came to him.  To all who believed he gave them power to become Sons of God.  Those who believed were called to be his disciples. His call to discipleship was not just to be a follower of him but to understand what was involved in being his disciple. The word “disciple” means a learner who puts into practice what he or she is being taught. The word “believe” means “by your life.”  It involves more than a mental acceptance of what Jesus taught and what he accomplished through his death and resurrection. It is to live your life by the principles and practices Jesus taught and demonstrated.
Today among Christians there is a lack of understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
James Emery White in his blog, “Church and Culture” gave the results of a survey that reinforces the idea that being a disciple of Jesus is not understood by many in the church today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Service, Sacrifice, Sincerity

When I think about the life of Jesus and how he is our example to follow, three things among many stand out. These three things to me typify what we as his followers should also put into practice in our lives.
The three things are , service, sacrifice and sincerity.
Jesus came to serve and not be served. 

Mark 10:45  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Philippians 2.5-7
 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,   who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

His humility enabled him to take on the form of a slave. Slaves did not have a life of their own. They were the property of their owner. Jesus condescended from a position of equality to become one of the lowest forms of life regarding status as a slave. He came to serve his father by being obedient to whatever his father asked him to do. He only did what the father told him to do. A servant always put his personal desires below the desires of his master. When the master returned home the servant immediately served the needs of his master. It did not matter what hour of the day  the master returned nor how tired the servant may have been, he had to attend to his master. As believers in Christ we are called to serve our father and do what he calls us to do to serve each other and the people in the world. Our lives must testify that we truly are servants and not masters.
Jesus demonstrated being a servant in many ways but the greatest example is when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper. Washing dirty feet was not in the minds of his disciples but it was in the heart of Jesus. What lowly job are we willing to do in obedience to our father and in service to others?
George Washington Carver was serving as professor  of a college during a time in the United States when there was much discrimination against his ethnic group, black African Americans. He was walking past a home of a white lady who was standing in her front yard. She assumed his was a slave and asked him to chop some wood for her. He did not rebuke the lady but kingly agreed to cut her wood. He did not reveal his identity but one day she attended a fund raising event for the college and suddenly realized that the president of the college was the man who cut her wood! She was very embarrassed by her treatment of him and later apologized and then gave a generous donation.
A humble heart enables us to serve people and not be controlled by status or preference. I am always impressed by people who are willing to serve when the opportunity is offered to do something that may not be the most exciting or glamorous task. Whatever we do must be done to please the Lord. it does not matter if we are recognized or rewarded by others, our true reward will be the words of our father when he days, "well done good and faithful servant..."

The second element I find in the life of Jesus was his willingness to make sacrifices and ultimately give himself as the sacrifice for our sins. When Jesus came to earth he sacrificed his position of equality. He gave up his heavenly home as well as his earthly home when he began his ministry at the age of 30. For 3 years he lived as a guest in the home of whoever would receive him. He said of himself that birds and foxes have places to rest but he did not have a place to rest his head. In YWAM we are taught to be willing to lay down your rights in order to make yourself available to be used of God in areas of need and perhaps danger. We are not to be irresponsible to meet our obligations when we lay down our rights. You don't abandon your responsibilities to your children or spouse or ignore a debt you owe because you want to go somewhere else. God  will help us meet those needs as we act responsibly and faithfully to his calling. Whatever we have comes from God and his blessing on our lives. When we give up anything in service to him he will remember and reward us in this life and in the life to come. Are we willing to sacrifice our possessions, our time, our finances,our home, our life style, our desire to be married, our have a good job in order to obey God's call on our lives? 
John Maxwell states that in order for leaders to go up, they must be willing to give up. Sacrificial living should be a way of life and not a random act when our motivation may not be pure or correct.
The Moravians were willing to sacrifice their homeland, their fortunes and future families in order to have the opportunity to spread the gospel to St. Thomas island. The only way they could access this island was to sell themselves as slaves to work in the sugar cane fields. If we are going to reach the unreached people group of which there are more than 6,000 sacrifices will need to be made by both those who go and those who send them. What are we willing to sacrifice to be sent and minister to the needs of others who do not know the Savior?

The final trait I see in Christ was his sincerity. This word in Latin and Spanish means to be without wax. It was used to describe pots that did not wax to fill in the cracks. It was the mark of person who did not try to put on a false front to deceive or impress others. Jesus had the right attitude and motivation for everything he did. He did not try to call attention to himself but often told those who were healed or delivered to not say anything to others about what happened.  His actions were motivated by genuine love for his father and people. Our motivation and attitude must be to bring glory and honor to God in everything we do. 
The Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus because of their desire to have attention given to them. They were the original inventors of the Selfy.
Politicians often pose to have pictures of them doing acts of service to the poor or needy people. It is all about presenting an image that will make them look like they care for others. Their sincerity is immediately called into question.
This should never be the case of a true follower of Jesus. Whatever we do should be done with all of our heart and with the goal of honoring God. Why we do what we do will determine how we do it.
Let's make sure we have sincerity in all we do in our service to the Lord and others.

Jesus is our model of how we are to live each day. His life of service, sacrifice and sincerity should describe our lives each day. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Humility of Jesus

The birth of Christ will be celebrated around the world on Sunday.  For many it will be a time of partying and very little thought of the true meaning of Christ’s birth.  One aspect of his birth that set the stage for his entire life is the humility that God ordained for the birth as well as the entire life of His Son, the Savior of the world.

He was born into a family that was not wealthy.  Joseph was a carpenter and made a humble living.  When they went to the temple to bring their offering, he only gave a bird which was allowed for people who were poor.

His mother Mary was an ordinary young girl.  When she became pregnant out of wedlock, the locals probably began to ask questions or accuse her of having premarital relationships.  Joseph was caught in the middle and people probably thought badly of him because of Mary’s pregnancy.

The birth of Jesus was not in a place anyone would choose to have a baby.  The humility of a stable which most likely was simple a cave in the wall was far beneath what a future King would deserve.  It was most likely a place where animals were kept. Not a clean place that is depicted in the manger scenes we see at this time of year.  It probably was filled with the stench of the animals along with their excrement.  A sanitary place fit for a king, it was not. Yet God ordained that he be born in Bethlehem and in a very humble place.

The first to hear of the Saviors birth were shepherds.  Shepherds were not viewed as important people.  Their job was a low level job, a job most people would never want. Shepherds were the lowest level of society. Shepherds were so despised that they couldn’t even testify in court.But to these outcasts, God through his angels announced to them the birth of Jesus the Messiah.  The first visitors of the King were the lowly shepherds who were excited to see him and then tell others about him.

Later the 3 kings came to give their worship and gifts to Jesus.  When Herod learned of the new king, he was enraged that his kingdom would be overthrown and thus ordered the death of all males 2 years old or less.  As a result Jesus and his parents became refugees who fled to Egypt for their safety.  A king becoming a refugee, another sign of the humility of God.  He could have commanded his angels to protect him where he was living but instead chose to have his Son flee for his life.  Jesus spent the early years of his life as a refugee in hiding, how humbling is that for the Savior and Son of God.

His early years after returning from Egypt were as far as we know just ordinary years of development.  He was raised in a poor home and learned the trade of carpentry with his father.  At 12, the age of recognition of his manhood, he went with his parents and relatives to the temple.  He had a new focus for his life which was being about his heavenly Father’s business.  His parents must have been shocked when he gave them this reply.  Yet he did not make a public announcement of his true identity but humbly continued to work with his father and live a normal life until he was 30 years old.  What must it have been like for Jesus to know his true identity and purpose in coming in human form and not be able to say anything until the time was right?  His humanity was firmly established such that when he began his public ministry many questioned how he could be the Messiah when they knew him as a son of Mary and Joseph.  His identity was in question throughout his life not only by those who knew him as he grew up but also by the religious leaders.  Jesus remained humble throughout his ministry.  He did not demand special treatment from those who were with him nor did he have a huge ministry center named after him.  He simply walked among the common people, ministered to people who were despised and rejected such as prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers. He lived as an invited guest in the homes of others who followed him, ate the food that was given to him and kept a low profile as long as he could to avoid creating chaos among those who were increasing in number as they witnessed his miracles and listened to his teachings.

His teachings came from his father, he only did what his father revealed to him to do.  He lived in submission to his heavenly father and did not act on his own. For most people they pride themselves on being independent, not really needing anyone but are content to be self-sufficient.  We want to be the boss of our own lives yet Jesus was not interested in doing his own thing but doing what his father wanted him to do.  He was tempted to do his own thing just as we are yet did not give in to the temptations. 

As his time drew near to go to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover with his disciples, he entered the city riding on a donkey, a beast of burden and not a beautiful horse or chariot that would be the normal way a king would enter a city.

 They say that Alexander the Great entered India in a grand procession of 200 painted elephants, 200 soldiers on black horses and 200 lions surrounding him as he sat on a golden throne atop an ivory chariot proclaiming "I am the Lord of the universe. I conquered the world. Now I will conquer the stars". Alexander died at 33 and today owns nothing.

When he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, he washed the feet of each one of them.  This was a task of a servant.  The disciples failed to find someone to do this lowly task, but Jesus humbled himself to do this for them as an example of what he expected of them in the future.  Jesus had taught them that the greatest in his kingdom would have to be the servant of all.  This was radical thinking and contrary to the way of life the disciples had witnessed with their leaders as well as the Roman government.  The fact that Jesus would wash the feet of Judas whom he knew would soon betray him, demonstrates the extreme humility of Jesus.

His arrest in the garden is also an example of his humility in how he responded.  He did not defend himself or try to flee from an unjust situation but submitted himself to the will of his father which would soon lead to his death.  Jesus knew what was coming and humbly submitted himself to his father. He accepted his role as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind and followed through with the painful process of the trial, false accusations, beatings, ridicule, mocking and intense physical pain.  At any point he could have stopped the abuse and been liberated by the host of angels who were watching.  Yet he endured it all for you and I.

His death on the cross was a very humbling experience.  This form of death was for notorious criminals and was one of the cruelest forms of punishment.  Death often took many days to complete.  Jesus was viewed in public naked as a form of humiliation by the soldiers. 

The birth of Jesus should always remind us of his life of humility.  He came to earth in the form of a human being and became a servant rather than a political or religious leader who could command respect.  God chose a different way to enter into the world, a way that had little appeal to anyone seeking a position of power or authority. 

As we reflect on the birth of Christ, may we always be reminded that we too are called to be humble servants to mankind.  We live in a world that seeks after fame and recognition.  It is a world that pushes people out of their way to get what they want.  Christ modeled to us from the very beginning of his life, that greatness comes through humble service to God and man.   May our lives be ones of service in which we do not care if we are recognized for what we do. 

The Making of a disciple, part 3

The Making of a disciple Part 3

Mar 2:1-17  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven. “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic—"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"  He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.   And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him.   And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus the healer and forgiver of sins

Jesus fame continued to grow throughout the region of Galilee.  When he returned after visiting several towns, preaching the good news and healing the sick and casting out demons he was ready for a break.  Once the people heard he was back in Capernaum, they flocked to the house he was staying at.  Jesus did not send them away but began to teach them.  His teaching is interrupted by four men and a paralytic who wanted desperately to see Jesus.  The only access they had was through the roof.

We see in the four heroic men several things that are worth noting.

1.     Their love for the paralytic.  They made it possible for him to be in the presence of Jesus.  Love is an action word and these four men demonstrated their love by carrying him to Jesus.  When we love people we are willing to make sacrifices for them.

2.     Their determination to bring their friend to Jesus that caused them to tear the roof off of the home.  You have to wonder what the owner of the home was thinking when his roof started to fall apart.  Yet we do not read anything about the owner’s reaction due to the tremendous miracle that took place.

3.     The faith of the friends and the paralytic.  They knew that Jesus could heal the paralytic.  They would not have made all the effort to bring him to Jesus if they were not sure.  Tearing off the roof of a home that was not theirs could have been a risky move.  They were willing to suffer any consequence.  They only wanted the opportunity for their friend to be set free from his condition.

Jesus’ Surprise and Shocking Statement about himself

Jesus surprised the crowd and disturbed the scribes when he made the statement, “Son your sins are forgiven.”

No one was expecting him to say that.  They probably thought Jesus was going to command the man to walk.

For Jesus to make this statement was to equate himself with God.  He was making very clear his true identity as one equal to God. When the scribes questioned him and accused him of blasphemy he gave them a question.

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven, ‘or to say ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

The response of Jesus reflects the Jewish view that forgiveness of sins must precede physical healing.  Whether or not this particular disease was the consequence of sin, Jesus went to the heart of the matter.  Sin and disease are effects of evil, and Jesus reveals God’s opposition to evil in any way it may manifest.  His goal is to bring complete wholeness to people.

Jesus proved his authority to forgive sins by healing the paralytic.  The scribes could not say anything.  He silenced them with his act of healing, something they could not do.

The people were amazed and glorified God.  They had never seen anything like this.

Jesus the Teacher

Jesus takes advantage of the opportunity to teach the people by going out in a boat while the people were on shore.  The acoustic effect of the water made it easier for his voice to be heard by the crowd.  It also gave him a barrier between himself and the people.

Jesus demonstrate his love for people by healing the paralytic but he also used this miracle to clarify his identity and why he came to earth.  Only through Jesus can we receive forgiveness of our sins.  John the Baptist declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.  The scribes and Pharisees did not receive Jesus as the Lamb of God.  They did not know his true identity and rejected him as their Messiah. 

What the disciples are learning about Jesus.

The disciples were taking all of this in and I am sure were trying to understand who Jesus was.  They have seen him as a miracle worker, a teacher who taught with authority and anointing, as one who had power of the demonic realm and now they learn that he can forgive sins.

Another radical move of Jesus

Jesus next act was to call Levi, a tax collector to follow him.  Tax collectors were not respected by the public.  They often took advantage of collecting extra money for their services. They were grouped with sinners and signify those people who by vocation or morality place themselves outside the society of Gods covenant people.  For Jesus to have fellowship with such people would bring Him into conflict with the Pharisees.

Jesus crossed over the Jewish boundary lines when he met with the sinners and tax collectors.  These people where not even to be taught the statutes of God, since their vocation and life-style made them ritually unclean.

What the disciples are learning

The disciples are now witnessing another aspect of the character of Jesus.  He was willing to interact with groups of people who were outcasts and held in contempt.  Jesus demonstrated his love for people who were not accepted by the Jewish authorities.  He saw in Levi potential to be one of his chosen disciples and took the time to be with him and invite him into his inner circle of 12.

We have to see the potential in people like Jesus did rather than focus on the problems they may have.  He was willing to risk his reputation among the religious people because he knew who he was and he was more concerned about his obedience to God that the praise of the religious leaders.  John Maxwell says that we must put a 10 on people’s foreheads instead of a 3 or lower.  We have to value people and believe that God can make changes in them as they come to know Christ and allow him to transform their lives.

Can you imagine what Levi felt like when Jesus called him to follow him.  He knew he was rejected by the people yet here was a man who wanted him to be one of his followers, his disciple.  Jesus knew how to bring out the best in others by believing in the potential of the person.

Doctor Jesus

The final thing the disciples learn about Jesus is that he likened himself to a doctor who came to help those who were in need.  He could not ignore the sinners who were publicly acknowledged as such just as a doctor cannot refuse to treat the sick.  He came to seek and to save those who were lost in their sins.

The disciples’ minds were being opened to a new reality of love and forgiveness.  Jesus was not in a ministry of condemnation but of healing people who were physically and spiritually sick.  He went out of his way to minister to people who were despised and rejected.  He honored people who had faith to believe in him. He spent time with people labeled as sinners and unclean.  He broke the rules of the Pharisees and scribes to show the people the heart of God.

Jesus is revealing himself to his disciples.  People must first believe in the leader before they will commit to follow him. As leaders of others we have to demonstrate our character through our conduct if we want people to believe in us and follow our leadership. The disciples were learning new principles through the teachings and actions of Jesus.  This was an intense time of learning for them and even though they did not understand everything that was happening, it was being planted in their minds and the Holy Spirit would bring these things to their remembrance in the days to come.

The Call to discipleship

The Call

Mar 1:16  Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

Mar 1:17  And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men."

Mar 1:18  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mar 1:19  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.

Mar 1:20  And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

The Call: to follow, to fish, to fix

Jesus chose 12 men to be his closest followers. He conducted no job interviews, did not check their backgrounds or do anything that we would normally happen when choosing a team to work with you.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus.  He was a wild man that must have drawn attention just by looking at his clothing.  He did not try to smooth talk people into repentance and getting their hearts prepared for the Messiah to arrive.  Perhaps the 12 disciples had some information about the coming Messiah that made it easier for them to make a decision to leave the fishing business in the hands of their father and follow Jesus. 

The calling of God upon our lives is to abandon our plans even though they may seem good to follow the Lord wherever he leads us.  The 3 fisherman, Peter, James and John along with Andrew had no idea what they were getting into when they left their businesses to become a disciple. 

Jesus simply ask them to “Follow me”.  Jesus assumed responsibility for them if they would follow him.  He would be investing his life into them and through this they would be transformed into “Fishers of Men.” The first requirement Jesus gave them was to simply follow him.  They were to go with him wherever he went, observe what he was doing and learn what he was going to teach them.  He would be their model and demonstrate the ministry that they would soon be doing on their own. 

In our relationship with Jesus we have to always remember that our first obligation is to follow him.  To allow him to lead us where we are to go, what we are to do and how we are to do it.

Jesus modeled how to pray, how to heal the sick and raise the dead, how to deal with religious people who lead people astray, how to take care of the needs of people, how to love the people who were rejected by society, how to trust his father in difficult situations, how to overcome temptation, how to forgive, how to honor others, how to stay focused on the mission, and how to teach God’s word and the principles to live by.

Jesus was one who preached what he practiced rather than one who tried to practice what he preached.

His life is our example, our model that we must follow.  We have to have Christ living in us as Paul stated in

 Galatians 2.20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The words of Christ are to live in us.

 Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

His words must saturate our lives so we can become imitators of him.

 We are to imitate Christ and let our lives be an example for others to follow.

2Th 3:7  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,

 Paul knew that he had to walk in obedience to the leadership of Jesus.  He was not interested in pursuing his own desires but submitted his life to accomplish the mission Jesus had given him and to seek him for guidance on how to carry out the mission.

Fish for men

After the call to “follow me” Jesus told them they would have a new identity and focus for their lives.  Jesus was going to make something different of their lives.  The fishing business was their livelihood but they were going to be made into something very different as they allow Jesus to make them into what he wanted them to be.

As we follow Jesus we have the assurance that he is going to make something different of our lives.  We become a new creation in him.  The old life has passed away and he begins the process of transformation. He exchanges our life for his life.  He orders our circumstances to bring about the changes that he wants us to experience.  He has good things planned for us and sometimes we go through difficulties that are designed to bring about the changes he desires of us.  He is molding our lives each day through our experiences, our interaction with the Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the people he has placed in our lives. He is at work in us to make us into the image of Jesus.  Our awareness of what he is doing and our cooperation with him.  He gives us the freedom to make the choice to follow him and allow him to make us or go our own way.

The Navy Seals have a rigorous training program that is designed to eliminate anyone who does not have what they feel is necessary to be in this elite group.  The trainees at any time can ring the bell that tells everyone that they are no longer in the program. We too have this option but in choosing to ring the bell we miss out on what God has for us in the situation.  Don’t ring the bell! Believe God is working in you and will bring you through whatever is happening to make you more like him.

The disciples were going to be given a new identity and a new purpose for their lives.  Jesus was going to make them fishers of men. The focus of their life would now be something completely different.  You have to wonder what the disciple where thinking when Jesus made this comment.  What could this possible mean to become a fisher of men?  How would they do it, what would they do with the men they caught?  I images they had a lot of questions in their minds about what it meant to become a fisher of men.

Over time they would understand this new spiritual language Jesus was using to communicate with them.  They would become evangelists who would win thousands of people to the Lord and make them disciples like they were trained to be. A fisherman in the time of Christ did not have an easy job.  They worked long hours and the best fishing was at night.  They had to make sacrifices if they wanted to be successful in the business.  It was hard work, manual work that demanded a lot from them.  They had to cast their nets throughout the night with the hope that they were in the right spot to bring in a large catch of fish.  They were probably not successful 100% of the time but they continued to do what they knew they had to do to get results.  As a fisher of men they would experience times of harvest and fruitfulness in their labors but also times when it was very difficult to share the gospel message to certain groups of people. Fishing was not a complicated business at that time.  It was repetitious work and the results were not guaranteed.  To be a fisher of men would require work on their part, faithfulness to share the gospel message and confidence in the Holy Spirit to take the words we share and make them alive in the person receiving them.  We don’t control the results but we can present the message in the clearest way we know to help them understand what Christ has done for them.

The calling to be a “fisher of men” did not change throughout their lives.  These disciples carried out their mission until their death.  We can never lose sight of this calling each one of us has to be sharing the gospel and modeling the gospel to others.  We have to be active in being a fisherman for the Lord and look for opportunities to share with others.

Fix the hurting

The other aspect of the life of a fisherman was that they had to mend the nets that were torn.  When I grew up my family was involved in seining the lake where we live to get rid of the unwanted fish.  We were part of a Sportsman Club that bought a huge net, over a thousand feet long that was placed out in the lake.  The net was drawn in by a rope that was wrapped around a machine that had a revolving part.  We would pull in one side of the net and then move to the other side to pull it in. It was a long process to get the huge net to shore.  Always the net would get torn and we would spend a lot of time afterward repairing the net.

Repairing the net to me is like repairing the lives of people that come to Christ who are hurt and who need someone to help them with the healing process.  As fishers of men we have to take care of those who are hurting and help them mend the wounds they have suffered. We all come to Christ with damage from the past.  Sin has a way of destroying our lives and causes great damage to our spirit, soul and body.  The call to follow and fish is also a call to fix broken lives with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  We live in a fallen world that is becoming more fallen do to the increase of evil through the media.  Pornography is just one area the enemy is using to corrupt the minds of children.  One of the videos we watched in the Leadership school stated the children as young as 8 years old are now accessing porn via the internet. Their minds are being destroyed at an early age and their abilities to relate in a healthy manner with the opposite sex are being damaged.  Abuse of children by adults, sexual identity confusion, depression and suicide are not seeing improvement in the statistics.  There are many nets to be mended as we make Disciples of Christ. The good news is that there is great freedom available to all who come to Christ.  He is the healer and we can become his healing hands as we involve our lives with those who have been hurt.