Category Archives: discipleship

Two Things We Must Do

(Monday, June 15) 8:38 AM My reading this morning was in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Hebrews 13.

There are two things we must do as followers of Jesus, and the church must lead out in this matter (see verse 16):

Do not neglect to do good and to share with others who are in need, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Being a Christian consists of more than loving God with our entire heart, soul, strength, and mind. It also consists of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The earliest believers in Jerusalem illustrated their love for God through (Acts 2:37-47):

  • Evangelistic preaching
  • Christian baptism
  • Apostolic teaching
  • Genuine relationships
  • Christ-centered gatherings
  • Fervent prayer

But they also showed their love for God through showing love for their brothers and sisters by sharing whatever they had. In fact, “All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need” (Acts 2:44). Thus the 7th mark of a New Testament church is sacrificial living. Love for God is always matched by love for others. They are two sides of the same coin. They always go hand in hand. So if we say that we love God and see a brother or sister in need and then don’t help them, how can God’s love be within us? “Little children,” writes John (1 John 3:18), “let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.” This is what the impoverished Macedonians did. Writes Paul (2 Cor. 8:3-4):

They gave not only what they could afford, but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to, and not because of nagging on my part. They begged us to take the money so that they could share in the joy of helping the Christians in Jerusalem.

Fellow saints, how easy it is to praise God in the Sunday service and neglect our ministry to the needy. Praise must be put into practice by relieving the needs of the poor. In fact, the author of Hebrews sees our deeds of mercy and love as sacrifices of praise. Y’all, we need so many things today, but perhaps most of all we need a afresh awakening of social responsibility. We need to be people who do a lotta listening, a lotta learning, a lotta loving, a lotta living out the Gospel we proclaim.

Lord God, come and make us givers, not takers. For when the needy are helped and the oppressed are defended and the blind see and the deaf hear, will not many have to marvel and confess that Jesus the Nazarene is surely among us in all his saving power?

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.

Why do I Suffer?

Saturday, May 30

7:35 AM “Why? Why me? Why this?” Ah, the questions we ask when we are suffering. But God has the answer to each. Notice the three occurrences of “so that” in 2 Cor. 1:3-11 (NASB):

Verse 4: ” … so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.”

Verse 9: ” … so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

Verse 11: ” … so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

As usual, Paul combines simplicity and depth. When we invite God into our world of suffering, he walks right in. He brings a host of gifts — resilience, hope, patience, joy — but also understanding. He wraps us in his arms and says, “My dear child, here is why I allow you to suffer affliction. That you might be prepared to comfort others. That you might not trust in yourself. And that you might learn to give thanks in everything.”

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. If we are suffering, this is a time to examine ourselves, as Paul suggested in 1 Cor. 11:28. In the first place, suffering brings us closer to reflecting God’s own empathy. Who best knows how to comfort a man who’s lost his wife than someone who has lost his own? Who better knows how to comfort a couple who has lost their infant child than another couple who has lost a baby? Who understands cancer better than someone with cancer? Think of dominos bumping against each other: God comforts us, we comfort others, they comfort still others, and the domino effect goes on and on.

Then too, when we suffer we’re forced to look up. We abandon reliance on ourselves and become utterly dependent on God alone. We have to surrender. We have to give in. And when we do, God wonderfully comforts us. “I’m right here,” he says. “I never left. Just lean on me. Let me comfort you. The One who pulled off the resurrection will see you through.” He may not bring back the wife or baby you lost, but he will being back your soul, your hope.

Finally, maybe it’s time we gave thanks for the situation we find ourselves in. To be honest, it took me years to give thanks after Becky’s passing. Years. No one and nothing could bring thanksgiving out of my mouth. Finally, God brought it out. The silence had lingered for 5 years. Four Christmases had come and gone. Then one day, it was like a light broke into my life. Finally I was able to say, “Thank you, Lord, for what you have taught me in the midst of all this pain. I would never have gotten so close to you. In the mystery of your will, it’s not only what you give us but what you take that is a vital part of the plan. You lovingly and sovereignly rule over me, shaping me into the image of your Son. Thank you for your comfort, your grace, your mercies. Thank you.”

The three lessons of suffering?

  • Empathy.
  • Humility.
  • Gratitude.

We aren’t victims of circumstance. In fact, the very suffering that Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.

Believe that today.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of Energion titles including Running My Race and The Jesus Paradigm.)

Chuck Swindoll on Prayer

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

4:58 PM Been rummaging through my old sermon notebooks and stumbled on the wise words of Chuck Swindoll in one of his messages on prayer. He concluded with “Four relevant reminders”:

1) Prayer is to be continuous. It’s not limited to Sunday, or to when we go to bed, or to when we eat.

2) Prayer is designed for every part of the Christian life. Prayer fits — no matter what the situation. You’re walking into a business meeting? Pray. You’re making a decision? Pray. Nothing is too insignificant or too overwhelming for God. He cares about it all.

3) Prayer is not a substitute for our responsibility. It’s not an excuse for laziness or passivity. It’s okay to pray, “Lord, give us safety through the night,” but you still have to lock the door and turn on the burglar alarm. Every night. Otherwise you’re being irresponsible. Yes, you should pray for good health — but are you eating properly, exercising properly, listening to your doctor? “Prayer in place of those things is wrong,” said Chuck. 

4) Prayer is not for perfect people, but for the imperfect, needy person. The only perfect person is the Savior, and he’s praying for us! Prayer is simply remembering you’re nothing and calling on the one who is everything, and then getting out of the way.

I’m glad I found those notes today. I needed these four reminders. Everyone has an “insurmountable obstacle” in their lives. It’s got “impossible” written all over it. I know I do. So I’ll make a deal with you. For the next two weeks, I’ll pray about my obstacles every day. Preferably several times a day. I’m going to take the obstacle and give it to the living God and leave it in his hands, trusting him with it. Will you do the same? I’ve got a feeling that within a week or two, we’re all going to have some pretty wonderful things to share with each other.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.

Paul’s Core Convictions about Christianity

Monday, May 18

10:32 AM It’s become clear to me that Paul’s letter to the Philippians (which I have the privilege of teaching every year) summarizes many of Paul’s core convictions about Christianity. These include:

1) Christians aren’t just to study theology but are to follow the example of Jesus and live the way he lived — in selflessness and humility.

2) Followers of Jesus are to put the needs of others before their own needs.

3) Christianity is a matter of ethics as much as theology.

4) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.

5) Believers are called to pursue a kingdom that is radically different from all versions of the kingdoms of this world. This kingdom is always cross-centered and countercultural.

Perhaps this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to reexamine our priorities, to learn humility the hard way, and to choose to help one another as we pursue Christ’s upside-down kingdom.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is the author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Why Four Gospels, and many others, as well as co-editor of our Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series.

Romans 15 and stages of ministry

(12/22/2019) 7:46 AM In Romans 15 this morning. Reminded that Paul’s ministry went through stages. This happens to us as well. We all grow. We all mature. We all develop. We all move from one stage of life to another. In Romans 15, Paul looks back on his ministry and, in effect, says, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel in the East. It’s now time to finish the great task of planting the gospel in the remainder of the Roman Empire, that is, as far as Spain.” There are two principles of life that occur to me:

1) Paul was being true to himself. Paul wasn’t a local church pastor. Paul was a missionary/church planter, a trail-blazer for the gospel. If he has planted, let others water! I must move on! Paul had one and only one ambition in life: to establish new congregations, not to build on someone else’s foundation.

2) What enabled Paul to say that it was time for him to move on? It was the fact that he could entrust his previous work into the hands of helpers like Epaphras (who established the church in Colosse) and others. Paul left no orphans behind!

I spent many minutes in prayer this morning asking the Lord to make clear to me His path in the coming years. As I write this blog post I am planning my international travel for the next two years. To the Greek mind, time was a circle imprisoning life until the soul was released through death. To the Hebrew (and Christian) mind, however, life was more of a line from past to present, the line of God’s redemptive purposes. Life was therefore meaningful. God has always been beside us on the road and is even now in charge of the route.

Of one thing I am sure. God leads His dear children along, as the old song puts it. Since 2004 Becky and I were involved in ministry in Ethiopia, where she was raised as an MK. This meant 14 trips for her and 17 for me. It’s been several years since I’ve been back. This was not unintentional. If Becky’s parents planted, Becky and I watered. Our work in Ethiopia was a most wonderful thing. But our work there is now completed. It’s time for others to carry it forward. Our ministry there will either rise like the Phoenix or go down in flames but we leave that in the hands of God.

In recent years I’ve made 13 trips to Asia to assist in the training of pastors. It was an unavoidable call. As we all know, in much of the world there has been much numerical growth without very much depth. There hasn’t been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in members. Into this situation I found myself teaching Greek. I saw myself as a clay pot — common stuff, replaceable, but holding a priceless treasure that I was eager to pass on to others. That has now been done, and I sense it is time to pass the baton.

What’s the next place in God’s plan for my international ministry? What is my “place,” after all? What was our Lord’s place? It was that of a servant. A lowly slave. Can it be any different for those of us who claim to follow Him? Christ’s servants must be humble enough to be flexible. Paul certainly was. His obedience to the Father enabled him to do anything, go anywhere the Spirit sent him. No wonder he wrote, “There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others more important than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.” If we think of others before ourselves, everything else will fall into place. God will never disappoint us. He has a good purpose for every one of His children. Is there any joy more exhilarating than the joy of knowing He will help you maneuver through the stages of life? He cares about these things and more. You’ve got His word on it.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

pARTNER WITH wHATEVER cHURCH wILL fOLLOW jESUS

Sunday, April 14    

7:12 AM At the end of his biography, Malcolm Muggeridge writes something truly profound. He’s talking about the British government but his words, I think, apply to the current political situation in the U.S.

The Apostle Paul, as usual, was right when he told the early Christians that all earthly authority must be accepted since it could only exist to the degree that it was acceptable to God — that is to say, appropriate. When it ceased to be so, it would collapse.

Think about this. Instead of inviting the polarizing ambiguity of politics into our kingdom fellowships and fighting over what we think Caesar should do (and, of course, our side knows better than your side what government should do), we could stop blaming government for what it is or isn’t doing and partner with whatever other churches are willing to mimic Jesus, forsake privilege and power, and advance the Jesus-looking kingdom. In the spiritual realm, it seems to me that we’re spending a lot of time treating symptoms instead of the disease. An aspirin may remove the symptom but there may well be a more serious cause of the headache. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call attention to symptoms. But the basic trouble is the old self-life that doesn’t consent to identification with Christ.

A lot more could be said (and needs to be said — see my aforementioned book if you’re interested), but this post is already longer than I wanted it to be.

Holy Spirit and Witness

(4/6/2019) 7:45 AM The theme of my lectureship at Piedmont International University next week is “Proclaiming the Faith.” This was the theme given to me by the administration, and I’m utterly delighted with it. I’m determined to stay within the 30-minute time limit I have for the Thursday and Friday sessions, though I do have an entire hour to speak over the lunch break on Thursday. In due course I’ll post my Power Points here. I think one of the best ways we can nurture young Christians is through missions training. It enables them to share in the spreading of the Good News and see it take deep root in their own lives. But it needs to be modeled in their own churches and in the lives of their pastors. All Christians are called to serve the Lord, whether in the land of their birth or in ministry overseas (or both). It’s in serving the Lord through serving others that we develop spiritual muscles. We can serve Him through deeds of compassion or cheerful acts of helpfulness in the workplace or through undaunted witness but mostly, I think, through conforming our lives to His. Love shows itself in a myriad of ways. But if it’s going to attract anybody to the Master, it must embody that practical care for others that characterized the life of Jesus.

Just a brief word about my lecture last week in my NT class, which centered on the history and theology of Pentecostalism and the question of the sign gifts and their use (or nonuse) today. As I mentioned in class, I’m not fond of the term “Charismatic Movement” for the simple reason that all evangelicals — whether Charismatic with a capital “C” or not — are or ought to be charismatic in the sense that we all believe the Holy Spirit is given to equip us for service and mission, for love and worship. The Holy Spirit can’t be muzzled or contained. He blows where He wills. And we should celebrate that. The Charismatic Movement is a challenge to unbelief and intellectualism in the church. A true movement of the Holy Spirit always combines intellect and charism, knowledge and power. Not some but all are called to serve. We all have a ministry to perform. And, as the Book of Acts shows, the Spirit is given primarily for witness-bearing. All Christians have a story to tell, and the Holy Spirit is given to fuel our story-telling until we become enthusiastic witness-bearers. Even if we believe, as I do, that the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” refers to our initial encounter with the life-giving Spirit of God, we still need His love and power for continued witness and service. I know from sad personal experience that it’s possible to possess the Spirit of God and not be led by the same Spirit. One example will suffice, and that is prayer. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God, but prayer is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8:26-27). We can’t achieve anything in the service of God unless we are open to the living God acting and working in our lives, and yet how abysmal is my prayer life so often. I don’t know about you, but at least once a day I have to invite the Holy Spirit to full me afresh with His power for holiness and service.

Any believer who does not do that regularly is doomed to powerlessness and ineffectiveness. I fear that much of our trouble goes back to over-intellectualism in our classrooms. A radical reform of theological education is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to provide leaders whom people are willing to follow. 

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org)