Leaving Laodicea
445 - What it Means to Follow Jesus

445 - What it Means to Follow Jesus

January 17, 2020

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His initial message was the same as John the Baptist.  He said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17).  And throughout the next three years, one underlying theme in His teaching was about life in His Kingdom.  When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach His message, He said, "As you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand' " (Matt. 8:11).  Jesus even told those close to Him why He spoke to the crowds in parables.  And His answer had to do with concealing from some the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven.  He said, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matt. 13:11).

Finally, He shared parables specifically pointed to revealing what the kingdom of heaven, His Kingdom, was like.  He said it was like a "man who sowed good seed in his field" (Matt. 13:24).  Or, it was like a "mustard seed" which, being small, grew into a tree "so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches" (Matt. 13:31).  Jesus likened His Kingdom to "leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened" (Matt. 13:33).  And to express how wonderful His Kingdom is for those who possess it, He said it was like a "treasure hidden in a field" (Matt. 13:44) or a "pearl of great price" (Matt. 13:46) that was worth all one had on earth.

Jesus then asked His disciples, "Have you understood all these things?"  They said to Him, "Yes, Lord" (Matt. 13:51).

I wonder what our answer would be today?  Do we understand His Kingdom?  Do we fully know what it means to follow Him?  Can we honestly say we are proficient in following Jesus?

I'm not so sure.  And maybe you aren't either.


What Life is Like in the Kingdom

Let's just take a flyover view of the first few chapters in Matthew and see if we can determine some principles and instructions for what it means to live in the kingdom of heaven.  And then compare them to what we teach in church today, and I think you'll be as shocked as I was.

Blessed… or Not So Blessed - Matthew 5:3-12
Self Identity - Matthew 5:13-16
His Standard of Righteousness - Matthew 5:20
Anger - Matthew 5:21-26
Lust and/or Sexual Sin - Matthew 5:27-30
Marital Relationships - Matthew 5:31-32
Oaths and Dishonesty - Matthew 5:33-37
How to Respond to Evil - Matthew 5:38-42
How to Respond to Haters - Matthew 5:43-47
Be Perfect - Matthew 5:48
Self-Promotion - Matthew 6:1-4
How to Pray - Matthew 6:5-13
How Much Forgiveness? - Matthew 6:14-15
Fasting and Other Disciplines - Matthew 6:16-17
Our Life Focus - Matthew 6:19-21
Everyone Serves Somebody or Something - Matthew 6:24
Worry, Doubt, and Fear - Matthew 6:25-34
I’m Right and You’re Wrong - Matthew 7:1-2
I’m Good and You’re Bad - Matthew 7:3-6
What is a Life of Faith - Matthew 7:7-11
Treat Others Like You Treat Yourself - Matthew 7:12
Turnstile or Interstate - Matthew 7:13-14
Fruit Inspector - Matthew 7:15-20
Doing and Not Just Talking - Matthew 7:21-23
Don’t Be Stupid! - Matthew 7:24-27
Minister Within Your Reach - Matthew 8:1-17
Everything Costs Something - Matthew 8:18-22
And so much more!

Remember, following Christ means to forget everything we think we know about everything but Him, and simply trust in child-like faith.  Our entire reality now changes, as citizens in His Kingdom, to something incredible and supernatural.

Do you want to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on What it Means to Follow Jesus.

443 - It All Comes Down to Desire

443 - It All Comes Down to Desire

January 9, 2020

On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands.  But if he followed up that question with: "And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?" - the number of raised hands would drop considerably.  Maybe even to none.  Why?  Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus.  Think about it for a moment.  Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can.  But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.

Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24).  Note the components of His invitation.  First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement.  "If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions."  Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God.  "If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself."  And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place.  "If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that."  And only then does Jesus say, "and follow Me."  First, meet the conditions, and then "follow Me."


But What About Desire

Exactly.  The entire invitation of Jesus hinges on the word, desire.  If you desire, then do the following.  If you don't desire, then this message must not be for you.  Which begs the questions, what is your desire regarding following Jesus?  And is your desire great enough to pay the price necessary to meet His conditions?  Ouch.  This is where it often gets personal.

In order to fully understand all of what Jesus said when He revealed His conditions of following Him, let's look at this invitation from all three Gospel accounts.  Only then can we fully understand all the implications and the Cost of Discipleship (to quote Bonhoeffer).  The following is from Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, and Luke 9:23-24:

Then Jesus (MK) called the people to Himself (LK) and said to them all, (MK) with His disciples also, (MT) "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross (LK) daily, (MT) and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake (MK) and the gospel’s (MT) will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul (LK) and is himself destroyed or lost? (MT) Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (MK)  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes (LK) in His own glory, and (MT) in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works."

Today, we will primarily focus on the issue of desire.

What is your desire regarding Christ?
Have you counted the costs of a deeper relationship with Him?
Are you ready to pay the price?  No matter what that price might be?
Are you paying any price right now for your commitment to the Lord?
Do you know if it will be much different in the future?

Are you tired of taking two steps forward and then losing ground once again because you desire something less than all of His fullness manifested in your life?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on our Desire to Follow Christ.

442 - How to Surrender Your Life to Him

442 - How to Surrender Your Life to Him

December 16, 2019

We have looked at what it takes to become a Faith Prepper over the last few weeks.  We did this by learning to pray at all times by letting the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, direct your prayers.   And we also spent some time learning how to trust at all times by allowing your faith to grow by having it exercised in often unpleasant situations.  But even with all of this, we still are plagued with a few questions.

How do we go from talking about faith to living by faith?
How do we learn to trust the Lord in all things?
How do we know and understand His will?
What are the practical steps we need to take to surrender our all to Him?
And how can we go about doing just that?

The answer, according to Scripture, is found in the single word, surrender.  It means "to yield, give up or over, submit, abandon, relinquish, cede, waive, or capitulate.  From the Christian perspective, it means to relinquish ownership of what we consider ours: our property, rights, time, decisions, future, independence, basically our life.

Surrender, like most things, is a choice.

The classic passage on total surrender is found in Galatians 2:20.  It reads: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." But there is so much more.


Everybody Serves Somebody

In order to surrender our life to the Lord, we must first recognize we are created as a triune being.  We consist of three parts: mind, body, and will.  Total surrender comes when we purposely and with intention surrender all parts of ourselves to Him.

First, we must surrender our mind.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every (what)  thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ - 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

Next, we must surrender our body to the Lord. 

And then finally, we must surrender our will to the Lord.

Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" - Luke 9:23-24.  Note both "desire" and "deny himself, and take up his cross daily".  This speaks of both the surrender of the will and the body or flesh.

Remember, you are not filled with the Holy Spirit because you desire to be filled nor because you confess your sins or present your body a living sacrifice— you are filled by faith.  So it is with a surrender to the Lord.  If we are willing but find your flesh weak, God is strong and will complete what you are unable to do.  What God is initially looking for is your willingness to be all His.  It all begins with desire.

One final note, if you believe God is good and He is sovereign, can you give me one reason not to fully submit and surrender yourself to Him?

Me neither.  Other than pride.  And that's not a good thing.

So where are you in your journey to surrender your life to the Lord?  Have you surrendered yourself and left your life in His hands?  Or have you, like many today, surrendered one moment and then snatched it out of His hands the next?  Are you tired of the endless struggle and sense of failure?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord.

428 - The Forgotten Discipline of Remembering

428 - The Forgotten Discipline of Remembering

June 26, 2019

Unfortunately, in our walk with the Lord, Chaucer's ancient adage proves true:  Familiarity Breeds Contempt.  It breeds contempt in the form of apathy, laziness, indifference, lack of honor or respect and, finally, of misplaced love.  It seems to be the curse of Western Christianity that wants for nothing save the things that matter. What can we do when we find our relationship with the Lord boring at best?  What happens when, to quote the classic song by the Righteous Brothers, "we've lost that lovin' feelin'"?  What happens then? How can we recapture what we have a hard time even remembering?  We find the answer in the Lord's letter to His church in Ephesus.


Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The church at Ephesus, when John penned the Revelation, was only one generation removed from the life of the Lord.  They were a hard-working bunch of committed believers who had a resume and doctrinal purity that would be the envy of almost any church today.

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary" - Revelation 2:2-3.

In fact, they worked for the Lord to the point of sheer exhaustion.

“I know your works (the results of employment, duty, business, something to be done), your labor (to toil to the point of exhaustion, the labor which demands the whole strength of a man exerted to the utmost to accomplish the task), your patience (to remain under, to bear up under), and that you cannot bear (support, stand) those who are evil (bad, worthless, wicked, vicious, harmful, bad in heart, conduct, and character).  And you have tested (tried, to prove either good or bad) those who say (affirm, proclaim) they are apostles (messengers, sent ones) and are not, and have found (by examination, search, or inquiry) them liars (false); and you have persevered (to bear up under patiently) and have patience (to endure, to remain under), and have labored (to be fatigued, worn out, weary, faint) for (what) My name’s sake and have not become weary (faint from constant work)."

I get tired just reading all that they did.  But, like the church today, they had missed the most important part of their relationship with Jesus.  The relationship!

“Nevertheless (in spite of all this) I (Jesus) have this against you, that you have left (to forsake, quit, abandon, desert) your first love ( agapē)" - Revelation 2:4.

Sobering words.  The Lord said He is "against" them... even after all the good they had done.  How could that be?  And what can they do to right their sinking ship? It may seem simple, but it is hard to remember the right things.  Sometimes it is painfully hard.

"Remember (to call to mind, to keep on remembering) therefore from where (why, how) you have fallen (to fall off or from, to fall away, to fail, to be without effect, in vain); repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place— unless you repent" - Revelation 2:5.


Do You Remember?

It may seem simple, but it is hard to remember the right things.  Sometimes it is painfully hard.  Consider the following questions to help begin the process of remembering:

What does it mean to remember? Take a moment and remember your first few weeks as a new creation in Christ. What were you like? Back then, how would you feel about yourself now? Did you make any promises to the Lord that you would not even think of making today? Did you keep whatever promises you made to Him? Has your relationship with Him cooled over time? If so, did it happen gradually, like a slow leak? Or did it happen all at once? What do you remember about that time?

There is so much more to remember.  To find out about the forgotten discipline of remembering, keep listening. The following is a study on Revelation 2:2-3.

427 - Are You In?  Or Are You Out?

427 - Are You In? Or Are You Out?

June 17, 2019

There comes a time in each of our spiritual lives when the Lord brings to us His divine interruption that always comes with a choice.  And that choice, other than obedience, seems to focus on our willingness to let Him move us into an area that we are totally unfamiliar with.   Or will we choose to remain where we feel safe and comfortable?  The choice is either to follow Him into the deep or remain in the kiddie pool holding fast to our water wings.  And as always, the choice becomes a matter of faith, of trust.

After all, we sing songs about Him being a "good, good Father."  Do we really mean it?  Or is that just for church?

The question or choice is simply this:


Are you in?  Or are you out?

If you look at the major faith personalities in the Bible, you will find every one of them had to ask themselves the same question.   Every one of them was faced with a choice that comes with a set of troubling questions:  "Do I continue in the course that seems right to me?  Or do I trust I actually heard from the Lord and go in a direction totally unfamiliar to anything I’ve ever done or known?  How much faith do I really have?”

We call these moments Divine Interruptions.

In this message, we'll look at these interruptions from the vantage point of:

David
Paul
Mary
Matthew
James and John and Peter and Andrew
Moses
And finally, Hosea.


A Personal Note

And I will share with you the divine interruption I received this week while preparing for this message from Jude.  In fact, in the weeks to follow I will share more about the changes the Lord has brought in my life regarding what His will is for me and this ministry.  And I rejoice in that.  Why?  Because He has simply answered a prayer I have prayed for almost two years in a most profound way.

But we will talk more about that at a later time.

The following is a study on Jude 1:1-3.

420 - Faith Always Has a Cost

420 - Faith Always Has a Cost

October 30, 2017

Faith is not free.  In fact, faith costs everyone associated with it something.  No, I'm not talking about saving faith or salvation.  But even then, salvation has a cost.  It costs Christ His life and the Father His only Son.  And it costs each of us who embrace saving faith the one thing we hold most dear.  Us.  Salvation costs each of us who we are.

But the faith we are talking about is the Hebrews 11 kind of faith.  It's the faith defined as the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).  It's the faith that made the notable men of the Scripture, notable. And it's the faith that helps us answer the why questions in life.


The Why Questions

Why does God allow bad things to happen to people who love Him?
Why does God allow innocent babies to die?
Why does God allow drug addiction and abortion and rape and child abuse and starvation and disease?
Why, oh why, oh why?

Get the point?  But having the faith to trust God's answer to these questions will cost you something.  Why?  Because it costs Abraham and Noah and Jacob and Moses and many, many others what it will cost you to know the truth.  Are you willing to understand the cost of faith?  Do you want to know the answer to the most troubling questions in the Christian life?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on the cost of faith.

418 - What Happens When Our Prayers Go Unanswered

418 - What Happens When Our Prayers Go Unanswered

September 18, 2017

Some of the hardest questions in the Christian life have to do with God not answering our prayers— no matter how much we pray or how much faith we can collectively muster.  Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?  Why didn’t God do what I prayed He would do?  Why doesn’t God love me?  Because if He did, He would not have let happen what happened?  Where was God during my time of deepest need?  I prayed to God for ________ and it did not happen.

Which inevitably leads us to ask this:  Why God?  Is the problem with me?  Am I not doing enough to get my prayers answered?  Or is the problem with You?  Are You showing favorites and am I on the bottom of Your list?  What's the problem?  Help me understand this, God, because this is hurtful and doesn't make any sense.


You're Right, It Doesn't Make Much Sense

And the reason for that is our reliance on Cliff Note theology.  We grab a few Scriptures, usually out of context, and hold on to them like a life preserver vainly trying to get them to say something they don't.  Consider these:

1 John 5:14-15 - Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Did you notice something?  The key, according to this verse, is praying "according to His will."  When that happens, badda bing, badda boom, prayers get answered.  But when we ask for something not according to the will of God, all bets are off.  The answer will be, "Not today, not ever."

Matthew 18:19 - “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven."

First, this statement by our Lord has nothing to do with prayer, but with dealing with a sinning believer.  And even if it did give us a prescription for prayer, can two people agree for world peace and the end of all wars, and it be a guarantee from the Lord?  I think not.  Why?  Because God has already revealed to us that in the future we "will hear of wars and rumors of wars" (Matt. 24:6).  God has already spoken prophetic truth to us and won't violate His Word because of our prayers.

Do you want to know the reason God often doesn't answer our prayers?  Because the reason will change the way you look at God and prayer from this point forward.  If you want to know more, then keep listening.

The following is a study on prayer.

417 - Do the Next Right Thing

417 - Do the Next Right Thing

September 17, 2017

You want some great advice?  Good.  Then "do the next right thing."

When we're faced with depression, chilling disappointment, or numbing loss, what are we to do?  What happens when all our dreams come crashing down around us like Jenga pieces scattered on our dining room floor?  What happens when the intimacy we once felt with our Lord evaporates right before our eyes— and we don't know why?  What do we to do when the only voice we hear is our own doubt and paralyzing fear?  What happens when our pain compels us to sleep 18 hours a day, and we forget who we are and Who we serve?  What are we do to then?

"Do the next right thing?"  Simply stumble forward.


Stumbling Forward

Do you realize that if your goal was to run 5 miles and all you could do was stand and then fall flat on your face, eventually you'd get there.  One body length at a time.  That's exactly what our Bible heroes of old did.  They stood on their feet and did the next right thing.  They chose to not doubt in the dark what they believed in the light.  After all, truth doesn't change.  But our circumstances do.

What did Moses do when decades passed and it looked like God had forgotten and forsaken Him?  He did the next right thing.  And remember Elijah, who was struggling with self-doubt and depression to the point he wanted to die.  What did God say to him as they met at the mouth of the cave?  Essentially this, "Do the next right thing."  How about David when he learned his son was dead due to his own sin with Bathsheba?  What did David do?  The next right thing.

The Scriptures are full of those, just like you and me, who stumble forward in the dark faithfully doing the next right thing, even when they didn't know why or how.  They just did what was right.  And they made sure it was the next thing they did.  Do you want to know more about putting one step in front of another and doing the next right thing?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on being faithful and doing the next right thing, no matter what.

413 - The Importance of Baptism

413 - The Importance of Baptism

August 17, 2017

Baptism has fallen out of favor in the church today.  Many people are confused about baptism. And since there seems to be such a wide diversity of opinion about what baptism means and how important it is, many in the church have relegated it to an archaic, antiquated ritual and not much more.  And that is a grave mistake.  Why?  Because baptism is your first act of obedience as a Christian.

Many in the church who call themselves Christians have not been baptized according to the New Testament baptism.  That may include some of you who are listening to this podcast.  But think, if we are unfaithful to the first command of obedience to our Lord who saved us, it makes it much easier to disobey His other commands.  Does this describe you?

The question we ask today is why don't people get baptized?  And there are at least five reasons: ignorance, pride, indifference, rebellion, or because they are simply lost.  In this message we will look at each of these in detail.

Are you confused about baptism and why it seemed so important in New Testament times but not so much today?  If that describes you, then keep listening.

The following is a study on baptism.

410 - Standing at the Judgment Seat of Christ

410 - Standing at the Judgment Seat of Christ

July 2, 2017

The Judgement Seat of Christ is the first of seven great judgments that will occur.  And for the believer, it's the most important.  Why?  Because at this judgment all church-age believers will appear before Christ to give an account of their lives for reward.  Or, in the case of many, no reward.  Consider the following:

2 Corinthians 5:10 - For we (Paul includes himself) must (not optional) all appear before the judgment seat (bḗma) of Christ, (why) that each one (personal and individual) may receive (review and reward) the things done in the body, (review) according to what he has done, (reward) whether good or bad.

These are some of the main areas that will be examined when we stand before the Lord:

  1. How we treat other believers (Matthew 10:41-42; Hebrews 6:10)
  2. How we employ our God-given talents and abilities (Matthew 25:14-29; Luke 19:11-26; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 7; 2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Peter 4:10)
  3. How we use our money (Matthew 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 6:17-19)
  4. How well we endure personal injustice and being mistreated (Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 6:27-28, 35; Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 4:12-13)
  5. How we endure suffering and trials (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10)
  6. How we spend our time (Psalm 90:9-12; Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5; 1 Peter 1:17)
  7. How we run the particular race God has given us (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 2:16; 3:12-14; Hebrews 12:1)
  8. How effectively we control our fleshly appetites (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
  9. How many souls we witness to and win for Christ (Daniel 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
  10. How much the Rapture means to us and shapes our lives (2 Timothy 4:8)
  11. How faithful we are to God’s Word and God’s people (Acts 20:26-28; 2 Timothy 4:1-2; Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1; 1 Peter 5:1-2; 2 John 1:7-8)
  12. How hospitable we are to strangers (Matthew 25:35-36; Luke 14:12-14)
  13. How faithful we are in our vocations (Colossians 3:22-24)
  14. How we support others in ministry (Matthew 10:40-42)
  15. How we use our tongues (Matthew 12:36; James 3:1-12)

Are you ready to stand before the Lord and have your life judged by His standards?  Because it will happen. There is no escape.  And if not, what are you prepared to do about it?  What changes are you willing to make in this life to be rewarded for in the next?  But be warned, time is running out.

If you want to find out more about how to prepare yourself to face the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ, then keep listening.

The following is a study on the Judgment Seat of Christ.