Tuesday, July 30, 2013
My baby sister has a saying, “Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve caught a rabbit won’t make stew!” It’s a funny saying but there is an element of truth to it. In essence, what she is saying is that you can make all the excuses in the world but in the end, all you will have are the excuses. The Apostles were all men who could have made excuses. At the time that Stephen was martyred for being a follower of Christ, the scripture tells us that Saul (Who would later be called Paul) was in agreement with his death. According to Acts 8:3 Paul was wreaking havoc on the Christians: “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” (NKJV) We find in Chapter nine of The Acts that Saul was intent upon bringing an end to Christianity: “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2 NKJV) What Saul didn’t know was that he was about to have a divine encounter that would forever change this zealous, “Pharisee of Pharisees!” On the way to Damascus, Paul met the Savior whom he persecuted. He was then carried by those who were with him into Damascus, a man blinded and broken. The scripture tells us that the Lord spoke to a devout man named Ananias and told him to go and lay hands on Paul that he might receive his sight. Ananias protested, reminding the Lord that it was this same man who had persecuted His followers, to which the Lord replied, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16) Now here is where Paul might have offered his “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.” Who in the world would willingly go from persecuting and fighting against someone only days earlier to “suffering many things for His name’s sake”, Paul would, and he did. Did you know that Paul was beheaded by the Emperor Nero? Not only Paul, but all those who followed Jesus and proclaimed His name, and continued His teachings suffered. Peter was crucified, Church historians say that he chose to be crucified upside down rather than think himself worthy to be crucified like Jesus. The Apostle John, though he was not killed, suffered for Christ. Church history tells us that he was boiled in oil and exiled to the Isle of Patmos, where he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, prophesying the events of the end times. John’s brother James was the first Apostle to suffer death for Christ; he was stoned and beaten to death in Jerusalem. Peter’s brother Andrew was crucified. Matthew was killed with an axe. Mark was said to have been torn to pieces by a mob in Alexandria after he told them that their god was just a piece of carved stone. Do you think that these men might have had some “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve excuses to offer? Jesus told them before His crucifixion that the world would hate them because of Him. They could have made excuses and gone back to their homes and lived out the rest of their lives, but they didn’t. They chose the tough suffering way, and because they did, we now have what the world calls The New Testament; a series of letters and personal accounts of the work these men did in the name of Christ. Ask yourself these questions, “Could I do it? Do I do it? Do I risk it all to make certain that the people that I come in contact with meet and know the Risen Savior?” The truth is that we are a people of excuses. The doctor says go on a diet, you need to lose weight to get healthy and we offer excuses;"My metabolism is too low!” “Diets are too expensive!” “I don’t eat that much, I’m just big boned!” The pastor and the church leadership ask us to go out and witness in a drug infested area of our neighborhood on Saturday morning and we offer excuses. “Saturday is my only day to sleep late.” “Those people don’t want to know Jesus, they like what they’re doing.” “My child has a really busy schedule on Saturdays.” Jesus, as He was preparing to ascend into heaven left a mandate for His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:18-20 CEV) It is called “The Great Commission.” This Commission was not just for those who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry, or those who came into direct contact with the Apostles, it is for every believer who claims Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Instead of fulfilling the Commission, we offer our “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve(s).” Honestly, if we don’t give up our excuses, and be about the work of spreading the Good News of the love and salvation of Jesus Christ, we are of no benefit to the Kingdom of God; and if we are of no benefit to the Kingdom, we need to stop calling ourselves followers of Christ. Peter, John, James, Paul, all of the Apostles gave up the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve(s)” and as a result, they have stew…or as Paul put it in his final letter to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV) The Apostles gave up all of the excuses and put it all on the line for Christ and in exchange they received the crown of righteousness. What about you, dearly loved one…are you ready to make stew? Let’s give up our “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve(s)” and let’s go into our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our nation and around the world and proclaim the love and salvation of Jesus Christ! The harvest truly is plentiful…and the “stew” is wonderful!
Friday, July 26, 2013
Sometimes people fear living for Christ because they think that they have to give up so much. There is a fear of giving up a dream career or the love of your life, so they put off coming to Christ in order to have that which they fear losing. The Apostle Paul was a man who knows something about gain and loss. Paul called himself "a Pharisee of Pharisees" he was a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin, having been taught by one of the greatest Rabbis of his time, Gamaliel. Saul as he is also known was a man of position and esteem and yet when he met the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus he left it all behind to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ. Paul exchanged the life of prestige and privilege that he held as Saul the Pharisee for one of hardship, beatings, stoning and imprisonment. We see an incredible account of how Paul viewed this exchange in Philippians chapter 3: "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil 3:7-11 NKJV) What an incredible declaration! This man, who at one time had been zealous for the Law and persecuted the followers of Christ has come to a point where he says that he counts all things as rubbish or garbage so that he can have Christ and be “found in Christ.” He desires the righteousness that is found in Christ and not in the Law. Clearly Paul has found something that is worth more than any of the things that previously held such great importance to him; and he did it all in order to know Christ fully. Not just to know Him but to know his suffering, to be conformed to His death, in other words Paul wanted so much of Christ that he wanted to be a companion in His suffering and he wanted to match His death. Wow! Can we say that we have made that same exchange for Christ? Are you there yet? I don’t know that I am, but I long to be! Paul’s willingness to give up everything in order to gain Christ indeed cost him everything, including his life; but in that there was “value added.” As his life came to an end Paul wrote to his “son” in the ministry, Timothy: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:6-8 NKJV) Value added…Paul knew that while the Emperor Nero was ordering his death and that of his fellow Christians simply for sport, the Righteous Judge had already declared him a victor! Despite the persecution, the rejection by his own people and even his death, Paul remained faithful and continued to trust the one who had “arrested” him on the Damascus road so many years earlier. As a result of having given up everything, the Apostle knew that Jesus, the Righteous Judge” would award him a crown of righteousness because he was willing to give up everything! Paul’s encouragement to Timothy and to us is that if we are willing to do the same that we too have a crown of righteousness awaiting us. When I consider all that there is to gain, crowns to cast at the feet of my Lord, the privilege of reigning with Him in His Kingdom, and an eternity with my Lord and with God the Father, the questions that I always come back to are these, “Why do you hesitate to sell out?” “Why do you look longingly at the piles of rubbish that you consider valuable?” “Where is the loss in a life that is surrendered to Christ?” I don’t know about you, but I am ready to cast it all aside so that like Paul I can say: "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” Be encouraged dearly loved ones…the exchange is so great that you will never even miss the “rubbish” that you give up! Let’s go for it! All in and at all cost! That in the end we too can receive the Crown of Righteousness that has been laid up for us!