MARKS OF A TRUE DISCIPLE (September 1999)
Most people would call themselves Christians; few would call themselves "disciples of Jesus Christ." Discipleship is giving oneself wholeheartedly to Jesus. What are the marks of a true disciple?
1. THE FIRST MARK OF A DISCIPLE IS ABIDING IN CHRIST'S WORD. In John 8:31 we read "If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples."
Two things are necessary if we are to do this. First, we must hear that Word. And this means that we must read it, study it, memorize it, and continually put ourselves in a place where it is faithfully taught. The trouble with the discipleship of many Christians begins right here. The Word is taught, but we do not want to hear it. The Word is available,, but we do not like what it says. So we do not hear it. Or, we let it filter through our own value system and preconceived ideas, and the Word comes out altered and changed to suit ourselves. If we hear, for example, "Thou shalt not steal," we would say, "it certainly is wrong to rob a bank. We would never do that", but we would not apply it to taking extra long coffee breaks at work, or calling into work sick so we could go fishing. But that is also stealing. If we hear, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," we say, "but it's not adultery if you love the other person." Although we acknowledge that God has placed the sexual act safely within the bounds of marriage between a man and woman, people who claim to be Christians, at an alarming rate have sex before and outside of marriage, and between same sexes. We alter the truth to suit ourselves. You and I have to watch ourselves, that we hear the Word of God, as He intends us to hear it.
Also, it necessary that after we have heard Christ's Word to ABIDE IN IT, continue in it, or as the Good News Bible has it, "to obey it". I think the easiest way to obey God's Word is to read it and study it with a prayerful spirit, wanting to hear and obey, trusting God to speak to us personally. As one hymn writer has put it, "Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." There is no sense or purpose to our discipleship, if there is no abiding in the Word of god, no obeying. When Christ says, "Come unto me, all who are burdened and heaven laden," we must come. When He says, "Cast your burden upon me," we must take our problems and give them to Him. When we read, "Forgive, as I have forgiven you," we must literally begin to forgive. It is one thing to hear the word, but it is quite another thing to do it, to abide in it. And we can't begin to abide in it, until we read it, study it, and hear it. The first mark of discipleship is hearing the Word and abiding in it.
2. The second mark of a disciple is LOVING OTHERS IN A PRACTICAL WAY. In John 13:35 we read, "And now I give you a new commandment, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples." In this verse with its emphasis upon observable love, the world is taken into serious consideration. Why is this so? It is so because of what Jesus says about love. Jesus says that is the mark by which His disciples are to be known as Christians, not only to Him or to one another, but to everyone.
Now this is rather scary. For it is as if Jesus turns to the world and says, "I've something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right. You may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians." In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a right which Jesus gave them. We must not get angry. If people say, "You don't love other Christians," we must go home, get down on our knees, and ask God whether or not they are right.
But what kind of love must we show if the world is to look at it and conclude that it is explainable only by the fact that we are Christians. Obviously it must be special kind of love. What are its characteristics? How does this special love operate? If we look at l John chapter 3, verse l6, we get the answer; "This is how we know what love is. Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers. If a rich person sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against his brother, how can he claim that he loves God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action." These verses teach that one aspect of Christian love is its action. Moreover, they show that such love is to be exercised at personal cost, and that it is be shown to anyone who is in need.
A good place to start to demonstrate love for one another, to sacrifice for one another, is in the body of believers, the Church. We need to demonstrate love for one another, by supporting each other, by standing with one another, by caring for each other. It is so easy to say, "Well, I don't like Annual meetings, so I don't go.," "I don't like evangelism, so I don't get involved in that sort of thing." "I don't like going out at nights, so I won't be going to Sunday Evening Services or Bible Studies." "I don't like pot luck suppers, so I won't be going to the Congregational Dinner." "I am sure that the person shut in at home, in hospital, or hurting in some way, has lots of people caring for him, so I won't." We opt in and out of things, as if we were not connected to one another. But Jesus says, "you belong to each other; you are brothers and sisters." "Love one another." How? By laying out laying out your life for the other. We need to love in a practical way, within the body of believers, the Church.
3. The third mark of a Disciple is FRUIT-BEARING. In John chapter 15, verse 8 we read, "My Father's glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples." We all desire the "fruit of the Spirit", as detailed in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. The context of John chapter 15 gives the steps for successful fruit-bearing, and the first is to recognize OUR OWN INABILITY TO PRODUCE IT. In verse 5 of the same chapter Jesus stated, "without me you can do nothing." We need to recognize our inability to produce "fruit" by our own efforts.
The second step is to ABIDE IN JESUS. "Abide in me and I in you," said Jesus. "A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me."
A conclusion comes from the fact that John 13:35 is followed by three verses in which Jesus foretells His denial by Peter. When Jesus was arrested Peter was unwilling to go home without knowing the full outcome. So he followed afar off and eventually saw Jesus taken into the courtyard of the high priest. The soldiers undoubtedly shut the large gate after them. But there was a smaller door, kept by a maid, and John, who knew the house and had access, went to this door and called Peter. As Peter passed through the entrance, the maid who kept the door asked, "Aren't you also one of the disciples of that man?" Unfortunately, Peter forgot his former commitments, and said, "No, I am not." Then he went in to warm himself by the fire that warmed Christ's enemies and there denied Jesus twice more. The incident shows that even one who has been among the inner band of the apostles may yet fail to be Christ's disciple. "Aren't you also one of the disciples of that man?" Are you? Am I? No doubt, most of us will answer gladly, "Yes, I am Christ's disciple." But, as we think about it, let us think about discipleship according to the definition Jesus himself gave to it. Jesus defined a disciple as one who continues in Him, loves the brethren, and bears much fruit. Do we do each of these?
God grant that we may do each of these things as we drop all lesser loyalties and draw ever closer to him.
to top of page
THANKSGIVING: CLUE TO LIFE'S MEANING (October 1999)
Many people lose their way in life because they are not grateful to God. Historically, Paul
associated the most serious spiritual and moral losses with an unthankful spirit. He wrote
the Christians at Rome that ungodly men were without excuse; "for although they knew God,
they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile
and their foolish hearts were darkened.: (Romans 1:21). The context reveals that failure in
thanking contributes to failure in thinking. Awareness of God becomes blurred. Wisdom turns
to folly. Worship is transferred from the Creator to the creature. Values are so distorted
that the possibility of sanctity and beauty in sex and the hope of social justice and
domestic happiness may be wholly canceled.
Fundamentally, we begin to fulfill God's purpose for us by offering up our praise:
Shout for joy to the Lords, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
While many of the Psalms celebrate God as Redeemer, this one (Psalm 100) sings of him
almost wholly as Creator. Man was made to rejoice in His Maker. While logically we may
think of God in separate ways as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, experientially we know
him in all these ways together. William Law, one of the outstanding men of prayer in the
eighteenth century, was writing as creature and Christian when he urged: "If anyone would
tell you the shortest way to all happiness and perfection, he must tell you to make a rule
to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you."
In brief compass in a pastoral letter Paul indicates that man's chief end includes sharing
gratefully in the gifts of the Creator. "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some
will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such
teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a
hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which
God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with
thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4: 1 - 5).
Cary Weisigner has written the following: "a coercive asceticism may wear the garb of
spirituality, but it is really an apostasy from the purpose of God for his creatures. But
we must note that selfish enjoyment does not glorify God. Conscious recognition of the
Giver's goodness consecrates both gifts and enjoyment. In other words, man was put on earth
to give thanks to God."
The crisp freshness of each new day, the smell of the good earth newly turned for sowing
seed, a golden carpet of leaves in the wood, bulging bins of fruit and grain, and tables
loaded for a feast excite our wonder and gratitude.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below.
If thanksgiving is a clue to life's meaning, it must be relevant to pain, frustration and
loss. Unless it can stand up to life's cruel blows and denials, it is a frothy and
transitory as the foam on an ocean wave.
Let us consult William Law again. "For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens
to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing. The true saint is
not he who prays most, or fasts most...., who gives most alms or is most eminent for
temperance...or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything
that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness, and has a heart
always ready to praise God for it."
The apostle Paul in chains wrote his epistle of joy, the letter to the Philippians. He saw
calamity as serving to advance the Gospel. This proved the possibility of remaining thankful
and unembittered under trial. He practiced what he had written earlier to the Thessalonians:
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's
will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Commenting on this, John Wesley
says,: "This is Christian perfection. Further than this we cannot go; and we need not stop
short of it. Our Lord has purchased joy, as well as righteousness, for us. Thanksgiving is
inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. He that always
prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the
greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from Him,
and receives them only for His sake; not choosing nor refusing, liking nor disliking,
anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to His perfect will."
There is a difference, of course, between giving thanks FOR something and giving thanks
IN something. It may be impossible to be grateful FOR some towering tragedy; it is not
impossible to be grateful IN it. This is the crucial test of the thankful approach to life
and the deathblow to cynicism. We need to practice a grateful faith moment by moment. This
is Paul's point in Philippians 4: 6 and 7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in
everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to god.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus." May God give us thankful hearts, regardless of our circumstances.
to top of page
SPREADING OUR TROUBLES BEFORE THE LORD (November 1999)
Isaiah 37: 14-18: "Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord Almighty, God of Israel,, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God."
It is the common experience of Christians, as well as of men and women who do not profess to believe in God, to experience trouble and trial. Perhaps you are passing through a time of great trouble now. If this is so, Hezekiah's prayer may help you to face your trouble and to be victorious in the midst of it, for it tells of the tremendous threat that came to King Hezekiah. It came in the form of a letter. Notice how the trouble came to Hezekiah, what he did when it came, and how he faced this great trouble.
1. NOTICE, TO BEGIN WITH, HOW TROUBLES COME UPON US.
How do they come? From the story before us we learn that:
i. They come suddenly. They come right out of the blue, just as this letter came to Hezekiah. Sometimes the postman arrives, we open the letter that he delivers, and at once we realize we are in trouble! It is not necessarily a letter that announces our trouble; sometimes it is a telephone call, a visit to the doctor, or a misunderstanding that arises between ourselves and someone else; sometimes it is the result of overwork, of strain, or an accident, and sometimes it is the result of our own foolishness and mistakes.
ii. They come with other troubles. Someone has said that "troubles rarely come single", and "troubles comes in pairs" says the proverb. Shakespeare put it more vividly still when he said that sorrows come in battalions! It was something like this in the case of Hezekiah, who was brought under great strain and pressure by the threat that was made by the enemy.
iii. They can be overwhelming. Sennacherib and his servant Rabshaketh were terrible enemies indeed, and their preparations for invasion and the announcement of their intentions nearly overwhelmed Hezekiah. Little wonder that he trembled when he received the letter!
Sooner or later every Christian has these experiences; but the question must be asked, how should we react when trouble comes upon us like this? What should we do when we receive an evil letter or when we are involved in some upsetting experience? How should we act or react? The important thing is not the things that happen to us, for we cannot prevent these, but the important thing is our reaction to the experiences that some to us. What should be our reaction to trouble?
2. WHAT TO DO WHEN TROUBLE COMES UPON US.
i. We must clearly see what the trouble is. This is important, We are not only told that Hezekiah "received the letter" but that he "read it". When trouble comes we must sit down quietly and consider it; we must face it; we must see exactly what it is and what is involved. If we fail to do this we shall simply go round in circles. But we must do a second thing.
ii. We must take the trouble to the Lord at once. Hezekiah "spread it out before the Lord." He most certainly shared the contents of the letter with others, with his friends and counselors, but the very first thing that he did was to bring the whole matter before the Lord Himself, and "spread it out" before Him. In other words, we must talk to Him about it. There is a wonderful therapy in taking your trouble to the Lord and talking to Him about it, for apart from any other consideration, "a trouble shared is a trouble halved". How wonderfully true this is when the One with whom you share your trouble is the Lord Himself! But there is a third thing we must do.
iii. We must recognize and rejoice in God's greatness and power. God knew all about Hezekiah's trouble and He allowed it. God was on the throne, and He still is, and He knows all about your trouble, so everything is all right! Moreover, He loves you!
iv. We must assure ourselves that God cares for us and is willing to help us. Hezekiah was absolutely sure about this, and that is why when the trouble came he immediately turned to the Lord in prayer. It is as though he said, "I must take this to my Father. I am His child and I am quite sure He will help me and see me through." Even if you have brought your trouble upon yourself by your own folly and foolishness, the Lord still loves you and cares for you and waits to help you.
v. We must ask the Lord to undertake for us. Hezekiah's prayer can be summed up in two words: "deliver us".
vi. We must make sure that our motive is right. What was Hezekiah's motive in asking the Lord to give deliverance from trouble? His motive was the glory of God. Our motive must be the same.
Now, the question is this: what happens when trouble comes and we, with God's help, react to our trouble in these six ways?
3. HOW THE LORD UNDERTAKES FOR US IN OUR TROUBLE.
i. He gives us words of assurance and comfort. Notice in verse 21 the words, "Then Isaiah...." Isaiah was God's prophet, and it was through him that the Lord spoke to Hezekiah and gave him words of assurance and comfort. When we bring out troubles to the Lord He gives us words of assurance and comfort, and He does it from His own Word as we read it or hear it.
ii. In God's own time He takes our trouble in hand and deals with it. Perhaps He will do this immediately, or sometimes in the future, not in your time, but in His perfect time..
Troubles and difficulties will surely come until we get to the end of the journey and go to be with the Lord; but the important thing is the way we react to these troubles when they come. Let us follow the example of Hezekiah and spread our troubles before the Lord and look to Him see us through.
to top of page
THE LOVE THAT BROUGHT HIM (December 1999 - January 2000)
Revelation 1: 4 - 6:
The apostle John, in his later years lived in exile on the Island of
Patmos. He wrote back to his friends and to his fellow Christians on the
mainland. And he told them all that Christ had meant to him and all the
things he had experienced and was experiencing of Christ. And as he began
to write down what Christ had meant to him, the words gushed from his heart
like an anthem of joy: "To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins
by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God
and Father, to Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen."
Now, the phrase that leaps out at us is "to Him who loves us," and that's
what Christ is about. It is about love, the love of God. It was love that
made Christmas. It was love that brought Christ. As we prepare for, and
celebrate Christ, it would be helpful if we remembered the following three
things about the love of Jesus Christ.
First, remember that the love of Christ never ends. It is eternal. One
of the most touching stories concerning Pope John 23rd is about the day
after Christmas many years ago when he visited one of the worst prisons in
Rome. It was the first time in ninety years that a pope had gone to a
prison, and in greeting the prisoners, the pope said, "you could not come to
me, so I have come to you." And that is the spirit of Christ's love. He
came to rescue us because He loved us, and His love never ends.
Secondly, His love is always personal. His love is forever, but it is
personal. While the love of Christ is for the world, it's also for you and
for me. Now it is a comforting thought to realize that 'God loves me'.
Karl Barth the great theologian, was invited to deliver one of the
distinguished lectureships at a theological seminary in the West, and while
he was there a group of ministers and theologians and dignitaries of one
kind or another sat down with him in a kind of question-and-answer period.
Someone asked the question, "What is the most profound thought that you
know, Dr. Barth". This is what he said, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for
the Bible tells me so." God's love is very personal, and His love for US
personally is greater than anything that can happen to us. It is greater
than our sin. It is stronger than our sorrow. It is mightier than death.
It undergirds all of life in all of its ups and downs. John Greenleaf
Whittier said it this way, "I know not what the future hath, of marvel or
surprise, assured along that life and death God's mercy underlies. I know
not where His islands lift, their fronded palms in air. I only know I
cannot drift, beyond His love and care". His love is personal.
Then, lastly, His love frees us. Our text says he loosed us from our
sins. His love liberates us. I read a story about a little girl who
arrived home from Sunday School, where she had been taught the verse, "Let
your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give
glory to our Father who is in heaven." She asked her mother, when she
repeated the verse, what it meant. Her mom said, "Well, it means that when
you are good and kind and thoughtful and obedient, you are letting Christ's
light shine in your life before all who know you." The very next Sunday in
Sunday School the little girl got into a bit of a disagreement and her
mother had to go to the classroom and get her settled down. Her mother was
concerned when she got to the classroom and said, "Don't you remember about
letting your light shine for the Lord before men?" The girl blurted out,
"Mom, I have blowed myself out." Many of us have done just that. In our
relationship to Christ, our light has gone out. Yet we need not live in the
darkness of our own wrongdoing, because Christ has set us free from our
sins. His love is liberating.
It was love that brought Him, and His love is eternal. It never ends.
His love is personal. It's for you; it's for me. He knows His sheep by
name; He is a good shepherd. His love brings us freedom. "To Him who loves
us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a
kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to Him be Glory and Power
for ever and ever! Amen".
to top of page
NEED-ORIENTED EVANGELISM (February 2000)
Luke 10: 25 - 37
As Jesus was going to Jerusalem, an expert in the law asked Him: "What must I do to
inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). Jesus asked the man for his own opinion, and he
replied, "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all
your strength; and love your neighbour as yourself," quoting the two great commandments of
Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus told him that if he did those things, he would
The Jews knew no one could live up to these laws, and so the lawyer sought to get out
from under the burden of them, "Who is my neighbour?" He asked. Jesus answered with the
parable of the Good Samaritan. A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attached by
robbers and let half dead. A priest happened by, but failed to help him. A Levite also
passed by, and failed to help. It was a Samaritan, a despised half-breed, who finally
saved the man.
The Jewish oral law tradition, which Jesus battled so often, said the neighbour in
Leviticus 19:18 was one's fellow Jew. Jesus restored the true meaning of the law by
saying the neighbour is any person near us who needs help.
When the Samaritan saw the man, "he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged
his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to
an inn and took care of him" (vv. 33-34). The next day he instructed the innkeeper to
care for the man, and to charge the Samaritan for expenses. The compassion of the
Samaritan lay not in the fact that he felt bad about the situation, but in that he gave
of his own substance to help the wounded man. Compassion meant action.
Then Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to
the m an who fell into the hands of robbers?" (V. 36). Now the lawyer had to decide
between the true meaning of the law and the oral tradition. "The expert in law replied,
‘The one who had mercy on me him.' Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise'" (v. 37).
In this new millennium, as the Church seeks to obey Christ's command, to
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations," the Gospel will be have to be seen
as well as heard. Only as we care for those in need, will we be listened. Only as we
give a cup of water to the thirsty, will they also heard Jesus say "If anyone thirst,
let him come to Me and drink."
to top of page
CHRISTIAN CONVERSION (March 2000)
Christian conversion has always been a subject of great importance. Many people are muddled about it. Some are invariably
embarrassed when it is mentioned. Others associate it with brain-washing or emotionalism and argue that it is merely the
result of a psychological pressure technique.
It is customary to dismiss the conversion of Saul of Tarsus as an altogether unusual and extraordinary phenomenon, an event
so abnormal as to constitute no possible norm for conversion today. This is not so, provided that we distinguish between the
essential inward experience and the accidental outward signs. There is no necessity for us to be struck by divine lightning and
blinded, or to fall to the ground on our knees, any more than it is necessary to go to the Jerusalem road outside Damascus or
to hear our name called in the Hebrew language. The light, the voice and the gates of Damascus were the dramatic outward
accidents. The essence of the experience was that Saul by the sheer grace of God saw Christ, surrendered to Him and was
welcomed into the Christian Church. There are, therefore, three actors in the drama of conversion - God, a human being, and
the Church. Let me summarize the part played by each.
1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
If there is one truth shining more brightly than any other in the story of Saul's conversion, it is the sovereign grace of God in
Jesus Christ. It is He who chose to reveal Himself in glory and broke the silence of the desert with His voice. This is clear from
Consider first what Saul was like. He is introduced as a bigoted Pharisee, who has plunged headlong into a career of
persecution. He has hatched his own plot for the liquidation of Christians and has persuaded the High Priest to sanction it.
Armed with this authority he is hastening to Damascus with "raging fury". There is neither doubt in his mind or pity in his heart.
He is resolved to arrest women as well as men, to bring them bound to Jerusalem to be punished, and not even to stop short of
This is the man who in a few days' time will be a converted and baptized Christian! But he is in no mood to consider accepting
Christ. His mind is fogged with prejudice and poisoned with hatred. He is breathing out threats and slander. If we tell him that
before he reaches Damascus, he will be a Christian, he will laugh us to scorn. But this is the case, for he has left out of his
calculation the sovereign, saving grace of God in Christ.
Consider, secondly, what God did. Suddenly, perhaps near the gates of Damascus, He intervened. A light brighter than the
noonday sun flashed from heaven and blinded him. A voice called him by name. The sovereignty of God expressed itself in a
revelation of Christ. And Christ's action was sovereign. Saul was not seeking Christ; he was persecuting Christ. Yet Christ was
seeking Saul. He likened Himself to a farmer and Saul to a lively and stubborn young mule whom He was seeking to break.
But Saul was kicking against the farmer's efforts.
It is the same today. In every crusade and mission, and in the continuing evangelism of the Church, we need to humble
ourselves and recognize that conversion is essentially a work of God. Neither organization, nor publicity, nor argument, nor
eloquence (important as they are in their place) can, by themselves, bring light or life to one who is blind and dead. True, the
preaching of the Gospel is the chief means God employs, but only He can do it in and through Christ.
2. THE SURRENDER OF MAN
This emphasis on the sovereignty of God does not imply that man has no responsibility. It is not clear how much Saul
understood at the moment of his conversion. Perhaps he grasped more than appears, but the essence of his response was
surrender. His action symbolized it, in that he fell to the ground. His words also expressed it. As soon as he knew who it was
who was speaking to him, he submitted. Jesus issued two or three crisp orders 'rise, stand, go', and Saul did what he was
told. He neither argued nor hesitated. He asked no terms, and made no conditions. He now meekly obeyed the One who he
had been savagely persecuting. The stiff neck of the self righteous Pharisee bowed: the mule had been broken.
As the sovereignty of God crystallizes in a revelation of Christ, so the surrender of man crystallizes in submission to Christ. No
one dares claim to be converted who has not bent the knee to Christ and called Him Lord. Conversion involves what Paul later
called 'the obedience of faith'.
3. THE SYMPATHY OF THE CHURCH
God's plan for Paul was to draw him into the Church, build him up and use him as a chosen instrument. For this second stage
he used Ananias, and it is well known that Ananias was very reluctant to do any followup! Christ called him by name, as He
had called Saul by name. He issued to him the same orders 'rise and go'. Saul had obeyed. Would Ananias? Would this
mature Christian give to Christ a lesser obedience than the new convert? At first he argued, but at last he obeyed.
Although Ananias was weak in faith, he was strong in love. His love triumphed over his prejudices.
First, his love was welcoming. He found Saul praying. The mouth which had been breathing out threats and murder was now
uttering prayers and praises to Jesus. Ananias then laid his hands on Saul. He could not convey his love by a smile. Saul
could not see! But he could feel and hear. So Ananias laid hands on him and called him 'Brother Saul'. The words must have
sounded like music in his ears. What? Was the arch enemy of the Christian Church to be welcomed into its fellowship as a
brother? Was this dreaded outsider to be received as a member of the family? Then Ananias baptized him, thus boldly
receiving him into the visible Church. He later introduced him to the Christian group in Damascus.
There is a great need for this welcoming love in the church today. So often we hear of people being put off. Instead of being
attracted, they are repelled. They find the church hard and cold, and their whole spirit is chilled.
Secondly, his love was practical. Immediately after his baptism he 'received food and was strengthened'. Who prepared the
meal? Perhaps it was Judas, who owned the house, or one of the servants. More likely, it was Ananias himself. He recognized
that Saul had a body to be fed as well as a soul.
New Christians have many practical as well as spiritual problems. They are faced with putting wrongs to right and reorienting
their whole manner of life. They need our practical help.
There are many Sauls of Tarsus in our circle of acquaintances today, men and women richly endowed with natural gifts of
intellect and character, personality and drive. They have the courage of their non-Christian convictions, being utterly sincere but
sincerely mistaken. They are not beyond the sovereign grace of God in Christ, but are there Ananiases enough to love and
draw them into the Church?
The principal lessons of the story of Saul's conversion are that for effective evangelism we need faith to believe in the
sovereignty of God, love to care for new Christians and sympathy to welcome into the church those who surrender to the
sovereignty of God in Christ.
to top of page
LYDIA: AN OUTSTANDING LEADER IN THE EARLY CHURCH (April 2000)
Acts 16: 11-15
Lydia is recognized as a leader and partner in the Christian church, and
predates the modern women’s liberation movement by 2000 years. She lived
about fifty years after the birth of Christ. Although she is not very well
known nor often mentioned in the Bible she is a woman to whom the Christian
Church owes a very great debt.
According to the l6th chapter of Acts we are told that she was the first
person in Europe to be won to Christianity by the Apostle Paul - which is to
say and to emphasize that the first Christian convert in all Europe was a
Paul and his friends, Timothy, Silas and Luke, had just crossed over from
Asia into Europe and went immediately to Philippi. Luke says in the same
chapter of Acts: "From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the
leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several
days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we
expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the
women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named
Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a
worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to
her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and
stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us." Thus Paul and his companions
stayed in Philippi at the house of Lydia.
There in her home Paul must have spent much time in prayer and in talking to
Lydia and her friends, telling them about Jesus Christ and bringing them the
message of the gospel. Later, while a prisoner in Rome, Paul wrote to the
members of this early church a letter which we know today as the letter to
In this beautiful letter he says, "I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your
partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." It is hard to
imagine what it would be like to receive today a personal letter from Paul
and to read these words, "rejoice in the Lord always. .... and the peace of
God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus."
And to read, "what is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is
excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have
learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice.
And the God of peace will be with you."
Later, after Paul had left Philippi, the Philippian church continued to grow
and became a vital force in spreading Christianity.
Lydia will always remain among the immortal women of the world. Two
thousand years ago she opened the doors of her heart to the Lord, the first
to be baptized in Europe, and in whose house was founded the first Christian
church in Europe.
Because of her great love for the early church and the great service she
rendered to it, Lydia should be remembered by all Christians every where,
for the faith she inspired will live and continue to grow forever in the
hearts of true believers.
to top of page
THE WIDOW’S SACRIFICE (May 2000)
Luke 21: 1 - 4
"As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple
treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I
tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the
others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out
of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
As Jesus was speaking about the oppression of widows by the teachers of the
Law, He looked up at the great bronze "trumpets" in the temple courtyard, in
which people put their gifts. The rich were putting in their gifts and
Jesus saw a widow slipping two mites into one of these receptacles.
A mite was a copper coin, the smallest coin in the Jewish currency. It was
worth about one tenth of one cent. The amount of money she gave was
minuscule. It is interesting that the rules of the rabbis forbade giving
just one mite, because the expense of administering such a gift was more
than the gift itself. Thus, the minimum acceptable offering was two mites,
exactly what the widow gave.
Jesus was moved. He said this widow had put in more than all the rich.
Jesus did not mean this in a quantitative sense, but in a qualitative one.
She put into the treasury something more than money. She gave
This woman was grateful to God and gave proportionately much more than the
"tip" that the rich rendered to God. The rich were giving out of their
surplus. They could easily afford to make their offerings; they would
hardly miss the money. The widow, on the other hand, "out of her poverty
put in all she had to live on." She was casting herself completely on God.
Though poor in goods, this woman was fabulously wealthy when it came to her
spirit of generosity. Certainly the Spirit of God was manifest in her. And
as her reward., her act of sacrifice was noted by the King of heaven, who
placed His benediction on her for her charity, compassion, and sacrificial
Jesus was keenly aware of the giving of both the rich and the poor. God
continues the same awareness today. Polls suggest that only 4 percent of
believers tithe and the that the average giving is about 2 percent, not l0
percent. Are you, am I, more like the widow or the rich in this story?
to top of page
THE ONE THING NEEDED (June 2000)
Luke 10: 38 - 42
"But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will
not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42).
As Jesus moved toward the end of His ministry, he spent time at the home of
Lazarus in Bethany, right outside of Jerusalem. One day when Jesus was
there, Lazarus’ sister Martha was busy preparing a meal for them, while her
sister, Mary, "sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said" (Luke
10:39). Martha was upset about all the preparation that had to be done,
and said to Jesus, "Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do
the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" (v. 40).
Jesus said, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things,
but only one thing is needed." We should note here, that the repetition of
Martha’s name indicates intimacy and affection. Jesus gives her a slight
rebuke, but it is couched in warmth and love.
Jesus tells Martha that at this crisis point in history, there is only one
thing that is urgently needed. Remember that Jesus’ disciples were not
allowed to go home to bury their dead or even to say good-bye, so urgent was
the hour (Luke 9:57-62). Just so, at this juncture in history it was far
more valuable to spend time with Jesus than to take care of all the domestic
duties. Mary had a chance to hear words from Jesus, and that was more
important on that day than anything else. Martha should have dropped
everything, too, and spent time with the Lord.
We cannot afford to be casual about our relationship with Christ. We cannot
afford to let the press of daily life keep us from the Word of God. There
is a time to prepare a meal and to do the dishes, but not when Jesus is
Jesus adds, "And it will not be taken away from her" (v. 42). What Mary
heard would be hers forever. No one could take it from her. This is one of
the great benefits of being attentive to the Word of God: It is yours
Is the press of circumstances keeping you from focused time with the Word
and with Jesus in prayer? Do you feel rushed, or have you deliberately
inserted a time in your schedule when you can be a Mary instead of a Martha?