The Risk of Following Jesus

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Before I became a Christian, everything I heard about following Jesus Christ was good and attractive—and I think this experience is shared by many other believers. But as I started reading the Bible, I realized that Jesus does not promise that the journey will be easy for those who would want to follow Him. One has to take serious considerations about the implications of being His disciple. He, in fact likens following Him to carrying the cross on a daily basis. Our concept of the cross has been distorted due to the time and culture gap between us and the time of Jesus. For us it is a harmless or even beautiful artifact or piece of jewelry.  But during the era of the Roman Empire, only those who were about to be executed carried their crosses to the place of crucifixion. So, carrying the cross is akin to dying—and on a daily basis.

Those who take a stand for what Jesus stands for risk being hated, called names, ostracized, treated unjustly, imprisoned or even killed. The story of Joseph of Arimathea illustrates the kind of boldness every believer needs in order to identify with Jesus. Although, he was among the most respected people in the Jewish religious establishment, Joseph risked his reputation and perhaps his carrier to identify with Jesus. Hitherto he had been a secret disciple of Jesus. But Joseph was not alone. There were two other women following. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph had been with Jesus right for most of His public ministry. They followed their Master to the end.

Why would anyone risk being shunned by family and close friends, arrested or killed for the sake of Jesus? It is not because of what the world could offer us in this life but rather of what Jesus promises us both in this life and the life to come. Although we might lose everything—including our own lives, when we have Jesus we have everything.

Have you ever had to make hard choices for the sake of following Jesus? How are you going to live for Him today; this week?

when we have Jesus we have everything

Contending with Evil Altars

2 Chronicles 15:16-18 (NIV)16 King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 17 Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 18 He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

An altar is a place where people make sacrifices to a deity. The first mention of the altar in the Bible is when Noah builds one after the flood in order to offer sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). God instructed Moses to build an altar, as part of the tabernacle, to burn incense for the Lord (Exod.  30:1). The priests were tasked to burn incense on the altar every morning. In the New Testament believers are exhorted to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Therefore, for Christian believers, altars may be the spaces where we live out and the activities we do in the name of Christ to honor God. This may include prayer and worship gatherings or even our day-to-day work as long as it is done to honor Christ. Altars concretize and energize our worship of God.

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However, even in the biblical times, altars were not the preserve for the worshipers of the One true God. Other nations also erected altars to sacrifice to their gods. Sadly, time and again the people of Israel were lured to worship the foreign gods on the pagan altars. This of course displeased God and He likens it to spiritual prostitution.

Evil altars, then, are spaces and activities where the name of the Lord is dishonored and evil is glorified. As believers, we are called to contend with evil altars. But we also need to realize that we contend with evil forces and not human beings. We don’t kill “non-believers” or disown our children when they refuse to follow Christ. We content against spiritual altars by speaking and living by the truth of God’s Word and praying against them in the name of Jesus Christ.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What radical steps of obedience do you fell led to take as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Finishing Well

2 Chronicles 14:2-6 (NIV) Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.  4 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. 5 He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. 6 He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest.

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One of the commonest analogies to the Christian faith is a race. It is easy for many people to sign up, turn up and actually begin the race but not all who start the race finish. The same thing happens in Christian ministry. There are many people who start well but end up miserably. It is important that we do not only start well but also finish well. So, how can we finish well?

Keep the Perspective. One of the pitfalls of Christian ministry is losing the big picture. It is easy to be preoccupied with dealing with the crises and the urgent but miss the whole point of the purpose of our calling. We are really here to please our Master, Jesus Christ. If whatever we do does not honor Christ, then we have missed the point.
Keep the Faith. It is easy to depend on God when you are poor, struggling, or not famous. But when God blesses us and we become successful, the temptation to become proud becomes great. We can easily attribute our success to our wisdom and hard work rather than God’s help. Never stop trusting the Lord.

Keep the Fire burning. Do not lose the passion. Do not become complacent. When we become complacent, we get content with our accomplishments and stop believing God for the best. It is easy to think that we have arrived and simply enjoy the status quo. Always find avenues to keep aflame your passion for the Lord and His work.

Quote: “We never outgrow your desperate need for Christ.” Jerry Bridges

The Presence of God

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Exodus 33:14-15 (NIV) The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.

The motif of the presence of God is pervasive in the scriptures. Although God is everywhere, He chooses to localize his manifest presence among His people. Before the Fall, God dealt directly with His people. There were no intermediaries such as priests, altars, sacrifices or a temple. In the Garden of Eden, God came to Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8).

During the time of the exodus, God instructed Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant—a gold-coated wooden box where the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept (Exodus 25:10ff). The covenant Box was always kept in the holiest section of the sanctuary and its access was limited to a few prescribed priests.  It signified the presence of God in the midst of His people.

In the New Covenant, Jesus is the Immanuel—God in our midst. Even when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit who dwells in the life of every believer. Again, although God is omnipresent, He manifests His presence among His people.

When Christ returns, we the believers shall be with Him in the New City. Apostle John saw a vision of the New Jerusalem. What is remarkable in John’s vision is that there is no “temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). Indeed as someone has put it, “all of life—and, principally, the gospel life—is about being in God’s relational presence.”  We all should long to be in God’s presence both now and in the life to come.

Missions: a Call to Worship

1 Chronicles 16:23-27 (NIV)  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  26 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.  27 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.

In the passage above, King David, assisted by Asaph, calls upon the people to worship the God who created the universe. He deserves to be worshiped because He alone is God. All the other gods are idols. They are false gods. God called Israel that they would proclaim the greatness of His name to the other nations. Israel’s faith was neither meant to be private nor exclusive. God’s intention was that through Israel’s obedience and devotion to His ways, other nations would come to the knowledge of His love, justice and holiness.  This too is our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. We are called to declare the name of the One true and living God through our words and actions.

For some Christians worship and missions are two important but unrelated activities of the church. We tend to limit worship what is done when believers are gathered and missions to what believers do when they are scattered in the world. I think there is some truth to that but there is still more. Worship and missions are interconnected. The One true living God is the object of both worship and missions. None of them is a mere human endeavor. One leads to the other. Worship is both the fuel and goal of missions. John Piper famously said that, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” As such, missions is a call for the people who are estranged from God to return and worship Him.

A call to worship

When Moses encountered God in the burning Bush, God sent him to go back to Egypt. His mission was to “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1). God’s desire is that all people get to worship Him. We were created to worship God, but Satan also competes for our worship. People turn away from God when they fail or refuse to worship Him alone. So, when we worship we are declaring to the enemy, Satan, that only the Lord is God who is worthy of our worship. And when we witness, we are calling people to return and worship the One true and living God.

Food for Thought:

How can you, as part of your church community, be engaged in declaring the praises of the One true God among those who do not believe in Him? 

What did Jesus Do?

During my college days, I used to like the WWJD wristbands and tee-shirts. I think that whoever came up with the “what would Jesus do” idea or movement had very good intentions. They must have wanted Christians to have the right kind of Christ-like attitude—and perhaps corresponding actions—in every situation they encountered.  But the truth is that we cannot know with certainty what Jesus would actually do in each and every situation we encounter. Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. They were unconventional and counter-culture.

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But there was also something predictable about Jesus in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. I think that the more realistic motivation for us is to ask “what did Jesus do,” or WDJD if you will. He touched as cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the riffraff of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

What did Jesus do? He forfeited His divine privileges, came down to our level, and suffered for our sake. He was not indifferent to human rebellion and predicament. He was not judgmental. He gave His own life for ours. That is the life He lived for us to emulate. He laid down His life for us, so we ought to lay it down for others (1 John 3:16). And yes, he told us “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).

 

Grace for the Least Likely

Acts 22:1-11

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.  I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify…“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.  My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 

A Former Persecutor (1-5)

God’s Grace is amazing! Grace actually makes more sense to the least likely—the underdogs, those considered to be dregs of the society, the irreligious lot, and many other misfits.  The famous hymn sums up the nature of grace: “Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.” Every believer in Jesus Christ has in one way or another experienced this prodigious grace. Of course every story is different. In today’s passage, Apostle Paul is re-telling his story—for completely different reasons.

He stands trial before the Jewish religious leaders. These were, most likely, his former colleagues before he gave his life to Jesus. In fact his religious credentials were better than most of them. As a young Pharisee, he had been mentored by an outstanding religious expert, Gamaliel. Before his conversion, he was at the forefront of persecuting followers of Jesus Christ but now his life has been transformed.

Every believer in Jesus Christ has in one way or another experienced this prodigious grace.

He has found the better way. The former persecutor of the church is now on the receiving end of the wrath he once meted out to those who followed Christ. God’s grace is truly amazing. If someone like Paul can now unapologetically stand for his faith in Christ, we can all be encouraged to pray for those who now fiercely persecute the church.

Are there people you hesitate to pray for, maybe because of their hostility towards the Gospel? No one is out of the reach of God’s love.

The Turning Point (6-11)

Paul now shares how he came to believe in the Person and the message of the One he now uncompromisingly proclaims. His encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ was as dramatic as his life would eventually turn out to be.  If there is anything that ever happened to him, it was a realization of his utter worthlessness without Jesus Christ. He, who once was powerful, was blinded and needed the assistance of his guards to get to Damascus.

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All of us who believe in Jesus have had our turning points. Some of them were dramatic while others were ordinary. In all this, it was the Lord who drew us to Himself. Now that we have been saved by His grace, we have an obligation to live for Him.

 

How did you come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior? How has your life changed since then? Take time to thank Him.

Unmet Expectations

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine over ministry expectations. He was not comfortable with my philosophy of ministry and the way we ran stuff at church. Every relationship revolves around expectations. The more these expectations are mutually met, the healthier the relationship. Some expectations may be expressed while others may not. Some are realistic, others aren’t.

It is always fulfilling when our expectations are met. But it can be disappointing or even devastating when our expectations remain unfulfilled. Unrealistic expectations can hurt both us and others, especially those whom we care about. Some people have expectations of their friends and colleagues that only God can meet. This of course puts a strain on their relationship.

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If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…

It is also possible to have unrealistic expectations of God. The Jewish people during the time of Jesus had a faulty understanding of the person and mission of the Messiah. They were waiting for a charismatic, political and militarily powerful liberator. It’s no wonder that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth could not fit into their frame of reference. He was too ordinary to be the “savior” they had been waiting for. When He came to them they did not recognize Him. They missed the “time of God’s coming to [them]” (Luke 19:44). And their rejection of the Savior had far reaching ramifications. That’s why Jesus wept. They rejected the One who could give them peace—the Prince of Peace. They rejected their King; they One they had been waiting for all along. But that was not all. 40 years later, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and later destroyed together with six hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

What are your expectations of God? How do you respond when things seem not to be going your way? Could you be in a resisting God’s will because you have misconstrued God’s will and His ways?

What about your expectations of the people around you—your spouse, siblings, colleagues, etc? Are they realistic and contributing to building a healthy relationship?

My prayer is that God may help us to have realistic expectations in whatever relationships we are involved in.

 

The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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What are You Chasing?

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1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Many of us would agree that life is busy. We spend most of it chasing after so many things. Someone will tell you that “I am chasing this deal”, “this job”, or even “this person.”  People chase after money or material things (which the Bible calls greed). Others chase after pleasure (sex, orgies), otherwise called lust. Others are busy chasing after power and fame is all its forms.

Paul’s charge to Timothy is, therefore, a wakeup call for all of us. The passage uses a couple of strong verbs that are worth noting. Let’s have a look at them:

Flee

To “flee” means to run away.  It is more than simply saying “avoid, turn way, or walk away from.” What are we supposed to flee from? Verses 3-10 give us an idea of what Timothy is being warned against.  We are to flee from false spirituality. And here are some of the features of false spirituality:

  • It is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and it does not promote godliness (righteousness) (verse 3)
  • It promotes controversies (verse 4).
  • It focuses on the material/worldly things. They make you want more of this world. False spirituality makes us feel comfortable living in this world (verses 4-10).

But Christian discipleship and formation is radical. It calls for serious discipline, especially in this generation that does not take sin seriously. The modern spiritualties give Christian disciplines lip service. They promote religious experiences that are void of Godliness. But whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ are to free from what the rest of the world is pursuing.

Pursue

This is another strong verb. To “pursue” means to chase, follow, or persistently seek. We are called to pursue Christian virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. One of the spiritual pitfalls of today is that we do not take spiritual disciplines seriously. Authentic Christian experience is a dynamic cooperation with God. God is fully involved in your formation. But you are also fully responsible for your Christian formation. We “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (1 Timothy 6:2:12-13 – NIV).

Fight

The Christian experience is warfare, only that the fight is “a good fight.” It is a fight of faith. It is a spiritual fight. We fight against whatever would hinder us from being what God wants us to be. We have to fight to pray, we have to fight in order to live by the truth, and we have to fight to act kindly in a cruel world. The good news is that it is a fight we are sure of winning because we are not fighting in our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Take Hold

Lastly, the last verb is “take hold.” It means to grasp; to seize; to capture. We are to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Our salvation is eternally secure but that is not a license for reckless living. Having a comprehensive motor insurance cover for your vehicle is not a license for reckless driving. We guard our salvation, not because we fear losing it but because it is precious.

A Solemn Charge

1 Timothy 6:13-16. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

These are not just nice word that Paul is saying to Timothy; this is a solemn charge to Timothy and all of us. How seriously do you take your life, calling and ministry? God takes you and your calling seriously. Is what you are chasing worth your life? As someone put it, “Is what you are living for worth dying for?”