Who’s on First?

As a Christian, we’re constantly warring between two sides of ourselves – the unrepentant flesh and the redeemed new creation. This war manifests itself in many aspects of our lives as the flesh tries to regain dominance, something which ultimately will never happen, in manners such as a temptation to lust or envy, or an urging to sin in some particular manner. No manner of temptation or urging to sin, however, can compare with the subtlety and destructive power of putting oneself first.

“Thou shalt have no other god before Me”

This is the first commandment and it is often the one most broken. I know in my life, the manner in which I hold my ideal priorities is

  1. God
  2. Family/My fiancee
  3. Work
  4. Myself

Yet so often I find myself slipping gradually into a cycle of, quite literally, reversing that list. I become most important, followed by my work, etc. In doing so, everything becomes about me – what I want to do, how I support my wants, who I use to get what I want, etc. This is a complete inversion and misapplication of my life.

Rather than myself, God should be first. My relationships should bring Him glory, not me my “needs”. My work should further His goals, or allow me to do so, not feeding my material wants. My person and actions should be glorifying to God and edifying to His body, the Church, not satiating myself with my own desires.

Church, can you see the danger of this gradual slide. This transition from God to self as the number one priority in each of our lives can and will render us inert, insular, and isolated, not moving, growing, and spreading the Gospel with those we interact with. This is exactly what Satan wants, to nullify the effect Christ has on us and, through us, the world and, by allowing ourselves to give in to this subtle reversal, we are playing right into his hands.

So, I ask you right now, where do your priorities lie? Are they where they need to be or have you, like myself and so many others, allowed your focus to be shifted towards yourself?

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

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Chained Yet Free

We have been told since day 1 of Jesus’ ministry that following Him would not be easy. Jesus was very frank about that. In John, He says that the world would hate us because it first hated Him, that we would be persecuted just as he was first persecuted. We see this very present in the early church: Paul was jailed and put under house arrest. Of the 12 disciples, only John died a natural death – in exile on the island of Patmos. The church as a whole endured persecution from the Roman government up through Constantine. From that day onwards, Christians have been persecuted at almost every time in every corner of the world, whether it be Christian missionaries to the Norse, Japanese, Soviets, or, currently, Muslims.

We will be persecuted. It’s not a matter of whether we will be, but when. even today, in the USA, ideological persecution is well under way. But we must remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of courage and a sound mind. In sending out the disciples, Jesus told them to stand firm and be courageous:

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but not the soul.

Matt. 10:27-28

Peter encouraged the early church with similar words, encouraging them to rejoice in their sufferings:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed … [If] you suffer as a christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that  you bear that name.

1 Peter 4:12-16

Finally, James, the brother of Christ, encourages us to take joy in our persecution:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

He also reminds us that we who persevere are blessed:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

James 1:12

So then, let us be encouraged. Let us not be fainthearted. We serve a God who brings salvation into the world. He is the light in the darkness that shall not be hidden. He is the truth, the life, and also the way. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel, but be encouraged by the life it brings, boldly going to the front lines, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Let us remember and commend those who have gone before us, laying their lives down for the sake of the Gospel, who fixed their eyes on Jesus, casting aside sin and entanglements to boldly run the race marked out for them.

Let us remember our brothers and sisters still living who, even today, are the targets of persecutions. Let us praise God for their boldness and obedience and pray earnestly for their freedom.

Let us also be willing to say, “Wherever you lead, I’ll go,” to be obedient to the Lord’s command regardless the risk, for we know that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

From Point A to Point B

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Matt 28:19-20

Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptise them
  3. Teach them to do the same

I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin.  All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.

Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”

With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.

Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.

Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.