To Be A Disciple

Disciple (dĭ-sī′pəl): One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.

We’re either a disciple of the Word of God, or we’re a disciple of the world. It’s that simple. Oh. It may not seem so cut and dried. But our choices. Our decisions. Our actions. Our words. They all show who we are. And they show whose we are. So. If we say we’re a follower of Christ, then our actions need to match our words.

Let’s examine a week in our life. Where do we go? Who do we listen to? What social media do we follow? What do we post on social media? Who and what do we applaud? Who influences us? Work and family aside, how do we spend the majority of our time? Are we always scrolling on social media? Are we fixated on the latest sports rankings? Do we spend most of our time shopping online? Do we take time to interact with our neighbors and friends? What books do we read? What movies and shows do we watch? Do we read the Bible? Do we pray? Do we attend church?

Our lives are telling the world around us who or what we worship. We don’t always have to speak up about what’s important to us. Our lives show the truth without us even realizing it. So. What are you saying about yourself without saying it?

We need to consider who we turn to for advice. Who informs us on life philosophies? Where do we turn for comfort and guidance? Do we turn to God and ask him to give us strength and new mercies for each day?

I find that people today are reversing the definitions of fact and fiction. Or, put another way. Fact versus opinion. Truth never changes, but opinions can be fickle. If we’re looking to please the crowd, we may say and do anything for approval. But when we stand for truth and truth alone, we know only one story to tell.

A fact is something that is known to be true. An opinion is an interpretation of facts.

Dr. Jeff Myers, Truth Changes Everything

Disciples of the world preach opinions as truth. They choose to stand behind secular ideas rather than biblical truths. They allow culture to define their life and thinking. Disciples of the Word live the Bible as truth. They don’t let cultural ideologies define or defile their faith. They refuse to bow in worship to false gods. Of course. No one’s perfect. We all make mistakes. We all get it wrong at times. But is our heart’s intent to serve God or ourselves?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

I am positive that much that passes for the gospel in our day is very little more than a very mild case of orthodox religion grafted on to a heart that is sold out to the world in its pleasures and tastes and ambitions.

A.W. Tozer

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:1‭, ‬3‭-‬5 

We try to cram so much of earth into our lives that we can miss heaven. If living this life is all about pleasing ourselves and we’re still not happy, it’s time to look elsewhere. If we’re disenchanted with what this world has to offer, maybe we’re not looking in the right place. We can’t just follow what our heart wants and call it good. Because our heart will lead us astray. Look all around. There’s much proof of that silly notion.

Jesus calls his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Carrying our cross is not a task to be taken lightly. Look at what it cost Jesus. It cost him his life. If I claim to be his disciple, am I willing to take that risk? Because being a disciple of Christ calls us to face suffering for his sake.

Do world disciples suffer when they please the crowd? Do they risk everything in the name of the world? Is there a cost? Absolutely. There’s a cost, but it might not be obvious until the moment we slip into eternity. And then there’s no going back. Let’s not make that mistake.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. James 1:22

Not What We’d Expect

He was young and good looking. Smart. Well educated. He was trained to be a leader. He was acquainted with the king. Perhaps he was the heir apparent to the throne. But then he was taken captive by the enemy. He and a group of other young men of nobility were led to a distant country to serve at the pleasure of the enemy king. Their lives changed in a moment. Their city had been overrun by an army that destroyed their temple. This temple built by King Solomon had stood for three hundred years. It was a magnificent piece of architecture. And it was plundered. Not only were the sacred temple items stolen, but so were the royal citizens who lived in the palace. The sworn enemy took the best of the best in this invasion. Of course. This enemy king took the young men who were already familiar with palace living.

“Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon. ” Daniel 1:4

Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were now captives in a foreign land. They were no longer their own. Scripture tells us that the prophet Isaiah had warned King Hezekiah that family members would be taken captive to Babylon and these young men would be made into eunuchs. So based on that Scripture, we know that Daniel and his friends would not marry and have families. These young men were emasculated. They were subjects of the king. But not one word is written that they complained or fought against this evil act performed on their bodies. This single act robbed them of the ability to father children. They would have been opposed to such barbaric acts, but they knew that God was in control. They chose to stand strong in their faith in God with each trial and testing placed in their path. They would not surrender their faith, even if it meant death or mutilation of their bodies.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord : The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord . Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” 2 Kings 20:16-18

King Nebuchadnezzar had made sure that these young men who were from families of prestige and wealth were rendered helpless. When it came to the next generation, perhaps one of one of these four men was the heir apparent to the Judean throne. We don’t know if Hezekiah was the father of any of these young men or if their fathers worked in the royal courts. But we do know that these young men knew what royal life was all about. They had been trained in royal living. They knew the palatial lifestyle, the wealth, and the opulence of living under a successful king. They were surrounded with delicious food, beauty at its finest and endless luxury. Anything they wanted was at their disposal. They were accustomed to an opulent lifestyle, but now they found themselves living in the palace of their enemy. And oh. How the tables have turned. They were not the ones to give commands or issue decrees. They were the ones who were being told what to do. When. Where. And how. They were told what their names would be. They were told what kind of food they had to eat. They were forced into a three year re-education program.

This king was trying to undo all their Jewish knowledge and ways and beliefs. I’m sure there may have been other young exiles who were happy to shed their Jewish customs. Because after all, they were in this mess because their nation had forsaken God. Their nation, as a whole, had rejected God’s commands. So the land of Judah was being punished. And yes, God had warned many times over the years that this exile would occur. They just didn’t know the timing of it.

In this invasion, young men of varying degrees of loyalty to their Jewish faith were most likely taken. So perhaps not every one of these young men held firmly to the Jewish customs, traditions, and observances. Perhaps they were eager to mix with the Babylonians. Didn’t they realize the price for mixing with the enemy? Perhaps they were glad they didn’t have to pray certain times of the day or eat a restricted diet. Perhaps they were glad they didn’t have to offer sacrifices for their sins. I’m speculating here, but we know that the land of Judah had forsaken God. It’s likely that not all of the Jewish exiles held to their Jewish faith. As the nation goes, so goes the people.

But these four young men were determined not to lose the heritage of their faith. They were determined to be faithful to their God, the only God. They knew the ways of God. And they knew the words of God. They were spiritually prepared to fight the battles ahead of them. But there were changes they had to contend with during this challenging time. They agreed to change their names. They agreed to attend this three year re-education program. In the three years that they were being indoctrinated with the Babylonian ways, customs, and traditions, they were able to learn the heart and mind of the king. They learned to live as Babylonians without becoming Babylonians. Impossible? Not if God is with you.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:15-16

But when they were offered the diet of a lifetime, the opportunity to eat the king’s food, they put their foot down. They said no. We cannot eat that food. Now there are a few different reasons why they chose not to eat the king’s food. It could be because they were Jewish. After all, Jews eat kosher and the Babylonian diet was not kosher. The Babylonians ate a rich diet and they were proud of it. And so when this rich plate of food was placed in front of them, they were appalled. Their refusal to partake could have been because these foods were off limits to people of the Jewish faith. They could have said no to the food because it had been sacrificed to idols, which was inappropriate in their faith tradition. The third reason could be that this was the king’s food. And even though they were now subject to him, it didn’t mean that they agreed with everything he did and said. And they perhaps knew that by eating his food meant that they were in agreement with him. And they were not. So they refused. We don’t know for sure what the reason was that they refused this food, but we know that they stood firm in their faith and said no.

And when Daniel approached the chief of staff to ask for a different plate of food, the man was afraid for his own life. He knew that by allowing these young exiles to reject the king’s food, the king could demand his head. So Daniel asked for a trial run on his requested diet. And the chief of staff agreed, because God had given him both respect and favor for Daniel. The gauntlet had been thrown. If these four young men looked unhealthy by the end of the week, they would eat the king’s forbidden food. Otherwise, they would remain on their Jewish diet. And at the end of that week, those four young men were sharper and healthier than any of the other young men. They were allowed to continue with their diet.

What we know is that eating the king’s food would have defiled their relationship with God. Their refusal to eat it kept their faith with God in good standing. And that was their ultimate goal. Nothing else mattered. They stood strong in their faith, and they complied with the king’s orders when doing so wouldn’t compromise their faith. Changing their name and attending the three-year indoctrination program didn’t weaken their faith, so they agreed to those demands.

When the three years of training had been completed, the king tested each young man. God had given these four particular young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. He also gave Daniel the ability to interpret the meaning of visions and dreams. No one impressed the king more than these four young men. They had been given favor by God and won a place in the king’s service.

When we compare our lives to this time in Daniel’s life, it’s easy to wonder how this story of Daniel and his three friends applies to our lives today.

Considering everything that’s happening in our culture today, we see so many false ideologies being taught in schools for children to bow down to. We see the evil that world leaders are pursuing. We see the casual way lies are spoken as truth, the cover ups, the destruction of lives and livelihoods, of families being torn apart, of wars and rumors of wars. As believers in Jesus Christ, we need to stand strong in our faith. We need to know where to draw the line on what will defile our relationship with God. And that is where we say no. We need to know where to draw the line so we don’t compromise our faith. For each of us, it may be a different place. It may be a different social scenario or work expectation where we realize we can’t cross the line. We may not know today what that line is. But we better know it when it comes at us.

Just as these young men had been raised to know the Jewish faith and how God had delivered his people many times, and how he had provided for them many times, so too, we believers must know biblical truths. Because it is from those biblical truths where we will draw our strength when we are forced to take a stand. Daniel and his friends knew God’s faithfulness in their previous lives. And they knew God would be faithful in their new life, as long as they were faithful to Him. We too must draw on God’s faithfulness in our times of testing.

These four young men chose to stand strong in their faith in God regardless of what happened to them. So today, let’s let that be the lesson for us that we can stand strong in our faith when others are mandating certain behaviors from us. When we know that a certain act or word will defile our faith, let’s say no to it. Let’s stand strong in the Word of God. But that means that we need to know the Word of God. We need to read and study the Word of God. We must spend time daily in prayer. We need to be faithful in building our relationship with God and making sure that it is strong so that it will stand the test of time. No matter the test we’re facing, with God all things are possible.

Perhaps in our time of testing and maneuvering through the potholes in today’s culture, we will be found faithful and excellent in our service. Perhaps we need to trust God to show us mercy and favor as we live for him in situations where living for God isn’t popular or desired. We must stand ready to engage in today’s culture and customs, even when they are in direct opposition to the Word of God. If we don’t know today’s culture, how can we actively engage to share the love of God?

We can’t live in our own spiritual vacuum and win the world to Jesus. We can’t retreat and hide from the world. We can’t shelter in place. How will we learn to be in the world if we don’t live in it? We can’t hide away and live in our own personal exile. We can’t retreat when we haven’t even fought for our faith. We must stand and be accountable for our convictions. Let’s not even consider compromising, if it would cost us our faith. Eternity lasts forever.

All Creation Sings

Standing outside on a cold winter morning, I see my breath as I exhale. I hold tightly to the leash as my dog sniffs the frozen ground. She leaves her mark on every spot that every other dog in the neighborhood has marked. I see the frost tipped grass that’s browned from the fall. It appears to be in a stagnant season at this point, but it’s only resting. The grass is gearing up for a busy season that’s just around the corner. It’s preparing for warmer months of growth and green and vibrance. It’s taking a break. It’s as if it’s the calm before the storm, but the grass is still very alive. The grass appears to be dead, but the work underground is moving along right on schedule. The dormant period for grass is an important step in its life.

I notice all the tree branches that have fallen from Thursday’s winds. Downed limbs mark the spot every few feet in the yard. As the small branches lay on the dead looking grass, their weakness is evident. Otherwise, they would still be holding strong to the tree that bore them. They couldn’t hold their strength against a strong wind. And that’s okay. Because the trunk of the tree still stands. The wind didn’t overtake the tree with its roots dug deep. But I noticed in my neighbor’s yard the two trees that have fallen, not from this week’s wind but from winds of days gone by. Sure. These neighbors will have the trees removed. They’ll have their fence repaired again, and life will go on as normal. And the winds will continue to blow at the appointed time.

I recall another sighting earlier in the week, as my dog and I were outside. Looking overhead, I noticed the small Cooper’s Hawk frantically flying through the air chasing a smaller bird just out of its reach. The hawk was searching for its next meal. The smaller bird was looking for a safe haven. In that particular moment, the smaller bird reached its safety nest before getting caught. And as I noticed the small hawk flying away empty handed, I knew it was still on the hunt for its next meal. And I knew it would be successful. At some point, there would be another small bird or rodent that would be caught in its mouth. The hawk would savor its meal and gain strength to sustain life. Life is a never ending circle.

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy! Psalms 96:11-12

I also noticed a tree in my front yard beginning to form buds on the ends of each limb. Work was in progress as it began preparations for springtime. Oh. It seemed a tad early in the brisk cold, but the tree was planning for the future. It will soon spread its leaves and the flower buds will open, leaving a fragrance in the air for passersby to enjoy. This tree is gearing up for the growth and beauty that it will provide. Spring just can’t come soon enough. The dormant period is coming to an end.

As the days lengthen and become warm, they tease us with anticipation of the upcoming splash of color that’s around the corner. It’s assumed that nature is silent in the winter, because in our neck of the woods we see only brown and gray outdoors. But as the days grow longer and warmer, the gloominess will be replaced by a peek of sunshine and spring rain. At this moment in the soil, the bulbs and bushes are preparing for the next season of life. Creation sings not only in the spring when trees are budding and flowers are blooming. Creation sings in the winter with the frost on the plants. With the snowfall. With the frigid air. With the ice. Creation is singing. It’s just a different song. And it’s a song that a lot of people don’t like to hear because it’s cold. It’s inconvenient to bundle up to stay warm and safe. But hey. Life is full of inconveniences and we survive.

Creation is preparing for the next phase of life, because seasons come and go. In each season, we can find beauty if we look deep enough. If we don’t give up when things look bleak, when the sun isn’t shining, and all we see is gloom, we find hope. Then another day, the sun comes out and we feel its warmth. We see the limbs blown down, and we know that new limbs will grow. We see these empty trees and we know that new leaves will sprout. And they say that hope floats.

The hyacinths that I see coming up through the ground are an early sign that life is being lived under ground. And so that gives me hope that my life is still growing even underground where it can’t be seen. There is still beauty working in the dark days, in the lonely days and the trying times. When the ground looks barren, maybe we need to dig a little deeper. Because creation sings every day, even when we can’t hear it. Even when we can’t see the work nature is doing, it is still working. The wait is worth it.

They Think They’re Winning

There are those who believe they’re winning. They believe they’re moving the world to globalism. A one world government. They believe they can coerce people of all races and ages to accept anything they say. They believe that raising taxes will bring more stability to a shaky economy. They believe they’re influencing school administrators, counselors and teachers to trick students into accepting questionable ideologies. They believe the parents of those kids don’t need to know about their underhanded manipulation. They believe that women should be able to legally kill their unborn babies on demand. They believe that anyone at any time in their life can change their pronouns and suddenly become the opposite sex. And they think they’re winning.

There are others who believe they’re winning. They believe they’ve seen progress in the fight for their own children’s allegiance. They believe they’re gaining ground in making the family the center of everyday life. They believe they’re making progress in saving the lives of the unborn. They believe they’re making a difference in how schools are teaching their children. They believe they’re starting to reign in activists who would hurt the cause of families and children. They believe their voice is finally being heard as they fight to know what’s being taught in public schools. And they think they’re winning.

They all believe they’re winning the short game. But, in the long term, what’s really going to happen? Are they hiding the truth in plain sight? Shouldn’t we keep our eyes wide open and our ears pealed to hear what’s not being said? Shouldn’t we be diligent when it comes to standing up for our beliefs? Shouldn’t we stay in the fight?

Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. John 16:11

There are always two sides to everything. One side wins. And the other loses. That’s how it seems. Even if it isn’t a fight or a game or a sport. Someone always loses. And someone always wins. Some would say “shhh, don’t tell them they’re not winning”. Because at the end of the day, there’s only one race that matters. Both sides will be losers unless each individual in the race submits their life to Jesus Christ. It doesn’t necessarily matter what we’re fighting for or fighting against. If we’re not fighting for our own eternity in heaven, then we’re all losers. But wait. The message of salvation is open to everyone. Why wouldn’t we want to tell those who are on the losing team how to win in the end?

Sure. It’s up to them to change the way they’re living their lives. It’s their call whether they repent of their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. It’s on them to choose Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. So why would we keep quiet? Why would we who are Christians keep silent when we know the only way to eternal life? Why wouldn’t we share the Good News with others? Do we want them to rot in hell? Absolutely not.

Oh. We tell ourselves that what comes around goes around. Meaning. We all get our just desserts. One day we’re in the game. The next day we’re out. Some days we’re winning. Other days we’ve flat out lost. Life is unfair. But eternity is forever. Let that sink in.

Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Philippians 2:15

Just the other day, I was driving to a dentist appointment and merged onto the three-lane freeway. It was an easy merge, because no other cars were in my lane. After a few minutes of driving, I looked in my rearview mirror. In one of the lanes, I saw a large box truck driving slowly causing all the cars behind it to slow down. No one was passing the slow truck. They just drove in one long slow line to their destination. I’m sure some of the drivers were very unhappy about driving so slowly, but they made no effort to go around the slow truck. And what they couldn’t or wouldn’t see was that all three lanes in front of the big truck were wide open. This big slow truck was the sole cause of their frustration. Yet they did nothing about it. Who was winning that game?

As I continued to drive, I came upon a big slow utility truck. It dawned on me, as I slowed down, that I could most likely be in the same predicament as all the other vehicles traveling very slowly behind the big box truck. So knowing what I assumed to be true, I moved into the left lane and passed the slow truck. Sure enough. He was the only reason for my slow down. The road ahead was wide open for me to resume speed. If I hadn’t just witnessed the long slow line behind me, I too would have most likely become frustrated by all the slow traffic. It was a simple fix. But I had to see for myself that there was a solution to my predicament. I had to get out of my lane in order to overcome the problem.

Every driver who stays behind the slow truck is the loser. They don’t move out of the slow lane to see that the road ahead is wide open. They have a choice to end their misery, but they do nothing about it. And some people do nothing about their misery, because they don’t know there’s a solution.

It goes without saying that if we listen to only one side of an argument and accept it without question, we only know one way of believing or doing something. But if we turn the page and read the other side of the story, we may find that history paints the picture in a totally different light. There are always two sides to every story. And the side we believe is winning may really be the loser in the long run. But because we’ve always just stayed in the lane where we’re comfortable, we don’t know the other side of the story even exists.

How sad it is to only know some of the information that’s available to us. How sad it is to not test out theories and ideas when we have the means. How sad it is that we don’t engage with those of a different belief to learn what they believe and why. How sad it is that we don’t share our Christian faith, knowing full well that Jesus Christ is the answer to the problems of this world. How sad it is that we don’t do our part to make sure everyone knows they too can be on the winning team.

There’s a far greater battle that’s going on in the spiritual realm. It’s an unseen battle, but it’s very real. And it is the cause of all the battles we’re facing. Satan and his army are fighting the heavenly armies of God Almighty. Oh. Satan may think he’s winning because we can see the headway he’s making in this world. Evil is running rampant. Morals and ethics are at an all-time low, while crime and corruption are at an all-time high. So yes. It appears that Satan is winning.

But he isn’t.

In the long game, Satan and all his followers are the losers. Big time losers. It will be the ultimate failure to be on Satan’s side when eternity calls your name. When your last breath is taken and you’re standing in God’s judgment, you want to be on God’s side of the battle. Because if you are, you’re in eternity with God. If you’re not, you’re in hell for eternity. We all have a choice of where we will spend eternity. Let’s choose wisely while there is still time.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9