Called to Serve

Matthew 8:35-36: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Last night I attended a program that was sponsored by the ministry school that I am attending. We were presented with some alarming statistics about the decline of the church in the United States and the low percentage of people living in Athens, Georgia that actually attend church each week. We are living in a society that puts an emphasis on the individual. We are trained by this “world” that we live in to meet our own needs and desires first.

We were challenged, as followers of Christ, to find ways to serve in our community and especially to those people that do not know Christ. As believers, we must follow the teachings of Christ when He tells us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Jesus goes on to say that we must let our “light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Throughout the Gospels, we find that Jesus had compassion on all kinds of people. He healed the sick and those that were demon-possessed. Jesus had compassion on sinners and all sorts of social outcasts. He didn’t spend his time around the religious elite or powerful government officials or movie stars. Our Lord and Savior spend time with those who were lost and living in darkness, he spent time teaching and showing compassion to the “least” of society.

That is the model that I believe Christ calls us to follow today. We can have a beautiful sanctuary in which to worship and we can have attractive buildings in which to have Sunday school and many other activities. But if we are not living out our faith and our calling by helping those in need and showing compassion to those that society has cast aside, then we are not truly living out our calling in Christ.

On the Day of Judgment we will not be asked how many church buildings we built or how much money we raised for the church budget. Rather, we will be held accountable for what we did for the least of our brothers and sisters who are homeless, hungry, living in darkness, in prison, or just simply do not know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus gave all of us as his followers a ministry model to follow. We are to show compassion to one another, we are to see others the way that Christ sees them. We must not be willing to let anyone perish that does not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

 

 

The Way of the Cross

Matthew 16:24 (NIV): Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

As followers of Christ today, we have become too comfortable in this world that we live in. We may occasionally read the Bible but we really don’t take to heart the true and deeper meaning of what Jesus is saying. We don’t like to hear this talk of denying self because we live in a world that tells us that we should please ourselves, regardless of the cost.

The first thing that Jesus tells us to do is to deny ourselves. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches, does He? He gets straight to the point – we must deny ourselves if we are to follow Jesus. We can’t live the way the world lives and still be called a follower of Christ. And then we must take up our cross and follow Him. It’s interesting that the Gospel writer Luke adds the word “daily” to this scripture passage.

Luke 9:23 (NIV): Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. It gets even more difficult doesn’t it – we must daily take up our cross and follow Jesus.

We want all of the good things that God has promised us but we don’t want our lives to become too difficult or too uncertain. We want all of the blessings that Jesus has to offer but we don’t really want to follow him in the way of the old rugged cross.

After all, it’s extremely difficult to deny ourselves and to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus; the same Jesus that suffered and died for us and for our sins and gave his life as a ransom for many.

The cross that Jesus offers us leads to a life that will bring us face to face with many difficulties and hardships. But with those problems and worries we have a Savior that walks along with us, that provides strength and direction for the difficult journey. This cross leads to eternal life.

What will it cost you if you decide to take up your cross daily and deny yourself in order to completely follow Christ? Will you have to change your current way of life? Will you have to give up some material things in order to grow closer to God?

Will it cost you friends or even family if you choose to completely give your life over to God? Are you willing to give more to God, live on less and trust in God to provide?

Being a follower of Christ is not an easy thing to do. That’s a misconception that many people have – that following Christ will lead you to an easier way of life. Just the opposite is true – Jesus wants to turn your life upside down and inside out – he wants you to trust in Him and to allow Him to lead you.

As believers, we will face troubles and we will face trials. But in those troubles and trials, we have the promise that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is present there with us and He will lead us and even carry us through those difficult times.

Following Christ is not easy and it is not glamorous. It is a life of helping and caring about others and denying self. It’s not about seeking or receiving praise and honors, it is about leading a life that focuses on doing the most good that you can for the most people.

It is about showing those small acts of compassion and kindness that is counter to the culture of this world that we live in. It is allowing Christ to take control of your life and lead you down the “narrow…road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Luke 7:14 NIV).

Temptation

Mark 1:9-13(NIV): At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Two verses. Mark only gives us two verses, two sentences, on the temptation of Jesus. We know that the Gospel of Mark is brief and basic and events happen quickly and immediately in Mark’s Gospel. Still, I wonder why Mark doesn’t give us more details about the temptation of Jesus. Matthew gives us eleven verses on the temptation of Jesus and Luke gives us thirteen. John’s Gospel does not mention the temptation encounter with Satan. Mark does relate something to us that the other Gospels fail to mention. Mark tells us in Mark 1:13 that Jesus was with the wild animals in the Judean desert. In Jesus’ day there would have been many more wild animals living in the desert than there would be today. Mark seems to want us to understand that God and the angels took care of him and kept him safe during those forty days of temptation.

From our reading of the other Gospel accounts we know that Satan tempted Jesus with temptations that appealed to Jesus’ personal needs. Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. According to Matthew, Jesus was then taken by Satan to the highest point of the temple and was told to throw himself down, that God would protect him. The evil one wanted Jesus to attract attention for himself and to put to the test God’s faithfulness. And the last temptation according to Matthew was the devil taking Jesus to a mountain top and showing him all of the kingdoms of the world. Satan told Jesus that all of these kingdoms could be his if only he would bow down and worship him. It was a temptation that would offer Jesus the power of controlling the kingdoms of the world without having to take the way of the cross. Jesus answered each temptation by quoting scripture to the evil one. Luke tells us that, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”

How are you tempted in your daily walk with God? Are you tempted with things that appeal to your own personal needs or desires? Satan wants us to serve our own self-interests instead of serving and giving of our time and ourselves to others. Satan sought to tempt Jesus with things that would be personally gratifying to Jesus. However, Jesus came to serve others and to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus serving others instead of himself.

As followers of Christ, we are called to resist the evil one and the many temptations that he sends our way. We must be aware of what Satan is vigorously doing to keep us from following Christ and serving and caring for others. The evil one wants us to focus on our own needs and to put ourselves and our priorities first and foremost. We see this daily in many advertisements that stress the importance of putting yourself and your needs and desires first. Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 16:24 (NIV): Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The Gospel writer Luke tells us that Satan left Jesus “until an opportune time.” Satan does this to us today as well. We endure a season of tempting and then the evil one leaves us for a time. He wants us to think that we have defeated him and that we have conquered our temptations all on our own. And then suddenly, without warning, Satan strikes again. And this time it is usually more intense. The evil one wants you to believe that you are a bad person, a failure, someone who is incapable of really serving God and living a Christ-led life. Satan wants to get inside your head and lead you to believe that God is somehow disappointed in you or doesn’t care about you.

 The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV): No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. It is during these times of temptation that we must turn to God through the might power of prayer so that we can stand firm against the onslaught of the evil one.

And finally, James gives us some great guidance on how to oppose the evil one. James 4:7 (NIV): Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Let Satan know that you are aware of the reality that he has already been defeated. Jesus defeated death, sin, and Satan by His work and sacrifice on the cross. Satan stands defeated and as a believer you must repeat that promise of our complete victory in our Lord Jesus Christ. Tell Satan that he stands defeated and that you are a follower of the risen Christ.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit does not get enough study or conversation in most churches today. Many Christians do not possess adequate knowledge of the Spirit who lives and dwells in each of us that have expressed our belief in Christ. The Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, was promised to all believers by Jesus. An interesting fact is that Jesus said the Spirit could not come until Jesus had returned to heaven. John 16:5-7: “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

I can remember three distinct times in my life when I have felt the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. My first experience is one that I will share with you and it is the first encounter that I had with the Spirit. It was spring of 1976, and I was sitting with my mother in worship at Harmony Baptist Church in Banks County, Georgia. I had been wrestling with the decision to give my life to Christ. For several weeks I had felt the urge to be saved and to declare my belief in Christ. My mother was unaware of this decision that I was struggling with. I remember being afraid to tell her what was going on inside me.

That morning, when the pastor gave the call to come forward and the congregation began singing the hymn of invitation, I suddenly felt this “burning in my heart”. I imagine that it was very much like that of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that encountered the risen Christ. And then very suddenly this still, small voice told me to go forward and profess my faith and belief in Jesus Christ. It was not an audible voice, but rather a voice that somehow “spoke” to my heart. It was indeed real and I remember immediately leaving my seat and going forward to the front of the church. That memory is still very vivid and clear, as the day that it occurred some 37 years ago. There are many things that I forget more often than I would care to admit. However, this moment, when the Spirit led me to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior, remains etched in my memory very distinctly.

Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them certain things and would also remind them of his teachings and even his words. John 14:25-26: “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Those who do not know or believe in Christ will find this teaching of the Holy Spirit strange and difficult to relate to. Jesus said in John 14: 17: “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

 The Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 8:5-6: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” And then Paul in Romans 8:9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

 As followers of Christ, we are faced with many difficult and challenging situations in life. However, we must remember that we have the great power of the Holy Spirit available to us at all times if we will only call and rely upon the Spirit to guide us. Paul teaches us that the Spirit intercedes for us through prayer to help us in our times of difficulty or uncertainty. Romans 8:26-27: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

As followers of the risen Christ we must remember that the Holy Spirit lives and dwells inside of us. The Spirit is available to guide you through the maze of life and will assist you in making those decisions that set you apart as a follower of Christ. And the Spirit can give you a peace that the world cannot even begin to understand. Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).