Following Jesus Part 1

Mark 2:13-14 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. 14As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

-As Jesus was moving along the lakeside, he came to a building occupied by a man named Levi, aka ‘Matthew.’ Because of where Capernaum was located in Galilee, it was the first real city travelers would encounter as they came to Israel, so it was a prime location for collecting customs duties; import and export taxes.

-That was Levi’s job, to collect the 2-3% tax the rich caravans from Syria & Arabia had to pay to ensure safe passage. As a customs agent, Levi worked, not for the Romans, but for the brutal tyrant Herod, the ruler of Galilee; because of this, Levi was despised by the common people.

-Yet as Jesus passed by that day, He saw Levi sitting there in his office, and said to him, “Follow Me.” That’s all it took for Matthew “ he dropped what he was doing and went after Jesus. Now, in order to understand the full implication of this, we need to take a closer look at discipleship and what it really means. Bear with me as I’m going to delve a bit into the culture of the Hebrews of that time…but it really all does set the scene for the entire story and helps us understand why Matthew so willingly dropped all his stuff to follow Christ.

-The whole idea of rabbis who had an official group of disciples was something unique to Galilee. There were 2 kinds of rabbis: 1) torah teachers, and 2) s’mikah rabbis. Torah teachers, or scribes, as they are called in the NT, were men who had memorized the entire, Tanach (the Old Testament) and what many of the great rabbis had said about the scriptures. Rabbis, on the other hand, had also memorized the Tanach, but they had demonstrated the ability to speak with authority about the scriptures and the things of God. S’mikah in fact MEANS “authority.” So, rabbis had s’mikah, torah teachers did not.

-While torah teachers had students, only rabbis had talmidin (disciples).

-In Galilee, all children, both boys and girls, sat under a Torah teacher and memorized entire books of the OT. This schooling went on until they were 12 to 13, at which point education ended for girls. For the boys, if they had proven themselves skilled at memorization, and shown a mind for study, they would go on to another level of work with the Torah teacher.

-Those who didn’t pass to this level began their vocation, usually working in the family business or entering an apprenticeship. For those boys who did move on to the next level of education with the Torah teacher, the lessons became more intense; the entire Tanach was memorized, along with the teaching & commentary of notable rabbis.

-If after a few more years of this the young man still demonstrated a superior level of skill in his studies, then he would graduate from the Torah teacher to following a Rabbi. He would carefully consider the rabbis currently around and which he most wanted to be like.

-You see, that was the essence of discipleship “ a disciple aspired to be just like the rabbi; that was the goal, the singular aim of being a disciple, and that’s why disciples were always with their rabbi. They wanted to watch him as closely as possible, observing how he responded to different situations.

-So as a young man considered which rabbi to follow, he would ask himself who He wanted to and could be like, for his discipleship would see him become just like his rabbi. Once he picked a rabbi, he would go to him and begin following, but at that point, he wasn’t an official disciple yet; he was letting the rabbi know he wanted to be a talmid.

-After several weeks of just following him around the rabbi would acknowledge the young man and begin to quiz him on his skill with the Word of God. For example,

1) “Quote the law of the Nazarite.”

2) “How many times did Ezekiel see the Lord?”

3) “What is the middle word in the Scroll of Isaiah the prophet?”

-This kind of quizzing would go on for days. Then, after all this, the rabbi would usually say to him something like, “Look, you are a bright young man. Go home, get married, have children, and love and serve God as a fisherman. Have a nice life.” Most young men were turned down by the rabbis. Only the cream of the crop were allowed to become official talmidin.

-Now, we go back to Matthew. Where was Matthew when Jesus found him? Sitting in his tax-office. Matthew was a young man who’d grown up like the rest of the children in Galilee, memorizing the Scriptures in hopes to one day become a disciple of a rabbi. But he’d obviously not proven himself skilled in his studies enough to be declared a talmid, and had gone into the family business “ tax-collector.

-As he’s sitting there one day, he looks up to see a huge crowd coming toward him. They all seem to be following the man who’s in front; he realizes this must be the new rabbi everyone’s been talking about and who’d been making such a stir lately “ Jesus of Nazareth.

-As Jesus arrives in front of Matthew’s tax booth, He stops, looks Matthew in the eye, and simply says, “Follow Me.” Now’s where that brief study in discipleship comes in. Matthew understood exactly what invitation meant “ it was the invitation of a rabbi to a new disciple.

-Matthew immediately dropped what he was doing, and went after Jesus.

Passion or Routine

Revelation 2:1-5 “”To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,

“These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2″I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.”

-In this passage, the word “angel” is the Greek “aggelos” which is literally “messenger,” the implication here in the Greek being that the messenger is a “pastor”. So the message is to the pastor of the Ephesian church. That is interesting because it shows that according to God’s perspective, pastors are not only shepherds of their churches, they are messengers of God’s Word to others.

-The message to the Ephesian church shows an interesting situation…one I feel is rampant in churches today. Verse 2 reveals that the Ephesian church was very active in the community; they labored to do good works. They were one of those churches that probably reached out to the poor and did good Christian deeds to those who were lost or suffering. Very active church…they probably had bulletins 8 pages long!

-Their works were excellent and God recognized how much they labored…but it wasn’t what they were doing that was the problem, it was the motive BEHIND their good works.

-Verse 4 reveals they had left their “first love”, meaning Christ. Notice how it says they “left” it, not that they LOST it. Leaving shows a willingness to leave, losing shows that you are seeking it. It’s apparent the Ephesians had left their first love and were not seeking it. They had failed to maintian their intimacy with Christ.

-The Ephesian church had allowed the RITUAL of a relationship with Christ take precedence over the RELATIONSHIP itself. The love once felt toward Christ had turned into routine. A good example of a common problem is seen in marriage…where the couple in the beginning are so “in love” with each other that they WANT to do things for each other as a result of their love…then years down the road they get bored of things…they lose that initial passion for the spouse…and the relationship goes from willingness and joy to bland routine. That’s a good example of what was happening in the Ephesian church, and sadly what happens in many of our hearts toward Christ.

-At first the Ephesian church’s works had been an OVERFLOW of their love for Christ. They had been zealous over learning more of Him and showing their love for Him. Their works, rather than being obligation, had been an overflow of gratefulness for their “groom”. Now they had lost the passion and the reason for why they did good works…their hearts which were once warm with an incredible fervor to please the Lord had gone cold, and the works thus became meaningless ritual because the intent of their hearts had changed.

-My question to you is…has YOUR heart gone cold toward Christ? Oh, you may be able to debate even the best debaters and win concerning the Bible and doctrine….you may know the Word like the back of your hand and have no hesitation to quote verses that are relevant for certain situations. You may be able to boast that you read the Bible and pray everyday without ceasing…but has your initial zeal, your initial love and passion for Christ faded?

-Christ’s desire and zeal for you is as strong as the first day you pledged to know Him…is it that way for you toward Him? Is there a passionate yearning in your heart to please Christ, truly? Or has your relationship fallen into routine and doing things only becase you think it’s expected for a Christian…”Ohhh, I’ve gotta read the Bible now because I have to make it a point to do it every day”*shuffles over and picks up Bible grudgingly*….or “Time to pray now” *sighs*…

-Has your relationship with Christ turned into a ritual of routine and duty without much feeling behind it? If this is your attitude, examine verse 5, where God tells you to repent…repent of the fact that you allowed that love and passion for Christ disappear…repent and renew. Renew that love and passion and go back to serving Christ with the zeal you once had. Do those good works NOT out of obligation…but as a natural overflow of your love and gratefulness for your Savior.

-Christ is essentially telling us, “It’s love and passion, not routine that I want with you.” Don’t let your works become light without heat.

-Look at the end of verse 5…Christ warned that if they did not repent and turn back to the passion and zeal they once had…he would come and remove their lampstand…meaning He would remove the light they had…the effective witness they had in the community…in essence He would withdraw His presence from that church. Do you not think Jesus wouldn’t do the same thing to a loveless heart? Oh He’s not going to LEAVE as in you lose your salvation…but He will remove your ministry..your witness to others so that whatever you do for Him will be bland and ineffective…the power behind that ministry will be removed.

-Jesus is looking for our HEARTS…not our WORKS…He wants us to love Him and have a zeal and passion to learn of Him and to know Him even more! He’s not impressed with the things we do that we say we’re doing for Him, if we do it out of obligation or routine. Christ does not want your works…He wants YOU!! So draw back to Him…remember the love and passion you felt when you first knew Him…rekindle that flame and serve Him with renewed passion and gratefulness…if you’ve lost that…repent and then continue doing good things for Christ but this time with RIGHT intent… If you fail to do so…just like He promised the Ephesian church…Christ will come and remove the witness you have…and the things you then do for Him will NOT store up treasure in heaven…they will be useless works.

-Don’t live a stalemated Christian life…don’t continue in a loveless relatioinship with Christ causing you to lose His empowerment…remember your first love and rekindle that passion.

Fathers: The Greatest Influence

By S. Michael Craven

I am afraid that our culture in general and subsequently too many fathers themselves have reduced the role of fatherhood to something nonessential or unnecessary. Many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother’s role and somehow no longer associated with masculinity or “real” manhood.

Instead they have bought into modern cultural caricatures along with Darwinian mythology and its label of “hunter-gatherer” and thus assume this to be their primary and sometimes only contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as “father” exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is, children are not looking for financial provision they are looking for intimacy, acceptance, guidance and a role model for what it means to be a man.

During the Colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in life, namely because that generation was less individualistic and overwhelmingly influenced by a biblical view of life and the world. Today the highest aspirations of men seem to be career success and personal leisure and against these they seek to “balance” marriage and family.

The facts are that the lack of actively involved fathers is producing societal conditions necessary for the intervention of government. The US Department of Health & Human Services launched its “Fatherhood Initiative” in 2001 with this statement:

“The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority… [T]he presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.”

While the research does indeed show that paternal absence (whether it is physical or practical) is a significant contributing factor in almost every category of societal ill my concern here is the spiritual effect.

A rather obscure but important study [Yes, I actually read these things.] conducted by the Swiss government in 1994 and published in 2000 reveals some astonishing facts with regard to the generational transmission of faith and religious values.

In short the study reveals that “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”

The study goes on to show,

“If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!”

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).

This confirms the role of father as spiritual leader which I would argue is exactly what fatherhood itself is; to love your wife as Christ loves the Church thus you model Christ-like love for your children in your most important earthly relationship; you care for your children as your Father in heaven cares for you and finally you teach your children the truth about reality. You instruct them in their understanding of life and the world and everything in it using God’s revelation as the basis by which they analyze and assess life’s challenges and opportunities. You send them forth with a biblical view of the world and a faith in Jesus Christ that is rooted in solid understanding and not merely blind tradition.

It is time for fathers to return to honorable manhood and reconsider their priorities and realign them with God’s commands, decrees and laws that they are to teach to their children when they sit at home, when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they wake up. (Deut 6:7) This is hard to do when you are not there.

Are Men Fools? (death of masculinity by feminist ideology)

Interesting information from a Focus on the Family newsletter I received in the mail months ago but decided to not throw away because i believe the things said are just so relevant for today. It’s gonna be long…but bear with me…and also please read it through….it’s gonna take long enough to type this all out by hand.

It is impossible to understand what is happening to our kids today, both male and female, without considering the influence of feminist ideology. Swirling out of it was an attack on the very essence of masculinity. Everything that had been associated with maleness was subjected to scorn. Men who clung to traditional roles and conservative attitudes were said to be too “macho.” If they foolishly tried to open doors for ladies or gave them their seats on subways, as their fathers had done, they wre called “male chauvinist pigs.” Women presented themselves as victims who were “not gonna take it anymore,” and men were said to be heartless oppressors who had abused and exploited womankind for centuries. Divorce skyrocketed as a surprising number of women simply packed up and left their husbands and children.

Although these early feminists called attention to some valid concerns that needed to be addressed, such as equal pay for work and discrimination in the workplace, they went far beyond legitimate grievances and began to rip and tear at the fabric of the family. By the time the storm had blown itself out, the institution of marriage had been shaken to its foundation, and masculinity itself was thrown back on its heels. It has never fully recovered.

Feminist Karla Mantilla summarized the philosophy behind it in an article entitled Kids Need ‘Fathers Like Fish Need Bicycles.” She wrote, “I submit that men tend to emphasize values such as discipline, power, control, stoicism, and independence. Sure there can be some good from these things, but they are mostly damaging to kids (and other living things). They certainly made my son suffer an isolated and tortured existence until he began to see that there was a way out of the trap of masculinity.”

The trap of masculinity? That is the way many feminists view maleness. A centerpiece of this hostility is seen in an ongoing effort to convince us that “Men are fools.” It claims that the majority of males are immature, impulsive, selfish, weak, and not very bright. It is interesting to note, for example, how disrespect for men pervades the entertainment industry, including many television commercials. The formula involves a beautiful woman (or a bevy of them) who is intelligent, sexy, admirable, and self assured. She encounters a slob of a man, usually in a bar, who is ignorant, balding, and overweight. The stupid guy quickly disgraces himself on screen, at which point the woman sneers and walks away.

So what is going on here? Is it possible that men, especially male beer drinkers and sports-car enthusiasts, actually like being depicted as dumb, horny, fat, nerdy, and ugly? Apparently they do. We also have to assume that guys are not offended when they are made the butt of a thousand jokes. But why? Women would not tolerate that kind of derision. Not in a million years would you see a corpulent, unattractive woman lusting after a good-looking man who shows disdain for her as she does something ridiculous.

Television sitcoms also blast away at traditional masculinity. There is not a single example of a healthy family depicted on network programming that includes a masculine guy who loves his kids and is respected by his wife. NONE!

Invariably, sitcoms today feature at least one gay or lesbian character, who is cast in a sympathetic role. One overriding goal of homosexual activists is to influence the next generation and to recruit children to their movement. How can impressionable boys and young men possibly discern what it means to be a heterosexual male, let alone a dedicate and disciplined husband and father, when this tripe is fed to them every night and when their own dads are nowhere to be found?

Roger Scruton, author of “Modern Manhood,” explained what is happening to perceptions of masculinity. “Feminists have snuffed out male pride wherever it has grown and ruthlessly uprooted it. Under their pressure, modern culture has downgraded or rejected such masculine virtues as courage, tenacity, and military prowess in favor of more gentle, more ‘socially inclusive’ habits.”

The bottom line is that many men have lost their compass. Not only do they not know who they are, they’re not sure what the culture expects them to be…It is time that men acted like men–being respectful, thoughtful and gentlemanly to women, but reacting with confidence, strength and certainty in manner. Some have wimped out, acting like whipped puppies. Others have boldly spoken out against feminist influence, refusing to be intimidated by the advocates of political correctness. Some have lashed out, reacting in anger and frustration. Some have flamed out, resorting to alcohol, drugs, illicit sex and other avenues of escape. Some have copped out, descending into mindless TV, professional sports and obsessive recreational activities. Some have sold out, becoming advocates of the new identity. Some have simply walked out, leaving their families in a lurch. Many, however, seem placidly unaware that they have lost their places in the culture. The result is a changing view of manhood with far-reaching implications for the future of the family.

Nations that are populated largely by immature, immoral, weak-willed, cowardly and self-indulgent men cannot and will not long endure. The presence of a father–or at least another responsible male role-model, is a critical component in the life of a boy. Without such influence, disastrous consequences–such as homosexuality–may follow.

The wrong-headed notion that children can thrive in a same-sex family (ie. an environment in which they are robbed of either a mother or a father) is just one more way that our culture is diminishing the natural, innate differences between the sexes and leaving boys confused about their masculinity. In light of this ongoing assault on men, we are left to ask, “What DOES true masculinity look like?”

Suffice it to say that the physiological and emotional characteristics of a typical male are dramatically and intrinsically different than those of the typical female. Males tend to be more aggressive, more assertive and more inclined to lead. When the male psyche functions as intended, it is sensitive to the needs of women and loving to children. The masculine temperament lends itself to two major responsibilities: to protect and to provide for the man’s family.

Despite the fact that men were designed by their Creator to fulfill these critical and unique roles, our culture remains resolute in its determination to strip away the very essence of what it means to be a man. If we leave it up to schools and media to teach young boys what it means to be real men, we will be subjecting them to potentially irreparable harm.

Super-Conquerers

Romans 8:28-39 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters. 30And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And he gave them right standing with himself, and he promised them his glory. 31What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else? 33Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself. 34Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us. 35Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? 36(Even the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” 37No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. 39Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-To those of us with spiritual insight, the actions on the Cross mean the end to sin. It is the act on that cross which turns all things to good; turns the base things in the life of a believer into something precious.

-Since God is FOR us…who can be against us? Satan will do his best to stop God’s work in us. But since satan tries to thwart God’s plan for us in this way, why doesn’t God end him and stop this “madness”? Because, God’s plan for us is to conform us into the image of Christ, to share in His victory. In order for us to have victory over something, there must be something there to overcome!

-God uses satan’s resistance in our lives to make us victorious in Christ. We as believers can be victorious in EVERY situation in our lives because Christ has conquered all sin, trials, and weakness. Since Christ’s victory was over all sin and death, we as followers of Him can have victory over these things. Although we all die physically, Jesus has overcome not only physical but spiritual death. We as believers, though we will die, will be resurrected in an immortal body and will forever overcome physical death!

-In verse 37 of this passage, the Greek word used to denote us being conquerers is “hypernikeo” which literally means “super conquerers”. This term denotes something or somebody that is so strong that their adversary literally has NO place in the field. It denotes the idea that an enemy who steps foot in your arena can literally be overcome and permanently vanquished. But you see, we as Christians have become “mega conquerers” over this world’s sin and spiritual death becase of Christ’s victory and resurrection. We have the blessing to be able to share in His strength. As Christians, Jesus is right there willing to offer His victory to us in all our struggles and failures…all we need to do is surrender it all to Him and follow His very footsteps.

-Christ redeems our sin and turns our struggles into something more precious than gold. Christ has the power to take the broken things in our lives and turn them into something whole and good.

-Christ’s victory over all sin allows Him to help us to become victorious through our struggles with individual sins. As Christians, we must keep in mind that whatever horrible things can happen in our lives as a result of satanic attack, we can rejoice…no we MUST rejoice because we know that NO ONE and NOTHING can take away our salvation and our place in our eternal home in heaven.

-Jesus turns victims into victors. Unlike modern psychology’s attempt to provide a way of “coping” with our problems and failures through various books and conferences, Christ doesn’t just provide a way to “cope” with victimization, He REDEEMS us from it!

-In Christ, there are no more victims, we are MORE THAN conquerers through Him who loves us! No matter how hard is the place you are in in your life and no matter how insurmountable your struggles may seem, Jesus Christ WILL deliver you and He WILL defeat our foe, satan. Satan’s execution is sure and we need to rejoice for behold, our Lord has overcome our enemy!

-Next time you feel so completely bogged down by troubles in life, and next time you feel like a victim to the world and a victim to your past…remember this, Christ has overcome! You need to just cling to Him and allow Him to make you a conquerer in your life. Rejoice in this…we are no longer victims to sin and victims to the troubles of this world…remember this when the enemy will tell you you are a victim and there is no way out. Look instead to the light of Christ and let Him clothe you and equip you against this fight! Don’t give in! For we are super-conquerers! Satan and sin has been overcome and we in Christ are victorious and can overcome these also!

It Came to Pass

Luke 2:1-7 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

-God is at work in our lives in a life-long process of working our very being into the image of Jesus Christ. When it seems your spiritual life is dead and you’re not growing, it is good to remember that God is faithful and what He has begun He will complete (as verse 24 in 1 Thess. tells).

Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We Christians are God’s workmanship. We can find comfort in this fact when we go through hard times because this verse helps us remember that all things that are happening to us are just molding us more into what and who God created us to be.

-Just as God moved mountains to fulfill the prophecy of His Son Jesus Christ, so He “moves mountains” for us in our lives. In Micah 5:2, it was prophesied that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Joseph (Jesus’ earthly father) had been born in Bethlehem too, but did not currently reside there when Mary became pregnant with Christ. It would take a census to cause Joseph to leave Nazareth and come to Bethlehem, and that is exactly what happened.

-God stirred up a crisis throughout the Roman Empire during that time which troubled Augustus and caused him to want to decree a census. This crisis was made to happen so that the prophecy of Christ being born in Bethlehem could be fulfilled. During the census, everyone had to go back to his hometown (since Mary was married to Joseph, she would be counted as a citizen of Bethlehem too). Interestingly, this call to a census happened just before Mary was set to give birth. You see, God “moved” the entire Roman Empire just because of one Jewish woman who was pregnant with the Messiah.

-Just as God was faithful in fulifilling each Old Testament prophecy about the first coming of the Messiah, so God is faithful in fulfilling His plans for YOU in your life. Just as God “made mountains move” in the Roman Empire, so too He sets the world stage so that He can fulfill His promise to you.

-Just like when John in Revelation saw the causes in heaven before the world saw the effects, so too the events that happen in heaven, we see the effects of here on earth. God is moving events in the entire earth just so He can fulfill His promises to His children.

-God’s words and promises in the Bible are like seeds planted in the soil of time. Just like seeds planted in soil, so do we know that the “seeds” of God’s future promises will sprout and grow. God’s promises and His revelations to us through the prophecies are true and sure. They WILL happen.

-He who calls you is faithful and He WILL do what He says. God calls us to do one thing, to surrender to Him, and He will take care of the rest. As Philippians 1:6 states, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

-God began a good work in you and He WILL complete it. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 states, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”. So don’t lose heart when it seems like you’re going nowhere in your spiritual walk. You are still “under construction” and the paint may still be wet. But just as God moved the entire Roman Empire to fulfill His promises to the world through His son, so too will God “move mountains” in your life to fulfill His promises to you.

Trees and Fruit

Luke 6:43-45 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 44A tree is identified by the kind of fruit it produces. Figs never grow on thornbushes or grapes on bramble bushes. 45A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”

-Are any of you scared to death of speaking in front of a group of people? When polls are done, public speaking is voted people’s number one fear…even surpassing people’s fear of death. But do you realize that we as Christians preach a sermon everyday and every minute of our lives? Our very lives as Christians preach to others just by our daily actions and the words that come out of our mouths. Just being a Spirit-filled Christian is more powerful than any sermon a preacher preaches. The message preached from the pulpit is not the sermon, the actual sermon begins when we as Christians apply that message to our lives.

-Looking at the verse, we see that just as the fruit reveals the type of tree, so the fruit reveals the root of that tree. Our actions identify what kind of person we are. Spiritual fruit comes through the process of spiritual growth and maturity. What fruit are YOU bearing, good or bad?

-If your life is God-centered and God-focused, your fruit will be godly fruit. Your actions will take on a similarity to the actions and life of Christ.

-In the the times of Jesus, a disciple was one who studied for years under one rabbi. The ultimate goal of the disciple was to finally be chosen as the one to take over the rabbi’s work and to be seen as being exactly like his teacher. As children of God, we Christian are disciples of Jesus Christ. Our goal as disciples, then, should ultimately be to become just like Jesus. Although we are imperfect and being exactly like Christ in righteousness and purity is impossible, we should ever strive to become more and more like Him in our lives; to strive toward that perfection.

-Spiritual infancy is a stage that should be grown out of quickly if our roots are truly in Christ. We cannot work effectively for the work of God and His Kingdom when we are still immature spiritually. We must move toward spiritual maturity and start bearing good fruit. Is God getting the fruit from you that He deserves? Is the fruit you are bearing in your life matching the faithfulness and love God has shown you; all the work He has invested and done in your life to mold you into who He wants you to be?

-Where are YOUR roots dug into? Are they in the soil of the world, or are they in God’s Word? What are you drawing your spiritual nourishment from? Is the tree of your life being watered by prayer and fellowship with Christ? Or are you letting the influences of this world wilt your spiritual walk.

-According to verse 45 of this passage, what comes out of our mouths reveal what is really going on inside of us. Our speech reveals our thoughts, and our thoughts reveal our souls. In the original language, the verb tense used for the words coming out of our mouths is in the present progressive. It signifies a continual habit of speech (not just the occassional slip-up we all experience).

-What speech and thought processes dominate your life? What values and priorities govern your choices? What is the reference point your speech is governed by; is it of the Lord, or does it stem from secularism?

-What do non-Christians around you see….do they see someone different than themselves, or do they see someone who’s not much different in words and actions than they are? Do they see God revealed to them through your actions, or do they see just an image of the secular world?

-You see, Christians….our lives and actions should be such that those who do not know God will “see” Him through us before we even open our mouths. Our lives must utterly emanate the love and actions of the rabbi we follow as disciples, our Lord Jesus Christ. We all must examine ourselves and see if our actions truly are showing where our roots lie.

The Need To Be One

Ephesians 4:1-6 “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

-Paul’s teachings were often a revolutionary concept to the Grecian world. This command to be humble was one of them. In Greece, only the slaves were expected to be humble…Grecians considered it a disgrace for someone to show humility…it was pride that was applauded in that culture.

-I find it interesting that in our culture today, pride is often lauded over humbleness, but it is “candy coated” by words such as “high self esteem”. But when you get down to the root of the problem…this concept of trying to increase one’s self esteem is just an excuse to be prideful and to think yourself better than others. It teaches people to learn to rely on themselves, and not others or even God.

-However, Paul says we need to be humble, lowly. After all we are to be like Christ and Christ did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life for us. We are all on equal footing before Christ…no one is considered greater than the other.

-Paul also urges Christians in this passage to be patient (long-suffering) and to be gentle (considerate toward others). What a revolutionary concept even in this culture today…to put others’ needs and feelings before our own! We are also to bear with one another in love, which essentially means we are to encourage each other and to carry each other through personal trials and suffering.

-Christians…we must protect our unity as Christians because Satan seeks to divide us. Satan uses one of the oldest war tactics in the book: divide and conquer. He attempts to create divisions among us, and when we are disunified we become weak and that’s when Satan comes in with the attack. You see, Satan knows that our potentialities are virtually endless when we are united as Christians under Christ. Our unity means power…and our power through the unity of Christ spells out defeat to the Enemy.

-It is the unity of God’s people which is a sign to the world of who Christ is. The more people united under one belief, the more “believable” our beliefs become to the world. Satan knows this and is doing everything he can to keep the body of Christ (the church) from being united by creating negative thoughts in the individual believers and a general sense of moral apathy and malaise within the churches. Satan suggests to individuals, “why bother going to church? Why bother ministering? It’s no use. People will just believe what they want to believe. Besides…you’re okay with God on your own. You don’t need to fellowship with other believers.” And then that person gives in to Satan’s suggestions and forsakes hearing the teachings in church…forsakes fellowship with other believers. Then that individual becomes divided from the rest of the body of Christ allowing Satan to attack that person through worldly influences.

-The same tactic is used on the church too. As long as churches continue to argue amongst themselves about petty issues, they will continue to be disunified which makes the church as a whole more vulnerable to Satanic attacks.

-Instead of giving into the disunity, the negative attitudes, and the feelings of moral and spiritual apathy, we Christians are to counterattack by stirring each other up toward love for each other and the lost. We are to speak good, encouraging words to each other and do good for one another as we see the coming of Christ nearing. When Christ returns to gather His church, we must be seen as blameless and righteous in His eyes…He gave His life up for us and labors our case daily before the Father…the least we can do is be peacemakers to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and to follow Christ and His commands to us.