Friday, August 29, 2014

Discipleship

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 NAS)

Discipleship
When asked what are the pros and cons of living in the city, a New Yorker replied that “public transportation is the best thing since sliced bread.”

“Hop on a bus or train for about $2 a ride and it takes you to most places in the city,” wrote the New Yorker nicknamed ‘meep meep’ in a discussion thread at Answers. Yahoo.com. “It’s easy access and you don’t have to deal with gas or cars. A lot of things are easily available. You can go out and find record stores, button stores, any type of cuisine … lots of diversity, which helps you expand your horizons when it comes to knowledge, culture and friendships.”

On the flip side living in the city, however, is “it can be extremely impersonal” ‘meep meep’ continued. “Overcrowding can be very annoying … the air’s not what you call good quality … everything’s a tad bit more expensive.”

Like the good and the bad about living in the city, many people today think of faith and belief in God as something worth their while only if it yields returns of invested time, perhaps getting blessed with material wealth or opportunities to connect or network with people of prestige. Notwithstanding the fact that God promised in His word He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory, there are sadly some of us who fall away fairly quickly when living the Christian life becomes too difficult. To these people, faith is all about the pros and cons.

What a contrast in the days of Jesus’ ministry on earth when discipleship is all about giving our all to follow the Lord (Luke 14:33).

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple,” Jesus said. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). 

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37-38).

By this, of course, Jesus is not saying we should hate our parents, spouse, children, siblings or even our own life because of following Him. It just means Christian discipleship requires that above all we put Jesus first in our lives and carry our own cross in enduring afflictions, reproaches, persecutions, and whatever is disagreeable to the Christian faith, even death, to follow after Jesus. 

Are we following Jesus the way expected of a true disciple or are we weighing the pros and cons? Are we putting Jesus first in our lives above all else? Are we willing to take our own cross and bear up in the face of whatever is disagreeable to the faith?

Discipleship demands we live our lives for Christ, knowing that to die is gain. Whoever clings to his or her own life will lose it, but the one who loses his or her life for Christ will find it (Philippians 1:21; Matthew 10:39).

Dear Lord, we desire to put You first in our lives, above everything and everyone else. Forgive us for the times when our minds waver and deliberate the worth of following You, especially when things are not going well for us because of keeping the faith. We know You have given us Your all when You willingly laid down Your life on the cross to save us, and You deserve our all. We would not ask for anything else in return for our ‘invested’ time or the time we spend with You, for better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere. Grant us strength and a willing heart to bear up and carry our own cross, for You alone are our worth and our salvation.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Till Death Do Us Part

Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:33 NAS)

Till Death Do Us Part
As the bride walked down the church aisle with her father giving her hand to the bridegroom, the joy overflowing from within the soon-to-be married couple was beyond words could describe. Some months and years later, however, the feelings were no longer the same. Before long the couple discovered love alone was not enough to sustain their marriage. Staying together till death do us part became elusive—a vow too difficult to keep.

Marrying at an early age, less education and income, living together before marriage, premarital pregnancy, and no religious affiliation, among many others, are factors contributing to people at higher risk of divorce, according to an article at Divorce.USU.edu. The most common reasons people give for their divorce are lack of commitment, too much arguing, infidelity, marrying too young, unrealistic expectations, lack of equality in the relationship, lack of preparation for marriage, and abuse.

But what does the Bible say about divorce or separation? Some faith-based counselors suggest there is only one valid reason for a married couple to separate—if a person puts others in the family in danger.

Jesus, during His ministry on earth, was asked by some Pharisees as a test “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” Jesus’ reply was what God has joined together let not man put asunder. “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” the Pharisees asked. Jesus said to them it was because of the hardness of their hearts Moses permitted divorce, but it was not so from the beginning. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” Jesus said (Matthew 19:3-9).

Marital infidelity, drug abuse, and non-support are some reasons also considered for separation, wrote Jack Wellman on October 29, 2011 at WhatChristiansWantToKnow.com. “But since we know that God hates divorce, the person or couple should seek marital counseling (Malachi 2:16)” he advised. 

So what does it take to keep a husband and wife together? The Bible’s advice: a husband is to love his wife as himself, and the wife must respect her husband. A wife is to submit herself to her husband so that if he does not believe the word he might be won over without words by the behavior of his wife. An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones. A husband is to be considerate, living with his wife, and is to treat the wife with respect as the weaker partner and heir with him of the gracious gift of life (Ephesians 5:25, 33; 1 Peter 3:1, 7; Proverbs 12:4). 

Besides sacrificial love and respect, faithfulness is also important in keeping a marriage together. Of the many lessons my wife and I learned in our marriage life is that a lasting and bonding relationship begins with accepting one another for who we are in spite of our failures, flaws, past, among other things. Mutual understanding and the willingness to give and take in loving care for one another are crucial. Hide nothing from each other, share joys and sorrows together, and hold each other up especially during trying times. Like a cord of three strands that is not quickly torn apart, a husband and wife, even if in a strained relationship, with Christ as the center of the family can stay strong and move on together (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Dear Lord, forgive us for the times we feel like calling it quits with our spouse over matters that are not unresolvable. Help us sustain and grow our relationship as we cast our cares on You. Do not allow us to live with regrets the things we have permitted or done in the past that result in the strain we are facing today. Use all our broken pieces to make something beautiful, so we might get our lives back together and move on ahead with You as Lord and the center of our lives. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sheep and Goats

All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:32-33 NAS)

Sheep and Goats
A shepherd caring for both sheep and goats knows the two do not graze well together, so it is often necessary to separate them while they are feeding. Sheep prefer to eat short, tender grass, weeds, and clover, while goats prefer to eat leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs, according to Dallas small farms examiner, Cindi Hinton, in her article at Examiner.com.

This was what Jesus meant when He said He will separate all the nations gathered before Him from one another when He returns in glory with all His angels. Just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and puts the sheep on his right and the goats on the left, He will do the same to separate the righteous from the wicked.

He will sit on His glorious throne and say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But to those on His left, He will say, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:31-46).

For to the right are the ones who are true to the Lord whose hearts and minds are one with God in loving and caring  for those in need. But to the left are the ones who are not of the Lord and whose hearts and minds are filled with vile, wickedness, selfishness, pretense and the like, devoid of love or care for others.

Jesus our Lord is the great Shepherd. He knows the ones who are His and is able to separate them from those who are not. “This separation will be so exact, that the most inconsiderable saints shall not be lost in the crowd of sinners, nor the most plausible sinner hid in the crowd of saints,” described Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary. But every one shall go to his own place (Psalm 1:5; Ezekiel 34:17; Malachi 3:18).

Are we assured of our place in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior? Are our hearts poured out to God our Father with Christ in us and His Spirit guiding and working through us? Are we so in love with the Lord to want to reach out and feed His sheep to meet the needs of the hungry and thirsty, to clothe and take care of them?

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” Jesus said. “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:11, 14). Do we know Jesus personally and intimately? 

For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness and with the mouth confesses, resulting in salvation. If we confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in our heart God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. This is the assurance that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son, Jesus. Whoever has Jesus has eternal life and will not be disappointed, but whoever rejects Jesus will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him (Romans 10:9-11; John 3:36; 1 John 5:11-12).

Let us choose life and experience a personal God who loves and cares for us intimately. 

Dear Lord, thank You for loving and caring for us. You, O Lord, know every one of us who are Yours, and You know who are not. You see our hearts and know our thoughts. Protect us from those among us who disguise themselves as Yours that we might not fall prey to deceit or ill intent. Work in us every good thing that is pleasing in Your sight and give us the heart of a shepherd that loves and cares to reach out to those in need. To You be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Complementary Condiments

“Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50 NAS)

Complementary Condiments
All of us know the importance of salt in preserving and giving flavor to food, but few would ever think of pepper as an essential to our daily diet. So how did salt and pepper become a pair? The story dates back to the seventeenth-century in French cuisine, as written and told at various sites on the Web. Spices were considered by French chefs as ingredients masking the true flavor of dishes. Pepper was the only spice that did not overpower the taste of food. The pair had since become complementary condiments and is today typically found as a set of shakers on tables in most restaurants. 

Life as a follower of Jesus is like salt and pepper. We have been called to be the salt of the earth to preserve the world from putrefaction and moral decadence. But many a time, challenges and sorrows, like pepper that spices up and sometimes burns, come along to accompany us and shake us up. Just as salt and pepper are seldom placed alone without the other as table condiments, so it is with trials in the Christian life. These two go together, for everyone will be salted with fire so our work will become evident as proof of our faith even though tested by fire (Mark 9:49; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7).

But if the salt in us become tasteless because of too much ‘pepper’ or the entanglements of this world, then we need to get ourselves back on track with God to make it salty again. Otherwise, we might find ourselves no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49-50).

Are we feeling entangled because of the challenges and sorrows we face or the enticement of this world? Are we finding it difficult to be the salt of the earth with ‘pepper’ constantly hindering and sticking close to us?

Unless we accept the accompaniment of trials and tests in our lives, no amount of pep talk to ourselves will help us make progress or grow our faith. Nonetheless, just as pepper does not overpower the taste of food, so it is with trials and tests. No trial has overtaken us but such as is common to man. God is faithful and will not let us be tried beyond what we are able to bear, but with the trial will provide a way out so we may be able to endure it. Blessed are we who perseveres under trial, for when we have stood the test we will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12).

Grant us, dear Lord, the strength to withstand under trials so we might grow in faith rather than be found worthless in the end. Give us the heart to accept whatever comes our way as part of our progression and growth that having been salted by fire, we would come forth pure for Your purpose and work. Do not let the challenges, sorrows, entanglements, and the enticement of this world trample us underfoot, but help us persevere and bear up, that after having stood the test we will receive the crown of life.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Taking Notes

Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11 NAS)

Taking Notes
Note taking is a habit I have acquired over time. When I was a student, I took notes during class, and I still do the same today. I jot down on paper my thoughts and the things I read during morning devotion every day. It helps me better internalize what I have learned from the word of God.

Over the years, note taking has seen a dramatic shift from the use of pen and paper to the use of keyboard, keypad or the stylus pen on e-paper via applications for electronic devices. While for many people, taking notes on a laptop is faster and more legible than writing with a pen, U.S. psychological researchers have found that electronic note taking methods could be harmful to academic performance as it encourages ‘mindless transcription.’ Students putting pen to paper, on the other hand, displayed a better grasp of concepts they had just learned and retained more understanding in the long run, according to an article of February 5, 2014 by Sarah Griffiths at DailyMail.co.uk.

The researchers, Dr. Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA, observed that students using laptops were more likely to take more notes than those using a pen. Students using the old fashioned way took fewer notes with less verbatim recording, but remembered more facts and understood more concepts from the lecture. Findings from the study suggest that taking notes with a pen rather than a laptop leads to higher quality learning and is a better strategy for storing and internalizing ideas in the long-term.

Using electronic devices or a laptop to take notes is of course absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, in many cases, doing so might be helpful because of its portability and availability wherever we go. Mindless transcription or taking notes without understanding, however, is a different story. If we fail to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit, the speaker, our pastor, or lecturer is saying at a particular point of time, no amount of note taking will help us when we attempt to understand it later. 

Are we too busy transcribing notes on our electronic devices that we fail to pay attention to what we have heard or read? Are we finding ourselves helpless without our digital gadgets to remind us what we need to learn or understand? Are we writing down our thoughts and what we have read from God’s word every day?

The Bible exhorts us to treasure God’s word in our hearts that we might not sin. A good way to do that is to begin reading God’s word daily. Start today, if we have not already done so, and write down on paper our thoughts the things we read during our quiet time with God. Doing this will help us better grasp God’s word and retain greater understanding in the long run as we internalize what we have learned.  

Dear Lord, thank You for giving us the tools to write down our thoughts and what we have learned from Your word, so we might better retain our understanding. Help us internalize Your precepts and teachings in our daily living to pay closer attention to the guidance of Your Holy Spirit and not carelessly let any learning or opportunity pass us by. Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, and we delight to meditate and dwell in the understanding of Your word.

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