Friday, February 29, 2008

Discipleship: “Following the Master: Discipleship in Action”

To use an overworked cliché, this is the “where the rubber meets the road” lesson. The word “Action” is emphasized in the title with bold, large type. This of course means, do something!

But what is it that we should be doing? What is the “action” here? And what motivates the “action”? We have been taught that we are to go and teach others to read their Bible, pray, and witness every day—all good things (even though we may miss a day or two ourselves). Does this fulfill our end of the bargain?

In Steps to Christ, the second paragraph in the chapter entitled, “The Test of Discipleship,” Ellen White writes: “ If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God, the life will bear witness to the fact.” Yes, we can “witness,” that is, testify to our religious beliefs, but to bear witness to a renewed heart is to “stand as proof of; and show by one’s behavior, attitude, or external attributes” (dictionary definition). Ellen White also states, “In the heart renewed by divine grace, love is the principle of action” (p. 59; emphasis mine in both statements).

So here’s our motive—love. But for the hardened human heart, where could a love so strong as to move us to unconditional action—where can it derive? Paul explains: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, KJV). When we learn to appreciate the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, that love will “constrain” (motivate) us to action (2 Cor. 5:14).

Tuesday’s lesson tells us, however, that “ the important point to remember is that following Jesus will cost us big, one way or another.” But isn’t it the other way around? “At what infinite cost to the Father and to the Son was the merciful, wondrous provision made for our redemption! Christ stepped down from His high estate as Commander in the heavenly courts; and laying aside His royal robe and kingly crown, clothed his divinity with humanity, and came to this earth, that He might dwell with us and give to men and women grace to overcome as He overcame.” “... we are the purchase of the blood of Christ. Think of it! The purchase of the blood of Christ! We cost His life. He was crucified for us ...” (Signs of the Times, Aug. 12, 1908; The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1735; emphasis mine).

Back to the chapter in Steps to Christ where she “nails it”: “When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure” (p. 59; emphasis mine in quotations). Yes, some family members and friends (and even some church family members) may oppose us, but let Christ and the Holy Spirit bear the burden, while we bear witness through the lives we live.

Obedience is emphasized in the lesson, and rightly so. The statement in Thursday’s lesson, “...we follow Jesus ... by obeying Him ... not in order to be saved but because we already are saved, in Him,” is the “bottom line.” In harmony with the idea that our motive for discipleship is love, Ellen White says: “Obedience—the service and allegiance of love—is the true sign of discipleship” (p. 60). So, love is the motive, and obedience is the outward sign of discipleship. A burden is removed for those of us who have been steeped in “works programs” in order to achieve discipleship.

As time progresses, opposition may turn to full-fledged persecution. However, it’s impossible to imagine the “persecution” the Lord must have felt in 1888 when His “most precious message” that He “commanded” be given to the world, was “in a great degree” “rejected” and His “messengers ... despised” (see 1888 Materials, pp. 913, 914). The time of test is upon us, but we are not to fear. Jesus wants the “powerful” angel of Revelation 18 soon to lighten the earth with His glory, as proclaimed in that “most precious message.”

That we not lose sight of Jesus . . . is my prayer.

Carol Kawamoto

“... lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Jesus, Matt. 28:20).


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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Preparation for Discipleship

Our new Sabbath School Lesson asks a powerful question in the first paragraph: “What good does it do if the folks we baptize soon leave?” There is Reality!

The time has come for us as a world church to get over our “rich-and-increased-with goods” obsession with our supposed success in large baptisms; we need to ask that same simple question.

The word “soon” can be omitted: “What good does it do if the folks we baptize ever, ever eventually leave? Even in the final great test of the mark of the beast?”

We can rejoice in the reports we send to the conference office, but we must remember that “every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:13).

We can re-word the question: “What good does it do if the folks we baptize become just more Laodicean lukewarm adherents? What progress have we made?”

Actually the issue is serious: we are either hastening the finishing of the gospel commission, or we are continuing our history of 120 years in postponing the glorious “marriage of the Lamb”(Rev. 19:7, 8). It was 120 years ago that the Lord Jesus wanted to propose to the corporate “woman” whom He loves, “Let’s get married!” All heaven had been waiting to rejoice because “the marriage of the Lamb is come, for His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). But no, not yet.

We as a world church are in fact writing a “book” about “discipleship.” The last chapter is about a “discipleship” so mature, so complete that it prepares the “disciples” around the world to be ready for the close of human probation, prepares them to stand during the pouring out of the seven last plagues, prepares them to face the final test of the close of probation. That will be ultimate “discipleship.”

The Lesson asks what is the point of Matthew 5:13-16 for us, about “let your light shine” etc.? I suggest it’s in the word “let.” The word means the Lord is ready to do something if we let Him do it. He can’t do it without our permission, or shall we say, our cooperation.

And here we come face to face with the reality of our church story. The “let your light shine” idea was “present truth” 120 years ago when the Lord was ready to shine “our” light upon a dark world, lighting the earth with the glory of that fourth angel of Revelation 18:1-4. (Remember, when Revelation speaks of angels with a message, it’s the people of God who actually give the message.)

But was that “light” ready for Heaven to magnify it, to shine it on a dark world at that time? The Lord’s servant said that we were as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. To bring healing and unity to the world church, “the Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 91), which was (and is) that message of 120 years ago. Every Sabbath School class and worship service in the 1888 era was “dry.” The Lord could never afford to magnify their light of that day on the world itself! But He was waiting to shine the “light” that came in 1888.

Let us note how this little verb “let” contains the gospel within it: the Lord is actively working, and awaits our “letting” Him do what He wants to do. “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15); that “peace” will rule there if we don’t hinder it by our dark unbelief! “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (vs. 16). That means, let your Sabbath School Lesson find a dwelling place in your heart; look up each text, mark your Bible, cross-index it if you can. Oh how your Bible will become a new book to you! It will become personally related to you. (Cost money? Only the original purchase; and for sure a personal life-long Bible is worthy of its one-time cost.)

You will learn to love the Bible. You will take that one with you always to Sabbath School and the worship services. When you catch a ray of light, you’ll mark it in your Bible. This will be your experience of building your house “on a rock” that the descending rain and floods and blowing winds cannot move (cf. Matt. 7:15-20, Tuesday’s lesson).

In Wednesday’s lesson we are introduced to the turmoil and opposition that followers of Christ must experience. But let us note: never should such persecution be inflicted by the “remnant church” of Bible prophecy! But nevertheless, we must be prepared to meet whatever the Lord permits to come.

In Thursday’s lesson we see the prefigurement of the Loud Cry message that finally lightens the earth with glory: the “seventy” whom Jesus sent out two by two were their own TV, radio, satellite means of proclaiming the message. The truth was in their hearts; it couldn’t be suppressed there; it just had to shine out. That will happen again when the earth is lightened with the glory of the fourth angel’s message of Revelation 18:1-4.

In conclusion, may I urge that we give special attention to the last note in Friday’s lesson from author William Barclay. He was a careful student of the Bible. This note is worth clipping out and pasting in the back of your precious Bible.

Robert J. Wieland


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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ethnicity and Discipleship

Over in Burma, Adoniram Judson was lying in a foul jail, ankles chained to a bamboo pole. A fellow prisoner, with a sneer on his face, said, “Dr. Judson, what about the prospect of the conversion of the heathen?” His instant reply was, “The prospects are just as bright as the promises of God.” Indeed God promised Abraham, himself called by God out of Babylon, “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The potential pool of disciples as followers of Jesus is universal.

Jesus went out of His way to enter heathen territory in order to seek and save the lost. He promised the Samaritan woman at the well living water which would flow from Himself into her as a constant stream of purification for sin; and that she might be a witness, as a disciple of the Saviour (John 4:14). Jesus gives water that supplies every want.

She willingly carried the water for Jesus to her village. Jesus’ Jewishness was transcended by her ready perception that this was the Messiah, the one sent of God (John 4:25). Since Jesus told her all that she had done, this was convincing evidence to her that He was the divinely anointed prophet, priest, and king. Her witness to the townspeople was so stirring that their interest was aroused to see Jesus for themselves; and their declaration was that He was “indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). This is simply astounding! They didn’t see in Him as a “wanna-be” Saviour, but “the Saviour of the world.” Whatever ethnic prejudices may have existed between Jews and Samaritans, they were all surmounted by the winsomeness of Jesus, and they became His disciples. Discipleship for Jesus transcends ethnicity.

Again, Jesus went on a mission venture to the Canaanite’ coast of Tyre and Sidon. There was someone there to be called as His disciple. This Syro-Phoenician woman was a pagan worshiper of Baal. Undoubtedly this had led to her daughter’s demon possession. A temple dedicated to Eshmun, a god of healing, was located three miles northwest of Sidon. Evidently all efforts of local exorcism had been of no avail. This mother’s love for her daughter must have agonized over this demonic bondage.

A mother’s love is irrepressible. Years ago, a young mother was making her way across the hills of South Wales, carrying her tiny baby in her arms, when she was overtaken by a blinding blizzard. She never reached her destination. When the blizzard subsided, her body was found beneath a mound of snow. They discovered that before her death, she had taken off all her outer clothing and wrapped it around her baby. When they unwrapped the child, to their great surprise, they found he was alive and well. She had molded her body over his and given her life for her child, proving the depths of her mother’s love. That’s God’s kind of love—a determined, self-sacrificing love.

If Jesus’ response to this mother’s request for healing seems harsh and unfeeling, it only appears so on the surface. For His object in testing the woman’s faith, was not only to strengthen and focus her perceptions of Him, but to teach the disciples that true Israelites are to be found among the heathen (Matt. 15:24). His mission and theirs must extend beyond the borders of homeland.

Did Jesus call this Canaanite woman a dog (Matt. 15:26)? He never said she was a dog! His little parable was just the opening that she needed to seize upon and take the sword from Jesus’ hand and press the argument on her behalf. Even whelps are entitled to the table scraps, and that would be sufficient from your hand to heal my daughter. In this she demonstrated that she was one of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Her faith in Jesus prevailed. Jesus’ approving response to her was, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt. 15:27).

Faith in God’s promise has always been tested. Abraham, Jacob, David, Esther, Daniel, Mary, and so many others, were subjected to intense trials that they might be purified of all dross and prepared for entrance into the kingdom. Had the disciples learned this valuable lesson from a Canaanite follower of Jesus, they would have been better prepared for the crucifixion of their Master. She exercised what God had given her,—unwavering faith,—in the “Lord, thou son of David” (Matt. 15:22). God had promised David, in His everlasting covenant, that he would never lack for a son to sit upon his throne; and she recognized in Jesus that rightful heir. By such kingly authority Jesus could exorcise the demons from her daughter, and He did.

In a book about broken relationships and broken hearts, there’s a story about the street venders in Hong Kong. Amid all the aggressive, high-pressure street vendors trying to sell anything and everything, a man sat silently beside his push-cart. When asked what he was selling, he replied, “I don’t sell anything. Instead, I buy things. I buy broken things. My joy comes in fixing what is broken.” [1] Jesus is among us as one who buys broken things to fix them. Jesus finds joy in healing and saving broken people.

The 1888 Message Study Committee finds joy in studying the “most precious message” that the Lord “in his great mercy sent” 120 years ago. It’s the message that heals all broken “things” that have to do with God’s work.

Paul E. Penno

[1] Terry Hershey, Beginning Again: Life After a Relationship Ends, pp. 10-11.


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