Christ is Key

        Many years ago I was invited to attend the grand opening of a restaurant.  Accompanying the invitation to the feast was a golden key which was touted as possibly being the one that would unlock a treasure chest.  Inside the treasure chest was a rather expensive door prize that would be given to anyone who had the special key.  I announced without hesitation to my wife that our key would fit.  When we arrived at the gala I told the receptionist my key would fit.  The young lady, the keeper of the chest, thought it rather amusing when I announced, yet again, the key would fit!  I had never before won anything, but…  The key fit!

        We all want so much for the mysteries of God to be unlocked as simply as my story above – an invitation with the fit of a “key” combined with an unwavering proclamation, as if we had the inside scoop on moving God.  Then almost as if we controlled the whole thing, the window of blessings opens and we cannot bear it any more.  (Oh, by the way, through the years I’ve received probably dozens of keys and have never won anything else.)

        Please, before you label me as a “glass half empty” kind of guy, I want you to know that I believe that I serve a limitless God.  Therefore, I pray that my glass is completely empty for Him to do the filling.  For many years I have been suspicious of individuals who tout their faith as an instant ticket to a Nirvana-like realm where everything is beautiful and God blesses their socks off 24/7.  There often seems a light and fluffy, almost fanciful approach to the Gospel nowadays; an approach which falls well short of addressing the needs of a sinful and dying world.

         A call I made to a brother revealed the heart of a father who was experiencing the pain of wanting to make everything okay in the midst of chaos.  My brother is one who is striving to walk with God as he and his wife deal with the life slowly leaving a loved one, and the relentless saga of a child battered by the demon of opiates.  He asks, “Is it me, my sin, my fault?   I don’t have any answers – I just want it to end.”

        At times like these my faith becomes very simple and very sober… Jesus died for me.   That’s it.  I believe.  Not wavering, not shaken, not doubting, not distracted by the waves, simply pleasing God by having faith.

       As a disciple or “learner” of God I do not know much, but have resolved within my heart to be taught by God as He reveals Himself to me.  The class is held every minute of every day.  It never stops – often without any breaks.  I must make myself available to be taught by Him, not just in attendance, but engaged in the process.  Not just going through the motions, but for the love of Him, maximizing the opportunity.

      We must abide with Christ, remaining with Him through life’s lessons and being broken so our helplessness is spilled out on His altar of grace and love.  We pass the test not because of ourselves, but in spite of ourselves, only because God willed in His plan that we could be made perfect and entire, wanting nothing more than to abide with Him forever.  We must die that we might live.  The sophistication in which we live is an enemy of a childlike faith.  How can I through intellect and success present myself as a “together” individual to the world and simultaneously cry out from a broken and helpless state with a repentant heart, “I am undone!”

        A woman in her late fifties recently testified that even though she was saved in her teen years, God had become real to her only in the last several years.  In conversation with her it became evident that her profound transformation was indeed most recent, and for over thirty years as a believer her relationship with God seemed to be on hold.  Without a doubt, she desires beyond all else to walk with God – and is.  But if she is now with God, where was she for over thirty years?  Where has she been, where does God want us to be?  Where are you?

      The body of Christ is made up of people just like you with hopes and dreams and struggles just like yours, with talents and faults just like yours.  We need each other to apply the keys of faith, hope, and love – just like Jesus.

-D.M. Allen

 

Disciple’s Fire

       The best of Israel could only be manifest after the worst of Israel had been cast off.

       The book of Exodus details the terrible but necessary event of an entire generation (that had come out of Egypt) dying off in order to inaugurate a Divine promise of lasting freedom.  So it is with anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus Christ, for such has become a new creation, having put off the old man with his old deeds and having put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (2 Cor. 5:17; Colossians 3:10).  Fortunately, under the New Covenant we do not have to die physically before a putting on of this “new man,” for the Holy Spirit empowers us at Salvation and through baptism into Christ’s death as our old self is crucified with Him that we should no longer be slaves of sin (Romans 6:3-6).

       What then is discipleship?  Certainly it is not attaching a bit of tepid Bible study or lukewarm prayer-time to an over-burdened daily agenda.  Truly it is not partaking of a six week or one year class that, while full of knowledge and inspiration, serves to merely define the term.  Discipleship, at its core, is living with Jesus, as the Twelve did.  Day and night, week after week, month after month, year after year… even after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.

       How is this possible?  Examine the example Jesus Himself set.  Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me…” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8)

        The disciples obeyed His command and on the day of Pentecost they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4).  Despite His own perfect life, Jesus did not begin His public ministry until after His baptism when “He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him” (Matt. 3:16).  This parallel conveys the true mark of a disciple as being commissioned, empowered, and continually led by the Holy Spirit.

       In the decades before His baptism and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus caused minimal disturbance.  So it was with the disciples, for during the few years preceding Pentecost it was Jesus who gained the majority of attention as He taught and lived His Truth.  But after Pentecost, the disciples were soon “turning the world upside down” as the Spirit transformed their ministry and accomplished His work through them! (Acts 17:6)

       Highly notable is the personal transformation in Peter.  Prior to Pentecost he rebuked Jesus, he denied Jesus three times, he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, and he fell asleep in Gethsemane, failing to watch and pray during Jesus’ severest hour of need.  After Pentecost, Peter’s brashness and insecurities all but disappear and his latent strengths are honed into a zealousness and love for his Lord and Savior to the point that even his words carried the thunder of Divine authority and conviction.  At his first sermon in Jerusalem the religious leaders “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37)  So should be the response to every disciple’s preaching and witness!

     Today there is much confusion, intolerance, and infighting within the Church concerning the ministry and operation of the Holy Spirit.  This serves only to cancel the spirit of love that Jesus said proves genuine discipleship (Acts 14:23), for we should no longer be children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but rather, speaking the truth in love, may we grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15).

       And that truth is this: the Holy Spirit is not an emotional experience, He is not an arcane influence, and He is not a force or aura to be worn or manipulated.  He is in fact a Person, the third Person of the Triune Godhead, equal in power and majesty with the Father and the Son (Hebrews 9:14).  As disciples, we are called to cooperate with Him as He works to draw the unsaved and uncertain into a restored relationship with the Lord God.

       False teaching within the Church has also impressed upon the weak-minded that the Holy Spirit and the bestowing of His spiritual gifts are reserved for the super-spiritual Christians among us.  Luke 11:13 corrects this thinking and illuminates the splendid truth of God’s graciousness through Jesus’ own words, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  Clearly, there is no second-class citizenry with regard to real discipleship (Acts 10:34-35).

       The apostle Paul states in Galatians 5:24-25 that those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and therefore, if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit- an admonition proving the need for the Spirit’s constant activity in our lives lest we become filled with the spirit of our own will, the spirit of emotionalism, or even the spirit of antichrist which pervades the earth.

      During a visit to Ephesus Paul discovered an apparently lifeless church, despite its grasp of basic knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ identity and what He accomplished.  Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed the Gospel, and they answered that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit!  Immediately, Paul instructed them, laid hands on them, and the Ephesian church experienced its own Pentecost (Acts 19:1-7), eventually becoming the most prominent church community in Asia Minor!

        Is your life characterized more by weakness, futility, and failure than by an active and successful ministry of power and cooperation with the Holy Spirit?  If so, consider that God is not an Author of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), and that His Holy Spirit will teach you all things (John 14:26).  Also, though the cost of discipleship is high in that our crosses are not easy to bear (Matt. 10:38), the eternal reward gloriously prevails as attested by Jesus’ own words in John 15:7-11: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.  By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.  As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”

 

Jon Birch is cofounder of Recover Church (recoverchurch.com),a discipleship-driven movement purposing to recover and promote the early church model as recorded in the book of Acts where Christ, close relationships, and discipleship-apologeticswere the pillars of Christianity.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

 

Publisher’s Note on Discipleship

“On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”

Haggai 2:23

             A few years ago, the Lord planted a seed in my heart to start a publication.  What you now hold in your hands is the fruition of that seed.  Often, Jesus calls us toward tasks that we may feel ill-equipped to accomplish, but truly He has given us all the ability and power we need to be obedient.  William Carey, the father of modern missions, stated in 1792, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

            The simplicity and boldness of Carey’s words have been a personal encouragement in the cultivation, growth, and realization of this publication. The process has been both inspiring and challenging, built on prayer and faith in our living God.

            The name of the publication, Signet Ring, is itself a Divine revelation in that the Spirit led me to the verse in Haggai you see above.  A signet ring is worn by kings or those in authority to show as evidence of their authority.  Our Divine King, Jesus Christ, has set His authentic impression upon His disciples just as a signet ring is impressed upon a document or envelope to seal it and prove ownership.  Sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption, we, as disciples, enjoy a royal inheritance and authority granted to us by Christ.

            The focus of this first issue is on true discipleship.  Jon Birch shares the authentic mark of a disciple.  Andrew Needham discusses the power of prayer.  Candy Abbott explains being led by the Holy Spirit in ministry.  These are only a few of the topics explored, but throughout this issue you will see that where Jesus leads, His disciples follow.

           Not attached to any denominational standard, Signet Ring’s purpose is to encourage and edify those followers of Jesus who place their faith in Him alone.  I pray  the heart of Christ shines through each author and contributor, and I trust you will find this issue as challenging and refreshing as I have.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.