A Pilgrim’s Progress Perspective

In the following exchange from John Bunyan’s famous work, consider how the health and wealth “gospel” is still attractive today, yet no less divisive.

“Now, I saw in my dream that Christian and Hopeful proceeded on at their former good pace while Mr. By-ends dawdled along as best suited on his fancy for he was a rather rich and lazy fellow. But one of them, chancing to look back, saw three other men join themselves to Mr. By-ends: Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all.

        By-ends: “Oh,” he complained dourly, “those two [Christian & Hopeful] are so legalistic and so much in love with their own opinions that they will not keep company with any but those who agree with them.”

         Save-all: “Well, no matter,” with a resigned air, “wherever we may go, we are sure to find some who are religious     overmuch. But pray tell, sir, what were your differences?”

          By-ends: “Well, for one thing, these fellows are so bullheaded that they consider it their duty to press on their journey  no matter what the weather while I am all for waiting till the wind and tide be favorable”

        Hold-the-world: “But of course! ‘Tis only good sailing sense. Why, ask any sailor. ‘Sail with the tide,’ they’ll tell you. ‘With   the tide!'”

           By-ends: “So I told them!”

           Money-love: “What else?” As he adjusted his fine ostrich-plumed hat.

           By-ends: “Another major difference is that they are all for making their religion the most important thing in the world while I am for securing to myself the comforts of this life. After all, did not the Lord tell us to ‘abide till He come?'”

           Save-all: “Yes, indeed. And what else, pray tell?”

          By-ends: “Well, they are all for holding to their belief though all the world be turned against them. But I am for religion only to the extent that it is popular to be so.”

           Money-love: “Very wise. ‘Go with the flow’-that’s my motto. Is that all?”

         By-ends: “Yes, except that they are for standing by their religion whether popular or contemptible, whether in rags or riches. But I espouse Him only when, on sunny days, He walks smooth streets in His silver slippers, wind at His back,  and with good applause.”

            Hold-the-world: “Here! Here!” he proclaimed loudly.

         Save-all: “We must be wise as serpents. Does not God send both rain and sun? And if they be fools enough to slog ahead through muck and mire, at least let us be wise enough to take shelter till the sun comes again.”

           By-ends: “Aye! I am in full agreement.”

Bunyan, John. (1678). Pilgrim’s Progress (Translated by Jim Pappas, 2001)

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

The Reading Disciple

“When you come, bring … the books, and above all the parchments.”

2 Timothy 4:13

I have a nook, the eReader from Barnes & Noble.  From it I have access to just about any book I want, leaving me without excuse to find time for reading.   J. Oswald Sanders suggested a minimum of half an hour a day to feed the soul and stimulate the mind. John Wesley’s passion for reading allowed him to consume thousands of books– while on horseback!  The sweeping number of books available today is a bit unsettling. Considering our mission as Christ-followers, we should discriminate between what will encourage discipleship and what will squander our time.  After all, when reading, we have fellowship with the author through the turning of pages.  Here are some modern day writers and their suggestions of great minds to hold community with:

MARK BATTERSON

The Circle Make
Author’s Recommended Reads: The Divine Conspiracy:
Dallas Willard and the Pursuit of God: A.W. TozerThe Circle Maker

Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church, www.theaterchurch.com, in Washington, DC. He has authored many best-selling books, including his latest The Circle Maker.  Batterson encourages us to draw prayer circles around our dreams.  Prayer is a central part of discipleship and a way God accomplishes great things in us. The book centers around Honi the Circle Maker– a man who drew a circle in the sand and did not move from inside it until God answered his prayers for his people. The Circle Maker is loaded with inspiring stories from Batterson’s own life, an aspect of most of his writings, which helps to expose your heart’s desires and God-given dreams. The Circle Maker and it’s companion study guide serve as a great resource for any discipleship group.  After asking Batterson what books he would suggest on discipleship,  he replied with two… The Divine Conspiracy: Dallas Willard and The Pursuit of God: A.W. Tozer.

NEIL COLE     

Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are                                Author’s Recommended Reads: Untamed: Al & Deb Hirsch, Master Plan for Evangelism: Robert E. Coleman, and The Normal Christian Life: Watchman Nee

Organic Leadership

Neil Cole is one of the key architects of the organic or simple church movement. He is the author of multiple books which can be obtained at CMA Resources, an organization Cole founded. In Organic Leadership, Cole writes of the lack of true discipleship paralyzing the church today.  He boldly challenges the modern day view of more programs, more people, and more money equalling a successful church. He instead offers a more grassroots approach that will grow more leaders for a greater harvest!  If you are searching for a book to help you stay on mission, this is it. Upon request, Cole offered three of his favorites on discipleship… Untamed: Al & Deb Hirsch, Master Plan of Evangelism: Robert E. Coleman, and The Normal Christian Life: Watchman Nee

FRANCIS CHAN

 Crazy Love                                                                                                                             Author’s Recommended Reads: Desiring God: John Piper, Knowledge of the Holy: A.W.Tozer, and Radical David Platt

Crazy LoveFrancis Chan is the best-selling author of Crazy Love, Forgotten God, & Erasing Hell.  Chan is currently focused on starting a church planting movement in San Francisco and working towards the launch of a nationwide discipleship movement.  In Crazy Love, Chan notes there is something wrong when our response to God’s love is a lukewarm faith, a list of do’s & don’ts, and flocking to a building once a week.  Chan argues that our lives should be radically changed by God’s relentless love for us.  Crazy love calls you to live a life that fights the good fight and finishes the race– the marks of a true disciple. This is another great book for group study loaded with tons of resources.  Here are three must reads according to Chan:  Desiring God: John Piper, Knowledge of the Holy: A. W. Tozer, and Radical: David Platt.

The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy to take reading to heart serves as an example to all of us.  A book is a pipeline of ideas from one mind to an another.  Once we’ve grasped those ideas, hopefully we are moved to action. In The Use and Abuse of Books, A. W. Tozer explains, “One reason why people are unable to understand great Christian classics is that they are trying to understand without out any intention of obeying them.”  Don’t let the fellowship of ideas stop with you.  A disciple applies what he has learned.

Steve Swain

 Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

A Guide to Devotions

           Daily Devotions!  How can I make time in my day for that?  I’m already so busy I can’t get to everything I need to do!  Sound familiar?  As Christians, we’ve probably all made these comments.  But to build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we need to make time for our daily devotions.  Like any habit, we must make the effort and build devotions into our day until it becomes just that, a habit, something we do routinely.  But that doesn’t mean without thought.  I would like the reader to think about how to make time to get to know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.

          As a new Christian, it might be easier to develop a daily devotional time, since before we became Christians our days were filled with activities that did not bring honor to the Father.  Once we turn our lives over to Christ, however, we need to put those activities behind us and fill our time with things that please Him.  When we enter into any relationship, how do we get to know the other person?  By talking with them, sharing information and experiences!  We develop our relationship with Christ in the same way, by talking with Him through prayer and by sharing His experiences via reading them in the Scriptures.

          The equipment you need to start your devotions can be very simple.  I recommend a Bible translation you are comfortable with, (I like the NIV) and a journal, which can be as simple as a composition book or one of the prayer journals you can purchase at your local Christian bookstore.  A daily devotional booklet is a good tool as well.  There are many out there, and I would start with something like The Daily Bread, The Upper Room, or even a calendar with a devotional thought for the day.  You might want to add Christian music, but do not allow it to distract you from your primary purpose, which is getting to know Christ.  Your purpose here is to be actively involved in relationship building, not entertainment.  You should allow enough quality time to get involved in the process, which is probably not at the end of the day when you are exhausted!  I have known of people who get up an hour earlier than usual to do their devotions.  I also know people who use their lunch hour.  You have to decide when the best time is, but make sure you can be consistent.

          Each person is going to start their devotions in a different way.  Some will begin with prayer and praise.  Some will read their devotional booklet first.  Others will listen to praise music to settle the heart.  You must develop your own routine.  I like to read the devotional first, then the Scriptures, followed by contemplating what those Scriptures mean to me.  I use my prayer journal to write down questions I might have about the reading, the needs of those I love, and specific prayer requests.  I also like to write down things I am thankful for, things that bring me joy!  As the weeks and months go by, it is very rewarding to go back and see how my prayers have been answered and how my priorities have changed!

         As your devotions become more routine, you may find you want to read more and pray less, particularly if you are involved in a Bible study that involves preparation.  Don’t neglect your prayer time; that is your most valuable tool in building your relationship with Christ!  Prayer is your opportunity to really get to know Christ, to ask Him questions and reveal your heart’s desires.  And remember to have some quiet time; once you have asked all those questions and made all those requests, God wants time to answer!

        My relationship with Christ is nearly 48 years old!  He has been my father, my brother, and my friend!  The Holy Spirit has comforted me, instructed and guided me through life!  Always remember, Jesus loves each of us and wants only the best for us.  Make time to know Him better.  God is good!

In Christ’s love,

Linda D. Birch

Woodland United Methodist Church

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

Proactive Prayer

“One of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ and he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, Hallowed be your name.

            Your kingdom come.

            Give us each day our daily bread,

            and forgive us our sins,

                for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

            And lead us not into temptation.’”

(Luke 11:1b-4, ESV)

            “Start praying” and “Read your Bible” are two phrases which have long been the mantra for spiritual growth.  I have been taught, and unfortunately at times have taught others, that to grow as a believer, one must simply pray.  End of story.  The problem with such a simplistic and limited view is manifested in the question, “Why does it matter if I pray?”  If prayer is an act just to say “I prayed this morning,” then it quickly becomes irrelevant.  Prayer is a wonderful and necessary aspect of one’s spiritual life.  If I am honest, the shallow teaching on prayer I mentioned reveals there has been a lack of discipleship in teaching others to pray.

            In Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples ask Him to show them how to pray.  Jesus did not leave His disciples to figure it out for themselves; instead, He immediately showed them how they should pray.  He didn’t give them a list of rules or requirements to have a meaningful prayer.  He prayed with them.  If Jesus’ original disciples needed to learn how to pray, is it any different for us today?

            I recently concluded a sermon series on prayer.  In my preparing for Sunday and studying of the Word, I consistently saw the Bible describing prayer, not as individuals presenting their wish list to God, but as a continual seeking of God’s will, provision, and forgiveness for the entire fellowship of believers.  In the current culture, individuals have been taught to look out for themselves.  As believers are saturated in the modern attitude of self-satisfaction, we must fight the urge to pray for ourselves and begin praying for another’s needs and their cries for help.  In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that before sacrifices are acceptable in God’s sight, one must be reconciled to others.  If we are praying for a concern and are capable of fulfilling that need for someone else, we must be people of action and reconcile that need before continuing our prayers.  St. Francis begins his famous prayer in this idea of thought, “Make me an instrument of Your peace.”   We are not intended to meet with God alone.  We are meant to bring the peace of God to others.

            Prayer develops within each believer the ability to trust in God and in His ability to provide for every need.  In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus tells them to ask, “Give us each day our daily bread.”  There is a dependence of the disciples upon God to provide for the entire community each day what it needs to survive.  Daily bread not only refers to physical sustenance, but to all needs of the community of believers, including the spiritual needs.  It would be easy to say one should just sit and wait for God to provide, but this is not what Jesus intended.  If anything, Jesus intends for his believers to be prayerfully moved in such fashion as to provide for the needs of others.

            Luke describes how Jesus would go by Himself to pray at different times, and he leaves no room to question the invaluable influence prayer had upon Jesus’ ministry and all He accomplished.  Prayer is not an incantation, whereby we obtain control over a mystical being who dispenses blessings at our pleasure.  It is the foundational way of communication between us and God, Who is completely holy and perfect.  For Jesus, prayer kept Him constantly connected with His Father and faithful to His purpose.

            In teaching His disciples about prayer, Jesus often used the word “when,” as in “When you pray…”  Jesus realized that His followers must pray; it was not optional or occasional.  It is absolutely necessary.  If there is anything Jesus demonstrates in His own prayers, it is that He had to go out by Himself and spend time with the Father.  He was grounded in His Father’s will and constantly communicated with Him.  How are you doing when it comes to taking time to communicate with God?  Do you make time to be alone and speak with your Heavenly Father?

            After preaching on prayer, a topic I thought I understood so well, it has been a blessing to see with fresh eyes what we have been given, which is the opportunity and privilege to approach the throne of God and be present before Him.  Stop trying to pray someone else’s prayer, or use their prayer habits. You have to figure out what is right for you in your unique situation.  If you get only one thing from this, may it be that you need to find a way to make prayer a part of your life.  Do not pray just to say you have prayed, but pray in such a way that you will meet with God daily!

             May your prayers connect you with God and His plans of redemption for your life, and also move you to act upon those plans for the sanctification of yourself and others.

Andrew Needham has served as Youth Pastor and currently serves as Pastor of South Fork Friends Church in Snow Camp, NC. He graduated with a B.A. in Religion from Campbell University in 2007, and is married to his wonderful wife, Mary Needham. He loves gardening and how it displays all things growing into their intended mature image.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

Making Disciples of All Nations

Focus: China

       China is classified as a “restricted nation” due to its suppression of Christian literature (including Bibles) and highly regulated “tolerance” of Christian churches.  Approximately 8% of the population in China is Christian, 13% Buddhist, 28% Confucianism, but the majority is primarily non-religious though local native practices persist.

      There are some registered, or authorized, churches, but nearly 90% of China’s Christians attend unregistered churches.  In 2011, China’s government initiated a harsher policy against unregistered house churches which has led to more frequent harassment and some arrests.  Other abuse includes random detainment, beatings, and torture.  Christian persecution in China has increased alarmingly in recent years; there are now more Christians in Chinese prisons than in any other country.

         Paul and Junia are long-time missionaries to China, regularly spending large amounts of time there each year.  Time spent stateside is served training future missionaries through discipleship and cross-cultural awareness, as well as counseling and raising support for the missional church. They have four children and together this wonderfully dynamic family shares the heart of Jesus Christ with those whom they have been called to reach, in the East and West.

        Signet Ring is blessed to have had an opportunity to ask Paul about his experiences.  For identity protection, names have been changed.

  1. Were you able to share the Gospel and disciple people freely in your country of service?

        Legally, we are not allowed to share the Gospel and disciple people.  However, if we don’t cause the government to “lose face” in their restriction of open evangelism, we are still able to communicate generally everything we feel God prompting us to, individually and discreetly with small groups.  As we build relationships, answer questions, and share our personal stories in the context of normal conversation, the truth of the Gospel comes out.  Also, presenting the Gospel through songs such as “Amazing Grace” or other creative expressions offers a number of unique avenues to celebrate who God is and His salvation through Christ.

  1. Please tell of someone whose life was impacted with the Gospel and of the change you saw in their life.

       “Jackson” was a very intelligent nonbeliever when he began working with our company about eight years ago, he had not been exposed to the Gospel before working with us.  He was friendly, but a bit intense, and critically examined everything.  Through the daily witness of the ten or so people on our team for over a year and a half, Jackson walked through his questions about God, particularly the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Just as importantly, the consistency of our team members’ love towards him and his family, as well as towards each other, offered a tangible expression of God’s great love for him.  After about a year and a half, Jackson prayed with one of our team members to accept the Lord.

       As a new believer, Jackson’s brilliant mind and excellent communication skills began to be applied not towards a lucrative career, but towards humbly serving others and explaining the truth of the Gospel clearly and boldly.  The most obvious change was an overflowing joy – he has a keen sense of humor and a contagious laugh!  “Jackson” has been a Christian for over six years now, and the house church he started leading soon outgrew his home, with more than thirty people coming several times a week!  Those he has discipled have begun sharing the Gospel with others, continuing the pattern teamwork Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 3:6.  “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

  1. What has been your most noticeable spiritual change since you began ministry as a missionary?

        As a couple and as a family, the most exciting and obvious change in our spiritual dynamic is seeing our four kids take initiative in obeying the Lord.  The years of prompting them to pray or asking them what the Lord is showing them has now translated into them asking if we can pray about an issue or volunteering a Scripture they believe God is showing them about a specific circumstance.  This has been most rewarding.

  1. What was/is the greatest spiritual need in your ministry? Physical need?

        The greatest spiritual need in our ministry is prayer support.  We have seen so many times that an area of growth, an opportunity, or an unexpected breakthrough has been the direct result of friends interceding specifically and faithfully.

       The biggest physical need is finances.  As faith-based missionaries, our income comes through contributions of friends and churches who share our commitment to see the transforming power of Jesus Christ reach every nook of the globe.  We’ve seen God’s amazing provision in  miraculous ways over the ten years we’ve been involved with full-time missions work.  However, there have been many lost opportunities due simply to a lack of funds.

  1. Please tell me about your church experience and worship in your country of service (ex: How were/are church services different or alike?).

      Church services in the country we serve are either a bit stiff or formal in the government-approved services and much smaller (10 – 25 persons) in the house churches because they don’t want to call attention to themselves, causing the government to lose face and react.  There are some godly pastors for the government-approved services, but the sermons can be relatively sterile because they may have to submit sermons to government officials before presenting them. The smaller house churches tend to be vibrant with singing, longer prayer times, shorter messages, and more personal testimonies.

  1. Please describe your personal Bible study and prayer schedule in the mission field. Is it difficult to maintain?

      With my wife and I both having typical workplace jobs prior to entering missions full-time, we understand that a hectic schedule can nudge devotional times right off the cliff, no matter what the occupation or life calling.  It happens with us as with anyone, and there are seasons when it can be very difficult to maintain.  Over the years, though, this pattern has actually flip-flopped.

       When we have less stress and rare “down time,” it can become very challenging to take time to pray or open our Bibles.  But when our demands are greatest, our personal Bible study and prayer times increase rather than get trimmed out, for admittedly selfish reasons.  A certain level of desperation for God’s involvement can be a powerful motivator for time with Him because we have seen Him solve some major headaches for us in a matter of hours, not to mention the peace and confidence the Lord offers when we need it most.

  1. Describe an experience you had in the mission field that deeply impacted the way you do ministry.

       When our family was overseas for about 18 months, we were wrestling with whether to continue  living there or transition to a stateside training assignment we had been invited to accept.  About that time, a group of women from California visited our team to offer prayer and encouragement.  Without us sharing details about the decision we were facing, one of the women asked us when they met with us, “Do you feel it’s more important to be a martyr or a multiplier?”  They were sensing that we were willing to sacrifice things God wasn’t asking us to sacrifice, but that we would be effective multipliers while still enjoying some of the things we had been willing to give up.

     We soon accepted the stateside training role that had been offered and now train and encourage missionaries in overseas work.  Another prophetic word spoken over us during that season was that we were supposed to be bridge-builders to that nation and specifically to the city where we had been serving.  We also have regularly returned to that country and have helped short-term teams and one long-term missionary begin serving in that region.

  1. What most encourages you and what do you enjoy most in your missional work/service?

       Because we help train and give pastoral support to twenty-one missionaries in nine different nations, we feel privileged to have a front-row seat to the inspiring testimonies shared from around the world.  Sprinkled among the day-to-day difficulties and routine aspects of struggling through an unfamiliar culture are undeniable reminders of God’s love and provision.  God’s work internationally is fascinating and has a contagious energy behind it, so we are never bored and see the Gospel moving forward even in the tragedies and difficult times.  We are honored to work with very humble and creative people, and we see our amazing God’s character through them and in how He consistently answers prayers on their behalf.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

Reflection on Heaven

“What must I do to be saved” asked the jail keeper, and Paul replied,“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)

              I had open heart surgery in 1979, accompanied by a stroke.  In 1998 I lost a kidney to cancer.  This year on June 13 I turned 81.  Probably in the near future this old body of mine is going to stop functioning, parts of it already have!  I will soon have to face the judgement and give an account of the way I lived (Rom. 14:10-12).  But this does not have to be a dreadful thing; in fact, it is an amazing event to anticipate and strive toward!

              I “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but is that all that is required of me?  I guess the answer depends on how I define “believe,” for if my believing on Christ does not affect my behavior, if it is only in my head but not my heart, I have a major problem.

              Let’s look at some Scriptural requirements to be saved from sin and on our way to heaven.  In Matthew 4:17 Jesus says we must “repent,” we must turn away from sin and toward God’s will.  In Matthew 4:19 His invitation is “Follow Me.”  His early disciples “left their fishing nets and followed Him.”  These verses demand a wholehearted action in response to a belief in Jesus identity and purpose.  Have I “left my nets” and do I “follow Jesus” each day throughout the day?  I thank Him for personally providing a direction and an example to follow!

             Matthew 5 is the start of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  How well do we live up to this particular message?  Let’s look at a few verses.  “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (5:42).  If that seems challenging, look at the last verse (5:48), “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  Wow!

             I just finished a study of Revelation and found a specific requirement for getting into heaven that was repeatedly mentioned in chapters 2 and 3: We need to be “overcomers” through Christ.  I particularly love Rev.3:5, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

           In my own strength I surely cannot overcome Satan and his temptations.  He is deceitful and will lead me into sin.  Consequently, it may seem that each disciple of Christ is charged with the impossible task of “being perfect.”  However, obedience to His call to repent and follow Him will result in the Spirit’s empowerment of the disciple toward perfection in love (1 John 4:15-18).  Remember, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, overcame Satan (Rev. 17:14) and “He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  Jesus is in us and enables us to be overcomers!  In this we are indeed blessed that we shall one day inhabit the place He has prepared for us (John 14:2).  Praise Him!

Looking to Jesus as my Savior and Lord of my life.  Thank you, Jesus!!

Richard Bridge

Pastor Bridge has been married to Jo Ann, his childhood sweetheart, for over 61 years.  They pastored churches for 46 years. They no longer go on bicycle tours and race kayaks, but they do enjoy rides on their motorcycle trike.  Praise God!

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.

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.

 

 

Carrying Your Cross

“And He bearing His cross, when out to a place called the ‘Place of the Skull’, which is in Hebrew, Golgatha, where they crucified Him” (John 19:17,18a, NKJV).  His back and shoulders bloodied, He trudged through the streets of Jerusalem dying to self and about to die for the world. We are told by Jesus even before He died, “And he who does not take his cross and follow Me Is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38, NKJV).

Someone may feel the pain in their side from lack of exercise or they may complain of weakened knees or failing eyesight, only to claim any or all of these as their cross to bear in life, as if this were a comparison to what the Lord did for us.  However, on Golgatha, we die to what we thought was the way a Christian should live and begin to live the life that God has planned for us, which will include, among many things, persecution.  On Golgatha we are subject to shame, ridicule, hatred, scoffing, and mockery.

No longer fans of Jesus, but actual followers, we are reminded by the Lord, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master’, If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20, NKJV).

A follower is a servant of God Himself, who has been given life through the cross.  As a follower you may have to forego the Sunday brunches, covered dish socials, and fancy clap sessions (decked out in your finest apparel) and go wherever He leads.  For “wherever He leads” is truly the cross of Jesus Christ.  It might be as harmless as an outreach into the poor sections of town, feeding the hungry, or death in a hostile land.

The cross you bear is the seal of the Holy Spirit upon your life and the word of the Gospel upon your lips, a soldier imbued with the supernatural weapons of eternal warfare.  This is foolishness to those who are perishing and the fragrance of life to those appointed. Today is the day to relinquish your self-induced crosses and pick up the real one.

Article by Greg French. Printed in SR Discipleship Issue.