September 2019

Thoughtful concerns of an apostle

Much of the Apostle Paul’s writings express his concerns for the health of the New Testament Church. Paul understood Jesus words on the relationship between spiritual health and behaviour. Every state of inner health bears its own unique fruit; “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).

Paul, like Jesus, gets to the point quickly once he’s evaluated who he’s speaking with. So, Jesus crystalized the truth on spiritual health; “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). Jesus spoke with such black and white words in order to be clear and definitive. Likewise, Paul does the same for the same reason.

Consider Paul’s confidence in Timothy. He was a younger man replicating Christ’s concern for God’s children. Paul says; “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). Our Churches need more forward believing, forward concerned people like Timothy. Believers benefit from being part of a congregation possessing this degree of dependable concern for each other. Concern, not so much for the frivolous matters of life; but concern for the whole person that takes the required time with the needed patience. This concern has Christlikeness, purity, biblical truth, marriage and family relationships, plus the raft of everyday health and well-being issues which we all live with at its heart.

The Church of Jesus Christ needs to “take care… lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13). Sin can so easily seduce you through self-centred thinking. Since in God’s wisdom, He has designed His Church with Christ as the head and not the almighty “I”, we need to look out for each other on Christ’s behalf.

Genuine Christ-like character is concerned about the Saviour’s glory (1Co 10:31) and how to glorify Christ through our relationships. It longs for opportunities to express the loving grace of God into other’s lives for the purpose of salvation, then sanctification, then glorification (Rom 8:29-30; 1Co 1:30; 1Th 4:3). Along the way there will be discipleship in personal life issues, healing and recovery from pains, and victories over sinful inner strong-holds.

The holiness of fellow Christians should captivate our attention. How easy it is for us to lose focus of God’s design, His desire for His Church. God’s eternal plan is straight forward; “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). Therefore, we Christians should walk in unity with Christ; encouraging, uplifting, equipping, and exhorting one another to selfless, holy, and more joyfull mature living for Christ (Eph 4:12-16).

Christ’s selfless character is our bullseye target in personal development; “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). But how do you do this? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). When you have a thought for self, chose to have a similar thought for others. When you plan to treat yourself, plan to treat another also. When you pray for self, pray first for others. When you dream to bless self, dream and plan to bless others.

I encourage you today, to check your priority of concerns. Align them with God’s concerns, Christ will be honoured, others will be blessed, and you shall be satisfied.

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The tears of a broken disciple

Had you asked Simon Peter 40 days before Pentecost if he could see himself as a bold public evangelist for Jesus Christ, I suspect he would have answered ‘No way!’ Peter’s usefulness for Jesus’ ministry was questionable with his old character. Jesus required radical change, painful change, which Peter would initially resist until broken for Jesus.

Peter could never have dreamed possible the events of his life with Jesus. Well, not until his self-will had died. The 24 hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion were just the beginning; they were crushing. Who would have thought that Judas would take “a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, …and weapons” (John 18:3) to betray Jesus with a kiss? “Then Simon Peter, having a sword (Lk 22:38), drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear… (John 18:10-11).

It’s no wonder Peter followed the arrested Jesus from “a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end” (Matthew 26:58). Feeling numb with defeat, Peter then did what was unimaginable for him; he publicly denied knowing Jesus, even resorting to bad language. “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept(Mark 14:72; Luke 22:31-34). Peter snapped!

Tears of brokenness often precede fruitful service for Jesus. It’s the surrender that makes the difference. And Peter’s tears meant that he was ready for the spiritual reconstruction required for faithful service.

It soon began with Peter and “the other disciple (John), …going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple (John) …reached the tomb first. …Then Simon Peter came …and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple (John), …also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:3-9).

Resurrected Jesus even rebuked them (the 11 disciples) for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14). Doubting Thomas was invited to touch Jesus resurrection scars while being instructed; “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). But it was Jesus’ 3rd repeated question which struck home for Peter. “Simon, …do you love me?” Peter was grieved… and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17). Within Peter’s heart of hearts, he was now sealed for a life of loving, sacrificial service for Jesus as Lord.

Jump forward to the day of Pentecost, and we find a differently charactered Peter, one empowered by the transforming Holy Spirit. Now, Peter was publicly “standing with the eleven, he lifted up his voice and addressed” the crowd boldly and with clarity proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. With many words he called them to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:14-40). Jesus’ earlier words of affirmation for Peter (Luke 22:32) had become reality; he would never be the same again.

I encourage you to accept the pains of life as training for a more Christ-like character. Yield to the Saviour’s corrections. Bow under the loving will of your God, so that He can reconstruct you for greater fruitfulness; resulting in His pleasure and His glory.

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