Who Are YOU Following??

Ducks

The razor sharp barbed-wire ran the length of the pasture that divided our land from the neighbor, and ended at the Shenandoah River. The fence wasn’t very high–just the right height to hit a cow on her side and send a jolt of electricity through her, along with some pain from the barbs. The babes learned quickly to stay far away, but the moms seemed to think it a challenge to see if they could eat as much grass under the bottom wire without touching their noses to the shiny metal that would cause an immediate, very unpleasant, sensation.

On this particular day the electric was cut off. Of course the cows didn’t know this–like Pavlov’s dog, they had been conditioned by experience to avoid getting shocked. My son, a high-school weight lifter and Track & Field athlete, yelled, “I’m going to jump the wire!” as he ran toward the property fence line. The fact that he ran hurdles for his school, and was on his way to the State Championship, didn’t faze me. He was going to jump, therefore I would jump. I was going to show him I could follow him and do what he did despite our thirty-seven years age difference.

Five seconds later I writhed on the ground, my leg twisted in the barbed wire, blood pouring out of gashes from my knee down to my foot. He jumped it; I tried. Big difference. Following has to be accompanied by wisdom.

If you haven’t had time, stop for a half hour and watch the sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church for Sunday, June 12. You will find it by clicking on http://www.trbc.org/service-archive. It would also be helpful to read Acts, chapters 1-7, and see how the early church learned to follow Christ and the principles He had given while shepherding His flock on earth.

The Following Church–What It Looked Like Then and Now

If you watched the sermon for June 5th, you saw that following Christ is a daily discipline. We looked at what a Christian really is, and asked ourselves, “Am I truly a Christian?” Hopefully, you said yes! We learned that following Christ means letting go of things in our lives that keep us from the closest possible relationship with Him. Do you have an idol in your life? Oh, it doesn’t have to LOOK like an idol: it can be a new boat, a set of golf clubs, horses to ride, a new motor home–anything that, as you get up on Sunday, you say, “Gee, this is my only day off! Let’s do ____ this week, instead of going to church.” Each time it gets easier to not congregate with other believers but live for yourself this one day of the week! That’s an idol. Something that takes the place of seeking God. Something that keeps you from doing life TOGETHER with other believers.

This week we are going to look at the church in the local community, see what the early church looked like, and decide if ours is still “following” the principles outlined by those first believers. A following church is one which is characterized by being a FAMILY of God (not blood born, but Blood-bought), living out the WORD of God, being under the AUTHORITY of God, and working together on a MISSION of God. Remember last week’s caution: What the world thinks of YOU is their view of the church.

  1. Have you studied much of the early church? As you read through the four Gospels and the first chapters of the book of Acts, you will get some ideas of the persecution the early Christians went through. List some of them on your notebook. Tacitus, a political figure in ancient Rome, wrote: “Rome is where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.” Sounds much like today, doesn’t it?
  2.  Despite the persecution, the early church grew by leaps and bounds. Beginning with the twelve, then adding daily, by the end of Acts there were about 200,000 Christians and 10 million by 300 AD.  They were able to have this impact on their communities because they were truly following Christ. Look up these passages and write down the characteristic of the believers in each verse that outsiders saw in their behavior: Acts 2:37; 2:47; 4:13; 4:13, 31; 4:21; 4:32; 4:33; 4:33. Did you write down “convicting; favored; amazing; bold; glorifying; generous; grace; and power”? Those are awesome testimonies that they showed to their world. How do you show those qualities as you go through your daily week?
  3. As time passed, people from other religious groups began to fear the Christians more and more. Why do you think this happened? Read Ephesians 6:12. As the church grew, Satan’s kingdom was coming under fire. He had not at that time read the end of John’s Revelation and perhaps didn’t know he was losing the battle! Anytime truth comes into the picture against lies, there will be a battle. How do you see this happening around you today?
  4. Read Acts 1:22, 4:13, 22. Why was the early church so powerful? Read Romans 5:5. Do we have this same power? How much of the Holy Spirit do we receive when we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord? If we have the same amount of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, why do we fail to tell the world?
  5. Read Acts 1:14. What was another characteristic of the early believers? How much time each day do you spend in prayer? Read Ephesians 6:18. What were Paul’s instructions? J. B. Johnston wrote: “A church is never more like the New Testament church than when it is praying.”

Think About:

If you are using this for a weekly Bible study, doing a question each day, think this week about the persecution the early church went through and liken it to today’s world. We must never forget that we have ALL of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, to help us as we face temptation, avoid evil and overcome trials. Think how your testimony reflects on the church you go to: is the world forming an opinion that your church is loving, serving, giving, and living as Christ gave Himself for her? What problems do you encounter daily, and examine if there is anything that keeps you from being bold in telling others how to find joy and peace. Pray daily for extra faith, extra vigilance, and remember to intercede for lost loved ones!

In AD 130, an Epistle written to a man name Diognetes was a beautiful tribute to the early church, and should be able to be said of us: “They [true believers] display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life… They marry, as do all others, they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word–what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”

Would that those words could describe each of us!

Have a beautiful week!

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Giving All or Holding Back?

dreamstimefree_239417The local church had advertised “Bible School” on their signs for a month. Finally, Monday morning came, and among all the regular church kids were several strangers. Two were a brother and sister, and it was obvious they felt quite out-of-place, and possibly “dowdy.” Their parents did not have much money, and what little they had needed to go for rent and food, not extra clothes.

One little girl, a regular at the church, tried to make the strangers welcome. She was shy, only eight years old, but her mom was always telling her to be friendly to visitors. When she arrived home, she told her mom about the children, excited that she had gotten out of her comfort zone to be friendly. She couldn’t seem to forget their poverty, though, not realizing she had little more than they.

She thought of a great idea! She would make a Bible cover for the little girl’s Bible, in a new pattern she had learned called “Crazy Quilting.” Her mom found scraps of pink and white satin, and with much love the child sewed until Friday morning, when she was ready to take the gift to VBS. The little stranger was thrilled! The cover was sewn with beads, sequins, and lace, and although it was done with a childish hand, it was obvious much time and energy had gone into the project. On the following Sunday the parents came to church, curious as to what kind of place would have a child who had spent so many hours making something for their daughter. They returned Sunday after Sunday, experiencing love and acceptance within the church. They gave their lives to Christ and became part of that small body of believers.

That was many years ago; the children have both grown up and probably forgotten the incident. However, the little girl did not hesitate to put what faith she had into action. She showed the kind of love to a stranger that all of us are to show to everyone we meet.

Take a moment and click on http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and select the sermon preached at Thomas Road this past Sunday. Everyone is asking, “what is a Christian,” but we need to ask, “Am I a Christian?” Listen to the sermon, then take this week to answer the questions and study what the Scripture tells us a genuine Christ-follower is.

The Question:

 1. Read about a rich, young leader, whose story appears in Matthew 19:19-26, Mark 10: 17-23, and Luke 18:18-27. Take time to read all three accounts, as there are different characteristics brought out in each one. What are some special attributes you notice about the man’s life? He seemed to have everything, didn’t he?                                                                                                                                      2. Read Matt. 19:16 again. What did he believe would gain him eternal life? Can you think of religions or people groups who believe it is their “good works” that will get them to heaven? Have you considered that if this were the case, Christ would have died for no purpose?                                                                                          3. Did you notice as you read that Jesus listed only the 5th-9th commandments, and then added “Love your neighbor as yourself”? What do you think He was trying to get the young ruler to consider? What do these all have in common?                      4. This man was “young,” “rich,” a “ruler,” and had “great possessions.” How often do you imagine he hung out with, ate with, or interacted with the poor people of his city?

The Answer:

5. Read verse 21. Jesus told him to do two things. What were they, and were they equally important?                                                                                                                  6. Did you think about the tone of voice Jesus used in telling him what he needed to do? Yet Mark 10:21a says how Jesus felt as He looked upon the young man. What emotion did He feel as He answered?

The Decision:

7. Read verses 22-26. Why did the young man go away “sorrowful”?                           8. Read Matt. 6:21. What was the most important thing in the young man’s life?       What is the most important thing in your life?

dreamstimefree_74113Close:

This story describes many of us, doesn’t it? The young man had everything someone of his age could want: he had youth, wealth, great possessions and a job that indicated he was probably in the echelon of learned men! Yet he went to Jesus, not only to learn from Him what he needed, but his conversation with Jesus showed that his upbringing had been one of the upper class. He said what most of us cannot say: he had kept many of the commandments from his youth up! But think about the peripherals: he had wealth, but cared about his fellow man by keeping the commandments. Was he giving his tithe, but no time? Money in the offering plate, but no interaction by loving the neighbors? Did he know anyone who was benefiting by his giving? He loved the good life the possessions gave him. Do we live like that? Can we give up our technological products, our cars for older models, one gift at Christmas, so that others can be recipients of our gifts of love? Ugh. Drive an old car? ONE gift??

So we have to ask ourselves this week, am I following up to a point, and then turning away in sorrow? Can I give up my home to go somewhere? (Not if Jesus hasn’t asked you to!) What would you say if He asked this of you?

Pray this week that you would be willing to be used as He desires. If He can use you, just be available. If He wants to use you, He’ll make it plain. If he hopes to use you, tell Him you will!

Remember last week: the world looks at you and judges what they think of Christians. That’s a heavy testimony.

 

 

 

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Light and Dark

The darkness is creepy…sounds that normally would not bother you in the day seem magnified in the dark! A trip to the bathroom at night can be a disaster if you’ve moved a piece of furniture, right? Yet one small LED candle, one small match, or one tiny flashlight illuminates the room enough to make everything “okay” again! Has it ever occurred to you that the same small amount of darkness in a room full of sunshine would not affect the light at all? Light, then, is so much more powerful than darkness. What does that mean for those of us who are in the world, trying to live lives as believers in Jesus Christ? It means that the light of Jesus that illuminates our soul can spill out to others, giving them hope in their dark world!

Last week we looked at the 17th chapter of John, focusing on the prayer of Jesus as He prayed not only for His disciples, but also for those who would become Christ followers throughout the centuries after His resurrection–a list which includes us. Today we will continue gleaning everything we can from the powerful supplication Christ made on our behalf, for strength, protection and guidance.

You can’t open your eyes each morning without soon being aware that our world is in turmoil. Every direction we turn we see battles being fought between good and evil, right and wrong, truth versus untruth, and new laws being passed that affects  our freedoms. What are we to do in the midst of this chaos? Jesus gives us some answers in John 17:7-19. Read the Scripture, and then let’s consider the questions. If you have lots of free time, you may wish to do it in one sitting, or you may take the week, meditating on all that Christ prays for YOU in these verses.

  1. The Message Is Clear: As you read through these verses, did you notice–as we did last week–how many ways in which Christ prayed for those who love Him? Keep your notebook handy, and re-write any of the main points of His prayer, even if you wrote them last week, that are particularly relevant to you. His concern before going to the Cross was that those whom He loved would be taken care of. He trusted His Father to protect them in a dark and evil world, eventually bringing them to glory.
  2. Read verse 7 again. Christ said He had passed on the message that God had given Him. The world, now more than ever, needs to hear the story of hope found only in Jesus Christ. But who is going to tell them? Read Romans 10:14, 15, and Isaiah 6:8. Who has God given the responsibility of sharing the gospel to? It is not the preacher’s duty to be the only one to witness: it was commanded by Christ in Matthew 28:19, 20 to be our charge as well. This was not a suggestion!
  3. Read Ephesians 5:8. Ask yourself, why do we Christians have this responsibility? There is no limit because of age, environment, or past sins: God is able to use anyone who loves Him, and makes himself or herself available! He indwells us with light for the darkness we will face in the world.
  4. We Must Stand In Unity: Read verse 11. Jesus tells us how important it is for us to love each other, dwelling together in unity, so that the world sees that we are different. If we look like the world, they label us as hypocrites, and justify themselves that they do not need Jesus. Read Ephesians 4:4-6. Why is unity so important?  The world is always watching to see if we love at all times. Read 1 John 4:7-13. Measure your life by these verses, and examine your heart.
  5. Standing on the Word of God: Read verse 17, and Hebrews 5:13, 14. How are you going to learn to stand for truth? Look at 14b again. How is that different than exercising our physical bodies? Would two minutes a day achieve any results? Read Psalm 119:10-12. How much time each day do you spend in God’s Word?
  6. Read 2 Timothy 4:2. What is the biggest concern you have about sharing the good news that Jesus loves and will forgive anyone who calls on Him? Does your fear of being asked questions that you may not be able to answer keep you from witnessing? That is a fear for many. If you honestly say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back with you,” what will that convey? A spirit of caring, I hope you answered.
  7. Only in Christ Do We Have Hope: Have you ever noticed that children imitate those whom they esteem? Read verse 18 again, and Colossians 1:26-28. We can never be imitators of, or introduce others to, someone we do not know. How can we be imitators of Christ?

As we close, think seriously about the light that shines around you as you live each day. Is there an “aroma” around you that makes others sense a peace and joy in the midst of the darkness? You have something that is vital, and it is something you can share! Remember as you witness and as you look for ways to minister to others, that it is the showing of love that makes you different. Don’t be discouraged, downtrodden, or depressed because of the dark, evil world–be a light in this world of darkness for your God is still on His throne and in control.

Memory Verse: Ephesians 5:8: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.”

Focal Passage: John 17:7-19; John 16:33.

 

 

 

 

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