Sunday, March 25, 2012

THE POWER OF PRAISE


Roger Bennett was a Southern Gospel piano player and songwriter who made a living serving the Lord in the ministry of music. Unfortunately, he succumbed to cancer in 2007 after an 11-year battle. The last several years were not particularly easy ones for Bennett. He had leukemia. Bennett wrote about his experiences on his website, Roger Bennett’s Midnight Meditations. “I am convinced,” he told his readers, “that our enemy stalks us exactly in the way the Bible describes him, a roaring lion. He hides in the bushes waiting for any sign of weakness and then he strikes.” He mentioned one particular night when he “bottomed out”. “He didn’t strike me physically,” Bennett wrote. “That had been accomplished for him by the chemo. He struck a more critical part of my being – my joy, my confidence, my hope. Every thought I turned toward heaven bounced back to me as if it were made of brass. Every time I tried to ‘look on the bright side,’ I ended up imaging a very dark future. Then he threw his most effective dart at me – Doubt. ‘You call yourself a Christian,’ he said. ‘What a hypocrite! You wrote, Don’t Be Afraid, and yet you are more afraid now than you’ve ever been. You wrote about joy and yet now you are filled with despair. So much for your faith, Mr. Gospel Singer.’”

Indeed, Bennett had hit rock bottom. “I believed everything Satan said,” he admitted. “I tried everything I knew to pull out of it – all to no avail. I thought if I could just doze off, this will pass by morning. But the clock seemed to move in slow motion. Sleep was nowhere near. I tried to lose myself in the Bible, but the words blurred to my eyes and I couldn't make any sense of them.”

Finally, Bennett had an epiphany, a revelation of sorts. He thought about the story told in Acts when Paul and Silas were in jail. “They didn’t despair,” he said. “They sang…It became their weapon.” So Bennett began singing. “One after another these old songs came to my memory and I sang them to my empty room. It wasn’t a great performance, but it may have been the most powerful blessing I’ve received in my life.”[1]

What powerful testimony! Here is a man having close encounters with death yet did not let his situation dominate him. When we face hardships how would we respond? We have a choice to make, we can either let the situation over power us or rise above and take control of it. In the Bible we have a number of examples of those who faced the toughest challenges of life yet did not loose their trust in God. The scriptures call them the heroes of faith. What made them and Roger Bennett not to loose their hope? We will look at how the Power of Praise impacts our lives. First let’s look at what Praise is all about.

I. WHAT DOES BIBLICAL PRAISE MEAN?

In Hebrew the word for praise is Halal from which we get the famous command Hallelujah, which means giving the glory to God, to celebrate, to glorify, to boast and to praise. It is an act of worship or acknowledgement by which the virtues or deeds of another are recognized and extolled. Our praise toward God is the means by which we express our joy to the LORD.

In the Bible praising God is not an option, but we are commanded to praise God for who He is and for what He does. Praising Him for who He is called adoration; praising Him for what He does is known as thanksgiving. The book of Psalms is full of praises to God. Who should praise Him? And where should they praise Him? King David who wrote most of the praise psalms in the Bible notes, in Psalm 22: 22-23, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the LORD praise Him!” King David not only wrote these psalms but he himself was excited to praise God with other believers in the house of God.

Psalm 42:1-2, “As the deer pants (longs) for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet my God?

Psalm 43: 4, “The will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp O God, my God.”

Psalm 84:10, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

Psalm 122:1, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD”

During my ministry in India I used to observe the devotion of Hindus and the commitment of Muslims in worshiping their gods. At times I used to be ashamed of my own lack of devotion. We lived close to a Muslim Masque at 4:30 A.M the community would get together for their prayers which used to be amplified through a megaphone throughout the neighborhood. Muslims are devoted to the call of prayer even when travelling or during war; wherever they might be they will find a quiet place, turning in the direction of Mecca and offer their prayers. If these people who worship false gods so passionately are so committed, how about us who came to know the true and living God, do we worship our God any less? Let me share how praising the living God affects the life of an individual believer.

I PRAISE LIFTS US UP INTO HEAVENLY REALM

The scripture tells us in Psalm 22:3, “God inhabits the praises of his people.” What does that mean? It means that God lives where and when the people of God are praising Him. Praise is the natural habitat of God. In praising God we get to transcend to the place where God exists. Our seemingly difficult situation is no longer difficult because now we are in the heavenly realm. As we focus on the greatness and the power of God we will realize that there is nothing that we can not face together with the help of God.

Recently we were faced with certain challenging situations and tough decisions. I called Wilma for a “Praise Meeting” not a Prayer Meeting” What is the difference between these two? While prayer is all about asking God to do things for us, Praise is about recognizing who God is in his absolute splendor and unspeakable majesty. I told her we are going to write a “Thank your letter” to the Lord for all he has been to us and all that he has provided for us over the years. After that I said we will praise God for who he is not to ask God to do any thing for us except to give us grace, patience, and have mercy on us.

At the end of that high powered praise session our hearts were so lifted up, we were encouraged, and our faith was strengthened. Have we seen our situation change immediately? No! But our focus was no longer on ourselves but on the Most High God.

I don’t know what challenging situation you might be facing today; whatever that may be may I suggest that you begin to praise God. There is power in praising God. Praise ushers into the most powerful presence of God. You may want to speak out these powerful attributes of God such as: God you are: Almighty(Gen 17:1), You can do all things(Job 42:2), You are present everywhere( Psalm 139) You are all knowing(Is 40:13), You are awesome(Deut 7:21), You are sovereign (Ps 103:19); these are just a few; but they can help you start the journey.

II PRAISE BRINGS DELIVERANCE:

As we look at the Biblical history of the nation of Israel we see how the hand of God delivered His people from the hands of their enemies. Especially in the initial days it was strongly felt not only by Israel but also by the surrounding heathen nations. God often used the praises of his people and brought deliverance. Playing musical instruments and singing songs of praise were often a part of the military conquests in Ancient Israel. Consider these scriptures:

The song of Moses and Miriam after Israelites crossed the red sea. Ex 15:1-2-3, “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Here is another example, where people were reminded to blow trumpets. Numbers 10:9, “When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets, then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies” Do you remember how did the walls of Jericho came crumbling down? It was at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout of victory, the wall collapsed.” Joshua 6:20.

Another classical example in the N.T; where Paul and Silas were severely beaten, and were thrown into prison for preaching the Gospel, do you remember what happened in the midnight in that prison cell? Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and every body’s chains came loose.”

What can we learn from these examples? First, when we begin to praise God for who he is it will lift us up to a place where we meet up with God in our spirit. Secondly, when we praise Him in the midst of our difficult situations and circumstances God is able to deliver us.

It is a great thing to know when we praise God we are lifted up into his presence and he will deliver us from our problems. How about in spite of all our prayers and having faith in God if our problems mount and difficulties still remain; do we then stop praising God? No! We will still praise God because He is worthy of all of our praise. Shall we then say; “You are worthy, our Lord and God; to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being. “ (Rev 4:11) Amen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

COMPLETE COVERAGE: PART II PSALM 91:9-16

If there are three words which can strike fear into someone's heart, it's probably these: "pre-existing medical condition." Have one, and you might not get health insurance, or your next job. Despite federal laws prohibiting the use of "pre-existing" medical conditions as a bar to insurance coverage, problems still exist. Consider the plight of William Cowie, who applied for a manufacturing job at a Rockwell International plant in Centralia, Illinois, in 1993. He was tested for the "likelihood" of developing a repetitive stress injury, and was denied employment.

Today, these kinds of issues aren't uncommon, and in fact, cases involving such "pre-existing" conditions may likely increase in the future. One of the "side effects" of today's genetic testing and research is "predictive" testing that will suggest whether or not you are likely to suffer from a given disease, possibly years or decades from now. You may not have been aware of this; you might not have thought of it. But one test - just as Mr.Cowie experienced - and your world can be turned upside down.

Whatever we think of health insurance, HMOs and all of these complex issues, there's one thing that is clear. If you need help, and someone says you can't get it because of a pre-existing condition or that your insurance won't pick up the tab. Of course, you can always find some insurance companies who will cover pre-existing conditions, but you will have to pay an arm and a leg. That's not true acceptance.

The good news is that unlike the insurance companies, God’s Coverage is complete. No small print. No exclusions. No problems. It is coverage which means protection against all the known and the unknown risks and dangers. It is complete which means lacking nothing and it is free, no hidden costs and absolutely no waiting period but at the same time it is conditional. The second half of Psalm 91 talks about God’s in-depth coverage and what conditions an individual believer needs to meet in order to enjoy God’s Complete Coverage.

I. GOD’S COMPLETE COVERAGE: (Vs9-13)

More than we care to admit, we are living in a world full of wars, famines, natural disasters, man made threats, and unexplainable diseases. In this unsafe world one wonders if there is a place where one could live in absolute security. Does a place like that exist?

I have good news, Yes there is one place which is absolutely safe and secure that is “the shelter of the Most High God” The Psalmist reemphasizes it in Psalm 91: 9-13, “ If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the LORD, who is my refuge, then no harm will befall you; no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Whatever, God does is always complete and there is no half-heartedness in his intentions or scope. In the same way when it comes to covering his children God goes all the way and looks into minute details of their lives. These scriptures tell us a promise of God for his children which is his absolute protection. There is no doubt in my mind that God is able to protect me all of my life but does that automatically happen or is there a condition that I need to meet first?

There are many promises in God’s word and they are absolutely trust worthy as it says in 2 Cor 1:20; “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” We evangelical Christians are infamous for throwing “Christian Clich├ęs” at each other saying; “God will provide” “Don’t worry God will take care” “He is in control” Have faith in God He will heal,” “Trust in God”, my God will supply all your needs and so on.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in saying all that because they are indeed God’s promises but what we fail to recognize is that each promise precedes a condition. In the scripture we read; yes there will be no harm and plague come near the home of God’s children, of course God will commend his guarding angles to protect his people but when will that happen?

II. TWO CONDITIONS :( Vs 9-16)

The Psalmist gives two conditions for God’s complete coverage Vs 9 “If we make the Most High our dwelling; and if we take the LORD as our strong shelter or refuge.” Please check past week’s sermon on what it is to live in the shelter of the Most High God.

The second condition is “if we love him and call upon him when we are in trouble.” Vs 14-16, “Because he loves me says the LORD, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him. And show him my salvation.” Here we see the sevenfold promises of God but again as it is with any promises there are certain conditions we must meet first; what are they? “To Love God and call on His name.”

To “love the Lord,” often means biblically to obey the Lord. Deut 30:16, “For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you..” Jesus made it very clear that loving Him means obeying his commands.

John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” When we love Christ by obeying his commands he promised to be with us even unto the end of the age. Deliverance comes to those who know the Lord’s majestic name. Knowing means understanding the totality of who the Lord is and what the Lord can do. When we call upon that powerful name of Christ he will answer us and deliver us from our troubles.

The Psalmist can attest to this in Psalm 34:6 “this poor man called; and the LORD heard him; he saves him out of all his troubles.” The twinning of human “call” and divine “answer” appears frequently in Scripture. I can not count how many times I cried out to the LORD in my despair and troubles and saw his deliverance in my life. As the old gospel song, “Trust and Obey,” picks up on some of these ideas. God goes so far as to honor those who are trusting and obedient. When you face troubles who do you look to? Who do you call out to for help?

When we talk about God’s promises let’s keep things in balance. There are at times though we meet all the conditions and do everything by the book we still go through hardships, un-explainable troubles and unbearable heartaches.

I may justify and say that God is allowing this hardship in my life to test me, to refine me and teach me valuable lessons. I may never fully understand why God allows troubles to come on our way, but one thing I know as the following Poem suggests: God never promised a life without pain, Laughter without tears Or sun without rain. But He did promise Strength for the day, Comfort for the tears and light for the way, And for all who believe In His Heaven above He rewards their faith In His everlasting love.”

The real promise of Psalm 91 is that in the midst of the dangers and oppositions of this world, God will not abandon his people. Faith in God does not guarantee a life of ease, but does receive the promise that God will “answer” his people and “be with them in trouble” (vv. 14-16). This may have been what Paul had in mind when, in the midst of his own suffering and imprisonment, he wrote that nothing, not even death, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). God’s love is the ultimate security!

Christian faith is not about taking the path of least resistance or, to use the MapQuest metaphor, the shortest distance between two points. It is not a sprint race but a marathon. While we are not guaranteed lives free of pain (indeed, are often quite the opposite), but we are guaranteed His presence in the midst of our crowded, noisy, dangerous and often-under-construction journey of life. When we make the Most High God as our shelter and learn to dwell in his presence then we live without fear, for God is with us no matter where we find ourselves.

While this provision is made available for every one, only His Children can fully experience it. The only way you can become a child of God is by repenting of your sins and asking Jesus to forgive your sins and come into your heart to make his dwelling in you. When you do that sincerely today as I said earlier there is no waiting period (unlike the insurance coverage) you can start experiencing God’s complete coverage not only for you but also for your family. Amen

Sunday, March 11, 2012

IN THE SHELTER OF THE MOST HIGH GOD: (A meditation on Psalm 91)

Jimmy Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997) was an American film and stage actor, known for his distinctive voice and persona. Over the course of his career, he starred in many films widely considered classics and was nominated for five Academy Awards. What many may not know is his military service and even more so his faith in God. Before Jimmy Stewart left to fight overseas with his bomber squadron, his father, an Indiana, Pennsylvania, hardware store owner and staunch Presbyterian, slipped a note into his son's pocket. The note read: "My dear Jim boy, Soon after you read this letter, you will be on your way to the worst sort of danger.... I am banking on the enclosed copy of the 91st Psalm. The thing that takes the place of fear and worry is the promise of these words.... I can say no more.... I love you more than I can tell you. Dad."[1]

What trust this father has in the word of God! And what a confident advice he could give to his son who was going out on a most dangerous mission! Lo and behold “Throughout the war, Jimmy Stewart carried with him a copy of the 91st Psalm, a gift from his loving father. Later according to the Jimmy Stewart Museum, he said, "What a promise for an airman. I placed in His Hands the squadron I would be leading. And, as the psalmist promised, I felt myself borne up."[2]

I believe Psalm 91 is placed by our heavenly father for you and me His sons and daughters to encourage us during our times of trouble. I don’t know how many times I referred to this Psalm in my troubles and was comforted by meditating on it. It is so important that even the devil knows it and used it against Christ. I titled this sermon” In the Shelter of the Most High.”

BACKGROUND TO PSALM 91

Psalm 91 is an exuberant hymn of praise. It reminds us in many ways of Ps 90. Both begin with the blessedness of the one who finds a dwelling place in God. Psalm 90 suggests a man of many years who has experienced disappointments and frustrations. Psalm 91 suggests a young man with buoyancy and expectancy. This can be divided into two parts. Part one Vs 1-8 explains God’s character and His care and Part two Vs 1-9 talks about man’s response and rewards of obedience. Though several metaphors were used in this Psalm, the underlying meaning is, God cares for his people and there is safety for us when we live in the shelter of the Most High. Let’s delve into Psalm 91.

I GOD’S CHARACTER AND HIS CARE: (Vs 1-8)

Vs 1-2 “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge, and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” Let’s pause there and get to the bottom of the meaning of this verse.

The Psalmist rightly began the Psalm addressing God, he used three words for God, do all of them convey the same meaning or each has a significant meaning? For the English speakers the word “God” do not carry as much a deeper meaning as it does to the Hebrew speakers. Therefore, our understanding of God is limited and certainly the awe of God is minimized. In the Hebrew language over a hundred names were used for God based on his character and nature. Out of many name three most commonly used names are found in Vs 1& 2. Firstly, El Elyon- "The most high God" God is sovereign which means that God is in charge of the entire universe ALL the time. God is so in control of our lives that nothing can happen without His permission. (Psalm 57:2) This name often refers to his omnipotence

No fortunes, evil dictator's plans or worldly circumstances can thwart His plans. Secondly, El Shaddai- "God all sufficient" This could be used in unison with another Hebrew name Jehovah-Jireh because God supplies all our needs at the prescribed time according to His riches and Glory in Christ. Thirdly, Elohim means “Plural God”, the most commonly used name for God. We know this plurality as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit[3]

When we know our God is all powerful, highly exalted, all sufficient and the Supreme Being, what does that do to us? Well for one our appreciation and respect for God will increase. Our lives will radically change knowing the fact that God is in control of our lives. When we live in the shelter of the Most High what danger can come near you and your family?

In ancient times there were several seen and unforeseen dangers humans had to deal with from time to time. Whole families and tribes used to be wiped off when a natural calamity such as a plague or pestilence struck a community. Not only that there was constant threat from the wild animals and poisonous snakes. These were the real dangers that could strike any one either day or night. So they understood the importance of living under the protection of the almighty.

What does living in the shelter of the Most High God mean to us today? It means that we entrust every aspect of our lives into God’s hands, which includes our families, marriages, homes, schools, businesses, cities and the nation. It is one thing to say “In God we trust” as it says in our currency but it is entirely different to truly trust God with your life. I need to come back to God over and over again and entrust my entire life to Him.

When we sincerely entrust our lives to God as the Psalmist assures we will have no fear of sudden dangers. Vs 3-8 display great confidence in God’s saving, protecting and providing power. Let me dwell on Vs 4, “He will cover you with his feathers, under his wings you will find refuge, his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Three metaphors were used in this verse. What did they mean to the original audience then and how can we apply them to our situation today? Firstly look at the metaphor of “under his wings” Does it mean that God has humongous wings with which He will cover all of his children? No! It is a metaphor. In the OT the metaphor of wings is often used to explain the protective and redemptive power of God. The following scriptures explain this concept.

Psalm 36: 7, “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalm 57:1 “Have mercy on me, O God…. for in you my soul takes refuge, I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

Remember when Jesus denounced Jerusalem for its refusal to accept him as the LORD, he used the same metaphor of wings? In Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

This scripture explains that God is longing to take us under his wings, but how far are we willing to come under his protection? Are we like the city of Jerusalem constantly refusing to recognize Christ as the Lord of our lives? We have a choice, we can either let God be God and take care of us or reject Him and go on our own way. I am telling you if you continually reject God in your life you are the most miserable person on the face of the earth.

“Under his wings” communicates not only God’s protective power but also his redemptive power. The theme of redemption pervades the OT. Redeem means, “the transfer of ownership from one to another through payment or by something of equivalent value. At first it was applied only to property but later on was extended to people. We see the act of redemption clearly played out when Boaz redeemed Ruth. An interesting drama took place between Naomi’s close relatives, the town elders and Boaz.

Let me give you a snapshot of the drama of redemption in the book of Ruth. The story begins with Naomi returning to her home land after loosing her husband, and two sons. Ruth the loyal daughter in law did not abandon Naomi in her misery but followed her all the way.

Think about Ruth’s predicament, a Moabite woman whose clan was strongly hated by the Jewish people, not only that a widow, a foreigner (immigrant) living in a strange land. Can you imagine what fears, insecurities and anxieties this poor woman must have gone through? In the midst of her desolation her consolation was her God fearing Jewish mother in law who was kind and loving towards her daughter in law who encouraged her to go and glean in the field of another kind man in the land. So here is Ruth grazing in the field of Boaz, all of sudden her life took a different turn when Boaz took note of her. Interestingly he prayed a blessing over Ruth which has the same metaphor “Under His Wings” May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:12)

We know the rest of the story. Boaz married Ruth they lived happily ever after. Who would have ever thought that God would raise up a savior through an Immigrant?

As we read the rest of the story, Ruth gives birth to a son and names him Obed who latter becomes the father of Jesse and Jesse becomes the father of David through whose lineage the savior of the world Jesus Christ was born. In what mysterious ways God works?

What does “God covering us under his wings” mean today? We too just like Ruth in the story were without Christ without any covering and protection over us. Our lives were filled with insecurities, anxieties and fears. As Boaz took note of Ruth, Christ took note of us in our misery and hopelessness. Christ has paid the bridal price. Eph 1:7 reads, “In him we have redemption through his blood the forgiveness of sins.”

Through his blood Christ redeemed us another words he acquired the ownership of our lives, we belong to him. In Isaiah 62: 5, we read, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride so will your God rejoices over you. As Paul says, in 2 Cor 11:2, “we are kept for our bride groom our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are his bride and his pride.

Next week we will continue exploring the depth of meaning of Psalm 91 but from what we have seen today where do you find yourself? Are you bristling against the idea of coming under His wings or are you enjoying the peace that comes from living in the shelter of the Most High and resting in the shadow of the Almighty?

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

RADICAL DISCIPLESHIP

In John Reynolds' Anecdotes of the Rev. John Wesley, he tells the story of Wesley's student days at Lincoln College in Oxford. A porter knocked on Wesley's door one evening and asked to speak with him. After some conversation Wesley noted the man's thin coat, for it was a cold winter night. Wesley suggested that he had better get another coat. The porter replied: "This coat ... is the only coat I have in the world and I thank God for it." Wesley asked the man if he had eaten and the porter replied: "I have had nothing today but a draught of spring water ... and I thank God for that." Wesley, growing uneasy in the man's presence, reminded him that he would have to get to his quarters soon or be locked out. "Then what shall you have to thank God for?" Wesley asked. "I will thank Him," replied the porter, "that I have dry stones to lie upon."

Wesley was deeply moved by the man's sincerity and he said to him, "You thank God when you have nothing to wear; ... nothing to eat ... [and] no bed to lie on. I cannot see what you have to thank God for." The man replied: "I thank God... that he has given me life and being, and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him."

After the man had left with a coat from Wesley's closet, some money for food and words of appreciation for the witness he had made, Wesley wrote in his Journal: "I shall never forget that porter. He convinced me there is something in religion to which I am a stranger." [1] Are you a stranger to the strangeness of true Discipleship? Last week I was convicted of my lack of thankfulness for everything I received from God. For the past few Sundays we have been studying the Acts 2 process found in Acts 2:42-47, which made the first century Church in Jerusalem, grow both in quality and quantity.

The Acts 2 process involved five elements. Firstly, Worship: adoration, the worship of God in Spirit and Truth holds everything else together in place. Secondly, as we connect with God through worship we are to connect with one another in fellowship. Thirdly, our worship of God and fellowship with each other is not an end in itself; they should motivate us to reach out to others with the Gospel. Fourthly, we realized that there are many opportunities to serve God both in the Church and outside the Church. In Christian service Character outweighs competence.

Today we will look at the fifth crucial element in the process which is “Grow or Discipleship” We will look at what the word disciple means and some misconceptions of discipleship and what radical discipleship looks like.

  1. WHAT DOES THE WORD ‘DISCIPLE’ REALLY MEAN?

The word disciple comes from a Greek word which means, someone who not only learns but becomes attached to one’s teacher and becomes his follower in doctrine and conduct of life. In other words a disciple is someone who walks in the footsteps of his master or emulates his lifestyle

In the New Testament the word "disciple" is used 269 times. When we hear the word disciple we are quick to think of the twelve disciples who were also called the apostles, but in most cases it referred to the great numbers of people that followed Christ. In Acts 11:26, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” If a Christian disciple primarily is a learner then what must he learn? If he is an follower of Christ how must he imitate the life of Christ?

During Jesus’ time crowds have followed Him for all kinds of reasons but how many of them were truly his disciples? Even many today come to Jesus for various reasons but how many of them are willing to make a commitment to follow Christ all the way through?

What makes someone a true disciple of Jesus Christ? What does radical discipleship look like? To begin, let’s look at some misconceptions of discipleship.

II. MISCONCEPTIONS OF DISCIPLESHIIP

Over the years in response to Jesus’ command “to make disciples of all nations” many in their eagerness have used different models of discipleship. Some proved to be fruitful but others were rigid and stifling. One of such models was “the shepherding movement or the discipleship movement in 1970’s and 1980s. Though it was found to be effective initially in the end it proved to be counter productive. The doctrine of the movement emphasized the "one another" passages of the New Testament, and the mentoring relationship described in 2 Timothy.[2]

This over emphasis on leadership resulted in “perverse and unbiblical obedience” to leaders. In 1990 one of the movement’s founders Bob Mumford issued a “Formal Repentance Statement to the Body of Christ,” saying,Accountability, personal training under the guidance of another, and effective pastoral care are needed biblical concepts. True spiritual maturity will require that they be preserved. These biblical realities must also carry the limits indicated by the New Testament. However, to my personal pain and chagrin, these particular emphases very easily lent themselves to an unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders. Many of these abuses occurred within the sphere of my own responsibility.”[3]

Having been around in Christian circles for a while I have seen at times an unhealthy emphasis on accountability or confessing sins to one another. I have also seen heavy handed leaders who abused their authority. There is room for mutual accountability as and when the Holy Spirit leads an individual to do so but it should never be forced or manipulated. As the scripture suggests we should not lord over those we lead instead we are to serve them.

In an attempt to move away from such strong authoritarian, dictatorial form of leadership certain churches do away with any form of established leadership. They take matters into their own hands by empowering the congregation to make all the decisions. In other words there is no one particular leader, but every one tries to lead. Such congregations resemble the old state of Israel in Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” If one model is controlling and authoritarian the second one is permissive and chaotic.

Another unhealthy form of discipleship is prevalent these days which is heavy emphasis on fund raising by certain TV evangelists, ministries and churches. They major on success, prosperity, health and wealth, but seldom talk about sufferings, hardships, trials and tribulations which are the core credentials of discipleship. When it comes to talk about discipleship I like to us the word “Radical”, because it expects change and calls us for action. Radical discipleship calls Christians to follow the will of God through personal action and example. What does radical discipleship look like in the Scriptures?

III. RADICAL DISCIPLESHIP

Biblical discipleship if anything is radical, because it was taught and practiced by a leader who was more radical than his contemporaries. What he said and did practically blew the myths of leadership, and traditional views of serving God. Christ’s discipleship model is so radical because of its call, the cost and the rewards.

Firstly, the call of discipleship. After his resurrection Jesus had an executive board meeting on a mountain top with eleven of his disciples. He gave them a command to “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded them (Matt 28:19-20) In this scripture Jesus explained the process of making disciples.

His final directions for His apostles and in turn to all of his followers in going to all nations were to do three things: (1) making disciples, (2) baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit (3) teaching them all what Jesus had commended them (his teachings). The book of Acts tells how the apostles followed the Lord's instructions. In our text we read that, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. What we see here is a radical discipleship.

You may ask what is so radical about reading the bible, worshipping God and prayer. Well don’t write off these age old well practiced and proven Christian disciplines so quickly. In Acts 2:42-47, as a result of their devotion to the teachings of Christ the early Church saw wonders and miraculous signs, they saw extreme generosity in practice and they saw souls getting saved on a daily basis. If that is not radical enough, then what else is?

Not only the early disciples, but all of his followers are called by Christ for a radical discipleship, but that call also comes with a cost, a price to pay. The great reformer of the Church Martin Luther once said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” More recently a highly regarded theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer in his book, “the cost of discipleship” said, “Grace is free but not cheap.”

My friend, salvation is a free gift from God; you don’t have to do anything to earn it but everything else after getting saved is costly. If you ask the early disciples, the church reformers or any great men and women of God what price you must pay in following Christ, they would unashamedly without any hesitation would echo the very words of Christ who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever looses his life for me will find it.” Let these words deeply sink into our hearts.

Following Christ comes with a huge price tag attached to it. It calls for a life style of self denial, giving up of our rights, and willingness to go through suffering, pain, heartache and possibly death. What comforts or pleasures are you willing to deny yourself in order to know Christ? It is about time that we stop fighting; grumbling and quarreling among ourselves over who will make the next meat balls and spaghetti meal and as a Church take a deeper look at radical discipleship.

As we are deliberating on the merits and challenges of radical discipleship there are literally thousands of our brothers and sisters who are paying the price with their lives because of their obedience to the call of their master. I was moved and deeply challenged by the stand that young Iranian Pastor Yousuf took, though he was offered freedom from execution simply if he confessed that, Mohammed is the great prophet of God but he simply refused to deny his master and prepared to die. What an example of a radical disciple of Christ.

Christ is calling you for a radical discipleship. Are you willing to pick up your cross and follow Jesus? May the Lord help all of us with courage to radically follow Him, even if it means loosing our lives? My prayer is that all of us will hear the words of Jesus at the end of our life’s journey that are recorded in Rev 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Amen