Human Effort

Everything Depends on God's Mercy


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The Hard Work of Discipline

prize

Discipline is a word that brings up the concept of short term pain for long term gain. No pain; no gain the adage goes. Discipline also brings up the idea of how to correct unruly behavior in children. To spank or not to spank? Spare the rod spoil the child. While these two views of discipline are similar they are not the same. And in our relationship with Christ both have implications. The Bible speaks of discipline a great deal. In modern translations like NIV or ESV one can find the word from 40 to 50 times. But in an older translation like the King James version it is only used once. The King James translation liked the word “chasten”. Whatever changes have occurred to the English language over time the idea of discipline has not become any less important.

Discipline #1: The engagement of the believer in Christ to organize life in such a way that the relationship and service to God is more effective.

Living a life that puts Christ and His priorities first is not easy. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavor. Some people have lived amazing miraculous lives that are examples to us all. Some have been called saints and some have died unknown and forgotten to all but God. But others seem to barely understand the Christ that saved them. Their lives seem undistinguished from the rest of the world. What separates these two extremes is discipline in Christ. Those who show Christ have lives marked by life of discipline that maximizes praying, reading, loving, serving, and sharing God with the world. They became intentional as some level and through discipline bent their desires to be subject to Christ. The power of this relationship becomes accelerated through the discipline and self-denial of one who is seeking Christ first.

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 ESV

The author of Hebrews states that in the moment discipline seems painful. The King James translation uses the word “chasten” which means a moderating and restraining effect. This kind of discipline is talking about how adults correct mistakes in their life and how they learn to curb the passions of life. Fasting is not fun. Serving others is a chore. Denying a life of hedonism does not seem all that wonderful to those who are young. But later on, from the other side of chasing Christ is a peace and comfort of a life lived as God intended.

Discipline #2: The act of a perfect Father correcting a child and training a child for the future.

God is no passive Creator that is only now watching his creation evolve. God became a man and died on a cross to reconcile people to Himself. God is actively involved in the life of every single person. For those whom God calls son or daughter he will correct and discipline. God has not left his children without a way or without his love.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19 ESV

The loving correction of a Father may produce tears in the child but this kind of correction sets a child on a path to a life well lived. God’s correction will set one to life eternal. God’s correction will draw one closer and will allow one to respect Him and His plans for life more. It is no accident that listed along with the types of sin that will destroy a man are those that are disobedient to their parents.

29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32 ESV

If honoring parents made it into the 10 Commandments how much more so is the obedience of submitting to a heavenly father’s correction and discipline.

These two forms of discipline are vital. First is the loving correction of God to remove and cutout sinful behavior and second the effort and restraint where we choose to organize our lives around prayer, church, fasting, and serving to know him better. Together these disciplines done through Christ will draw us nearer to the prize of life in eternity.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV


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And now for the Payoff

payoff

I watched a military leader of some stripe promoting a new book he had written called Make Your Bed and he had written it as a wisdom book about being successful in life. His wisdom being that making the bed first thing starts the day in the right direction. This act establishes discipline and therefore allows more accomplishment as the day moves on. Very sound wisdom… Maybe my life could be more successful if I become more disciplined? Success and being successful is a huge motivator for most people and that raises some questions for me on what it is we expect from this life.

A large percentage of people might agree with the following statement… “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” This is the heart of much advertising especially around sports. The problem is how many people start a work and never see it realized? How many have died before seeing their children grow? How many have been taken advantage of and lost everything they ever saved? How many refugees are forced to move because of war leaving behind everything including family? A wise man once complained of how evil it is that a stranger might enjoy the work of someone else’s toil and savvy.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 ESV

What are you committed to right now? A sport? A way to become famous? What if you fail? What if all the work does not pay off? Is the work still worth it? If all that you have is taken by a government or lost in war is the life still worth living? These are questions that many people the world over have had to not only ponder but live out.

While coming up short on some major desire or plan for life might be a “grievous evil” what about the person who abandon’s everything to follow God’s call and God’s promise but never sees it fulfilled? In Hebrews, the chapter on faith, the author points out this problem that many of the Old Testament believers experienced first hand.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13 ESV

God called them to live an unusual life, many times not a pleasant life, and showed them a future promise that they would not live to experience. Dear Reader would you tolerate such a situation? These men and women not only tolerated such a seeming disappointment they are commended for their faith and trust in God’s bigger picture. Note what it says they came to understand. That they were strangers and exiles on this earth and this life. They understood that this is not their home. Strive, work, make your bed, and be successful. However take stock in why and for what reason one desires success. In the statement “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” The real question is what is the payoff at the end of all that work and success?

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12 ESV

If the payoff is not God’s grace and the fellowship as a son or daughter through Christ in eternity then that successful life lived will be dedicated to an earth that is not home and will not last.


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They Followed Jesus Anyway

easter

The Resurrection of Christ is real and we know it to be legitimate based on the reaction from His followers. Most of the disciples and many of the close associates of Christ died unnatural deaths proclaiming a risen Jesus. If a resurrected Jesus was simply a plot hatched by these disciples then what are the odds that they would give up worldly advancement only to most likely die for that lie? The reason conspiracies are untrue or fail to get off the ground if they might have been true is that the more people involved the more likely it is that someone will break and give up the lie. Now a resurrected Jesus alive and meeting with his followers was no isolated event. Jesus over many days and weeks appeared to hundreds of people.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV

With this many people involved in a conspiracy how could it last? There is no tradition that any of the disciples rejected the gospel, but there is tradition that they died for this gospel. In the Gospel of John there is an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus relating to the future hardships and death that Peter would encounter for Christ. After Jesus told Peter that he would die, Peter asked Jesus about John. John the author of this narrative with some years between the conversation and the time of recording the history seems to interject an understanding that the disciples knew they were going to be martyred for the gospel and some most likely had already seen that end.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John 21:20-23 ESV

Jesus also warned the disciples that by following him they would pay a price, that they would not be popular, and he even uses the word “hate” to describe how the world would feel about them. Even today Christians die for proclaiming a risen Jesus and celebrating Easter.

19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 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. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. John 15:19-20 ESV

Much of what is listed here is tradition, but with any tradition there is a foundation of truth even if the exact details have been lost. I believe it is safe to take away that many of the original followers of Christ died teaching and preaching about Easter.

Simon (Peter)

Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down by the Romans around 65 AD. He requested to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way as Jesus.

[Jesus speaking to Peter] Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 ESV

Andrew (Peter’s Brother)

Church tradition holds that Andrew was crucified around 69 AD.

James (Son of Zebedee brother of John)

Luke in the book of Acts records how James was killed along with other followers by Herod around 44 AD.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword Acts 12:1-2 ESV

Saul (Paul)

Church tradition holds that Paul was imprisoned with Peter and then eventually beheaded around 65 AD.

James (The brother of Jesus)

James was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19) and the church tradition holds that he was thrown from one of the higher walls of the temple. When his attackers realized he survived the fall they had him beaten to death with a club (gotquestions.org).

*Revised and Edited. Originally published on Human Effort in April 2014.


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What Government would Jesus Do?

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Palm Sunday is here leading up to the greatest holiday in all human history, Easter. Palm Sunday is the triumphant entry of the future King into Jerusalem just a week before he will die to provide salvation to those that would call up on his name.

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” John 12:12-13 ESV

The people tried to make Jesus a king on multiple occasions. But as quickly as they would have crowned him King they turned on him and had him killed. Did Jesus not want to be King? What kind of government would God want Christians to champion? I became aware of politics as a young boy when Ronald Regan was president. I learned that Capitalism is good and Communism is bad. I was patriotic in all the right ways understanding what it meant to fight the evil communist like Rocky avenging the death of Apollo. I felt America was the greatest country in world. It is interesting how times change, how my view of the world has changed, and what things I value have changed. Today I understand that the world is messy and even the “good” guys are still sinners that practice evil things. Don’t misunderstand there is no country in this world I would rather live than America. I believe it is the greatest country and power ever raised up in a world that is cursed and broken. But America and the people who make up this country like anything else in this fallen world have problems and an ugly history.

When I started studying God’s word a verse that stuck out and confounded me was a verse about the early church because the verse did not describe capitalism, in fact it came across as the exact opposite.

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47 ESV

This sounded an awful lot like socialism or redistributionism “as any had need”. Now going back to my roots of Capitalist America I am suspicious of Progressives who are desperate to redistribute and set things equal. “Equality” and “Fair Share” are mantras they live by. Progressives that I see on the news want to take from others and use the sword of government to enforce their view of equality. Yet here I see a distributive model before me in the early Church. Are Progressives right and is this early church and the ways of God a form of socialism? Is capitalism evil?

Progressives are quick to point out how much of a socialist Jesus seems to be. These arguments are always front and center condemning the unchristian behavior of anyone who might want to cut government spending in any way.

free health care

So what did Jesus think of Government? Look as one might there are no descriptions of Jesus standing at the court of Rome demanding government aid to those in need. In fact, what one will find is that Jesus avoided government as much as possible. Look here at this conversation between Peter and Jesus when it came time to pay taxes.

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:24-27 ESV

Jesus felt no obligation to pay taxes but “not to give offense” he wisely instructed Peter to take care of the bill. Who is the tax collected from? Not from those that run the government “the sons are free”. In all of his ministry Jesus does not care about the government outside of its role to provide structure and maintain order. Rome allowed Jesus to walk the streets to speak and carry on his ministry. He asked nothing of the government and he did not seek to reform it while on earth. Of course there is one major exception to his lack of interest in government… Jesus used the authority and sword of government to allow himself to be killed on a cross. This is the one function or area where government has a mandate from God. The one thing Government is permitted that is unique to government is killing people.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval. Romans 13:1-3 ESV

Feeding the poor and providing safety nets are not an expectation Jesus had of government. He looked to the Disciples and asked them what they would do about the hungry.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:15-16 ESV

Jesus expected the church, his followers, to care for those in need and to help those who were broken. Jesus did not want his followers ask the Government to do it for them. Jesus wanted Christians to sell their own possessions and to work with their own hands in the community. His expectations are not that government feed the elderly. His expectations are that I leave the comfort of my own home and venture into the homes of those in need.

Jesus has no need for Government made by men because Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is not a socialist or a capitalist because he already owns everything and he will not be a tool of any man’s government no matter the form. Jesus is a servant to those who are part of his kingdom and he freely gives to those in need. It is out of that abundance that Christians should follow his lead and also give to those in need because all that we have is a result of his great mercy.

 


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Why did Jesus Need to Die?

death

Death is such an ugly business. Especially brutality and murder. Outside of the voyeuristic obsession moviegoers seem to have with death most people push the aging and sick off to the sides of society. Personally, to my good fortune and shame, I have never spent time in a hospice for those who are dying. Those that deal with death in these settings daily as a part of their job must have special insight into the moments between life and death. On one hand, I would like to experience and understand on the other I shudder at the emotional weight of such finality. When relatives, loved ones, and even pets die it is a heart wrenching emotion for those left to carry on. Even when the death is expected and drawn out the emotion of the situation can be overwhelming to even the most stoic of persons. I fall into that category. I do not want to deal with death unless necessary and even then, emotions must be held in check. Why would God allow such an unnatural evil to invade our space and our all too short of lives on this earth? The short answer is “grace and mercy” because of sin life is cutoff otherwise we would all be cursed to live forever in our sins not unlike some miserable vampire forever without purpose and without fellowship with our Creator. But why would God need Jesus to die to secure salvation for me? What does God need from Jesus? The author of Hebrews addresses this in an interesting way.  

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hebrews 9:16-17 ESV

The author is explaining to the Jews of his day that Jesus is a new covenant replacing the old covenant where priests sacrificed goats, bulls, and sheep to cover the sin of the peoples. No longer will those sacrifices be needed because their fulfillment was completed in the death of Jesus on the cross. But what is interesting is that he uses the contract of a will to describe the process. God could have just given us a room in his house, or given his creation a large sum of credit to fix the problem of sin. However, that credit and that place to stay would not make us whole it would only make us dependent. God wanted creation to be his children, sons and daughters, we were made to be family to the king. God resolved the issue by putting on the flesh of a man, becoming Jesus, and then being killed so that he could give the creation an inheritance of life, fellowship, and restoration of a curse removed. The only way to make us whole was his death so the will and inheritance could take effect.

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV

God loves his creation and as members of that creation he is calling us to an inheritance that only can be provided through Christ. When we stand at judgment will it be in our own sin or the perfect blood of Jesus?


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“the Way”

way

Early on in the life of the Church it was not yet called Christian, Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, or Reformed. It was simply known as “the Way”. Saul, before becoming Paul, wanted to round up the members of the “the Way” and later after conversion Paul caused problems for entire regions as a member of “the Way”.

19 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. Acts 19:23 ESV

I like the name “the Way” for the early church because it is so perfectly descriptive of the purpose and point of life. In the Greek, the word used to describe the local church is properly understood to mean simply a road, journey, or a traveled way. It can be used in metaphor as course of conduct or method of thinking. Those outside and inside the early Church referred to this newly formed group as “the” way, road, and course of conduct. Not “a” way but “the” way. They were making a statement that the path ahead is definitive and final with no other options being true. The reason this is so perfectly descriptive is that Jesus himself spoke of salvation as a journey not a status. Jesus also used the exact same word to describe this choice in journey.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14 ESV

We are all journeying in this life on some road or way of thinking. Jesus made special care to note that His way is narrow and difficult. The way of the world however is wide open and easy, but it leads to destruction. Life is hard and people make bad situations worse with bad choices. Sometimes I am amazed at how fast those bad choices spiral out of control.

24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:24 ESV

When our founding parents were moved out of paradise “the way” to life and fellowship with God was cutoff. Our rebellion against our creator keeps us all headed for destruction and broken before a perfect and Holy God. Jesus has come to make a way for creation to return to our natural state of fellowship with our Creator.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:3-7 ESV

The beauty of this journey and way is that if one would stop running and listen there is a guide who knows the way and is ready to show the way. More He is the way. Through Him is truth and life. What was once blocked and guarded because of rebellion has been opened and made possible by the perfect obedience of Christ.


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Jesus Got Married

bride

Psalm 45 is a wedding song that points to a divine King with an eternal kingdom. This king is blessed beyond any other king and hold favor from God like none before or after. This king is going to be married.

6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; Psalm 45:6-7 ESV

The Bride is of royalty herself and a subject of the king. She will bow to the king and be a part of his kingdom going forward.

9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. 10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, 11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. Psalm 45:9-11 ESV

This marriage speaks of a unique King and Bride because they will rule eternally. There is only one eternal King and his name is Jesus. The idea that Jesus will be married is a shock to some since it is well known Jesus did not take a wife when he was on earth. God’s plans and future for His perfect kingdom are documented in advance and Psalm 45 is the song He had written in advance of the wedding day. So, the question one might have is what Bride would be worthy of Jesus? What bride will spend eternity ruling with Christ?

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

The new Jerusalem prepared as a “bride adorned” for her husband. A holy Kingdom where Christ is married to the people in the city where “the dwelling place of God is with man”.

Paul builds on this truth throughout his letters. He plainly tells the church to be faithful as one who is engaged to be married. Paul also brings forth the promises that a dutiful husband holds in laying down his life for his wife.

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2 ESV

If you call Christ Lord, then know he is your eternal King and you will be joined with Him in heaven. Be faithful, purse holiness, and flee from the distractions of this temporary world. The new Jerusalem is where he will rule and it is where the joy of a perfect union will be found.

 Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! Psalm 40:4 ESV