Follow me as I follow Christ

apostle-paulFollow me as I follow Christ, the apostle Paul said. (I Cor. 11:1; 4:16; Phil. 3:17)

The word follow here is from the Greek mimetes, meaning mimic, imitate. Be like me. Do what I do.

Hmmm. Just how did Paul follow Christ? Reading the book of Acts (beginning at chapter 9) and Paul’s epistles, we find that he:

Was a citizen of Rome AND a faithful Jew, highly educated and well learned in the scriptures
Went on a zealous rampage to stomp out this “Way,” (the new religion,) imprisoning or killing believers and confiscating their property
Had a supernatural encounter with Jesus
Temporarily lost his vision
Obeyed Jesus’ instructions
Was saved, healed, baptized in the Holy Spirit
Accepted his assignment
Preached the gospel
Prophesied
Healed the sick
Raised the dead
Cast out demons
Was stoned, raised from the dead (or near death)
Mentored young believers
Recruited helpers, both men and women
Appointed other leaders (ordained elders)
Performed many miracles, even by way of his work clothes – “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)
Testified to religious and government leaders
Wrote many letters (epistles)
Worked in a secular job (tent maker) to support himself

Of course, along the way he had some opposition…

In addition to the many events recorded in the book of Acts, see Paul’s own testimony in II Corinthians 11:23-28:

Abundant labors
Stripes above measure
Imprisoned frequently
Near death often
Beaten with rods
Stoned
Travel, by land and by sea
Shipwrecked x3
Unspecified perils in water, by robbers, his own countrymen, the heathen, in the city, in the wilderness, in the sea, and among false brethren (persecuted by Judaizers)
Weariness
Painfulness
Watchings (sleeplessness)
Hunger and thirst
Fastings
Cold
Nakedness
Had the care of all the churches
Was arrested and put on trial for blasphemy

Question: Was Paul writing to only a specific few, when he said be followers of me, as I follow Christ? Or was he talking to ordinary people, businessmen and women, factory workers, housewives, students, in other words, everyone?

For more about Paul’s life following Christ, also see What Paul Did While Weak, https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/what-paul-did-while-weak/

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Nepal

KathmanduWe have an enemy out to kill, steal and destroy. (John 10:10) Out to kill every human being, beings created in the image of God, Christian or not. Out to steal everyone’s goods, children, marriages, jobs, health. Destroy everyone’s reputation, faith, roads, bridges, buildings, confidence, peace of mind, hope. Destroy lakes, rivers, oceans. Mountains.

This planet was turned over to humans for their habitat and their management. Authority over the destroyer, the murderer from the beginning, the liar who says God did all the evil – the savage, brutal, inhuman rampaging enemy – whose authority is that?

Who is to blame when mountains fall?

Pray for rescue, access, equipment, recovery, repair, solace, healing, shelter, food, comfort, and above all, for a supernatural outpouring of grace and mercy, the peace with God that comes from God, peace that is beyond human understanding. The only real solution when mountains fall.

 

Unlimited potential, unlimited capacity

CornKernels CornEars CornStalksWithEars

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 NIV)

“In me… in you… in us…” Really? In – from the Greek preposition “en,” meaning inside the interior of something. Not a complicated, mysterious word at all. This was Jesus’ prayer, just before being killed.

I’m a life-long fan of murder mysteries. Hercule Poirot. Sherlock Holmes. Nero Wolfe. When trying to figure out “who dunnit,” the wiley detective always asks, Who benefits?

Thinking back to the events leading up to Easter, the cruelty, the overwhelming horror and anger and grief of the helpless disciples as their leader was assassinated, an odd question floated into my mind. Cui bono? Who benefits?

Well, I knew I would. I would benefit from not having to go to hell for my sins. But what was in it for Jesus? What could Jesus do after he was resurrected from the dead that he couldn’t do beforehand? What was in it for him?

So many strange things, supernatural things, miraculous things he had done before he died. Commanded the winds and waves. Walked on water. Multiplied bread and fish. Created wine out of water. Vanished into thin air. Completely disguised his appearance. Raised dead people back to life. Healed incurable diseases. Took authority over invisible evil spirits. Conversed with thousands-of-years-old patriarchs. Flattened Roman soldiers with two words, “I am.”

All those amazing things Jesus did as an unchanged human being. Things he told the disciples they could also do, and trained them how to do.

And toward the end he explained – several times in fact – what was coming next. Arrest. Trial. Guilty verdict. Death penalty. Roman execution. Resurrection. To give you eternal life, if you believe in me. This is necessary. This will benefit you.

But how did he, Jesus, benefit, I wondered? What could he do for himself after he came back to life, that he couldn’t do before he died?

Inhabit other human beings. Know them inside out. Enable them to know God. Experience God. Empower them to obey God.

Beforehand, he was limited to one place; limited to paying attention to what was going on in the immediate vicinity.

He had potential like no other human being at that time. He knew who he was, he knew God’s plan from beginning to end, and knew the end game would be successful. But it was limited potential. Limited capacity. One man. One “seed.”

One seed of corn can produce one stalk. One stalk can produce several ears. One ear can produce many seeds. Several ears can produce a multitude of seeds. Fields full of stalks. Unlimited potential. Unlimited capacity. (See John 12:24)

Jesus’s prayer answered. John 17:21 fulfilled.

I love it when a plan comes together!

WhenAPlanComesTogether“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” I Cor. 2:8 NIV

“No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” John 10:18 NIV

“But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.” Acts 2:23 NLT

“The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory … raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.” Eph. 1:17, 20-21 KJV

Hallelujah, He is Risen!

Why was he surprised?

nehemiah-praysI’ve re-read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah recently, trying to get the timelines straight in my mind.

It started with curiosity about disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant. Exactly when did it vanish (about 587 BC), I wondered, and what was going on at that time? (Babylonian conquest, exile, etc.)

This post isn’t about that, though.

Sermons I’ve heard in the past have mentioned the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra’s project) or the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah’s project), though usually not in the same sermon.

Reading these books now, I realize that completion of the rebuilt Temple and restoration of the city wall were only 13 years apart. The people involved knew each other. Ezra and Nehemiah knew about each other’s work and they eventually worked together.

Why, then, was Nehemiah surprised?

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Neh. 1:1-4)

It had only been a few years since the Temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt, with the sacrifices and worship restored. A great deal of money and materials had been donated (and spent) to achieve this, but it was only the first step toward rebuilding the great city.

Surely 13 years later, all the work was finished – including repairing the wall – and the city well on its way back to prosperity, flourishing even. But it wasn’t.

Several generations had come and gone since Cyrus first allowed the Jews to return to their land. Most recently Ezra had led a large group back, had instructed them in the law, then led them in prayers of repentance and vows of obedience.

But people have short memories, don’t they? The same sins that had got them killed, captured, exiled and enslaved in the first place, were besetting them again.

Disobeying the plainly stated words of God, they thumbed their noses at the Lord like unruly children. It was like laughing in his face, shouting “na na na na na na” and not expecting that he would really respond. Inviting judgment.

What about all those past disasters? “Mere coincidences, nothing to do with us.” Sounds a lot like some folks today.

Nehemiah had expected good news from Jerusalem, news of wall-building, house-building, job-building, family-building, faith and worship and prosperity. He shouldn’t have been surprised to hear just the opposite, but he was. The bad news broke his heart. He was grief-stricken.

So he did then what the church should be doing today. He wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. Okay, some in the church have been doing those things…

But then Nehemiah went a step further. He confessed HIS sins, HIS wicked actions. He confessed for himself, for his family and for the nation.

“…I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Neh. 1:6-7)

Had he been an unrighteous, ungodly, unrepentant infidel? Most of us would say no, surely not. What exactly had he done wrong? Well, what had the Israelites been doing wrong?

Compromising the word of God.

Nehemiah took the situation personally. His failure to speak earlier, failure to act, failure to pray, had made him part of the problem too. Even if he himself had not married an idol-worshiper or worshiped a false god, he was guilty.

In those moments he recognized the enormity of Israel’s ongoing rebellion, and recognized the enormity of the consequences they were risking. He acknowledged it, took the guilt upon himself and confessed it. He followed that up with action.

Why is the church surprised by the state of society in America today? Entire denominations have compromised the word of God, risking enormous consequences as a result. Risking judgment.

“If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve been getting.”