Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Whose Disciple Are You?

Most Christians have heard the quotes “I am of Apollos” and “I am of Paul” from I Corinthians 1 and 3. Here Paul was telling his readers that they shouldn’t follow their favorite preachers over and above their Lord, Jesus Christ.

Using a Bible dictionary, you can learn that Apollos was a Christian Jew from Alexandria and some Bible scholars think perhaps he wrote the Bible book, Letter to the Hebrews. Luke says Apollos was, “an eloquent man” and “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). But even eloquence and a mighty knowledge of the Bible should not pull us away from our Lord.

Have you ever noticed someone repeating this preacher or that teacher’s name and quoting them with every other breath? I find myself wondering if they’ve stopped to look at the Scriptures for themselves – or are they only listening to the mighty eloquence of a popular Christian folk-hero?

Jesus tells us in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (NASB). If you use Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to define the word “disciple”, you’ll find it simply means “learner”. So, whose disciple are you? Are you learning from the Lord Jesus or some eloquent human teacher?

Another word I found interesting from John 8:31 is “continue”. It seems clear from the text that I am Jesus’ disciple only if I continue in His word – so I better know for sure what that word “continue” means!

According to Strong’s, the Greek word “mênō” for “continue” means: to stay in a given place, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry. This definition adds quite a bit of meaning to Jesus’ statement. To be His disciple, it is not enough to learn from Him a few minutes out of a few random mornings each month. We are to endure and tarry – dwelling in His word. So, let me ask again; truly, whose disciple are you?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paul on the Road to Damascus

As I write this, the Bereans’ class is wrapping up the book of Acts and will be moving on to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. But I can’t possibly do Luke’s book of Acts any justice if I don’t comment on Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Not only are the actual events given quite a bit of space, but Luke also records for us the details as re-told by Paul twice more (Acts 22:1-21 and 26:1-23).

Saul, accuser and persecutor of the Saints, sees a blinding light, hears a mysterious voice, and becomes Paul – Christ’s Ambassador and Apostle to the Gentiles. As Christians, we often marvel at having such a wonderful conversion story to tell – and at the powerful and undeniable change in Paul that resulted.

While it is true, not everyone has such a dramatic conversion experience; the Bible is clear that everyone is to be dramatically changed by their conversion experience. Your life “in Christ” is new! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.” (II Corinthians 5:17).

This being the case, does your current lifestyle significantly differ from your pre-conversion lifestyle? Another way to look at this, is to ask if the way you live looks any different than those you know who are unsaved? Do you both watch the same television shows, share the same expensive, time-consuming hobbies, and both equally maxed out with personal credit card debt?

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NASB). The Greek word for “transformed” is “mĕtamŏrphŏō”. Using the old KJV Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, I found this meaning: to transform (literally or figuratively “metamorphose”) – change, transfigure, transform.

This definition really improved my understanding of Romans 12:2. First, I was completely amazed to find the root of this word being so similar to our word for metamorphosis – the miraculous change of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Let me share with you a bit about this insect’s life cycle. The tiny eggs look like flecks of dust on a twig or leaf. They hatch out caterpillars so small you would hardly notice their squirming little bodies. Then they eat, and they eat, and they eat. As you might guess, they also grow! Soon they form their chrysalis cocoons and the miracle of transformation takes place.

I think it is interesting to realize this change would not be possible without the critter’s voracious appetite. Can you imagine their dismal failure if they ate only a few nibbles of a leaf, a couple times a week? They would die of starvation – with no transformation at all. I think that’s what happens to some new Christians when they aren’t given enough encouragement to be faithful in the Word. Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower that the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life can choke out our time in God’s Word and rob us of maturity as well as our fruit-bearing ability (Luke 8:14).

Sometimes I think we seem to encourage new believers to not study the Bible. When we say, “Congratulations – now you have eternal life!”, we imply they’ve arrived and there’s nothing else to do but wait to die and receive their reward. But can you imagine the explosion of growth in their tiny, imperceptible spiritual life if they went right home and read John’s gospel that same day? Then the next day they read 3 or 4 short epistles and the 3rd day plowed through Matthew?

We all want Christ-likeness, but the truth is, you can’t be or do what you don’t know. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a learner - to be a disciplined student of the things of God. We can’t hope to transform our minds if we won’t “eat” God’s Word like a hungry caterpillar! After Paul’s conversion, he spent three years in Arabia, consuming and transforming before beginning his ministry as Apostle and Ambassador for Christ (Galatians 1:15-18). Likewise, the transformation of our lives begins with radically different thinking and that happens as we are immersed in the teachings of Jesus, being His continual, steadfast disciple.

The other thing that jumped out at me from the definition of “mĕtamŏrphŏō”, is how this word seems to equally mean both “transform” and “transfigure”.  Transformation seems like a gradual process and transfigure seems more instantaneous. After a little more digging, I was able to learn that this Greek word is only used four times in the entire New Testament.

Twice this word is used in the gospels where Jesus is “transfigured” as He meets with Elijah and Moses (Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2). It is hard for us to know exactly what changes occurred that caused the gospel writers to use this particular word; but just imagine – it was something as dramatic as a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly! Furthermore, in Romans 12:2, we can now see that Paul says we are to dramatically re-align our thinking to this same extent. How can we do this? By hungering for God’s word like a caterpillar munches leaves!

The fourth New Testament reference using this Greek word is found in II Corinthians 3:18, here Paul is talking about how we are to be transformed into the very image of Christ. Now that’s dramatic!

So again, let’s consider Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus – was it unique? Yes, the manner of each person’s conversion is different. But no, we should each be radically transformed by a genuine encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are journaling suggestions for you to try:

Describe the changes that have occurred in your life since receiving Christ as your Savior.

Put down on paper the details of your personal conversion experience.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Our God-Breathed Bible

My April 2012 Lines of Purpose Newsletter concluded with this thought at the bottom of page 7: “When Paul described the Scripture as being useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16), he was speaking of the Old Testament.”

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how it is that we Christians are able to say that ALL the Bible is God-breathed and inspired. And, interestingly enough, I realized that every verse that came to mind seemed to be talking about the Old Testament and not the New Testament. So, as you’ve probably already guessed, the Berean in me kicked into high gear and I got out the shovel to start digging into this question….

The word “Scripture” is found 51 times in the New Testament, it is the Greek word, graphē. All 51 times it is in reference to the Old Testament and, therefore, we can assume it has a very special meaning to the writers of the New Testament. For instance, they never referred to a secular source as being Scriptural; the term was only applied to those documents seen as inspired, God-breathed writings.

In I Timothy 5:18, Paul writes: “For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing' and 'The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” The first quote given here by Paul comes from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 25:4 and the second quote is from the New Testament teaching of Jesus as found in Luke 10:7. It would seem that Paul feels both statements are Scripture.

In II Peter 3:16, we find that Peter knows about Paul’s writings and says that some of the things Paul teaches are difficult to understand, “which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of Scriptures, to their own destruction.” For Peter to make this statement, we must assume that Peter sees Paul’s letters as also being part of Scripture.

If we take these two passages together, I think the argument can be safely made that the Apostles felt their writings were, in fact, adding to the volume of existing Scripture. In such a case, Paul’s statement in II Timothy 3:16 would then include both the Old and the New Testaments when he states they are all God-breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. So, I stand corrected…