Dedicated Till Our Dying Breath! Or Our Everyday Life?

Matthew 10: 32-33

“32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

Somewhere around the time of AD 160 a man named Polycarp was aging into his late 80’s. He had become a Christian at a young age, and eventually became a bishop, or elder, at the church of Smyrna which is located in modern day Turkey. This church was located in a society that was completely devoted to worship of the Roman gods, and allegiance to the Roman Empire. If you know anything about early Christian history, then you are aware that this was one of the most pivotal and crucial times in Christian history. The Church had experienced growth, but was still struggling against rampant persecution.

Polycarp was not known for his eloquence, or his education but he had earned the extreme honor of a reputation as someone who was staunchly committed to Christ, uncompromisingly so. What set him apart was not his knowledge, but his utter surrender and love for God, one of amazing boldness.

It is likely that Polycarp was the last living person who was discipled by one of the original Apostles. It is said that Polycarp was a close friend and disciple of the Apostle John.

A letter was written for the churches and believers around the world shortly after Polycarp’s martyrdom. This is earliest chronicle of martyrdom outside of the New Testament itself.  You can find the entire letter translated into English here: https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/

Polycarp, in the later years of his life, had become the focus of much attention and persecution from the Roman government and the public as a whole.

At the time of his arrest Roman soldiers came to the house in which he was staying, and his friends urged him to flee and run away. Yet, Polycarp replied: “God’s will be done” and let the soldiers in.

He amazed the soldiers with his kindness and humility, even to the point of serving them food and drink in exchange for an hour of uninterrupted prayer before they took him away to be executed. After spending time praying for the life of the Church and the fellow believers being persecuted, he submitted himself to them and was led to the city arena in order that he might be burned alive and mauled by wild animals if he shouldn’t denounce his faith in Christ.

Well, of course he did not, and He was bold until the very last breath. Some of his last words were:

“86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”… “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

Polycarp was executed that day, which was heartbreaking to young church of Smyrna, yet it accomplished something the Roman Emprire did not want. Instead of striking fear into the Church, it sparked courage and boldness that led to a very powerful time for the Church. Polycarp was just the first of many who have since laid down their lives and comfort for the sake of Christ and the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to a dying world.

The letter says that at the time when Polycarp was set afire, that the flames formed an arch around him and the fire did not consume him as the Romans had hoped. Instead, it created the appearance of illumination. In frustration, the executioner stabbed him with a dagger resulting in his death.

Let me assure you of something my dear friends. The western world is not far removed from such a similar time. I am no prophet, nor am I attempting to be, but if things continue the way they are then there may come a day when the same courage displayed by Polycarp, the Apostle Paul, and the Disciples may be also required of us if we are to continue passing the Faith onto the next generation.

Polycarp’s martyrdom is an amazing story of courage and commitment to Christ. One in which many of us would hope earnestly to imitate if we were to be found in a similar situation. We too would hope that we would remain committed to Christ until our very dying, executed life. But, will we be? Only time will tell… but there is one way that we can test ourselves to see, and that is through the daily death and commitment that being a Disciple of Christ requires. It is through the daily acknowledgment of Christ before men that may just be more painful than physical execution at times.

Every day in which we awake there is presented to us an opportunity to acknowledge Christ in our lives before men and before the world. It may not be one of physical torture and execution as Polycarp faced, but it is quite probable that each day presents an equally painful and demanding surrender…the daily sacrifice of our lives in order to acknowledge Christ.

So I ask you… Will you acknowledge Christ with your life… DAILY? Even now, before the fires begin to burn, before the threats begin… Will you prepare yourself by persecuting yourself through a daily dying to yourself for the sake of Christ?

Or will you deny Him?

J.P. Murray of Trinity College Dublin once said, “I am a Christian but inoffensively so.”

Oh the brutal betrayal of Christ that occurred in this statement!!!

I pray that we would instead say:

“I am a Christian, and at times, offensively so!!”

-Caleb

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What’s My Hair Got to do with It?

Take a look at these pictures…

Kevin and Pam

Kevin and Pam at Atlantic Beach

See a difference? Sure you do! About 20+ years difference. 🙂 But, what I really wanted you to see was the difference with my hair. In the early 90’s I had hair and today I don’t have much. Pretty obvious, right?

Well, I’m hoping to use my hair to make a point today about our Scripture passage.

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:28-31

Jesus has been sharing with His disciples about persecution. He has warned His followers that persecution WILL come to all who follow Him, but they are not to worry! He has encouraged the believers over and over again. He’s told them that a disciple is not above their teacher and if He (the teacher) is maligned, they should expect to be as well. He’s said, “Shout it from the housetops” that Jesus is the Messiah. Don’t be afraid to share the truth because the time is right. And now He says that we should not fear people who can kill us (our bodies), because they can’t touch our souls. It’s God who has our souls and He reminds us how much we are worth by speaking of sparrows. Here’s a sparrow.

Sparrow

Jesus said that two sparrows could be bought for a penny and you yet the Lord knows when each and every one dies and falls to the ground. Isn’t that amazing? Not even the death of a bird escapes the mind of our loving Father. And then He talks about hair. I just love the next two verses…

30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Now think about the two pictures I showed you a moment ago of me and Pam (circa 1991 and today). I’ve changed a lot, but God still knows exactly how many hairs are on my head. The average human head has over 100,000 hairs on it. Maybe in the early 90’s I had that many hairs! Wow!! But, today, perhaps I only have 1/5 of that. But, God knows exactly how many hairs I have on my head. Maybe it’s 9,304. Or it could be 8,715. But, whatever it is, He knows exactly. Isn’t that amazing! And the same is true for you!

Now, if the Lord God knows that intimate detail (hair count) about you and He knows when each and every sparrow (bird) dies, then doesn’t it stand to reason that He cares intimately and deeply about every facet of your life? Sure it does! And He does! He cares about even the most minute detail of your life that others might consider insignificant or even unworthy of any thought. I don’t know about you, but that really brings comfort and peace to my heart today.

Pardon me…

I’ve stopped to rub my bald noggin. Wow! Not many hairs to rub up there…but, the Father knows them all! And as sure as I rub my almost hairless head…the Lord holds me and you in the palm of His hand.

Rejoice in that fact today and maybe take a moment to bow your head (hair and all) and thank Him for His sovereign control and protective care of your life. 🙂

 

God’s Timing is Critical in Your Life

For the first part of Jesus’ ministry He told those He healed not to tell anyone of the miracle. That always puzzled me when I was younger and read through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry. But, now I understand why. Timing is everything with the Lord. Yes, one day is as 1,000 years to Him. Time was created by God for us (mankind) to exist in and live. God is the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end). Time for God is nothing, but “timing” is everything with the Lord. His timing in our lives is what is critical. Time…for God…time is nothing…but, TIMING is everything.

Finally, the time is right for Jesus to say:

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.  Matthew 10:26-27

Jesus has been talking about people who persecute and come against the believer and He says, “…have no fear of them.” He goes on to say (my paraphrase)…

“Now go and tell everybody what I’m doing! Shout it from the housetops! Make it known to the world!”

Why now?

Simple.

The timing was right. Jesus had preached enough and performed enough miracles to establish the fact that He was not a mere man. He was indeed the Messiah (the Promise One), who had the power to heal and forgive. Truly, this was the Son of the Living God. So…GO TELL EVERYBODY!

I remember playing basketball in high school and college and running back door plays. What’s a back door play? It’s where a guard (positioned near the top of the key…above the free throw line) would wait for a wing player (on either the left or right side of the lane) would make a jab step toward the out-of-bounds line and then quickly cut in the opposite direction toward the basket and await a pass for a lay-up. Here’s the issue. The timing had to be perfect.

bounce-pass-1

You see this guard is making that pass to cutting guard/forward (whom we can’t see). The pass has to meet perfectly with the cutting teammate or the play will not be successful. You see, TIMING is everything!

So, think about your life today. What are you waiting on God to do in your life? Are you impatient? Hey, don’t cut to the basket too quickly! You’ll miss the pass! If you cut too slowly and wait too long (out of apathy or lack of concentration or even fear), you’ll miss it too. Just run the play. Just do what the Lord has asked you to do. Seek Him and His kingdom first and what you need will be given to you. (Matthew 6:33).

So today…take a deep breath and continue to trust in Him. Rest in His timing…it’s always perfect!

Who or What is Teaching You and Your Children the Most?

Jesus made a very interesting statement to His disciples as He was discussing their future persecution. Jesus told them they would ultimately be just like their teacher. Think about that. Don’t students tend to exemplify their teacher. Players play like their coach. Churches begin to embody the characteristics of their pastors and their families. Families look and act their parents. Look at Jesus’ words:

Matthew 10:24-26

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Let’s try to grasp what Jesus is saying here.

A disciple is not above his teacher…

Think of who or what is teaching you today? Who or what has your mind? Your attention? Your eyes? Your ears? You see, each of us have many teachers. Teachers can be TV shows, radio stations, internet sites, friends, movies, churches, ball teams, dance studios, etc. Think of all the influences in your life. They are your “teachers.”

Now parents, think of your children’s teachers. Who is teaching them? Are they learning more from you or from TV? Are they learning more from your or from Instagram and Facebook? Remember a pupil will become like their teacher. Look at this nation. Have we not become like our teachers? What are our teachers?

  • The American Dream-selfish pursuit of “happiness.”
  • Good looks
  • Material possessions and wealth
  • Being popular

I think about education. We have wonderful teachers in our schools, but they CAN’T teach about God. So, what do they learn? They learn mostly a worldview of secular humanism that is certainly post-modern and from a liberal bias (especially once they hit college). Most colleges and their professors laugh at the students who say that they believe in the Bible and are Christians.

Our society today looks down on Christians and calls us “evil” for saying that marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life. We are called “hateful bigots” because of our belief that God’s Word is timeless and just as applicable for today as it was when it was written. We are called uncaring and unloving because we won’t follow the world’s teaching that a baby in the womb of a mother is a baby and not a “blob of tissue.” We are told: “Come on! It’s a woman’s right to choose. Don’t you care about women!”

Can you see how the words or Jesus are playing out today? We are going to be maligned and treated like we are Satan’s spawn because we follow and adhere to the greatest teaching of all time. Are you okay with that? Are you okay with being persecuted like the Great Teacher, Jesus? You better be! Because there is no escaping it! If you stand for the tenets and principles of Scripture, you WILL be maligned and even called “evil.” But, take heart! The world did the same thing to Jesus, but be encouraged…

John 16:33

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So, think about it. Who is teaching you? Where are you getting the majority of your information? Wherever that is…then, that is your teacher. Parents, think about who or what is teaching your children. Many parents come to me when their kids are in their 20’s and say;
“I don’t know what happened! I took them to church and we said prayers over our meals. They were raised in a Christian home.”
However, upon some probing… I find that seldom was the Word of God taught in their home. The kids watched anything they wanted to on TV and they had access to the internet in their room or on their phone. And so I ask the parents, “Now who was really teaching your child, because you certainly weren’t. Yes, they grew up in your home and under your roof, but you were not teaching them…someone else was.”
Is that harsh to say that? Well, I don’t mean it to be. But, it’s the simple truth. Parents, you better get the Word of God into your children. You better analyze who and what they are listening to and seeing and who “has their ear.” You better make sure they are being taught and trained in Christian ways, because it won’t happen by osmosis. Truth is…if you don’t get hold of this now and make the things of God a priority while they are young, then you will end up with kids who look exactly like the world, even though they were raised in a “Christian home.”

Let’s choose the correct Master. Let’s be intentional about who and what we allow to influence our lives. Let’s choose Jesus and His Word!

Persevere to the End

Jesus spent quite a bit of time describing to His followers the difficulty that would come in following Him. He never painted a false picture of a nice “bed of roses” for those He implored to come after Him. He truthfully told them it would get tough. He said:

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matthew 16:21-23

I have seen this happen in Ethiopia where there is a large Muslim population. When a person comes to Christ, they accept the fact that they will likely be excommunicated and turned away from their family and village. Coming to Christ means quite simply that they will forfeit all rights and cut all ties to family. We don’t know of that here in America. Accepting Christ (at this point in the history of this nation) is not really a big deal. You are not typically going to be thrown out of your home for doing so. But, I am convinced there will grow a greater and greater “divide” between “Christian” and “non-Christian.” These verse above will become the norm in America in the future. I’m totally convinced of that.

Verse 22 is the key to this passage. Jesus said: “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

You see, the world hated Jesus and thus, they will hate us. That should be logical to us. But, Jesus gives indication of true salvation when he talked about enduring to the end. This is often called “perseverance of the saints.” This is the idea in Scripture that those who are truly saved will continue to follow Jesus to the very end of their lives. Now does this mean we will never sin? Of course not. The Apostle Peter gives us this example in his three-fold denial. But, it does mean that we will not abandon and walk away from Christ as Judas did. See the difference? Peter versus Judas. Peter would ultimately be crucified upside down on a cross for his faith in Christ, while Judas hung himself outside out Jerusalem in a suicidal execution.

Are you persevering? Are you “hanging in there?” Perhaps strong persecution is coming at you? Expect it. Jesus said it would happen. Jude (the half-brother of Jesus) said, “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” It’s our job to CHOOSE to keep ourselves in the love of God. God won’t make us live for Him. It’s our choice. Even as a believer, you will choose many times today whether or not you are going to follow Jesus in holiness.

The Apostle John show us what a person looks like who was never saved. He shows us that they will ultimately walk away (like Judas):

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19

John gives us the description of a true “persevering” believer:

24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. 1 John 2:24-25

Abide (remain) in Jesus. Even in your difficulties today…cling to Him. Allow Him to guide you and provide for you in His care and love for you. Those who rest in Christ will never be disappointed. Persevere! For heaven awaits!

The Discipleship Commission: A Warning

Matthew 10:16-20

 16“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

In case that the disciples had any thought that this task laid before them was going to be easy, Jesus makes it quite clear it will not be.   As Jesus has laid out the instructions beforehand of where to go and what to do he now gives the warning of what may await them.

What good leader would send their troops into battle without giving them a description of the adversary they would be coming against?  Battle?  Yes, Battle!  The disciples are going to proclaim the Gospel.  What did Jesus tell them in verse 7? “Proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”.

Let me remind you dear friend.  If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ we are in spiritual warfare for the souls of people.  Ephesians Chapter 6 verse 12 reminds us of this. 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Also we read from 1 Peter Chapter 5 verse 8:

Be sober minded, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

When you are sold out and willing to sacrifice yourself for the Gospel and willing to proclaim it in your area of influence you are going to experience persecution.  When you stand on God’s Word as the absolute truth there will be persecution.  People will come against you.  Look at verse 17 and 18 again. 

These situations may or may not have happened on this trip.  But Jesus was definitely giving them a look into the future of what would happen to them as they continued to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   But look closer.  I think we find great hope in all this.  Even in the times of persecution we can see God’s sovereignty in the situation.  

First, Jesus gives them the tactic to deal with these situations. 

1.      Be wise as serpents:  I don’t know how many of you may like snakes?  I sure don’t.  But even though Satan used the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, we do read that the serpent was “more crafty” than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” Genesis 3:1.  The Hebrew word used hear is “aruwm”, which means shrewd, sensible, prudent.    So Jesus was telling them to be sensible in all their dealings with people.

2.      Innocent as doves:  Don’t return evil for evil.  Though they may persecute you for what you are saying don’t give them anything from your character to give them more of an excuse.

 Second, Jesus brings into focus the reason for it all.   Wherever we are placed, whatever we go through it is to bring us before people to proclaim the Gospel to. 

Third, Jesus tells us we are never alone.  He goes with us.  The Holy Spirit of God lives within us and will guide us in our thoughts and in our words.   But, we should be prepared!  That desire to see people saved should drive us to be studied up and prayed up to be used by the Lord.   Those words are great encouragement though aren’t they?  So, let’s close with them.

19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

In Christ Alone,

Dale

The Discipleship Commission: An Itinerary

Matthew 10: 8-15

“You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

In reality, this passage is directed at the committed disciple of Christ. It’s an itinerary for us.

In fact, people have said that this was the first New Testament “mission trip”, that the Disciples were acting as short term missionaries and this passage can function as a model and plan for mission work even today. Now, whether or not you ascribe to that theory, I think we can all agree that this passage has strong implications for the Church today if we are to reach a lost world!

Christ gives us, as His disciples, a few simple instructions as we go out to evangelize.

  1. Not to have a price tag on our work for the  Kingdom.

There have been some that have used the Gospel and “Christian ministry” for selfish gain. Whether it be unintentional, or downright planned. Either way, when this occurs it not only robs that person and ministry of the blessings of God, but it also creates a very hostile culture for the vast number of very genuine missionaries, evangelists, and ministries. It places a hindrance on the Gospel. I believe that this passage clearly teaches that we must always remember that we received redemption freely, and we must also give it freely. Remember, “the gospel is not bound” by our price tags, our prejudices, or our selfish ambitions.

  1. We don’t have to worry about “over preparing”.

We don’t need to pack a bag, bring extra money, pack two coats, two staffs, or two pairs of shoes in case one breaks. I must admit, I’d have a hard time with this one. When I go on a trip, I OVERTHINK EVERYTHING! I over pack and over plan by thinking of every “what if” scenario. Like, in the middle of summer, I think “what if a cold front moves in?” I better bring my ski bibs! Haha

It sounds funny, but many of us are like that.

Simply what Christ is saying to us today is that when we go out in His name to try and reach the world that we mustn’t burden ourselves, instead we must remember that God is our provider. This is why we don’t need a price tag on our work. When we are truly giving ourselves fully to the Kingdom, we don’t need a price tag, because we will find God providing in amazing ways!

  1. Be careful who we associate ourselves, or our ministry with…

If you lie with dogs…. You become like who you run with… Guilty by… You know- association. Christ knew this and that is why He commanded that the Disciples discern and find “who is worthy” in each town to stay with. Christ is warning us that as His Disciples we must be very careful to guard our ministry and our testimony by being very careful who we associate ourselves or our ministries with. One bad associate, friend, or partnership could tarnish our entire ministry.

But, you might say, Jesus associated himself with sinners and tax collectors! Well, first, you aren’t Jesus. Second, we must not confuse “unworthy” with unaccepted. These people Jesus associated himself with were outcasts, but they were hungry for change. And change they did. This leads to the next consideration…

  1. Focus our time and attention on the receptive!

We only have a short time here on earth, and the Disciples only had a short amount of time to reach these people. That is why Jesus said that if a place was unworthy to get out of dodge! Don’t even hang around. Shake the dust off your feet. Don’t even bring the dirt from those evil and unrepentant places outside of the city walls.

We too must heed this warning, but also understand the difference between outcasts and unreceptive. There are many pastors and Christians who boast of their plans and determination to reach extremely unrepentant and unreceptive people. “I’m going to reach that person, or die trying!” Certainly there are times where this may be required, but it shouldn’t be the norm. Some pastors and Christians focus their entire time and energy upon the fringe, upon the unreceptive peripheral of the faith when there are many many many hungry people out there. Why not focus our time on the hungry, and then once we reach them, go to the unreceptive?

I know that this devotion wasn’t super “challenging” or comforting. But, it’s there, and it obviously mattered enough for Jesus to speak it. Personally, I’m challenged this morning to remember the great blessing it is for me to be able to go out as a disciple, as a representative of Christ. Why not heed these instructions? I think it would be wise to do so. Just remember, no matter who our audience is, no matter who we find to be worthy of our time and effort, to always let the peace, and blessings, of God follow us! If we do that, nothing could testify more to the power of God!

-Caleb