Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: Discipleship - Taking Up Your Cross

Volume 4 No. 245 November 7, 2014

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Fall Foliage in Hudson, Ohio by Dr. Jacob Mathew
A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

Photo by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

TABLE OF CONTENTS
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THIS SUNDAY IN CHURCH

1. Bible Readings for This Sunday (November 9)

Bible Readings For Hoodosh E'tho - Dedication/Renewal of Church

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_Koodosh-eetho-to-Kothne-SOC.htm

2. Sermons for This Sunday (November 9)

Sermons For Hoodosh E'tho - Dedication/Renewal of Church

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_Hoodosh-eatho.htm

FEATURED ARTICLES

3. Foreword: Discipleship - Carrying Our Cross

Our imperfections are the cross that we have to carry. Our weaknesses, our hopes, our fears all of that is taken on our shoulders just as Jesus did when He carried His cross for all of us. We bring it here, we put it on the holy altar, and the Holy Spirit makes it perfect. By the Grace and love of the Holy Trinity we find the strength that we need to carry all of it, and by carrying it all, we become perfect. ...

4. Inspiration for Today: The Disciple is not Above His Master

5. Take Up Your Cross

What is your purpose of coming to church and worshiping God? The purpose of our worship is to glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and please God. Our worship must be God-centered worship.

Worship is not one time act but the process of surrendering our entire life into God's hands. ...

6. How to Take Up Your Cross?

Discipleship is on God's terms, just as coming to Him is on His terms. The Lord here reminds us that the key discipleship principle of winning by losing involves self-denial, cross-bearing, and loyal obedience. ...

7. Take Up the Cross Daily and Follow Me

In addition to denying ourselves, we also have to take up the cross on a daily basis to follow Jesus Christ. How can we take up cross daily in our lives? In the modern world we are under constant temptation to dance to the tune of the world's attractions such as the lusts of the flesh. Media, internet, communities, etc. are tempting us whereever we are. We have to overcome these temptations that separate us from God. ...

8. Counting the Cost of Discipleship

Jesus does not want anyone to come to Him and be a disciple under false pretenses. He's not like the army recruiter who paints the glorious picture and promises everything only to get you to sign on the dotted line. Jesus is truthful and wants everyone to understand what they're getting into before they sign up.

So He tells this man that following Him will require significant commitment and struggle. Jesus' point is that if you want to follow Me, don't think your physical life is going to improve. Don't think comfort is awaiting you. ...

9. The Surrendered Life

To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his whole way of looking at things. The first thing we must surrender is all of our pretense or deceit. Our Lord wants us to present to Him not our goodness, honesty, or our efforts to do better, but real solid sin. Actually, that is all He can take from us. What He gives us in exchange for our sin is real solid righteousness. But we must surrender all pretense that we are anything, and give up all our claims of even being worthy of God’s consideration. ...

10. In Christ, Our Suffering Is Not in Vain

Jesus suffered for us. Yet we are called to participate in His suffering. Though He was uniquely the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, there is still an application of this vocation for us. We are given both the duty and the privilege to participate in the suffering of Christ. ...

11. Christian Persecution: Pakistani Couple Burned to Death by Muslim Mob

A Christian couple in Pakistan has been burned to death in an industrial kiln by enraged Muslims who accused them of setting fire to verses of the Koran, a human rights official reported.

Shahbaz Maseeh, 26, and his wife Shama Bibi, 24, were attacked at their workplace, a brick factory, on November 4, 2014 in the Punjab providence of Pakistan, according to NBC News. ...

12. Pope Francis Says Persecution is Uniting Christians

Pope Francis styled anti-Christian violence around the world as a force bringing the churches closer together, saying that "for persecutors, we Christians are all one."

"Today the blood of Jesus, poured out by many Christian martyrs in various parts of the world, calls us and compels us towards the goal of unity," Francis said. "For persecutors," the pontiff said, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Northern Iraq, "we Christians are all one!" ...

13. Walk This Way - Imitate God

Just as children imitate their parents, we should follow God's example. His great love for us led him to sacrifice himself so that we might live. Our love for others should be of the same kind - a love that goes beyond affection to self-sacrificing service. One way we can imitate God's example is through our words.

As people who have light from the Lord, our actions should reflect our faith. We should live above reproach morally so that we will reflect God's goodness to others. Jesus stressed this truth in the Sermon on the Mount. ...

14. Family Special: "A Grand-Parent"

In Proverbs 16:31, we find words of divine wisdom our world desperately needs to affirm. Those words are, "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life." So we find that God does not view older people or gray haired folks the way many do in our culture. What we find is that God often esteems what humanity tends to avoid. No matter how culture at large views gray hair, the church of the living God must affirm the worth and value of all people, especially older people. ...

15. About Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (November 9)
Sermons for This Sunday (November 9)
This Week's Features

Foreword: Discipleship - Carrying Our Cross

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

This Sunday is known as Hoodosh E'tho or Dedication of the Church. As we mentioned last week, this is the second Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar of the Church. Last Sunday was the Koodosh E'tho Sunday or Sanctification of the Church.

The tradition of sanctifying (purifying) and rededicating the place of worship can be traced all the way back to 169 BC. In 169 BC, the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the temple. The defiled Temple was purified and dedicated in 165 B.C by Judas Maccabeus. Jews celebrate this purification and rededication of their temple every year in a feast called Hanukkah. This is popularly known as the 'Festival of Lights' like the festival of lights called Diwali (Deepavali) in India. Syriac Orthodox Church begins the liturgical year with the purification and rededicating of the church similar to what Jews do during Hanukkah.

We have examined the foundation of the Church. Jesus Christ founded the Church on the Rock of Faith revealed to St. Peter. He gave Peter the Keys to the Kingdom and granted the power to the church to bind and unbind the sins, hitherto available only to God. So, the church has clear mandate from Jesus Christ with a mission and vision. It is up to us, as the part of the body of Christ, to deliver.

This week we rededicate the church. The Syriac word 'Haades' means to renew, revive, reform, rededicate etc. It is important to note that the church is the body of Christ and we constitute the body. So, the dedication of church means we rededicate our lives to serve the God. (The original dedication of us was on the day we received our baptism.) The Gospel readings are:

Luke 9:18-25
Mark 12:41-44
John 10:22-38 and
Luke 19:47-20:8

We have featured Luke 9:23 in this week's journal. It continues the dialogue Jesus has with the disciples in last week's Gospel reading we discussed in depth. So, it makes sense to continue the theme today. The New King James version is of Luke 9:23 is as follows:

Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

Luke 9:23 Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Another version of the bible called The Message by Eugene H. Peterson gives a contemporary perspective on the bible. I took a look. The message combines the versions into logical blocks to explain the relevance and context. In this case, it has combined verses 23-27. Take a look:

Luke 23-27: Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat - I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I'm leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn't, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God." (MSG)

Jesus is very clear here. He does not want to give us any false notions that we will be in paradise as soon as accept Him as our savior. In fact, he said that our life will change for ever (transformed). We will be persecuted for being a Christian. Christianity is a suffering church. We get our reward after our death when we get eternal life of bliss with Jesus. So, if we want to be a disciple of Jesus, we have to take our cross and follow Him.

Fr. Peter Preble, St. Michael Orthodox Church, Southbridge, Massachusetts offered one of the best explanation of what Jesus meant when he said we have to carry our cross everyday. Here is an excerpt from his sermon:

But what is this cross that Jesus is telling us we must take up? Do we have to go out and find a tree, cut it down, make a cross and carry it around? No, Jesus is speaking here of our spiritual life, and what we must do to find that paradise that He has opened for us.

The cross is different for each one of us. Maybe the cross is a physical ailment, perhaps it is that we are getting older, and stuff does not work the same way any longer. Maybe we have an illness of some kind. Perhaps that cross is the person sitting right next to you! Maybe you married your cross! Whatever that cross is, and I think it changes as we develop our spiritual life, we have to carry it as best we can. Maybe like Jesus we need help from time to time to carry that cross. Maybe we need to put it down, or ask another to share the burden with us so we can recover our strength to carry it again. Whatever we need to do we do not have a choice if we are going to be followers of Christ.

Part of carrying that cross is also bearing the suffering that will go along with it. This suffering is not a punishment for anything, but rather it is a way to overcome this fallen world that we live in. Jesus tells us in the same passage today that we must deny ourselves in order to take up this cross. He tells one young man to sell all he has and follow him, he tells another who wants to go and bury his father who has just died, to let the dead bury the dead and follow him. He called each of the Apostles away from their families, and their work to follow him. He does this because he knows we cannot carry the cross if our hands are full.

He provided another imagery of this "cross." Last week, I have explained that perhaps Peter was selected to receive the "keys", not because he was the best of the disciples, but he was a man with flows. Jesus want to make sure that we understand that we do not have to be perfect to enter the Kingdom of God. What we need is grace. Rev. Fr. Peter provided a similar explanation when he was asked whether we can use imperfect bread for our eucharist. Read on:

None of us are perfect. We might like to think we are, but we are not. We all have slight flaws, sins, if you will, that make us imperfect and that is okay. It's okay because, through the power and Grace of God, we can be made perfect. It's through the life long journey of our spiritual life that perfection is made possible, but it cannot be done without the Holy Spirit. So we bring the bread, with all of its flaws and imperfections. Maybe the seal did not come out right, maybe it puffed up too much, maybe it split or is not as dark as we would like it.

But regardless of how it looks or tastes during the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit comes upon it and makes that bread perfect. That bread is transformed into something that we could never make it. The Holy Spirit takes that imperfect work of imperfect human beings and perfects it, and it becomes the bread of Heaven, it become the unblemished lamb that takes away the sin of the world! That bread is each one of us, and we can be made perfect through that life giving power of the Holy Spirit.

Our imperfections are the cross that we have to carry. Our weaknesses, our hopes, our fears all of that is taken on our shoulders just as Jesus did when He carried His cross for all of us. We bring it here, we put it on the holy altar, and the Holy Spirit makes it perfect. By the Grace and love of the Holy Trinity we find the strength that we need to carry all of it, and by carrying it all, we become perfect.

Wow! What an explanation!!

Last week, I attended an all day Regional Conference organized by the Voice of the Martyrs titled iCommit. The aim of the conference to provide us a better understanding of the severe Christian Persecution going on all over the world. It featured a person from Iran (whose father was murdered for preaching Christianity), a person from China (who was jailed for over 10 years for supporting Christianity), a person from Russia, and a person from Syria. These people provided first person account of the persecution they have experienced as well as witnessed. We saw pictures and movie clips. I got a very good idea of what Jesus meant when he said we will be persecuted for following him and we should be prepared.

This persecution, however, transformed them. Thos who were continually imprisoned developed a theological concept called "Prison Theology" or 'sufferology'. What they found is that more they are persecuted, more people convert to Christianity!! For example, there were perhaps 800,000 Christians in China in 1969. But today there are 80,000,000 to 90,000,000 Christians in China in spite of the persecution!!! Others reported similar results.

One of my takeaways from the conference was that New Testament was written for a persecuted church. To understand 1 Peter, we really need to understand the context in which it was written. Read especially 1 Peter 3:8-22. Peter provided advice on how to face the persecution in chapter 5 with the highlight in 1 Peter 5:7

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. - 1 Peter 5:7

We have a caring savior. We need to trust him and relax with the confidence that God will make it right in the end. So, in spite of the severe persecution of Christians, the good news is that the world is thirsty for the love of Jesus and to learn of His Words. What are we doing about it?

We introduce a new contributor to Malankara World - Benny. Benny is from Perumbavoor, but had been a resident of UAE for over 25 years. We hope that Benny will be a frequent contributor to our Journal. Welcome Benny!

I would like to end with a hymn segment sung at the iCommit Conference:

Everyone needs compassion
A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me

Everyone needs forgiveness
A kind of savior
The hope of nations

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord to thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

That is the life of a disciple.

Inspiration for Today: The Disciple is not Above His Master
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.

It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. -- If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep your's also. -- I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. -- Forasmuch ... as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.

MATT. 10:24. John 13:13. Matt. 10:25. -John 15:20. -John 17:14. Heb. 12:3,4. Heb. 12:1,2. I Pet. 4:1.

Source: Daily Light on the Daily Path

Take Up Your Cross

by Rev. Kee Young Yang

A nice girl brought her fiancé home to meet her parents.

After dinner, her mom tells her dad to find out about the young man.

The father invites the fiancé to his room for a chat.

"So what are your plans?" the father asked.

"I am a biblical scholar," the fiancé replied.

"Oh, A biblical scholar, Admirable, but what are you going to do to provide a nice house for my daughter?" the father asks.

"I will study and God will provide," came the reply.

"And how will you buy her the beautiful engagement ring she deserves?"

"I will concentrate on my studies and God will provide."

"And children? How will you support children?"

"Don't worry, sir. God will provide."

The conversation proceeds, and each time the father's questions are answered with the fiancé insisting that God will provide.

Later that evening while getting ready for bed, the mother asks the father, "So how did it go?"

The father shrugs and says, "He has no plan for a future, no job prospects and he thinks I am God."

I was surprised with data of the American Religious Identification Survey. It says as of 2012, 75 % of American identified themselves as Christians. 36% of Americans state that they attend worship services nearly every week. 9% of American said that faith is the most important thing in their life, compared with 45% who said family is paramount in their life and 17 % who said money and career is paramount.

My loving sisters and brothers,

Are you belonging to the 9% of Americans who said that faith is the most important thing in your life or 17% who said money and career is paramount?

I am not saying that we don't need money but I am saying that money is not paramount. Of course, we need money for a new church copy machine. The copy machine does not work properly. Linda, our Administrative assistant, struggles to make copies every week.

I don't understand how 75% of American identified themselves as Christian, and 36 % of American attended worship services every week, but only 9 % said faith is the most important thing in their lives.

My beloved sisters and brothers,

What is your purpose of coming to church and worshipping God? The purpose of our worship is to glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and please God. Our worship must be God-centered worship.

Worship is not one time act but the process of surrendering our entire life into God's hands.

Today's Gospel reading follows on from the momentous statement that Peter confessed, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God when Jesus asked him the question, "Who do you say that I am?"

Here is my question. What did Peter mean when he said, "You are the Christ, the Son of living God"?

As a matter of fact, the Jews including Peter and all disciples were waiting and expecting the Messiah, the Christ, the One who would save them from the Roman Empire because they were colonized. They wanted to build a new kingdom when their Messiah would come. That was why their Messiah should be a political and military leader like King David, the powerful warrior who could conquer and rescue them to build a new kingdom.

When Peter confessed, "Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of living God," he definitely thought, "Now we can be set free from the power of the Roman Empire because Jesus, who has done all miracles, can rescue us from the Roman government."

But Jesus was not the conquering hero that Peter expected. Indeed,

Jesus foretold his disciples his death and resurrection.

So what does it mean today to us that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God"?

I believe that Jesus answered that question in our Gospel reading today when he said in v. 24, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Theologian and Pastor who was executed by the Nazi's in 1945 for opposing their ideology and military campaign. He said, "Salvation without sacrifice is cheap grace."

My loving sisters and brothers,

Jesus never taught us 'cheap grace' but asks us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross and to follow him.

Denying ourselves is like this.

It is like two dogs fighting inside us. There is one good dog who wants to do the right and the other dog always wants to do the wrong. Sometimes the good dog seems stronger and is winning the fight. But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight.

Here is my question to you.

Who is going to win in the end? The answer is the one you feed.

To take up the cross means to sacrifice. In other words, we open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.

During the civil war, Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. At one point, one of the ministers said, "Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side." Lincoln thought and responded, "No, gentleman, let us pray that we are on God's side."

Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.

Do you have your own cross to take up in your life?

What is your cross in your life, in your house, and in this church? Let us take up our cross and follow Jesus because that is the way we are on God's side. Amen.

Source: Sermon Delivered at St. Paul's United Methodist Church,  Bay Head, NJ

How to Take Up Your Cross?

by John F. MacArthur

Scripture: Matthew 16

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24)

When Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me," they were doubtless reminded of the time He had called each of them. Some two and a half years earlier they had left families, friends, occupations, and everything else in order to follow Jesus.

To unbelievers among the multitudes who were present on that occasion (see Mark 8:34), Jesus' words come after Me applied to the initial surrender of the new birth, when a person comes to Christ for salvation and the old life of sin is exchanged for a new life of righteousness. To the believers there, including the Twelve, come after Me reiterated the call to the life of daily obedience to Christ.

It is sadly possible for believers to lose the first love they had when they received Christ as saving Lord and surrendered all they were and had to Him (see Rev. 2:4). It is a constant temptation to want to take back what was given up and to reclaim what was forsaken. It is not impossible to again place one's own will above God's and to take back rights that were relinquished to Him. It is especially tempting to compromise our commitment when the cost becomes high. But the fact that believers sometimes succumb to disobedience does not alter the truth that the character of a true disciple is manifest in obedience. Although imperfect obedience is inevitable because of the unredeemed flesh, the basic desire and life-direction of the true Christian is obedience to the Lord.

Discipleship is on God's terms, just as coming to Him is on His terms. The Lord here reminds us that the key discipleship principle of winning by losing involves self-denial, cross-bearing, and loyal obedience.

The first requirement of discipleship is self-denial. A person who is not willing to deny himself cannot claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Deny is from aparneomai, which means to completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone. It is the word Jesus used to describe Peter's denial of Him while He was being questioned by the high priest (Matt. 26:34). Each time he was confronted about his relationship to Jesus, Peter more vehemently denied knowing Him (vv. 70, 72, 74). He disowned his Master before the world.

That is exactly the kind of denial a believer is to make in regard to himself. He is to utterly disown himself, to refuse to acknowledge the self of the old man. Jesus' words here could be paraphrased, "Let him refuse any association or companionship with himself." Self-denial not only characterizes a person when he comes in saving faith to Christ but also as he lives as a faithful disciple of Christ.

The self to which Jesus refers is not one's personal identity as a distinct individual. Every person is a unique creation of God, and the heavenly Father knows each of His children by name. He has every believer's name "recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20). The self of which Jesus is speaking is rather the natural, sinful, rebellious, unredeemed self that is at the center of every fallen person and that can even reclaim temporary control over a Christian. It is the fleshly body, the "old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit" (Eph. 4:22) and is yet to be redeemed in glorification (cf. Rom. 8:23). To deny that self is to confess with Paul, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom. 7:18). To deny that self is to have the sincere, genuine conviction that one has nothing in his humanness to commend himself before God, nothing worthwhile to offer Him at all.

The believer is made acceptable before God when he trusts in Jesus Christ, and he stands before the Lord in perfect righteousness, clothed in "the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:24). But as Paul also declared, even after salvation a believer has no more goodness in himself, "that is, in [his] flesh," than he had before salvation. To deny self is to "make no provision for the flesh" (Rom. 13:14) and to "put no confidence in [it]" (Phil. 3:3). To deny self is to subject oneself entirely to the lordship and resources of Jesus Christ, in utter rejection of self-will and self-sufficiency.

Jesus proclaimed that the first requirement for entering the kingdom is to be "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3), to have the spirit of utter poverty in regard to one's own goodness, righteousness, worth, and merit. It is to humbly recognize one's spiritual destitution. It is only the person who realizes how poor he is who will ever know the riches of Christ. It is only the person who realizes how sinful and damned he is who will ever come to know how precious the forgiveness of God is. "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Ps. 34:18). It is the broken and contrite heart that God loves and will never despise (Ps. 51:17). It is not the self-righteous and self-satisfied but the penitent and humble whom God saves. It was not the proud Pharisee who had such a high image of himself, but the brokenhearted tax collector who asked God for mercy, who Jesus said "went down to his house justified" (Luke 18:14).

The whole purpose of the Old Testament, reflected pointedly in the law of Moses, was to show man how spiritually and morally destitute and powerless he is in himself. The law was not meant to show men how they could work their way into God's favor but to show them how impossible it is to live up to God's holy standards by their own resources.

Arthur Pink wrote, "Growth in grace is growth downward; it is the forming of a lower estimate of ourselves; it is a deepening realization of our nothingness; it is a heartfelt recognition that we are not worthy of the least of God's mercies."

To be saved calls for a sinner to deny self so as to "consider the members of [his] earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry" (Col. 3:5). It is to "lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and … be renewed in the spirit of [one's] mind" (Eph. 4:22–23).

The second requirement of discipleship is to take up one's cross. This idea has profound meaning which must be understood. Taking up one's cross is not some mystical level of selfless "deeper spiritual life" that only the religious elite can hope to achieve. Nor is it the common trials and hardships that all persons experience sometime in life. A cross is not having an unsaved husband, nagging wife, or domineering mother-in-law. Nor is it having a physical handicap or suffering from an incurable disease. To take up one's cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christ's sake. It is the willingness to endure shame, embarrassment, reproach, rejection, persecution, and even martyrdom for His sake.

To the people of Jesus' day the cross was a very concrete and vivid reality. It was the instrument of execution reserved for Rome's worst enemies. It was a symbol of the torture and death that awaited those who dared raise a hand against Roman authority Not many years before Jesus and the disciples came to Caesarea Philippi, 100 men had been crucified in the area. A century earlier, Alexander Janneus had crucified 800 Jewish rebels at Jerusalem, and after the revolt that followed the death of Herod the Great, 2,000 Jews were crucified by the Roman proconsul Varus. Crucifixions on a smaller scale were a common sight, and it has been estimated that perhaps some 30,000 occurred under Roman authority during the lifetime of Christ.

When the disciples and the crowd heard Jesus speak of taking up the cross, there was nothing mystical to them about the idea. They immediately pictured a poor, condemned soul walking along the road carrying (which is an accurate translation of airo, meaning "to raise, bear, or carry") the instrument of his execution on his own back. A man who took up his cross began his death march, carrying the very beam on which he would hang.

For a disciple of Christ to take up his cross is for him to be willing to start on a death march. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be willing, in His service, to suffer the indignities, the pain, and even the death of a condemned criminal.

Obviously the extent of suffering and persecution varies from believer to believer, from time to time, and from place to place. Not all the apostles were martyred, but all of them were willing to be martyred. Not every disciple is called on to be martyred, but every disciple is commanded to be willing to be martyred. "Beloved," Peter wrote to his fellow believers, "do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Pet. 4:12–14).

To come to Jesus Christ for salvation is not to raise a hand or sign a card, although such things may sometimes play a part. To come to Jesus Christ is to come to the end of self and sin and to become so desirous of Christ and His righteousness that one will make any sacrifice for Him.

Jesus had earlier said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household" (Matt. 10:34–36). He had also said, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. … If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!" (vv. 24–25). Christ was now in effect saying to His disciples that if He, their Lord, would have to "suffer many things … and be killed" (Matt. 16:21), how could they expect to escape the same treatment?

The cross represents suffering that is ours because of our relationship to Christ. As Jesus moved unwaveringly toward Jerusalem, the place of execution where He "must go" (v. 21), He had already taken up His cross and was beginning to bear on His back the sins of the whole world. And in His train, millions of disciples, all with their own crosses, have since borne reproach with Him.

Christ does not call disciples to Himself to make their lives easy and prosperous, but to make them holy and productive. Willingness to take up his cross is the mark of the true disciple. As the hymnist wrote, "Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free? No, there's a cross for everyone, and there's a cross for me." Those who make initial confessions of their desire to follow Jesus Christ, but refuse to accept hardship or persecution, are characterized as the false, fruitless souls who are like rocky soil with no depth. They wither and die under threat of the reproach of Christ (Matt. 13:20–21). Many people want a "no-cost" discipleship, but Christ offers no such option.

The third requirement of discipleship is loyal obedience. Only after a person denies himself and takes up his cross, Jesus said, is he prepared to follow Me. True discipleship is submission to the lordship of Christ that becomes a pattern of life. "The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:6). "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven," Jesus declared; "but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). To continue in His Word is to be His true disciple (John 8:31).

Paul calls salvation the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Peter describes God's sovereign saving work in a life as "the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (1 Pet. 1:2). Obviously, obedience is an integral feature in salvation and is as characteristic of a believer as is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrificial saving work of the Son. Peter told the Jewish Sanhedrin that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who obey God (Acts 5:32), and since every believer has the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), every believer is also characterized by obedience to God as a pattern of life.

"If anyone serves Me," Jesus said, "let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26).

Source: Grace to You; gty.org

Take Up the Cross Daily and Follow Me

by Benny George

Scripture: Luke 9: 23

And he said to them all, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." - St. Luke 9. 23

This valuable verse is very important to all of us. It defines the basic criteria needed for a True Christian. While living in the world, we knowingly or unknowingly are not denying ourselves in various aspects of life. As a human being, we always prefer to consider our own strength as the basis of our achievements as "my" in each achievement and always consider it as " my effort", "I have done" and so on and it would slowly roll over into our inner mind and heart as proudness which will ultimately reflect in our body language as a proud person even in talk or actions. Let us understand that God always look for the humble person in the mankind. In brief, we are bound to deny ourselves in our daily life which is very much essential to follow our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Do not be late, this is the time to tame our mind to think in such a way that it is not because of "my" own effort accomplished in our life, but it is because of the spirit of God led my life made us to succeed in the life. In Romans 8:13-14 it is mentioned that those who are led by the spirit of God are the sons of God.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. - Romans 8:13-14

Now, meditate and see whether we have been led by the spirit of God or not…., whether we are still wrongly proud on our own strength?

If our life is led by spirit of God, our life would be humble and peaceful without any proudness since our achievements are because we are relying on God's direction rather relying on our own strength.

In addition to denying ourselves, we also have to take up the cross on a daily basis to follow Jesus Christ. How can we take up cross daily in our lives? In the modern world we are under constant temptation to dance to the tune of the world's attractions such as the lusts of the flesh. Media, internet, communities, etc. are tempting us whereever we are. We have to overcome these temptations that separate us from God. Our ultimate goal is to follow our lord Jesus Christ. For example, few of us are clinging in front of TV for long hours either to see movies or serials and so on. Are we ready to crucify this habit if it is unworthy to spiritual life? Kids/youngsters are now very much into games/ videos /chats in net which pull them into darkness. They are not ready to listen even to their parents. Are they ready to crucify their habits?

Let us see what are the specific habits to be crucified (removed) in our daily life. According to St. Paul, these are the habits that stop us from reaching the Kingdom of God:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
- Galatians 5:19-21.

Are we ready to crucify the above bad habits from our daily life? If yes, surely we are then 'CHRISTIAN'; in other words, a follower of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Once we start denying ourselves in our daily life and start crucifying our lusts on a daily basis, then what will happen? Surely we will become a new creation, which is mentioned in the Holy Bible that those who are in Christ will be a new creation. Thus, the fruit of the spirit reflects in our very nature as mentioned in Galatians 5. 22:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance.

Furthermore, what would be the final outcome if we prolong a life as a true Christian, Please refer to Revelation 14:13. Read it carefully and note that "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, 'Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.'"

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. - Revelation 14:13

The above passage clearly tells us that the work of a person will be followed even after his/her death in Lord. While living in this world, we will not think of this aspect. However, it is our chance to understand it for the sake of our own salvation… Therefore, we need to analyze ourselves on our day to day work in the current life. There are indications in various places in Holy Bible on how to prolong truthful daily life. Let us take a look at what St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-23,

16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-21

Let us be a True Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, the only WAY, LIFE AND TRUTH.

May God bless us all.

About The Author:

Benny George is member of Bethel Suloko Church in Perumbavoor. He had been a resident in U.A.E for the last 25 years and is a member of Mor Ignatius Jacobite Church, Dubai. Benny strongly believes that, God is using different people in various parts of the world to spread the Glorious gospel and he is one of the least of this chain. It is mentioned in 2 Cor 4-4 that the God of this world (Satan) blinded the minds of humans to block the glory of Gospel from shining in them. It is the duty of all of us to make the glorious gospel to shine to human mind with the help of God, the almighty.

Counting the Cost of Discipleship

by Brian Evans

Gospel: Luke 9-56-62

Introduction

So far in the ministry of Jesus on earth things have gone pretty well. He has travelled and healed, worked miracles, and been able to teach and preach the message of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the people's Messiah. Probably at this point His biggest challenge was the crowd. The Bible tells us that He was limited in where He could go because the crowd was always there, always wanting more. The crowd and His disciples followed Him wherever He went.

Jesus also knows that the tide is about to turn. From here on out being a follower is going to require an unprecedented amount of loyalty and sacrifice. Being a disciple will have an extreme amount of cost for the would-be follower.

Jesus has never painted a rosy picture for His disciples but has told them the truth about their commitment to Him. He continues, in this text, to share with them what they are about to get into. He's not trying to discourage them from following, but He does want them to know up front what the cost will be. He wants everyone on the same page as far as requirements of discipleship. He isn't trying to make following Him sound like a walk in the park.

Do you know what the cost is? Have you considered the cost?

We live in a day when Christianity is often viewed as something that will make you feel better about yourself. It's as if its some sort of therapy for your self-esteem. Many people want to go to church so they feel better about themselves.

We also live in a day when the church is to open its doors to any and everybody. In today's world we are to be seeker friendly and water down the gospel so as not to be offensive. Pastors and church leaders will come up with various schemes to try and make the church more appealing to lost people so that the lost will want to come and enjoy themselves with everyone else…is this loving? Is it loving to manipulate and sell someone something? Is it loving to sugar coat sin and the requirements of Christ so that they will be easier to swallow? Jesus didn't.

I think it's time the church started acting like the Lord in terms of being the true church and not some social club. It's time we start examining the Scriptures to see even what we are to be about and to do. It's time pastors and church leaders stop trying to sell people a bill of goods simply to stroke their own egos. It's time we start looking at Christianity not as the title to a social group but the name of followers of Christ.

Jesus gives us a reality check here in this passage. Here again are His terms of discipleship. Please don't think this is me on a soapbox, this is Jesus not me. If you wish to disagree and complain, take it up with Him…

In our text today, we are going to see some misunderstandings concerning following Christ.

Please hear God's Word…

Luke 9:56-62

56 And they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."

58 And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."

60 And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

61 Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home."

62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Father, grant us the commitment needed to be followers of Christ.

1. Being a Christian Requires Switching Kingdoms (Luke 9:57-58)

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."

58 And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

Our text begins with a man who approaches Jesus with a statement about being one of His followers… I will follow you wherever you go.

This man's desire is admirable. This desire exceeds the trivial ideas of being a follower of Christ today. This man had some level of commitment and interest in being a disciple.

Jesus does not want anyone to come to Him and be a disciple under false pretenses. He's not like the army recruiter who paints the glorious picture and promises everything only to get you to sign on the dotted line. Jesus is truthful and wants everyone to understand what they're getting into before they sign up.

So He tells this man that following Him will require significant commitment and struggle. Jesus says that the wild animals in the woods have dens and nests. He on the other hand doesn't have a home or even a place to lay His head. Jesus' point to this man is that if you want to follow Me, don't think your physical life is going to improve. Don't think comfort is awaiting you.

He wasn't discouraging this man, but telling him the truth. Jesus was causing this man to consider the fact that following Him would require commitment and cost.

In Matthew 8, we see that this man is a scribe. He addresses Jesus with honor, calling Him teacher. This man, no doubt, had earthly ambitions. He saw the miracles, crowds, and enthusiasm. He wanted a part of the good things. He thought being a disciple was going to be a benefit to his earthly life and that He might gain something in the process.

Jesus wants this man to understand completely that He is going to the cross and there is no wealth involved, in fact, Jesus as the leader doesn't even have a place to lay His head.

This man didn't realize what was ahead of him and what he was getting himself into.

Lk 18:18 And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Lk 18:19 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Lk 18:20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'"

Lk 18:21 And he said, "All these I have kept from my youth."

Lk 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

Lk 18:23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

This ruler's stuff was more important to him than Jesus was, so he was denied permission to inherit eternal life.

Understand that following Christ as a disciple will cost you some of your material goods. Jesus probably will not ask us to sell our homes, or give all our possessions away. He will ask us to give away some. Are you willing to be a Christian under these circumstances?

2. Being a Christian Requires Switching Loyalties (Luke 9:59-62)

59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."

60 And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

61 Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home."

62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Next, we read about two individuals that were asked by Jesus to follow Him. Remember when Jesus called His original disciples? He looked and Peter, James, John and the others and said, come follow Me. The Bible tells us that immediately they dropped everything and became followers. Their loyalties were different. Their loyalties were still being conformed to Christ along the way.

Here we see two people who have conditions on following Christ. They are not going to chase hard after Jesus but are going to on their timetables and in their way…so they think.

Both would-be followers on the surface seem to have a good reason to delay their discipleship. Jesus shows them and us that He must take priority over all things…even things that are good.

There is a pattern.

The next two vignettes appear in parallel form: Invitation/petition to follow + proposal to delay discipleship until something is accomplished (first) + reference to the kingdom of God included in the rejection of the proposed delay. –Joel Green (NICNT Luke 407)

We see a very similar example again, like last week from the example of Elijah and Elisha.

1 Kgs 19:19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.

1 Kgs 19:20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?"

1 Kgs 19:21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

There are many parallels between the ministry of Christ and Elijah. That's why some, when asked, said Jesus was Elijah. When Elijah calls Elisha to be his follower, Elisha is allowed to return home first and say goodbye to his family.

Here in our text today, Jesus draws a line and says no.

I searched for the answer from many theologians and have heard many options as to why this was the case. I remained unconvinced.

In the case of the first man, Matthew calls him a scribe, he wishes to go home and bury his father and Jesus refuses to grant him permission.

Now to bury one's father seems like a legitimate reason to delay following Jesus. Some scholars say, his father wasn't dead but elderly and what his request really was about was to go home and care for his father until he died and was buried and then he would follow Jesus. Others think that this was really an excuse because, in Jewish tradition a body had to be buried within 24 hours of death. They go on to say why was he in the crowd if his father had died, he would have been home caring for the burial.

As far as the second person is concerned, it was a seemingly understandable request to desire to go home and say your goodbyes. After all, Elisha was given permission. Again, Jesus says no.

Why did Jesus deny these requests?

Again, some theologians say that He is sovereign and in both cases knew that these were simply excuses to delay following Him and so they were denied.

I really think there is a simpler answer. I believe these were real requests. I believe the man desired to go and bury his father and the other desired to go and say goodbye.

I think we're told why their discipleship could not be delayed…

Lk 9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Notice, the days were drawing near for the Ascension. This would be after the resurrection when Jesus would go back to heaven. Jesus had a divine schedule to keep. He had to be in Jerusalem at a certain time because in God's plan the events were decreed from before the foundation of the earth. When the Bible says, he set his face to go to Jerusalem, there was nothing even Satan and his army could not stop the King from keeping His promise to be the Savior.

The reason that Jesus denied these requests was because He had to leave and leave immediately to keep His destiny with the cross.

His call was to follow immediately, just as He had required of His original followers.

The other part of the call was to follow, not only immediately but without conditions.

The call today for us is the same. Jesus may not call us to leave family and friends behind but He very well could. Would we follow?

3. Our Cost of Discipleship

We are to understand our obligations as Christian followers/disciples today…

The disciple of Jesus is a person who is being continually conformed to the image of his Master (Rom. 8:29). He is the one who is constantly changing, growing, knowing. He has not yet "arrived," but he is continually striving for the goals set by the Master (Phil. 3:13). He is a serious and responsible person in his relation to others. The disciple has a mission to the world. He knows who he is, what he is to do, and how he is to do it.– BIBLICAL VIEW OF MAN The Basis for Nouthetic Confrontation* by ED HINDSON

We don't know what became of the three in our text today. Once the first man heard that Jesus had no home and if he was to follow, he wouldn't either, did he turn back or did he drop everything and follow. Did the second man let the responsibility of burial fall on those who were not followers of Christ? Did the third person realize the cost of following Jesus and like Christ, set his face to go to Jerusalem? We're not told. Luke leaves this open-ended. Perhaps he does so because we are those in the story. Perhaps he doesn't tell us what they did because we are to hear and obey the same call.

Is Jesus calling us to follow Him? I believe He is. We are called to be Christians, little Christs. We are called to model our lives after His. Sometimes there is a huge cost, sometimes the cost isn't as big, but there is always a cost.

The call to follow Christ is ringing out, will you follow unconditionally or is there something else you feel you need to do first?

Mt 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 

The Surrendered Life

by Oswald Chambers

"I have been crucified with Christ . . ." - Galatians 2:20

To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his whole way of looking at things. Being born again by the Spirit of God means that we must first be willing to let go before we can grasp something else. The first thing we must surrender is all of our pretense or deceit. What our Lord wants us to present to Him is not our goodness, honesty, or our efforts to do better, but real solid sin. Actually, that is all He can take from us. And what He gives us in exchange for our sin is real solid righteousness. But we must surrender all pretense that we are anything, and give up all our claims of even being worthy of God’s consideration.

Once we have done that, the Spirit of God will show us what we need to surrender next. Along each step of this process, we will have to give up our claims to our rights to ourselves. Are we willing to surrender our grasp on all that we possess, our desires, and everything else in our lives? Are we ready to be identified with the death of Jesus Christ?

We will suffer a sharp painful disillusionment before we fully surrender. When people really see themselves as the Lord sees them, it is not the terribly offensive sins of the flesh that shock them, but the awful nature of the pride of their own hearts opposing Jesus Christ. When they see themselves in the light of the Lord, the shame, horror, and desperate conviction hit home for them.

If you are faced with the question of whether or not to surrender, make a determination to go on through the crisis, surrendering all that you have and all that you are to Him. And God will then equip you to do all that He requires of you.

Source: My Utmost for His Highest (The Golden Book of Oswald Chambers,1992)

In Christ, Our Suffering Is Not in Vain

by R. C. Sproul

Jesus suffered for us. Yet we are called to participate in His suffering. Though He was uniquely the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, there is still an application of this vocation for us. We are given both the duty and the privilege to participate in the suffering of Christ.

A mysterious reference to this idea is found in the writings of the apostle Paul: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). Here Paul declared that he rejoiced in his suffering. Surely he did not mean that he enjoyed pain and affliction. Rather, the cause of his joy was found in the meaning of his suffering. He said that he filled up "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ."

On the surface, Paul's explanation is astonishing. What could possibly have been lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Did Christ only half-finish His redemptive work, leaving it to Paul to complete it? Was Jesus overstating the case when He cried from the cross, "It is finished"? What exactly was lacking in the suffering of Christ?

In terms of the value of Jesus' suffering, it is blasphemous to suggest anything was lacking. The merit of His atoning sacrifice is infinite. Nothing could possibly be added to His perfect obedience to make it even more perfect. Nothing can be more perfect than perfect. What is absolutely perfect cannot be augmented.

The merit of Jesus' suffering is sufficient to atone for every sin that has ever been or ever will be committed. His once-for-all atoning death needs no repetition (Heb. 10:10). Old Testament sacrifices were repeated precisely because they were imperfect shadows of the reality that was to come (Heb. 10:1).

If Paul's suffering did not add merit to what was lacking in Christ's sufferings, what did it add?

The answer to this difficult question lies in the broader teaching of the New Testament in regard to the believer's call to participate in the humiliation of Christ. Our baptism signifies that we are buried with Christ. Paul repeatedly pointed out that unless we are willing to participate in the humiliation of Jesus, we will not participate in His exaltation (see 2 Timothy 2:11–12).

Paul rejoiced that his suffering was a benefit to the church. The church is called to imitate Christ. It is called to walk the Via Dolorosa. Paul's favorite metaphor for the church was the image of the human body. The church is called the body of Christ. In one sense, it is proper to call the church the "continuing incarnation." The church is really the mystical body of Christ on earth.

Christ so linked His church to Himself that when He first called Paul on the Damascus Road He said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4). Saul was not literally persecuting Jesus. Jesus had already ascended to heaven. He was already out of reach of Saul's hostility. Saul was busy persecuting Christians. But Jesus felt such solidarity with His church that He regarded an attack upon His body, the church, as a personal attack on Himself.

The church is not Christ. Christ is perfect; the church is imperfect. Christ is the Redeemer; the church is the company of the redeemed. However, the church belongs to Christ. The church is redeemed by Christ. The church is the bride of Christ. The church is indwelt by Christ.

In light of this solidarity, the church participates in Christ's suffering. But this participation adds nothing to Christ's merit. The sufferings of Christians may benefit other people, but they always fall short of atonement. I cannot atone for anyone's sins, not even for my own. Yet my suffering may be of great benefit to other people. It may also serve as a witness to the One whose sufferings were an atonement.

The word for "witness" in the New Testament, martus, is the source of the English word martyr. Those who suffered and died for the cause of Christ were called martyrs because by their suffering they bore witness to Christ.

What is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus is the ongoing suffering that God calls His people to endure. God calls people of every generation to suffer. Again, this suffering is not to fulfill any deficiency in the merit of Christ, but to fulfill our destinies as witnesses to the perfect Suffering Servant of God.

What does this mean in practical terms? My father suffered a series of cerebral hemorrhages that caused him great suffering and eventually ended his life. I'm sure that while he was suffering he must have asked God, "Why?" On the surface, his suffering seemed useless. It seemed as though his pain was for no good reason.

I must be very careful. I do not think that my father's suffering was in any way an atonement for my sins. Neither do I think I can read God's mind with respect to the ultimate reason for my father's suffering. But I know this: my father's suffering made a profound impact on my life. It was through my father's death that I was brought to Christ. I am not saying that the ultimate reason my father was called to suffer and die was so that I could become a Christian. I don't know the sovereign purpose of God in it. But I do know that God used that suffering in a redemptive way for me. My dad's suffering drove me into the arms of the Suffering Savior.

We are followers of Christ. We follow Him to the Garden of Gethsemane. We follow Him into the hall of judgment. We follow Him along the Via Dolorosa. We follow Him unto death. But the gospel declares that we also follow Him through the gates of heaven. Because we suffer with Him, we also shall be raised with Him. If we are humiliated with Him, we also shall be exalted with Him.

Because of Christ, our suffering is not useless. It is part of the total plan of God, who has chosen to redeem the world through the pathway of suffering.

Source: Aquila Report

Christian Persecution: Pakistani Couple Burned to Death by Muslim Mob

by Amanda Foster

Christians often face severe persecution in Pakistan, where churches and homes have been destroyed and people killed.

A Christian couple in Pakistan has been burned to death in an industrial kiln by enraged Muslims who accused them of setting fire to verses of the Koran, a human rights official reported.

Shahbaz Maseeh, 26, and his wife Shama Bibi, 24, were attacked at their workplace, a brick factory, on November 4, 2014 in the Punjab providence of Pakistan, according to NBC News.

Chief advocate at Pakistani minority rights group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD), Mushtaq Gill, told NBC News that the couple had planned to flee the region with their three children after word spread that Bibi had burned verses of the Koran along with other items that were left behind by her deceased father.

The kiln manager had originally discovered the burned verses and allegedly demanded the Christians stay indoors until they "pay off their debts." Afterword, he informed regional mosques of the incident which gathered mobs to attack the couple.

"A mob of several dozen attacked the building where they were," Gill said. "They broke their legs so they couldn't run and then threw them in the fire. Only some bones and hair were found at the site."

Gill told BosNewsLife that nearly 40 suspects have been put into police custody, including the kiln owner, Yousaf Gujjar.

In Pakistan, it is illegal to set fire to religious text and can be punishable by the nation's blasphemy laws that lead to the death penalty. However, NBC News reports that "vigilante mobs" tend to take matters into their own hands.

"The blasphemy law is just to persecute the Christians and others who disagree with the Islamic faith," Gill said to BosNewsLife.

Punjab is the Pakistani providence that holds the majority of the nation's four million Christians.

Source: christiandaily.com

Pope Francis Says Persecution is Uniting Christians

By Inés San Martín, Vatican correspondent

ROME (October 31, 2014) - Pope Francis styled anti-Christian violence around the world as a force bringing the churches closer together, saying that "for persecutors, we Christians are all one."

The pope's comments came to a group of Catholic charismatics, who practice a high-octane style of praise and worship associated with Pentecostal Christianity.

"Today the blood of Jesus, poured out by many Christian martyrs in various parts of the world, calls us and compels us towards the goal of unity," Francis said. "For persecutors," the pontiff said, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Northern Iraq, "we Christians are all one!"

The pontiff referred to this as "ecumenism of blood."

Pope Francis was speaking after greeting Pentecostal Pastor Giovanni Traettino, one of the participants of the conference. He reminded those present that the origin of their group, called the Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, is ecumenical.

Quoting Blessed Pope Paul VI, Francis said that Christian missionary effort will find itself "considerably diminished if those who proclaim the gospel are divided among themselves."

Source: Crux, cruxnow.com

Walk This Way - Imitate God
Scripture: Ephesians 5:1-14

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God's people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes - these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don't participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
(Ephesians 5:1-9)

Reflect

Just as children imitate their parents, we should follow God's example. His great love for us led him to sacrifice himself so that we might live. Our love for others should be of the same kind - a love that goes beyond affection to self-sacrificing service. One way we can imitate God's example is through our words.

Obscenities and coarse joking are so common today that we begin to take them for granted. Paul cautions, however, that improper language should have no place in the Christian's conversation because it does not reflect God's gracious presence in us. How can we praise God and remind others of his goodness when we are speaking coarsely?

As people who have light from the Lord, our actions should reflect our faith. We should live above reproach morally so that we will reflect God's goodness to others. Jesus stressed this truth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:15-16). It is important to avoid the "worthless deeds of evil and darkness" (Ephesians 5:11 - any pleasure or activity that results in sin), but we must go even further. Paul instructs us to expose these deeds, because our silence may be interpreted as approval. God needs people who will take a stand for what is right. Christians must lovingly speak out for what is true and right.

Respond

In what ways do you "imitate God"? What do you find comforting or daunting about imitating God?

Source: God's Story For My Life

Family Special: "A Grand-Parent"

by Rev. Charles Butcher, Ohio

In Proverbs 16:31, we find words of divine wisdom our world desperately needs to affirm. Those words are, "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life." So we find that God does not view older people or gray haired folks the way many do in our culture. Beloved this bit of divine wisdom reminds us that God's thoughts very often never match the thoughts of our culture. What we find is that God often esteems what humanity tends to avoid. No matter how culture at large views gray hair, the church of the living God must affirm the worth and value of all people, especially older people. Beloved, we must not diminish the important role older people or our "senior saints of the faith" play in our families and in God's family.

We have a word we use that describes a gray haired person, whose children now have children, that word is "Grand" parent. Beloved reflect upon that word. A grandparent has the opportunity to be a "grand" parent. Grandparents for the most part have already been around the parenting track more than a few times. Most grandparents learned through experience where the potholes and slick spots are located on this race track called life. A few grandparents among us even learned many things NOT to do as a parent. In more cases than not, grandparents have invaluable insights and contributions to give the younger generation struggling with the enormous challenge of trying to be – "good parents." We would do well to listen to the counsel and advice of our "grand-parents."

The prolific writer, Erma Bombeck, hit the nail on the head with the following statement:

"A grandmother will put the sweater on you when she is cold, feed you when she is hungry, and put you to bed when she is tired."

Another writer David Barry once said,

"You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to grandparents for long periods of time, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida at the earliest opportunity."

The following acrostic poem is from an unknown author but the points it makes are very poignant.

Beloved seriously, grandparents have a grand opportunity continuing to enrich and help their families. What can they do?

G-they can set a godly example for young people living in an ungodly age.
R-they can be reliable in a world where many cannot be trusted to be honest.
A-they can give sound advice in a place of the world's junk-thinking.
N-they can nurture their grandchildren when others are too busy to do so.
D-they can give direction in a confused world that says any which way will do.

Grandparents – we salute you and thank God for you, for you are truly "grand."

Source: Thoughts For the Journey — June 2014, North Eaton Christian Church

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