Thursday, July 30, 2009

Acts 4:32 speaks of the early church, and the believers were all of "one heart and mind". A.W. Tozer explained this using the following analogy:

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Brother Jim's Mission Trip to Brazil

Brazil 2009

This is a picture of my brother, Jim, and me. Jim goes on a mission trip to Brazil every two years; I think this is about his 7th or 8th time to go. The following is his report of his trip in 2009. I love my brother as a brother by blood and a brother in Christ!

This year our team was a group of 23 people. The youngest was 12 years old and the “most mature” was 81 years young! We came from Canada, Virginia, Ecuador, Amarillo, Canyon and Lubbock. The dates were set a year ago and prayer and preparation has been an ongoing adventure for those taking care of the logistics of the trip. The group I was with would leave Amarillo Texas on June 30th and return on July 14th.
We met up with other team members at the DFW airport, 2 more team members met us at the airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil and we met as a total team of 23 when we reached Campinas, a city in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. We arrived at the Hotel Vila Rica on Wednesday July 1st around 1p.m. Most of the first day is spent unpacking, resting, getting money exchanged, going to a store for bottled water and did I mention resting…. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are spent training the new people…(a lot of training is done before we leave the USA, but this is where they will get hands on experience sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ)….the “trainees” will have opportunity to share in the hotel, in the parks, at the hospitals, bus stops, hot dog stands---basically anywhere there are people the opportunity exists!
On Sunday morning all the teams (we break up into smaller groups that individual churches can transport—usually 3 to 5 people per team) report to the church that they will be working with for the next 8 days and nights.
This year the team I was on was made up of 5 team members and 2 translators…our translators are most valuable as they communicate the words God gives us to share with the local people. Our translators were Alan and Annie—Alan is in his twenties and I believe Annie was eighteen years old. They both did an amazing job the whole week….they are both in a group currently studying so they can go do mission work in Indonesia for 3 years…Alan hopes to be going in the next several months and Annie should be ready in the next 2 years….
The rest of our team was made up of David, a former Amarillo man who has been a full time missionary who served in Chile for 9 years, Ecuador for 9 years and is preparing to serve in India when he returns to the field next. Glenice, a lady from Amarillo who is semi-retired and does estate sales to earn the money to go on mission trips. Perry from Canada who is retired from working in television and radio for many years. Alfredo who is a missionary from Ecuador (good friend of David) …Alfredo works with some 40 house churches in and around his city in Ecuador…he is currently planning to commit to going to work with David in India after David gets there and develops plans for reaching the people in the slums of Bombay. Final team member is Jim (me) from Amarillo who works in a convenience grocery store.
An old friend who has since gone to be with God used to always give a talk as we were preparing for our mission trips in which he stated: “You will be an ambassador for Jesus Christ as you travel to your destination, while you are there, and upon your return home.” That may not be the exact quote, but I believe it expresses the sentiment of why we go on these trips—to go on behalf of Jesus Christ and to share His message with other people. I am fairly certain that it is the same thing Jesus expects of all His children whether the mission field is in another country or in our own backyard.
The city our group was to serve in is called Apiai – it is a small city of about 40,000 people located in the mountains about 200 miles south of Campinas. Because it was so far away we would be staying in a local hotel, separated from the rest of the groups that would be working in the Campinas area. The city is known for its work with pottery, and has some caves and waterfalls which make it somewhat of a touristy place. It’s not like an American “resort destination”…..we had planned to see the caves and waterfalls on our one day off, but because of rain would not have been able to make it to the sites. The homes in the developed parts of the city were typical of South America—built with clay bricks, then covered in concrete and surrounded by a protective concrete wall with each home sharing a connecting divider wall between each home.
In the poorer areas where we generally work around the church, the streets are dirt. Many of the people are still working on the homes….some are made of the structure I mentioned, but many are of much lesser construction of wood pieces and cardboard type shacks. One of the things that has impressed me each time I have had the opportunity to go to Brazil is that regardless of where the people live, whether it be one of the nicer homes or one of the much poorer homes….the people seem to be content in their nothingness. I’m sure that probably may not be the best word to describe it and I don’t want to come across as rude or haughty. I must compare the standard of living to our standard in the USA, and say that compared to our standards, the folks we visit have nothing, but they are still a happy people. They are very hospitable, friendly and willing to share what they have. I cannot help but respect them and respect the place they live.
What to share? How do I express God at work except to give you a few examples of the visits we made in Apiai, Brazil. As I mentioned earlier about being an Ambassador for Christ, I think the best way to describe our actions is that we must constantly be in tune to what the Holy Spirit wants us to do and where He wants us to go. One of our first visits was to the home of an elderly church member, a blind lady who lives about 2 blocks away from the church on one of the dirt streets and in one of the lesser homes. The day was cool and there was a wood burning store in the house that was obviously used for cooking and for warming the “room” of the house. We visited with her and before we left Glenice prayed for her health and other concerns. As we left the home and went out into the streets there were two ladies that we were able to share with and they both prayed to receive Christ. After the two ladies I saw a man sitting at the end of the street and went to talk with him. I shared the gospel with him through our translator and with the use of our God/Man Visual aide that was developed many years ago and has proved to be a good visual tool we use in sharing Christ. This man prayed to receive Jesus into his heart. We learned that he was the son of the blind lady we had visited with earlier in the home…..she had expressed concern about him during our visit with her. Some would say it was just by chance that I was able to speak to him…I think maybe God had lined it up just that way, perhaps an answer prayer for a Mother…you decide!
We had many opportunities to share the word of God…..there was a local radio station and the first Saturday we were there, we went and shared on the radio in the morning and then again in the afternoon. In the morning we shared where we were from, what we did for a living in the USA and one of us gave a word of testimony. When we went back in the evening, David was able to preach a message. This is not a “Christian” radio station, but as it is the only station in town, it reaches a lot of people. You never know what chances will come our way to share.
We went one evening to the local town council meeting….and were invited to address the council…we did not offer an invitation, but the news of Jesus Christ was shared in this very public forum.
One day we were on the street and I stopped at a house on the corner…the lady invited us into the home. I shared with her and she prayed to receive Christ……while we were still there, a man came in and she introduced him as her brother who lived just next door. I asked him if I could share with him the reason I have come to Brazil and he said yes, so I shared with him and he also prayed to receive Jesus into his heart. As we were getting ready to get back into the cars, people were on the street as they were coming home from jobs etc…and I stopped a young man and asked if I could talk to him. He said yes….we shared with him, and he prayed to receive Christ into his life also. When he left the corner I watched and he went to the home where the man lived that we had just shared with……that made 3 people from the same family that all prayed to receive Jesus into their hearts ---all separate, yet at the same time! I’m sure God watches us and laughs at the things that we tend to marvel at  He had it planned that way all the time!
One last instance I feel compelled to share was when the whole team was on the same street, going door to door, and both sides of street. I was walking up the hill towards the next house when I looked to my left at a vacant lot on the street, but then Holy Spirit says “look up”….so I look wayyyyyyyy up and see a little old man watching us from his house wayyyyyy up on top of a hill. I looked up and saw him, thought about climbing that hill and thought “be a lot easier to keep going straight”…..Spirit says “are you sure”…..don’t try to argue with the Spirit as He is pretty convincing……..when I got through climbing to the top and then balancing on his garden wall to get to where he was….I told the little man I’d like to talk to him, but he would have to wait just a minute so I could breathe again! He was a 61 year old who was happy we had stopped to talk to him and he also prayed to receive Jesus Christ into his heart.
One more last instance…David had the chance to share with the son-in-law of Pastor John, our host, early in the week…he did not pray to receive Christ…however he did agree to show us around the farm where he worked the following Saturday….there would be some 80 families on this farm….well it rained and the roads would not allow us to make visits to most of the people…we did visit with one of the first men to settle there and then we went and were able to share with 1 man who did receive Christ… is amazing how sometimes you can see the countenance of their face change while you are sharing and this was one of those times…all that to say this….we had a service at church Saturday evening and the pastors son-in-law came to the service…when David gave the invitation, he came forward and received Christ into his heart. What a wonderful God we serve that would allow us to witness a family coming together in Christ !!! Our hotel manager also came to the service, heard the Word and did NOT respond. This is another amazing thing we witness yes is yes and no is no, but we keep praying for those that chose to say no, that God will continue to work on their hearts……the seed has been planted….who will water and who will harvest….it just might be YOU!
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes might not perish but have everlasting life……the gospel in one verse….
If you’ve never prayed to receive Christ into your heart you can—right now!
Dear Jesus,
I know I’ve made mistakes and have sin in my life, I’m sorry for my sin and want you to forgive me for all my sins. Please come into my life and be the LORD and SAVIOUR of my life. Be the center of my life. Thank you for forgiving me and coming into my life. Amen
Respectfully submitted,
One of your ambassadors for Christ,
Jim Smith

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Spirit and the Flesh

Some accused Paul the Apostle of being "soft" on sin, because he taught that salvation was by grace and faith alone...that the law or good works could not save men from Hell, and anything added to salvation by faith alone was taking away from the true Gospel.

In Galatians Paul proves again that he is not soft on sin, as he specifially names many (but not near all) of the sins of the flesh. Paul's opponents would claim the concepts of grace and being led by the Spirit lead to unrestrained sin. Paul claimed the complete opposite--that only by the Spirit can we suppress the desires of the flesh and lead a life worthy of God.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Men's Breakfast: Introduction to Discipleship

It has been a long time between posts, but it is because I have been working on putting this little talk together for the men's breakfast at our church tomorrow morning. I've read about a half dozen books on discipleship, and to try to condense all of that into about 10 minutes has been a challenge! This is the text of my talk:

How many of you today will raise your hand and say you know Jesus?
Okay, how many of you know the song “Jesus Loves Me”?
Okay, now I want to tell you about Jesus Loves Me. The words were written before the turn of the 20th century by Anna B. Warner, who lived from 1820-1915. The music was composed by William B. Bradbury who lived from 1816-1868. There are four verses in the Baptist Hymnal, but I looked on the internet and found that another 22 verses have been written over the years.
Now, how many of you know the song, “Jesus Loves Me”? Well I just told you all about it! Can you not sing along now?
Perhaps we should revisit the first question again also then. How many of you know Jesus? I can tell you that you know about him. Perhaps you know:
1. He is the son of God.
2. He was always with God and part of the Trinity.
3. He was born of a virgin
4. He was born in Bethlehem on December 25th, 0033 before He.
5. He grew up as a carpenter’s stepson in Nazareth
6. He became a teacher and healer
7. He performed miracles
8. He was crucified at a place called Golgatha, the place of the skull
9. He was buried in a borrowed tomb with a big rock in front of it
10. He rose on the third day.
11. He lives today in Heaven with God.

So, with all of that information…do you know Jesus? How well do you know him? Do you know Him as well as the man sitting next to you? Do you know Him as well as your wife, your children, your brother, your parents?

I have a young nephew named David*. David is 20 years old and in college in Denver*. A few months ago, David got a DUI. Not too long before that, he expressed that he probably wasn’t going to heaven because of the bad things he has done. He said his mother and brother would probably make it, but he and his father probably would not. My initial thought for David was that he needed to settle his life down and conform a little to the way things really are in the world, and lose some of his rebellious, self centered attitude. Then it struck me that David does not need to conform, David needs to be transformed, in accordance with Romans 12:2 that says;
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…"
On Easter Sunday this year, we had a Sunday School lesson about (what else?) the resurrection. Our lesson was out of Matthew, and the Sunday School board chose to stop the lesson right before Matthew 18 v 19, which you will recognize as The Great Suggestion:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey
everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you...

My commentary today is to point out that not only are we not making disciples, but that we are not disciples ourselves!
How can we expect to make others into something that we are not ourselves? Can we teach others to obey what we do not obey? Should they do as we say and not as we do?
So what is a disciple? In its simplest (and most complex) form a disciple is a follower.
Lifeway conducted a survey in 2005 wherein they asked 1300 evangelical leaders across the world to name the top 10 issues facing today’s churches. According to the survey the number one issue facing churches today is prayer; discipleship was number 2. I’m going to go ahead and stress discipleship today, because being in the top 10 is still pretty significant, even though Bro. Johnny has indicated that in an effort to make our church more attractive than other churches in town, we will be going from 10 commandments to 8, and you can chose which two you want to throw out!
When Jesus called Peter to be His disciple in Mark 1:17, he simply said “Follow Me”. Do you know what the last thing Jesus said to Peter was, recorded in John 21:22? “Follow Me”.
So how do we do it? How do we follow Him? I have come to realize that I can read my Bible, that I can read every book in the library about Jesus, that I can teach my Sunday School class for the next 50 years, and still have never followed Him the way He intends for me to if I am to call myself a disciple of Jesus Christ.
What He wants from me is a personal relationship with him, whereby I get to really know Him. We can learn all about Him, but we prove we actually know Him when we begin acting on what we know about him.

We are all familiar with the parable Jesus spoke in Matthew 6:26 when he said, “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like the foolish man, who built his house upon the sand…”
In his book “The Cost of Discipleship”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus and his disciples despised and rejected of men, yet today we have a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and one supposedly committed to Christ.
He goes on to say that the grace that saved our souls from Hell is a costly grace, it is a grace that was paid for with a man’s life. When we fail to genuinely repent of our sinful life, and actually turn towards a life of following Christ, then we have accepted a cheaper form of grace. If all Jesus called you for was salvation, you would not be here today. You were created by God and recreated in Christ Jesus to worship God and to be like him. Max Lucado wrote a book called “Just Like Jesus”, and the theme of the book is that God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.
Bonhoeffer also wrote that the command of Jesus “Follow Me” is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, the burden is light. 1st John 5:3 says “His commandments are not burdensome”
Mt. 11: 28-30 says:
Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart….

Have you ever seen a young bull placed in a yoke with an old bull? By the end of the day the young bull is exhausted from fighting the yoke and the old bull’s path. Eventually he learns that if he’ll just go where the old bull leads, it makes for a pretty easy day.
We had a puppy a few years ago that I tried to teach to walk on a leash. I drug that puppy down the street til his little paws were raw, but he stubbornly refused to be led. The puppy learned to walk on the leash, and I learned a valuable lesson, as my children gently led the puppy down the street. The puppy knew the children loved him, and he wanted to follow them!
The easiest way to learn to follow Jesus is to spend time with him. Not just “formal” time, but everyday time. Brother Lawrence was a French Monk in the 17th century who decided to follow Jesus’ example and try to be in constant communion with God. He eventually reached the point where when he was called to prayer in the monastery, he could not see the difference between prayer meeting and sorting beans in the kitchen. A more modern example is Frank Lauback, a missionary teacher who traveled all over the world teaching people to read. At age 45 he resolved to live in “continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to His will.”
In Thessalonians Paul instructs us to give thanks in all things and to pray without ceasing. This is how we really get to know Jesus and be His disciple. This is how we are in the constant process of being transformed as we mentioned in Romans 12:2, and if you go on and read the conclusion of that verse “…then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

* I chose not to public post my nephew's given name or location.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Mark 6:52 NASB

How often do we fail to realize when God has blessed us, and how often do we fail to learn what he is teaching? The disciples had just seen Jesus feed five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread, yet they were "astonished" when he quieted the wind after appoaching them from the water!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Adding on...

I read a story this week about a child that received a train set as a gift at Christmas. The child was very excited when he opened the box. He could not wait to put the oval track together and connect the cars. Soon the train started going around and around the track. Around and around. Around and around again. Eventually, the child got tired of the same old thing over and over, and started looking for more gifts.
People that really get into model trains and make it a lifelong hobby keep adding more track. The train has to do more than go around and around. They add a little toy depot, then more little buildings to create a town. Soon the garage is full of trains of different scales, and the hobbiest goes to model train conventions.
If we are disciples of Christ, we don't stop when we see what the first gift can do. We want to learn more about add more track. The only way to do this is to spend time seeking what He has for us. It is not boring, it is exciting as He opens up His life to us and we begin to discover His will for us.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Constant Companion

Jesus enjoyed unbroken communion with God, so if we are to be His disciples, we have to strive to do the same. It is not easy, however, He is alway present in our lives, so to "pray without ceasing", requires us to be aware of his presence constantly. We want to spend constant, daily, hourly, moment by moment time with Him, to see the world through His eyes. Setting aside time for Him in the morning or evening is important, but a true relationship goes far beyond that.

Friday, May 1, 2009

First Disciples

A.B. Bruce in "The Training of the Twelve" wrote of the first disciples regarding where they were just after they were called by Jesus:

The faith of these brethren was, therefore, just as we should expect in beginners. In substance it amounted to this, that they recognized in Jesus the Divine Prophet, King, Son of Old Testament prophecy; and its value lay not in its maturity, or accuracy, but in this, that however imperfect, it brought them into contact and close fellowhip with Him, in whose company they were to see greater things than when they first believed, one truth after another assuming its place in the firmament of their minds, like the stars appearing in the evening sky as daylight fades away.

I would have to say that is about where I am in my discipleship journey...I know who Jesus is and I know what He did for me in accomplishing victory over sin and my salvation, but I am learning what it means to be in close contact with Him. I'm looking forward to learning "one truth after another".

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Cost of Discipleship

I finished reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer this morning. I made some notes from the book, and now I will go back and study the notes and expand them. Some of what I have learned so far is that the cost of grace is and was high, because is cost a man His life. We cheapen grace when we accept it without any evidence of change in our lives. We should be different, our lives should reflect Jesus. Wouldn't it be great if someone commented to you one day, "You look like Jesus"? For a disciple of Christ, that would be the ultimate compliment!

The main thing I learned from Bonhoeffer's book? much more I have to learn....

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moving on...

I was in Waco Sunday morning. My family and I had planned on attending a local worship service there, but plans changed (as they often do with family) so I had my own personal worship service in the lobby of our motel. This is the scripture God revealed to appropriate, just what I needed:

1 Therefore leaving the elementary[1][Lit word of the beginning ] teaching about the Christ[2][I.e. Messiah], let us press on to maturity[3][Or perfection ], not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits. Hebrews 6:1-3 NASB.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting Started

I became a Christian when I was 15 years old, and there was a change in my life, but I never really felt like I became a disciple of Jesus Christ. It recently occurred to me that if we are to fulfill the great commission and "make disciples", then we must first be disciples. I actually completed a significant discipleship course several years ago, called "Master Life". It was a very good course, and I learned a lot, but even so, I did not start considering that I needed to see the world through Jesus' eyes. A morning "quiet time" was not enough. Memorizing scripture was not enough. Witnessing to others was not enough.

I recently read "Just Like Jesus" by Max Lucado, and that got me thinking, but what really got me going is a book I haven't finished yet, "The Cost of Discipleship" by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. I have also just started a book called "The Training of the Twelve" by A.B. Bruce. Further, I started with Matthew this morning reading and taking notes from the Gospels.