Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Discipleship Considered 2 (Cont)

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

Why should we become disciples (Continued)

4. For the Salvation of Souls

It seems redundant to say, but the spirit of the disciple must be in tune with the spirit of his Master. When Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), He demonstrated a burden for souls, that reflected the heart of the Father. He also said, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In a similar manner, when the disciple has a burden for souls, he truly reflects the heart of the Saviour and demonstrates that he is a true follower of the Master. Evangelists, whose specialised work is the salvation of souls, are one of God’s gifts to the Church.3 Furthermore, all Christians are encouraged to do the work of an evangelist.

5. For the ‘well done’ of the Saviour

There is nothing quite as comforting as having the satisfaction of a job well done. Of knowing within yourself that you did your best and the result was as good as you could possibly have made it. If this is then endorsed by your peers, then deep joy; but if it is confirmed by the Saviour Himself; to have Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21,23). O what glory! Martin Luther wrote: “there are only two days in my diary; today and that day.”
6. For the Victor’s Crown

Then there is this other aspect. Paul, illustrating his own path of discipleship wrote; “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). Then speaking at the end of his life, having completed his race, having finished his course, and having fought his fight, he also wrote; “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day” (2 Tim. 4:8) James joined in with; “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12). And Peter; “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). Leaving aside what these individual crowns mean, it is clear that they are not simply given to those who are believers and little more. Crowns reflect either a position of authority or victory, and these described by the New Testament writers are for those who have been faithful in service. Jesus, our fore-runner and example, was crowned when He completed His course. The writer to the Hebrews summed it up, “… we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9).

To be continued

Monday, November 23, 2009

Discipleship Considered 2

Discipleship Considered 2

Why Should We Become Disciples?

Here are some suggestions to answer the question, ‘Why should I become a disciple of Christ?’ – they are in no particular order.

1. For Love of the Saviour

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Love is expressed, not simply in words, but also in actions – God loved – so He gave. Similarly, Jesus expressed His love for a lost humanity by His actions. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2 (NRSV)). In like manner, we serve Him, because we love Him, and we love Him because He first loved us.

Rabbinic Judaism offers a place of honour and dignity in the coming kingdom for those who follow the routines laid down for them. There are set prayers and times for fasting. The food they eat, the way they cook, the dishes they use, the way they dress, all have to be in conformity to the published code. There are regulations that impact on every facet of Jewish life. But if you ask them why they do it – they will first respond – ‘it is in this way I can show my love for God’. This is excellent motivation. And this must be one of the most important elements in our discipleship. We do it because we love Him.

2. To be worthy of the One who saved us

To be the bride of Christ is the destiny of the Church. Now espoused to Him (2 Cor. 11:2), she is by and by to be presented by Him to Himself (Eph. 5:27). As the future bride of Christ we have a high destiny, and those who are true disciples long to be united to their Lord. As a bride prepares herself for her wedding day by making sure everything is as perfect as can be, so they, by performing acts of service that reflect the Spirit of the Saviour, are transformed from one state of glory into another, thus being conformed to His image and so being made compatible with the God they adore. Paul expressed it perfectly. “But we all … are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

3. To Glorify God

Paul wrote: “… whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Christians for centuries have sought to follow this advice. The Westminster shorter catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” and gives the answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. It supports the first half of this answer (man’s chief end is to glorify God) with the following proof texts:

“I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore” (Ps. 86:12).

“Also your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified” (Isa. 60:21).

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).

“You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honour and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

As Christians, we recognise that God is working His purposes out in accordance with His own will. This is designed to redound to His glory. One day all creation will join the heavenly host to sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest’. In the meantime, we have the opportunity to recognise this overarching aim of God, and seek to promote it. In this matter we must embrace an essential principle, that while God is prepared to bless us, and be kind to us, He is not our servant. He is working in His own way towards His own ends. Man is not the centre of the universe – God is. And our own experience will be greatly enriched if we recognise this. Ptolemy’s model of the solar system had the sun revolving around the earth. While this held sway, some scientific disciplines were unable to advance. Copernicus’ model put the earth in orbit around the sun. This was a great step forward and science benefited substantially. Worldliness follows Ptolemy’s model and puts man at the centre – but godliness follows the model of Copernicus and puts God at the centre. If we are able to place God at the centre of our lives, to realise He does not revolve around us, but we around Him, then much will fall into place. This is certainly a Biblical concept, and since He is a beneficent God, then all things will work together for good. Let us not be like Ptolemy and make earth central – that path leads to discouragement and difficulty. We must be like Copernicus and make heaven (the sun) central, and then all things will fit in their proper place. Then we will be embracing Paul’s injunction to do all things to the glory to God.

More next time

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discipleship Considered 1 (Cont)

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

But can God use me?

In Biblical terms discipleship incorporates service – indeed service is a major ingredient – so the question must be raised – can God use me? Just to ask the question is un-nerving. Why would the omnipotent God use me? Can I really be a representative for Christ? Does the Bible give me any confidence to believe that the Lord would actually allow me to work for Him? It is true that Jesus called disciples, but weren’t they special? Well, they were special inasmuch as they were committed to following Him, but apart from that, they did not have any talents that rose above others of their generation. They actually seem very ordinary – mainly men from the fishing community of Galilee. They became extra-ordinary men because of their communion with the Saviour. They accompanied Him and saw the life that pleases the Father lived before their eyes. They heard His teaching, could follow His example, and obey His instructions. When, subsequently, they showed bravery and spoke with wisdom even though as the Sanhedrists observed “they were uneducated and untrained men” it was evident “that they had been with Jesus”. (Acts 4:13) Yes, Jesus can use anyone - if they are willing. The incarnate Son of God issued an open invitation - “If anyone desires to come after Me” (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23).

Is there a cost to discipleship?

But before you commit yourself, there are some things you should know. As we have already intimated, there will be a cost – Jesus talked in terms of self-denial and carrying a cross. This is important. He made sure that no-one followed Him under false pretences. To those who came to hear Him, He laid out the cost of discipleship in clear terms. For a disciple of Christ, His claims are the highest. And since there can be no going back, we need to be sure before we begin. His advice was – ‘count the cost’. Let us enlarge the Luke 14:26 reference:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-33).

The thrust of this passage is the advice to count the cost of discipleship before embarking on that path. But when we read it the word ‘hate’ in the first sentence somehow catches our eye and requires an explanation. Placing it in the overall context of the gospels it is illuminated by the teaching of the Saviour Himself. He said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37-38). ‘Hate’ then does not equate to hostility or enmity, not even dislike – it is used as a comparative to emphasise that our love for Christ should be greater than our love for any other. In other words, that which is expressed here is the requirement that the love of Christ has to be placed above all other loves and commitments. The word ‘hate’ is used in a similar manner in the Old Testament, where in Gen. 29:30–31, Jacob’s greater love for Rachel (29:30) is phrased as hating Leah (29:31, RSV). This kind of commitment is, no doubt, worrying to the modern mind; but we should not be too concerned. What will become clear is: a person who commits himself or herself to Christ will develop a greater love for both neighbour and family. And we have been through it before, for this kind of wholeheartedness was required at the beginning of our Christian walk. We entered the family of God by throwing ourselves on His mercy. The Christian life has never been one of half measures.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Discipleship Considered 1

Discipleship Considered 1

First Considerations

What we have from God is a life to be lived. It began with a birth and continues with growth. And like natural life - education, good practices and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle are what are required. In the early years, parents make sure that their child has a healthy diet, rest and regimes designed to strengthen the growing body and quicken the developing mind. But in the course of time, all activities will take on a different hue – they will be designed to prepare the child for independence. For there must come a time, sooner or later, when the child takes responsibility for his/her own life. Similarly, as new-born Christians our early years should be devoted to acquiring good, healthy, spiritual habits and a godly lifestyle. The Bible says of Jesus that He: “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” (Luke 2:40) Once He passed the age of twelve (His character formed although not yet finished) He took responsibility for His own life. It was at the time when, in the Jewish culture, a boy became a man. Then, attending His first Passover in the Temple He said, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)

The purpose of this blog is to refresh our commitment to Christian character, the kind of character of which Jesus would approve. It is the path of discipleship and it is not an easy path to tread – there will be no offer of a short-cut to spirituality. We know of no baptism (or other experience) that will transform you into a super-Christian overnight. There are no quick fixes. But for those who are prepared to develop good Christian character, much is available to them – certainly a fulfilling life and a service for God.

The choice is yours

When Jesus made the offer of discipleship He put it in very strong terms, stronger certainly, than we would do today. In some cases, He made discipleship the equivalent of salvation. He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25). Then again: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). While we must understand the texts in the light of the historical Messianic offer that Jesus made to the Hebrew nation, it is still difficult to weaken them to accommodate a more watered down discipleship for the twenty-first century.

Remember – no excuses!

It may be, at this stage you might be saying, ‘I don’t think I can change, I’m too old’; or, ‘I’m too set in my ways’; or ‘I have too many commitments – family, church, and employment – to be able to take on the responsibility of discipleship’. Jesus was aware of the human tendency to make excuses and warned against it – so we should be aware that it might lead to a troubled conscience later. Those that have such opportunities to follow but reject them may live to reflect on ‘what might have been’.

Let us take responsibility for our own spiritual lives and not find excuses for our failures: just think how they will sound if expressed to Christ at his judgment seat.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that I didn’t embrace the path of discipleship, but I didn’t have the time’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life did not come up to the standard expected of a Christian, but I had this besetting sin, and I had no power to change’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life did not glorify You, but it was the way I was brought up - my childhood formed my character, and I couldn’t change’.
‘I am sorry, Lord, that I didn’t do more for You but the whole culture into which I was born was anti-Christian, and there was no way I could swim against the tide’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life was less than perfect but my fallen nature would not allow me to do the things I would, and often compelled me to do the things I did not want to do’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life was a disappointment to You, but the Christian life was just too difficult. I was not strong enough’.

The example of Jesus

Jesus never shied away from the will of the Father. At no stage did He ever have any other ambition; at no stage did He say it was too difficult; and at no stage did He say, ‘I cannot do it because the whole world is against me’. He set his mind to do all that the Father required, and He accomplished it because He made use of the resources placed at His disposal; the help and leading of the Spirit of God; the wisdom and insight of the T’nach; and the strength and encouragement He received when in prayer fellowship with His Father. What we need to emphasise is that everyone can be a disciple. Everything changed when we became a Christian. Old things passed away and everything began fresh. We are not slaves of our environment, or our upbringing or our culture; we are new creatures in Christ and can live for Him.

More next time