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Spiritual Disciplines

Today’s Bible reading includes Jesus’ “Great Commission”. Jesus has spent about three years with his disciples and is commissioning them for their ministry. Grammatically speaking, there is one command with several participles that describe how the command is to play out.

He begins with “As you go”. He assumes that His disciples will go. Because He has all of the authority, He gives them this great commission.

Next is the command to make disciples.

The next set of participles describe how to make disciples:

  • by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully identifying them with the Trinity.
  • by teaching them to obey Jesus’ teachings. Jesus gave a lot of commands. But in John 13:34–35, He gives them a new command: Love each other. Jesus’ new command wasn’t really new, he was just giving the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36–40) a new emphasis. In John 13:35, He says that people will recognize His disciples by their love for each other. This isn’t to discount so many other things about them, but their distinctive was to be love. Not an ooey-gooey squishy love, but a real — almost tangible love that Paul describes in 1Corinthians 13:1–13.

That’s it! That’s all it means to make disciples. The Great Commission is simple. But it isn’t easy. Teaching people to obey Jesus’ teachings is a life-long journey.

When Jesus linked teaching with how the command is to be applied, He isn’t talking about taking something from one person’s brain and transferring that to someone else’s brain. In the New Testament times, a disciple wasn’t just a student of a teacher. A disciple was a learner, much like an apprentice under a mentor who poured his life into the apprentice’s life.

Jesus’ commission isn’t to get people to make decisions. The commission is to make disciples. There is a world of difference between these two!

Unfortunately, a lot of leaders in the church at large don’t get this. It’s much easier to get someone to “bow your head and repeat after me” than it is to make a disciple. Decision-making is very quick. Disciplemaking takes time. Unfortunately, churches are full of decision-makers, and lacking on disciples.

In 2Timothy 2:2 Paul adds another dimension to disciplemaking: Make disciple-making disciples. Until a disciple passes his/her own walk down to a younger (in the faith) believer, we haven’t completed the task to make disciples. Unfortunately, most church-goers have never been “discipled” and are therefore incapable of making disciples.

Application

Have you ever been discipled? Maybe you need to talk with your pastor about growing deeper in your faith by meeting regularly with a more mature believer who can pour his/her spiritual life into yours.

Have you made a disciple? The commission wasn’t just for Jesus’ immediate disciples. The commission is for us, too!

I once heard someone wisely say that every Christian needs a Paul (a more mature believer who is discipling you), a Barnabus (someone on about the same spiritual growth level as you), and a Timothy (someone you are discipling).

Indeed!

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In today’s Bible reading, Jesus has predicted his betrayal and each of His Disciples has claimed he will never deny Jesus. (Matthew 26:35)

And yet, just a few hours later, Jesus finds Himself praying alone in the Garden. Although they have not denied Him out loud, they have abandoned Him in His time of greatest need.

Prayer is a very private Spiritual Discipline. And if you haven’t been flexing those “muscles” in private, you won’t have the strength when you need it the most. Perhaps hears earlier, His Disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. (Luke 11:1)) Not how to pray, but to pray. Evidently, they haven’t taken it to heart.

When I call prayer a “Spiritual Discipline”, I mean it’s a spiritual activity that you can/should practice. Some other Spiritual Disciplines are Bible reading, Bible memory, Bible study, giving, worship, and evangelism. All of these activities are designed to help you grow closer in your relationship with Jesus.

Application

How do you pray? How often? What do you pray for? Do you find it difficult to pray for extended periods of time? Could you stay awake to pray for an hour? Maybe prayer is a Spiritual Discipline you need to work on a little more, or a little more frequently. The only way you’ll get better is to do it more.

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In today’s Bible reading, we see where Jesus’ disciples quickly forget very important things. He warns them to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then Jesus reminds His disciples about His feeding of over nine thousand people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread. They fail to connect the dots when he warns them to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He says, “I wasn’t talking about bread.” (Matthew 16:11)

Next, Peter identifies Jesus as God’s Messiah. (Matthew 16:16) Yet just a few verses later, Peter has forgets what the Holy Spirit had just revealed to him. Jesus rebukes him for insisting that Jesus wouldn’t have to suffer and die. (Matthew 16:22-23)

Finally today, Jesus gives His disciples a solution to forgetting. (Matthew 16:24) To follow Him, we must make a daily commitment to it. Yes, we must come to a once-for-all point of coming to Jesus and repent of our sin, but we must also commit to following Him every single day.

Application

Just like Jesus’ disciples, we so quickly forget!

Have you come to a point where you came to a crisis of your belief and turned your life over to Him? You have to come to a point of self-denial. Jesus says this is the first step of many daily steps.

The solution to our frequent forgetfulness is to follow Jesus one step at a time.

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In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 11, we read that John the baptizer is in jail. Like Jesus’ disciples, John has become a little disillusioned. He sends word to his cousin asking if He is the one they have waited for to bring the Kingdom of God. Or should they look for someone else? (Matthew 11:3)

As He often does, Jesus answered with Scripture rather than answering directly. He quotes Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Isaiah 35:5 (CSB)

The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 (CSB)

Isaiah 61:1 is the passage Jesus read when the synagogue scroll was handed to Him in Luke 4. He says that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.

Jesus is exactly Who Isaiah prophesied would come. But Jesus wasn’t exactly who everyone was expecting. They expected a victorious King who would ride in on a white horse, overthrow the Roman government and set free the nation of Israel.

But it wasn’t quite working out that way, was it?

So where did John and Jesus’ disciples go wrong? Wasn’t the Messiah going to do those things? Isn’t that what their Bible told them? Yes, their Bible said that the Messiah would be the Victorious King, but it also said he would be a suffering servant. (Isaiah 53) In order for both of these to be true (remember, the Bible never contradicts itself), the Messiah had come as the suffering servant before coming back as the Victorious King.

Application

We have more in common with the disciples and John than we think. We look back at them and scratch out heads thinking, “Why didn’t they get it?” Instead, perhaps we should ask, “What am I not getting?”

Too often we turn to our Bible and read it the way we want to. We read it the way we have heard Bible teachers and preachers have presented it to us. And too often, we don’t go back and read it for ourselves. We simply take the Bible at their word.

Whenever you see things not working out the way you think the Bible has said, don’t go back to what you have heard or read from a Bible teacher or preacher. Go back to the Source. Ask yourself if you heard it correctly. Maybe what you’re expecting isn’t what the Bible actually says. Or maybe there’s more to the story.

Bible teachers and preachers will be held accountable for what they teach. They will be rewarded for being faithful to what God has revealed. But they will also be rebuked for leading people astray.

But hearers are also accountable. We must be discerning who and what we read. We have to be careful who we listen to. Some will give you solid meat. Others will peddle cotton candy.

A few years ago, God challenged me to spend the next thirty days reading only the Bible. I was to not read any commentaries. No “Christian Living” books. I wasn’t to read from my favorite godly, solid bible-teaching authors. Nothing but the Bible. It was more difficult than I would like to admit.

Why? Because in my Bible teaching, I had been merely regurgitating what others had already chewed up for me without gaining any nourishment for myself. At the end of thirty days, I came away feeling refreshed. I came away hearing God’s voice more clearly again.

God wants you to read the Bible for yourself. You need to read and study the Bible for your own nourishment. Yes, God gives us godly teachers — which we desperately need!

But sometimes our Bible teachers get it wrong so we need to dig in and mine the treasures from God’s Word for ourselves.

Try it. You’ll find it very rewarding!

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blessing and healing

Jesus gives us more than we ask.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus encounters lots of people and heals many of them. He begins with some men bringing a paralytic on a stretcher. Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (Matthew 9:2)

But wait, his friends only brought him to be healed! Why would Jesus tell him that his sins were forgiven? Neither the man nor his friends asked for forgiveness. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven because He knew that healing the man’s paralysis wasn’t his greatest need.

Matthew concludes Chapter Nine with Jesus telling the disciples that the fields are ready for harvest. He’s looking at the spiritual need, having met the people’s physical needs.

Too often we become shortsighted, concerned about things that really aren’t the main things. How often we overlook the most important things, like our spiritual health.

Don’t get me wrong. Physical health is a big deal, especially if you or a loved one is dealing with physical issues. But in the grand scheme — in light of eternity — our physical lives can be compared to our breath vapor on a cold day. What is most important is our spiritual health.

Application

Lots of people watch what they eat. Many make a trip to the gym a part of their day. How about you? Are you being a good steward of your body?

But like I said, the bigger issue is your spiritual life. So what are you doing to steward that? Are you spending time every day praying? I’m not asking if you are “saying your prayers.” Are you conversing with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe — your “Papa” — every day?

Are you regularly reading and studying your Bible? Telling other people about your relationship with Jesus? Regularly meeting with other believers so you can encourage each other in your faith? Regularly giving financial support to your church and ministries that are close to your heart?

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