The Cross You Bear

If we are children of God, then we are also heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:17).

Years ago a man became very agitated during a Bible study on the subject of suffering and erupted: “I have never suffered for my faith and I’ve never suffered with Jesus!” Yet in Romans 8:17, the Apostle Paul assures you that if you’re saved, you’ll suffer “with” Christ.

How did Jesus suffer? He was rejected by men, denied by His friends, ridiculed by His family, mocked, persecuted, beaten, and finally crucified.

Your suffering won’t be identical to His. He never called you to bear His cross, but your own (Mt 10:38). Not all suffering is equal and not all suffering is “with” Him. You’ll suffer because you live in a sinful world full of ungodly people. Sometimes you’ll suffer because you or someone else has done dumb, illegal, or sinful things.

Is your faith in Christ leading to suffering “with” Christ?

A Christian will suffer “with” Jesus because of his union with Him. There’s no way around it. No suffering for Christ? Then you’re not in the faith. Anyone claiming to live a suffering-free life because of his ginormous faith is peddling a lie. Suffering for your faith is one of the means by which the Bible says you know you are a child of God (Mt 5:10-12; Lk 12:11; Jn 15:18-21; Acts 5:41; 14:22; Phil 1:29-30; 1 Thess 3:2-5; 2 Tim 1:7-8; 3:12; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 2:20-21; 4:12-15).

But there’s good news: you don’t suffer alone but “with” Christ and there is an eternal benefit to that suffering. Jesus said that the more you suffer in this life for His sake, the greater your honor in Heaven (Mt 20:21-23).

How you react to the cross you carry reflects the condition of your soul. Suffering drives the child of God to greater dependence upon Him and His grace. Suffering is a reflection of your faith today and works as a kind of preparation for glory “with” Christ in Heaven.

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What is a Christian?

Kimberly Mathembe

And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

My friend and brother from another mother became a father for the third time almost a year ago. When Isaac and Tabitha found out they were pregnant, they decided to name the baby after either myself or my wife Kimberly, a name rarely heard of in Kenya.

And so little Kimberly Mathembe was born last May.

It is a great honor to have someone named after you. It signifies a bond between the two people of the same name and even between two families. That bond endures as long as the name continues. It is my hope and desire that little Kimberly will grow to be a godly woman like her namesake.

Christians are so named, not because they were raised going to church or believe in God. The name Christian literally means one who is like Christ. A Christian, then, is one who is like Jesus.

The Bible records that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in the city of Antioch in present-day Turkey, as a term of ridicule. Soon after, believers gladly took the name as a symbol of being persecuted and martyred like Jesus.

What does it mean to be a Christian, but to follow after Jesus and be made day-by-day more in His likeness.

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

A Memorial

The Altare della Patria to King Victor Emmanuel II in Rome, Italy taken by RLR 2017

The Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (First Corinthians 11:23-25).

Humans are monument builders. It’s in our nature to build memorials by which to remember. We hew stone and shape metals meant to outlast time and the frailty of human memory. Whether they be tombstones, statues, or buildings, these monuments are left as permanent memorials to events and people worthy of honor.

Over time, our memorials may become objects of near worship. The Tomb of King Victor Emmanuel, your grandmother’s Bible, a dead child’s bedroom, the American flag, all are monuments of near sacred value in the minds of many. We are prone to the worship of the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Yet Jesus, on the night before His crucifixion, did something unthinkable. He established a memorial of things perishable: bread and the fruit of the vine. Left in the elements for only a few days, bread becomes stale and fruit of the vine grows mold. They were not memorials intended by Christ to become venerated objects but perishable symbols of the Eternal One who Himself is hallowed.

Jesus left us to consider: As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (First Corinthians 11:26). As long as the Church partakes of the Lord’s Supper, the perishable memorializes the Saviour who died, arose, and is coming again.

The Case of Cannibalism

Abstain from every appearance of evil (First Thessalonians 5:22)

Is it okay to eat another person? How about eating your own finger, nose, or breast?

Kim and I recently watched the story of Olympic hockey star Eric LeMarque, who on February 6, 2004, became lost in the California mountains for 7 days during a snow storm. He barely survived by drinking his own urine, eating tree bark, pine needles, and his own frostbitten flesh as it broke off his body.

There are cultures that have engaged in cannibalism for centuries; and they consider someone who doesn’t cannibalize as being weird. Others engage in cannibalism for spiritual purposes, believing that by eating a person’s flesh you also consume that person’s strengths or spirit. Some eat other people for the enjoyment of the taste or the experience. Self-cannibalism has even become a fad, people removing their own body parts to eat. It’s also a fad for Millennials to eat their own placenta after giving birth. Some argue that it’s okay as long as you’re not murdering someone to do it, but did you know there is no Bible verse forbidding cannibalism? Not one!

Since the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not eat human flesh”, what do we make of cannibalism?

First, the Bible does mention cannibalism and every example of it is shown in a negative light. God never encouraged or allowed it, but the Bible reveals it as an example of sin and godlessness (Lev 26:29; Deut 28:53-57; Jer 19:9; Lam 2:20; 4:10; Ezek 5:10).

Second, in “questionable things” where there isn’t a “thou shalt not”, be sure you know all that the Bible does say on the subject before engaging in it. If the examples in Scripture are not positive, that’s a clue to what God thinks about it.

Third, what does the “questionable” thing say to others – saved or unsaved –  about your faith in Christ and that you are different from the unsaved culture in which you live?

Fourth, does it exalt Christ and promote Christlikeness or the sinful desires of the flesh (no pun intended).

There are many “questionable” things we’re faced with every day that may be sinful even without the “thou shalt not.” Before you participate, consider the case of cannibalism.

Naked and Ashamed

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8).

Imagine having an appointment to meet the President of the United States, the Queen of England, or the Prime Minister of Tanzania. What would you wear?

As thought-provoking as that may be, there’s an even greater question to ponder: what will you be wearing when you stand before God?

The Bible pictures Christians standing in Heaven dressed like a bride for her wedding, donned in clean and bright linen, which are symbols of godly deeds. The Church’s righteousness isn’t something earned by good works or prayerful requests. It’s granted to her, something given as a gift by grace. The Scriptures say that this righteousness is Christ’s. It’s given to us through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone (Is 59:17; 61:10; Rom 3:21-22; Phil 3:9).

Ephesians 4:25-27 says that Jesus gave His life to sanctify His people. “Sanctify” means to set someone or something aside for service to God. He also gave Himself to cleanse believers with the washing of water by the Word. Through the Scriptures, we are cleansed from a sinful mind and given new habits, desires, purposes, and goals (Rom 12:1-2). He did this so that He could present us to Himself, a perfect bride for a perfect Groom.

Since believers appear before God dressed in the righteousness of Christ, what will unbelievers wear when they stand before Him? Their own works (Rev 20:12-15)!

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were caught naked. They tried covering themselves with works of their own hands, sewn fig leaves. Woefully inadequate, they hid among the trees, but they were still seen by God and they stood before Him naked and ashamed (Gen 4:7-10).

If you aren’t wearing the righteousness of Christ by faith, you’ll stand before God naked and ashamed … a guilty sinner.

Do Not Steal

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Ephesians 4:28).

Walking down the village road in Kangundo, my wife and I came upon a woman selling what the British call “chips” and we Americans call “French fries.” We asked the price, counted out the appropriate coins, added a tip, and went on our happy way.

Later in the day, a friend mentioned seeing us buy the chips and then berated the seller. Unknown to us, the woman had purposely and significantly overcharged us. She justified herself on the basis of the color of our skin. One price for Kenyans, a much higher price for Mzungus.

Jesus commands that we Do not steal (Mark 10:19). Stealing is taking what rightly belongs to someone else through the use of cunning or deceit. Greed is the unquenchable desire within the human heart to have more than we already possess or need to survive. Greed is a powerful motivation for stealing.

There are two ways of making a living: stealing and working.

Most people eagerly agree that it’s wrong to steal, but then we make excuses to do it anyway. “He’s rich and won’t miss the little I take” or “Everyone cheats on their taxes.”

We’d also agree that working an honest job is good.

It’s much harder to convince someone that it’s also sinful to work to satisfy our greed, but that’s what the Bible teaches.

The Bible says that as Christians, we are to work hard at honest labor – not so we can buy more things – but so we may have something to give him who has need (Eph 4:28). Let that sit in your mind for a moment.

God’s purpose in your life is more than being a good boy by not stealing. His call is greater than keeping yourself busy with honest labor. God’s purpose is that you work not only for yourself or your family, but so you can give to others in need.

Someone has well said: “Work long to earn long to save long to give long.

The Symbol of Water Baptism

Like many American corporations, the company my wife works for pays its employees to take time off work to volunteer for community charities. A few months ago Kim took the day off of work to help build a house for a low-income family. When Kim arrived at the Habitat for Humanity site, she was assigned to a task with two other ladies.

When Kim arrived home, I knew that she’d been busy all day with interior painting. She had white flecks in her hair, white smears on her arms and face, and her jeans and t-shirt were splattered with the same.

While the paint didn’t change Kim, it has forever identified the outfit she wore with painting. When we see her outfit in the closet, it reminds us of her painting day; it’s an outward symbol of association.

Water baptism is a Christian symbol of association or identity. Water does a lot of things, but it can’t wash away sins. If water could remove sin, there would be no need for the death of Jesus. The waters of baptism are only a symbol of the washing away of sin through faith in Jesus.

As the believer goes down in the waters of baptism and is then raised out, it symbolizes a believer’s identification or association with Christ Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection.

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Leadership

In the past 17 years, Christian circles have been overwhelmed by books on leadership. A quick search on the ChristianBook.com retail website lists 253,161 current books with the term leader or leadership in the title.

Despite all these resources, there is a desperate lack of true leadership in the world today. A man is elected prime minister on the basis of his youthful good looks. The businessman is promoted because he’s put in his time at the company. There’s the woman who makes herself a pastor – not because she’s Biblically qualified – but because she feels a calling. None of these are evidences of godly leadership.

When His disciples argued over their own leadership rights and potential, Jesus deflated both their egos and their ambitions with a Heavenly perspective contrary to popular thought.

Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).

Godly leadership isn’t created by reading a $25 book of principles, attending a weekend seminar, making resume bullet-points, following 40 days of something, or engaging in self-service or self-promotion; leadership is developed and demonstrated through Christlike humble service toward others.

It will never happen, but what I’m really waiting for are more books on following Jesus. Perhaps if we had more people who were truly following Jesus, we’d also have more qualified godly leaders.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19).

Your Hometown

There is nowhere in the world of memories like your hometown.
Your hometown is the place you were born and grew up. It’s where you learned the value of friendship, the pain of first love, the disappointments of failure, and the stories of life.

Your hometown is riding bikes on tree-lined streets on hot summer days, fishing in the creek, and camping under the stars in a backyard tent of bed sheets. It may be a girl’s first kiss or her first home run and a victory Oreo Blizzard at the corner Dairy Queen. Sunday school picnics and snow angels on the sidewalk.

Some young men answer the call of duty, leaving their lives on a battlefield while their bodies find their final rest back home. Others leave chasing dreams and adventure, not returning home until news calls them to stand alongside a casket at a freshly dug grave.

A hometown is as much a story and a time as it is a place. It’s where, as the years pile higher one upon another, the fondness for and yearning to return grows deeper and more powerful. It’s an invisible drawing, like a child to a kite or the morning dew to an open field.

CS Lewis wrote, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.

The longer I live, the more sure I am that I was not made for this world. I long to be with the One for whom I was created. The sin in the world afflicts my soul like it did Lot in Sodom. Even more unbearable is the evil and unfaithfulness I know lurks in the hidden places of my own heart. Nothing but total and absolute freedom from my own self will do.

Christian, this world is not your home. For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

The Blind Man

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).

Today I waited at a stop light and watched a blind man walking on the sidewalk. His telltale, long white cane tapped the pavement in front of him, first on the right, then on the left, then back again. Each tap sounded out what was in front of him.

I wondered what he would do when he reached the pile of dead leaves in his pathway. He neither stumbled nor hesitated, but kept tapping his stick in front of him.

The red light changed to green and I continued on to my destination, just as the blind man was doing. Our journeys really were not different. We were both headed somewhere. I was traveling by sight and he was walking by faith.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).