Making the Most of Life: Chapter 1

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Making the Most of Life

Jesus was attracting large crowds . The religious leaders of His
time were seeking some way to put an end to His fame. We read that
some “Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap (Jesus) in his words.”
Their plot was to get him into trouble either with the Roman
government or the religious leaders in Jerusalem. So they asked Him a
politically dangerous and devious question: “Is it right to pay taxes to
Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:15-22). Right away, at that time, or any
time, they touched on a sore point.
We must remember that the Roman Emperor was not only the
highest political authority in Israel, he was the object of worship by
many. Accordingly, on two counts pious Jews hat ed the idea of paying
taxes to Caesar. Thus, when the Pharisees asked their question, they
believed they had Jesus in a corner. If Jesus answered “No,” He was in
serious trouble with the Roman authorities. If He said, “ Yes,” He
would anger the religious establishment and most of His followers.
What bearing does this have on our discussion about the church
and how it functions? Taxes and Caesar are secular and we are dealing
with a religious topic. A critical connection exists that we will soon
identify.

The Right Conclusion About “Church”

Perhaps you have asked yourself the following question: When the
New Testament refers to “a church”, what does it mean? In almost all
cases, it identifies a small group of people meeting together in a home.
After further reading of Scripture, you have come to the conclusion that
home fellowships represent the best way to follow New Testament
teaching. Given the present status of “church” in America, these are
courageous conclusions.
Translating your resolve into action becomes less clear because few
current models show us the way. Still, that should not deter you. The
New Testament is not silent on this. Consider for a moment the length
of time the Apostle Paul spent in the cities where he established church
fellowships. These “church planting” stops of Paul’s ranged from a few
days at Philippi, a few weeks or months at most others, to about three
years at Ephesus.
Without oversimplifying the challenge, it does not take a long time
to have a home fellowship functioning. You already made the two
critical findings representing most of the effort to begin. Let ’s talk
some about where these conclusions lead, beginning where you are.

Starting Where You Are

What has been your Christian experience up to this point ? How
long have you attended church as an adult? What has been your adult
Sunday School class experience? How was the class structured? Were
you or are you a part of a small group? Have you had experience in
leading a small group? Your response to these questions may determine
where you will want to start on your way toward the New Testament
church example.
Another major element to consider is the purpose of the group with
which you fellowship. That is, does it focus on worship, instruction,
fellowship or evangelism? Is it a combinat ion of some of those factors?
Your experience in these areas will contribute to the ease with which
you take your first few steps into a home fellowship. What you are
doing now and what you want to do in the future will influence your
picture of “church.”
At this time, you may believe you are in a church situation that
does not meet New Testament standards. You want to follow what you
see is a Biblical pattern. Already, you may have attempted to bring that
kind of fellowship into your current circumstances with limited
success. While we want to start with where you are, we must also
recognize some foundational truths about the church that will direct
your thinking.

The Purpose of the Church

Before getting to Jesus’ answer about paying taxes , let’s develop
some background. Stop reading long enough to write down what you
believe to be the purpose that Jesus designed His Church to fulfill. That
will lead you into Jesus’ response about the tax question.
Now, what do we learn about the church from Jesus’ reply to the
question: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Holding up a Roman coin,
Jesus responded with another question: “Whose portrait is this? And
whose inscription?” Their reply was , “Caesar’s .” No one questioned
the ownership of the currency. It belonged to the Roman Empire. Since
the currency of the Empire bore the image of Caesar, Jesus reasoned
that giving to Caesar what belonged to him was appropriate.
Once He settled the question of ownership about the coin of the
realm, the challenge from the Pharisees was easy to deal with.
Ownership carries a lot of weight. Likewise, when we think about the
purpose of the church, Jesus’ answer is of vital relevance. Instead of,
Whose currency is this, we are asking, Whose church is this? And,
What does it mean when I say I belong to the Church?

The Question of Ownership

We are now talking about being Christians and being members of
Jesus’ Church. How does anyone know that we belong to Him? What
inscription do we bear? Is His portrait seen in our lives? In our
neighborhoods, can people tell we are His followers? Putting it in the
same terms that Jesus did, “Is the currency of our living obviously
Christlike to our communities?” As you see, the question of ownership
quickly clarifies the issue, doesn’t it?
God’s great plan for humanity was that we should display His
character—His image. At the very beginning we read, “God said, ‘Let
us make man in our image, in our likeness . . .’ So God created man in
his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female
he created them” (Genesis 1:2 6, 27). Almost from that moment,
humankind has been in a struggle for control: Whose inscription or
trademark would we wear?
The Apostle Paul understood the struggle. In Romans 7, he wrote
of the war for control that surged within his own soul. Then in the
eighth chapter, the apostle breaks into a symphony of hope and
anticipation. As Christians, we recognize the melody. “For God knew
his own before ever they were, and also ordained that they should be
shaped to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest among a
large family of brothers” (The English Bible, Romans 8:29).
The Apostle Peter wrote much the same thing: “Through these he
has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through
them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the
corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (II Peter 1:4).
Scripture is consistent throughout. God’s will from eternity is that
as His beloved children we would become like Him in character. As
such, He placed us here, members of His Church, to represent Him to
the world. Twice, the Apostle John recorded parallel words of Jesus,
once before His death and once after. To God the Father, Jesus prayed,
“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” After
His resurrection, He said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending
you” (John 17:18; 20:21). All this leads us to an imperative for the
Christian.

The First Imperative

My life is to bear the image of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul
wrote to the Galatian believers, “My dear children, for whom I am
again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . .”
(Galatians 4 :19; Ephesians 4 :13). The purpose for the Church is so
Jesus Christ will be visible in the world. Just like the currency of the
Roman Empire that enabled human enterprise to expand, so we move
about in our communities. Rather than the insignia of the Empire, we
have the signature of Jesus on our lives. That brings people into contact
with God’s Kingdom, His rule in our lives. People need to see Jesus in
our living. As we carry on His work of reconciliation, they will see His
inscription. That is when they will start noticing (II Corinthians 5:18-
21).
Finding the reason for the Church and the nature of its ownership
is no small discovery. With that, we can begin to eliminate many
unnecessary issues that conflict with the original purpose for the
Church. We can then concent rate on what is important for the Church—following the Owner’s instructions.

The Church is the Sum of All its Parts

Recently, there has been much public discussion about the
possibility of “genetic cloning.” It has already been done with farm
animals. Animals with desirable characteristics can be cloned to “mass
produce” more animals with the same traits. Let’s carry this idea into
Christian living and the church.
If one added up all the Christians in the world, would it completely
fulfill what the church is to be? No. We must conclude, however, that
the millions of individuals identified as Christians are seen as the
Church, despite what it should or could be. Each person represents
Christ in some way to someone. Now, think about “cloning”
Christians.
If it were possible to clone me or you in sufficient numbers to
create a “church,” what would that church be like? What traits would
be predominant? How would people in your community describe your
church? Would it be redemptive or anemic? Salt and light or lukewarm
mush? Would it show the power of love or the love of power?
Based on what we have just been talking about, only one question
is relevant: Does this cloned church have the characteristics of Jesus
Christ? Ultimately, what a church looks like is drawn from the sum
total of its individual members. Like the Roman coin, the face on the
currency settles the issue.
Since we want to “represent” Jesus Christ in our neighborhoods, it’s essential to accept that conclusion. Each person in a home fellowship
will contribute to the perceptions that people will have about it. So we
repeat the question: If all members were just like me, how would the
church be seen?
One might successfully argue that in a large group, one person’s
contribution is not that big a factor. In a small group, however, it will
alter the group’s health. Each individual in a home fellowship
represents part of its DNA. That means what you bring to the group is
decisive. Can we assure the group that we are a plus and not a minus? I believe we can. This brings us to a second imperative.

Begin LIFE with Daily Devotions

Our daily relationship with the Person whose image we are to bear
is the starting point. For example, can you say you have a growing
relationship with a person, yet seldom talk with that person? What
direction is that friendship going? Without regular contact and
communication that relationship will soon be dead.
If the idea of a daily devotional time is new to you, I would like to
suggest four steps to maintain a daily quiet time with God. Here, I am
using material from an earlier book, Living In Eternity (see pages 144-
146).
Let’s take each step separately.
1. Bible reading
❧ Select and set aside a daily time period and a place so there
won’t be any interruptions.
❧ Use a Bible that is easy for you to read and understand.
❧ As you begin to read, ask God to help you understand and
apply the Scripture you are about to read.
❧ During your reading, you will want to write down things that are
important—items you want to rethink.
❧ Underline or highlight those important thoughts or verses so
you can revisit them later (Psalms 1:1-3).
❧ M emorize verses that have special meaning to you.
(II Samuel 22:31-33; Colossians 3:16).
❧ Be systematic in your reading; read all parts of the Bible
(Acts 17:11; II Timothy 3:15-17).
❧ I recommend using The One Year Bible. You can find it in
several different translations. It will take you through the
Bible annually and help to keep you on track.
2. Prayer time.
❧ It bears repeating: Begin your devotion time by asking God for
wisdom and understanding of His Word (Acts 1:12-14, 24-
26; James 1:5).
❧ Follow through with prayer to God on anything the Holy Spirit
brings to you while you are reading His Word. Some person
or an incident that grieved Him may be in question. That
needs forgiveness (I John 1:8). Take care of those things
first. Jesus died to free you from sin. Get rid of it!
❧ Daily pray for those who are closest to you—your family, those
you work with or see regularly (John 17:20, 21, 24). Don’t
forget yourself, either (II Corinthians 4:6, 7).
❧ When you pray, be generous in your praise of your King
(Revelation 5:13).
❧ Be generous, too, with your time of devotion. If there are extra
moments during the day, give those to Him.
❧ I suggested to set aside a regular time each day. How much
time? It really never ends. At any time you can and should
lift up your thoughts to your Creator. He is there. Talk
with Him. But begin with a specific time each day to meet
with Him.
3. Practice God’s presence all day.
❧ I like to start the day with my devotional time. Since the day
must start with something, why not with your King? Yet,
you may find another time is best for you.
❧ Develop the habit of talking with your Lord throughout
the day, anywhere: driving, walking, waiting for appointments,
times when you can’t s leep, and many more. Be ready anytime
to “make a joyful noise to the Lord.”
4. Get started.
❧ The primary obstacle to a daily devotional life is not doing it.
We make time for what is important to us. You have come
this far in your desire to become Christlike. Don’t
vacillate now. It’s not hard to do. Set aside a regular,
specific time and you will do it .
Let ’s summarize the steps we have just identified:
1. Read Scripture on a daily basis.
2. After you read from Scripture have a regular time of prayer.
3. Pract ice God’s presence as you go t hrough your day.
4. Get s tarted! Don’t procrastinate.
These four steps will build the foundation for your relationship with
God and others as well.

Is This All Necessary?

Can’t I just go on with my life like it has always been? Must I set
aside time each day? Why can’t I just go to church once a week and
have “my batteries recharged”? After all, isn’t that what millions of
Americans are doing right now?
To this series of questions, we need to ask and answer another:
Why is spending time alone with the Creator God so important? How
can it possibly be unimportant? If we are serious about representing
Jesus Christ in our neighborhoods, we can’t start by faking it. We want
the sum to be greater than the parts. We want to be genuine through
contact with the Original. To do that, we must be serious about meeting
with our Leader every day. He is waiting for us. “God, who has called
you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (I
Corinthians 1:9).

What Did Jesus Say?

Let’s not take our own words for this important decision. Jesus
Himself provided the answer for us. He was often a visitor in the home
of Martha in the village of Bethany. She had a sister, Mary. Her
brother, Lazarus, was one whom Jesus brought back to life from the
grave (John 11:1-44).
On one occasion, Jesus was in Martha’s home conversing with his
followers. She was the anxious hostess. She was busy at making
everything in her home the proper setting for the Teacher she so
admired. She wanted to do everything possible to make Jesus’ stay
comfortable and memorable. Her sister Mary had come over to see
Jesus, too.
Now let’s pick up the story. “Jesus and his disciples . . . came to a
village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She
had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what
he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to
be made. She came to (Jesus) and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my
sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
“ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and
upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has
chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’ ” (Luke
10:38-42).
Notice the words Luke used to describe Martha’s activities:
distracted by all the preparations that had to be made, and Jesus’
words, worried and upset about many things. It is entirely possible that
Martha was really resentful about Jesus because she knew Him to be a
sensitive man. Why didn’t He notice what she was doing for Him?
Why was He letting her sister Mary remain at the center of things?
So we now get back to our question which Jesus answered for us .
Jesus said that regardless of what we feel is important in our lives, it is
not all the things we are anxiously rushing about doing for Jesus. It is
not the position we have or gifts that we exercise in our church. He
declared, “ One thing is needed: To be in fellowship with Him, to be
attentive to His words.”
In a different setting, Jesus was in a crowd of people when a
woman cried out to Him: “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth
and nursed you.” In that woman’s thoughts was the idea that the honor
above all honors was to do something personally for Jesus. Surely, His
mother’s actions in raising Him reached the pinnacle of holy activity.
Not so, Jesus replied. Rather, “Blessed are those who hear the
word of God and obey it” Luke 11: 27, 28). Don’t be distracted, upset
and worried about your activities for the Lord. He wants your devotion,
that daily contact and conversation that builds relationship. We are
discussing a love relationship with the eternal God. It is not a
mechanical devise that we “recharge” once a week at church. It far
surpasses any human relationship. He is your Creator and Redeemer
(Luke 14:25-27).
Jesus invited people as His followers who wanted to have His
signature, His imprint on their lives. Note carefully Jesus’ words to
those who wanted to follow Him: “If anyone would come after me, he
must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:
23). Meeting with Him daily will deepen Jesus’ inscription on your life.
Failure to do so will obscure His image.

Opening the Door to LIFE

You will notice that much of the extended teaching of Jesus in the
gospels came in response to questions people asked Him. For example,
shortly after answering the question about taxes, the Sadducees and
then a teacher of the law offered their questions. The Sadducees’
question related to the resurrection (in which they did not believe). The
Pharisee’s question was about the law (in which they claimed to
believe).
The Pharisee asked: “Of all the commandments, which is the most
important?” Since there were ten commandments, perhaps this
Pharisee believed if he could nail down the most important one, he
could walk lightly around the others.
Jesus answered his question in an unexpected way. “The most
important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our
God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and
with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no
commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).
“Wait a minute,” you say, “that’s two commandments , isn’t it?”
Perhaps. Let’s examine Jesus’ response closely to find out. The
questioner was looking for a rule to comply with to make himself
acceptable to God. This was similar to an earlier occasion when a man
asked Jesus, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life . . .”
(Luke 10:25-29). Both men seem to have been disappointed with Jesus’ answer.

Family Relationship

In each case, Jesus fashioned His answer to unite human
relationship with relationship with the Creator God. Jesus was saying
that loving God is not an abstract concept. God is not an “absentee
landlord” who is unconcerned with His creation. To love God means
loving what He loves. So, the beloved Son says, “If you loved God (My
Father) you would love me.” The Father showed His love for us by
sending Jesus to die in our place (John 3:16).
In other words, loving God brings us into a family relationship.
The God we love puts His “genetic markers” into our lives . He
implants His DNA into our souls. We cannot say we “love God” and
not love God’s family. We show our love for God as we incarnate God’s character in our living. R elat ionship with God is tied to relationship
with others. As the Apostle John wrote,“ We know that we have passed
from death to life, because we love our brothers” (I John 3:14).
Jesus’ answer verifies His love is contagious. It’s part of His
saving grace. A love that ignores the needs of neighbors is sterile. It
will not produce offspring. It’s a contradiction. As the Apostle John
wrote, “. . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,
cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this
command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:
20, 21). To love God “infects” us with an overwhelming love. It spills
over into our homes and into our neighborhoods. Other people will
begin to “catch it.”
This brings us to the first of four essential elements of a New
Testament home fellowship. The home fellowship is first a place where
love for God and love for neighbor is spoken and shared. Love for God
cannot be divorced from love for each other.