The Great Commission- Are You A Disciple?

Last week we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus is not only the fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy, but it is the linchpin for a new relationship with God and His people.

In other words, Resurrection Sunday is a big deal! It changes everything, but in the words of those info commercials: “Wait there is more!” We often have a tendency to stop the narrative of Jesus’s time on Earth at the resurrection. However, the Gospels reveal that Jesus left His most powerful message to the end of His earthly ministry.

Matthew, Luke and Mark close with some version of the Great Commission. The last instruction of Jesus to go out into the world and make disciples, while spreading the good news of salvation. Let’s examine how Matthew records the Great Commission from Jesus:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

The Great Commission is the bases of sharing the Gospel, and making new disciples of Christ through evangelism and missionary work. The Great Commission also creates an assumption, and a demand that those who are carrying out the work of the Great Commission are also disciples of Christ.

Now that would seem that it is a “no brainer,” if you are making disciples, you must be a disciple. Regardless of how simple it may seem, I would suggest from personal experience that it is not true. For many years although, I have always been a member of the church, doing the work of Lord, I was not a disciple.

The New World Dictionary defines a disciple as a learner who submits to discipline, or one who becomes a disciplined learner.

Jesus, in Luke 14:25, explains that discipleship for Christ goes farther than submitting to discipline, and becoming a disciplined learner. Being a disciple for Christ involves a greater relationship, a greater calling and a greater commitment. Being a disciple for Christ involves an ongoing cost.

  • A disciple must be willing to forsake family, friends and even life itself to follow Jesus
    (Luke 14:26).

  • A disciple must be willing to lay down his life in following Jesus (Luke 14:26).

  • A disciple must consider the cost of being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:27).

This weekend the church where I pastor kicked off our family movie night with the feature “Hidden Figures.” The movie is the true story of three brilliant African-American Women who were the unknown brains behind the United States Space Program.

Like many African-Americans in the Jim Crow South, the women of Hidden Figures – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – endured the hardships of racisms, sexism and unequal pay as the cost for their achievement as pioneers in the U.S. Space Program.

The message is clear; Jesus paid the price for our sins, and the expectation is clear – we must pay the cost being a disciple.

While there is a cost for discipleship, we can gain much comfort because the Great Commission stresses that we are not in this fight alone. Just before His accession to Heaven, Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I don’t know about you but the opportunity to always have Jesus with us is worth the cost. Therefore the question that the Great Commission is asking all of us is simply this: Are you a disciple?

Why Is Good Friday Such A Good Day?

How can Good Friday be such a good day when Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem with a cross on his back?

How can Good Friday be such a good day when they nailed His hands and His feet to the cross, and then hung Him up to die?

How can Good Friday be such a good day when they put a crown of thorns on His head, and the soldiers gambled for His clothes?

How can Good Friday be such a good day when Jesus the son of God died on a cross – a death reserved for murderers, traitors and thieves.

Good Friday is such a good day because Jesus gave His life that we might be healed, His blood was shed for our forgiveness.

Good Friday is such a good day because it lead to Resurrection Sunday. With His death and resurrection, the path for salvation is clear we can be forgiven for our sins. Everlasting life with God in Heaven is possible for those who believe.

And that is why Good Friday is such a good day!

Marben Bland is the pastor of the Hall Chapel AME Church and Mitchell Chapel AME Church in Sparta, GA

I am So Happy

On Palm Sunday, I was reminded once again why I am so happy with the fact that God does not act or think like us.

Many Jews believed that their messiah would come in with all the trappings of power. With a mighty army, formidable weapons and violent vengeance against their enemies. Instead Jesus the messiah arrived in Jerusalem on a colt an animal of royal breeding but lacking the prestige reserved for a king.

However, Jesus came to Jerusalem with the most powerful weapon against evil, discord and sin that the world has ever known. Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the love of God, and for that He died on the cross. Because God so loved the word that He gave us his only son so that we may have the opportunity at everlasting life. And that is why I am so happy that God does not act or think like us.

A Hero’s Welcome

My sisters and brothers:

When the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a three-games to one hole, to win the NBA Championship over the Golden State Warriors, the city of Cleveland erupted in joy. In defeating the defending champion Warriors, LeBron James and his Cavalier teammates brought the first championship to Cleveland in over fifty years. When the team arrived from the championship game in California, the Cleveland Fans gave them a hero’s welcome, including a parade attended by an estimated1.5 million people.

Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Potter – an orthopedic surgeon, who spent the last four months caring for injured service members and Afghan Allies – returned home to a very enthusiastic hero’s welcome. His entire neighborhood in suburban Bethesda, Maryland, threw a block party in his honor.

Collins English Dictionary defines a hero’s welcome as a very enthusiastic reception from a group of people who show their admiration for something exceptional, that a person or group of people have done.

Jesus was given a hero’s welcome as He entered Jerusalem. The Gospel account in Luke 19:36-38 tells us that as Jesus rode along, people in a sign of respect and love, spread their cloaks on the road.

As Jesus started to go “down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’”

The Cleveland Cavaliers Lieutenant Colonel Potter, and Jesus Christ all richly deserved their heroes’ welcome. However, most of the people who welcomed Jesus that day in Jerusalem, soon turned into a bitter mob, demanding His crucifixion.
What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem – going from hero to the crucified one within the space of a few days – started me to think.

How many times have we given Jesus a hero’s welcome during worship on Sunday morning, and then reject our Lord and Savior on Monday?

How many times have we embraced Jesus when giving godly advice to others, but forget that same advice when it comes to situations in our own lives?

How many times have we given Jesus a hero’s welcome to get us through times of trouble, then all but neglect Him when things are going well?

On this Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, we commemorate Jesus’ passion, love and resurrection. Let us resolve to always give Jesus the hero’s welcome that He so richly deserves.

When we put Jesus first in our lives, we will receive the hero’s welcome of grace, love, power, and the opportunity to obtain the ultimate hero’s welcome of all – everlasting life with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

Have a blessed Holy Week.

The Immigrant

In putting “America First,” President Trump has signed executive orders calling for the building of a wall along the United States – Mexican Border. He has also pledged to deny federal funds to so-called “Sanctuary Cities” that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.

In putting “God First,” we disciples of Jesus live by Deuteronomy 10:17-19 with tells us:

The LORD your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords.
God does not play favorites or takes bribes.
God enacts justice for orphans and widows.
God loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.

Finally, Deuteronomy 10:17-19 commands us to “…love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.”

The most recently available Census Bureau Data reports that 13.3 percent of the population of the United States are immigrants. In a country of 318.9 million, that equals 42.4 million people.

The United States is truly a nation of immigrants, and the evidence is clear that most immigrants come to this country in search of a better life, not to commit crime or to take part in terrorism. 

The New York Times reports that an analysis of census data from 1980 through 2010 show that among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States.

Across all ages and sexes, about 7 percent of the nation’s population are noncitizens, while figures from the Justice Department show that about 5 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are noncitizens.

However, additional Justice Department analysis concluded that undocumented immigrants had crime rates somewhat higher than those here legally, but much lower than those of citizens.

So where does that leave us in this “America First” strategy? The tone and tenor of the President’s Executive Order blurs the line between who’s a serious criminal and who is not, and between documented and undocumented immigrants.

However, as disciples of Jesus our putting “God First” strategy is clearly defined for us in Leviticus 19:33-34.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

In 1975 Neil Sedaka, the pop singer, pianist, composer and record producer, recorded a song in protest of the treatment of formal Beetle, John Lennon and others by immigration officials.

The song describes an America where strangers were welcome – a place where there was a sweeter tune, and there was so much room that people could come from everywhere.

When we put “God First,” we will treat the foreigners who reside among us as brothers and sisters, not as potential criminals. For as disciples of Jesus we live in the confidence that the Lord has given us an economy with unlimited opportunities of jobs and upward mobility for everyone along with a society that is safe for all of God’s Children, native born and immigrant. A land as Neil Sedaka describes where strangers are welcomed.

For God commands us to loves immigrants to welcomed them not to exclude them with executive orders. Ironically devised by a president who himself is married to an immigrant.

(Source material from this blog is from The US Department of Justice, The US 
Census Bureau, The New York Times and the Immigrant by Neil Sedaka.)

Marben Bland is the Pastor of Hall Chapel and Mitchell Chapel AME Churches in Sparta, GA

Praying For My President

Today is the last full day of the Obama Administration. For the last eight years, my biggest fears were either the President would be assassinated, or he would be involved in some scandal. I prayed everyday that these things would not come to pass.

People may differ about some of his policies – the Affordable Care Act, the opening to Cuba, the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence. In my opinion while by no means perfect this President and his family have been positive role models, for America.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:48 tells us, “Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (The Message Translation)

This time tomorrow, Donald Trump will be the President. His manner of being, and political agenda are in no way aligned with the way I think, act or live. My notion is to oppose him and everything he stands for.

However, Jesus tells me to love my enemies. Jesus tells me to seek to understand my enemies. Jesus tells me to let my enemies bring out the best in me, not the worst.

Therefore, tomorrow just as I have done for the last eight years, I will pray for my President.

-I pray for his safety.
-I will pray that he governs with wisdom.
-I will pray that he uses his position and powers to help the least of God’s people.
-I will pray for our nation to be at peace.

I will pray for my President – I will pray for President Trump.

The Details of a Radical Man

This week as I helped planned Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration services and a day of service at the church I pastor and the seminary that I attend, I found myself immersed in the details.

In those details I rediscovered that Martin Luther King, Jr. was and is a radical man.

The details tell me that during his time, Dr. King was not only radical, but also unpopular. An August 1966 Gallup Poll found that 63 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of King, compared with 33 percent who viewed him favorably.

A close examination of the details of King’s positions reveal his radical unpopularity.
– King believed that America needed a “radical redistribution” of economic and political power.
– King challenged America’s class system in general, and especially its racial caste system.
– King was a strong ally of the nation’s labor union movement.

– King opposed United States militarism and imperialism, especially the country’s misadventure in Vietnam.

If the true details of Dr. King’s positions were known, would he be viewed in a positive light by 94 percent of Americans? Would his name be on schools and on street signs? Would his birthday be a national holiday?

“The true detail is that most of us have been hoodwinked to believe that Dr. King was some saint who made a great speech that moved the white man, to pass a law in ’64 to give those blacks folk who ain’t got a little more.” 3

However, the true detail is this, King and his agenda was much more comprehensive because it included uplifting Whites as well. King realized that White Americans were just as injured by racism and segregation as Black Americans. He understood that racial segregation was devised not only to oppress African Americans, but also to keep working-class Whites from challenging their own oppression, by letting them feel superior to Blacks.

“The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow,” King said from the Capitol steps in Montgomery, following the 1965 march from Selma. “And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food, that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man.”

In the details of King’ radicalism I found that he was no original. King; he was radical because Jesus was a radical.

– Jesus was a radical from his humble birth, without the trappings of wealth, power and hegemony.
– Jesus was a radical for healing on the Sabbath.
– Jesus was a radical for praying, and forgiving his enemies.

Yes, the risen Jesus was a radical and King was His disciple.

In reviewing the details of my life, I realize that I am not a radical.

– I have lived a life of comfort powered by the civil rights movement, and paved with the blood of King and others.
– I have shunned difficult conversations, topics and moments so I could remain popular.
– I have not been radical because my Christian walk has been feeble, and my discipleship has been weak.

In his farewell address, President Obama said this about race, “After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”

As an African American Pastor, race will be a major factor in my ministry. Of the various challenges that will face churches in my charge, I can be assured that race will factor in most of them.

As God’s envoy, I must be radical – not because it is the in thing to do, but because as King and many others have found out – the details of true discipleship demand it.