Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What Was Jesus Really Like?

I originally wrote this post in April 2013. It's pretty much untouched now, except for a couple grammar/formatting changes I made. This is a wonderful post and really reflects many of the things God was showing me at this time. Hope this really helps you, whatever your story and background is. :)

. . .

One of my favorite authors, Rick Riordan, says that he doesn't watch the movie adaptations of his books because he doesn't want the movie to change the way he sees his characters. (Which is great, because if I were him and saw what Hollywood did to his bestselling book, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, I'd probably scream and tear my hair out.)

So this got me thinking: do the way movies (and society in general) portray Jesus change the way we see Him? How accurate is the movie Jesus vs. the Man actually described on paper? It's a pretty valid saying that the original book is almost always better than the movie. Usually, the movie version shifts things around and ruins the characters somehow--"tweaking" the characters to make them "cooler" or to fit how the producers or directors think they should be represented (which ironically ends up misrepresenting them). The book character may end up unrecognizable on the screen, along with anywhere else that version of the character shows up. I think the same thing has happened to Jesus.

This probably raises the question of which versions of Jesus are wrong and which ones areally right. Well, a couple weeks ago, I read through the book of Mark, reading to learn what Jesus was really like and how his personality was. The result is what you're about to read below: 13 characteristics of Jesus.

 Then they went into Capernaum, and right away He [Jesus] entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority. Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, “What do You have to do with us, Jesus — Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God! ”
But Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit convulsed him, shouted with a loud voice, and came out of him.
Then they were all amazed, so they began to argue with one another, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” News about Him then spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-27, HCSB) (emphasis by me)
Authoritative means to act as if one has authority, and this is exactly what we see from Jesus in the passage above. When Jesus spoke, He spoke with confidence and power. He knew what He was talking about; He knew what He was dealing with. Jesus is loving and understanding when He needs to be, but He has rightful authority and--as the passage shows above--is not afraid to display it. (Also see Mark 4:35-41, Mark 6:7)

Healer and exorcist
As soon as they [Jesus, Simon and Andrew] left the synagogue, they went into Simon and Andrew’s house with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. So He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them. When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all those who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. The whole town was assembled at the door, and He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him. . . . So He went into all of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1: 29-34, 39)
I don't know about you, but when I hear "exorcist" I think of some Catholic priest doing some creepy, sacred rituals and prayers, trying to drive out a spirit from some demon-possessed girl. Despite my crazy stereotypical conceptions of it, Jesus was and is an exorcist too. Except when He exorcized people, He simply used His words and His authority. The only thing those angels could do was to listen. The same for any sicknesses or diseases Jesus healed a person from: if the person asking had faith, whatever spirit or sickness plaguing them was in trouble. (Also see Mark 1:40-42; Mark 5:1-20, 21-43; Mark 7:32-37; Mark 8:22-25)

Friend of Sinners
While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also guests with Jesus and His disciples, because there were many who were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17)
This passage is pretty self-explanatory. Unlike many Christians today, Jesus spent His time seeking those who were hurting and needed help, and dedicated His life to investing, building, and molding eleven men in specific who would become leaders of the early Church (not including Judas). Not to mention the countless numbers of people He healed, stayed with, interacted with, drove demons out of, or even just sat down and talked with for a few minutes. Jesus got around.

Didn't Go Along With The Crowd
They came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” Many people told him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; He’s calling for you.” He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want Me to do for you? ” “Rabbouni,” the blind man told Him, “I want to see! ” “Go your way,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road. (Mark 10:46-52)
Jesus wasn't influenced by pressure or popular opinion. He saw what He saw and did what needed to be done. He didn't care what others were doing or thought; Jesus knew His purpose and didn't let anyone stop Him from completing it. He spent time with the neglected, remembered the forgotten, reached out to the hurting and showed love to those deprived of it. If anyone had a problem with it, then that was their issue, not Jesus's. (Also see Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3:1-6)

Now He  entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a paralyzed hand. In order to accuse Him, they [the Pharisees] were watching Him closely to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath. He told the man with the paralyzed hand, “Stand before us.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. After looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Immediately the Pharisees went out and started plotting with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 3:1-6)
In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is a holy day of rest, when God rested from the work He had done (Gen. 2: 2-3). The Pharisees could be compared to many Christians today. In a society where religion and politics were integrated, the Pharisees had a high place in Jewish politics, knew the Scriptures and appeared extremely spiritual on the outside. But they were extremely legalistic, overly political and had their own agendas in mind rather than God's. They rejected (and hated) Jesus: partially because He didn't fit their idea of what the Messiah should be like, partially because He spoke the truth and exposed them for who they were. Jesus even called them "whitewashed tombs filled the dead men's bones and every impurity (Matt. 23:27)." In summary, the Pharisees were basically the 1st century Jewish versions of many overly-political and self-righteous Christians today. They were more carnal and politically-minded than spiritually-focused and God-centered, which ultimately showed in their decisions and actions. Jesus, on the other hand, cared nothing about their political authority. He told them off as horrible spiritual teachers that were leading God's people astray (see Matthew 23) and didn't conform to their carnal wishes or desires. Jesus did what He knew God placed Him there to do and didn't let anyone stand in His way. (Also see Mark 7:1-16, Luke 10:13-17)

Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” They left the town and made their way to Him. In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat? ” “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. (John 4:27-34)
This passage is actually from John; I read it a couple days ago and thought it really displayed how dedicated Jesus was to His mission. He understood God's will and gave all He had to make sure that it was completed. He never relented, gave up, turned back or changed His mind. Jesus went as hard as any human possibly could, even until the point of being slaughtered . . . and still came out victorious. (Also see, Mark 3:31-35; Mark 11:15-19; Mark 14:36; Luke 23:40)

When they heard this [what Jesus said to them], everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. (Luke 4:28-30)
At the beginning of this passage in verse 16, during the very start of His ministry, Jesus is His hometown synagogue, leading the Sabbath service. On that day, He reads from the scroll of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2 to be exact), rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant and sits back down--everyone watching Him and speaking well of Him. That is, until Jesus tells them of, letting these people that know that in the coming days they will reject Him both as the Messiah and a prophet, and that because of their future unbelief barely any works will be preformed for them at all. (For no prophet is accepted in his hometown.) This resulted in Jesus nearly being thrown off a cliff, as shown above. But Jesus told the truth (see Mark 6:1-6) and God was with Him, so  He simply parted the crowd and went on His way. 

Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said. When they came, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know You are truthful and defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality but teach truthfully the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, or should we not pay?” But knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” So they brought one. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them. “Caesar’s,” they said. Then Jesus told them, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. (Mark 12: 13-17)
 In this passage, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by asking Him a complicated and and at that time controversial question: should God's people pay taxes to a human king? The Roman government was very big on taxes, which--among other things--irritated Israel because they believed God's people shouldn't have to answer to foreign human authority. The popular answer to this question probably would have been something like, "Nope! Go Israel! We answer to no one except God! YEAH!" But despite pressure, that is not what Jesus said. He saw the truth of the matter and understood the Pharisees' true intentions. He told them the truth and stepped right around their trap. Jesus displayed His wisdom, not just by His answer to the question, but how He answered it and why. (Also see, Mark 7:17-23; Mark 8:13-21; Mark 9:42-49; Mark 10:1-12; Mark 11:27-33; Mark 12:18-27; Mark 12:41-44)

Got His Hands Dirty
They brought to Him a deaf man who also had a speech difficulty, and begged Jesus to lay His hand on him. So He took him away from the crowd privately. After putting His fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, He touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”). Immediately his ears were opened, his speech difficulty was removed, and he began to speak clearly. Then He ordered them to tell no one, but the more He would order them, the more they would proclaim it. They were extremely astonished and said, “He has done everything well! He even makes deaf people hear, and people unable to speak, talk!” (Mark 7:32-37)
As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples questioned Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answered. “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him. We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After He said these things He spit on the ground, made some mud from the saliva, and spread the mud on his eyes. “Go,” He told him, “wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means “Sent”). So he left, washed, and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)
When it came to saving those who were lost or helping those who couldn't help themselves, Jesus wasn't above getting his hands dirty: physically or spiritually. Despite living in a society of ritualistic praying and strict religious traditions, Jesus healed people simply by contact and spit. His closest friends consisted of fishermen (who probably smelled like fish), tax-collectors (the scum of Jewish society), women (not a popular notion in that time), and social nobodies. These weren't your dignified teachers and or spiritual powerhouses or anyone at all you would think God in the flesh would spend His time with. But just like Jesus said in Luke 19:10, He came to seek and save the lost, not the righteous and godly. He wasn't afraid to sit and talk with people of the "bad" crowd or spend time with "sinners." He didn't have a phobia of those less than ideal. Jesus simply saw people deprived of truth and went to make it known to them.

As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered Him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill Me because My word is not welcome among you. I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father; therefore, you do what you have heard from your father.”
“Our father is Abraham!” they replied.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” Jesus told them, “you would do what Abraham did. But now you are trying to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do this! You’re doing what your father does.”
“We weren’t born of sexual immorality,” they said. “We have one Father — God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, because I came from God and I am here. For I didn’t come on My own, but He sent Me. Why don’t you understand what I say? Because you cannot listen to My word. You are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of liars. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Who among you can convict Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why don’t you believe Me? The one who is from God listens to God’s words. This is why you don’t listen, because you are not from God. (John 8:30-47)
 Jesus told people exactly what they need to hear, regardless of their reaction or if they wanted to hear it or not. When God speaks, He speaks the truth. Jesus did not bend the truth simply to avoid offending people--as shown above. (Also see, Mark 8:11-12; Mark 11:27-33; Mark 12:1-12; Mark 14:60-64; Luke 4:16-21; Luke 4:28-29, John 8:54-59)

Some people were bringing little children to Him so He might touch them, but His disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” After taking them in His arms, He laid His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
Jesus was not only powerful and bold, but caring as well. He had His emotional moments as well (John 11:35) and cared for and comforted people too (Luke 7:13). He understands gentleness, kindness and compassion and shows it to those who need it. Jesus said in John 13:15: Greater love has no one this, that one would lay down his life for his friends. Jesus displayed this in His horrific death for us, and continues to show it in the eternal relationship God pursues with each and every one of us.

So Jesus asked this question as He taught in the temple complex, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David? David himself says by the Holy Spirit:
 The Lord declared to my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand
until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’[t]
David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how then can the Messiah be his Son?” And the large crowd was listening to Him with delight. (Mark 12:35-37)
Jesus was and is more than able to defend Himself.  He worked through believers such as Paul, Peter, John and now us to explain and support Him, refute those who deny Him or hold wrong views of Him. But God is not defenseless. He doesn't need people to defend Him.
A similar situation is the one with Job and his friends. Throughout the course of the book of Job, Job and his friends go in a (incredibly long) back-and-forth argument on why God allowed the disasters that had happened to Job. The friends' explanations sounded biblical and orthodox, while Job continually demanded an explanation for God and that He speak for Himself. But in Job 42: 7, the last chapter in the book, God tells Job's friends that He is angry with them, "for you have bot spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has." One of the footnotes in my study Bible explains the situation like this:
. . . Looking at the book as a whole, we see that Job (and his friends as well) proposed various answers to the problem of his suffering. Job considered it unmerited and demanded and explanation from God. The friends tried to explain it, defending God's justice. Yet in the end God told them, "You have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has" (v. 7). This sounds odd, since the friends' arguments sounded completely "orthodox" in terms of the Bible's general view of God's punishment of the guilty. What they failed to do--and which Job did--was to deal directly with God about the issue instead of just talking about Him. They felt they had to defend God, while Job "dared" God to speak for Himself--because God needs no defense. (Richard D. Patterson, Apologetics Study Bible For Students, pg. 543.)
 While it is a privilege and honor to be able to work alongside God and show others why He is the truth, the way, and the life; God can defend Himself. And in many ways, He already has. Just research evidence for God.

As He was going out of the temple complex, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, look! What massive stones! What impressive buildings!” Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!” (Mark 13:1-3)
Among other things, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Jewish Temple. This occurred during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, at the hands of the Romans--which Jesus prophesied nearly forty years beforehand. While this doesn't necessarily add in understanding Jesus' character, I thought it was cool how Jesus prophesied a historic event that was fulfilled outside the Bible. :P

Jesus' personality stretches out to all ends--He knows when to be sensitive, when to be blunt, when to be decisive, when to show wisdom, when to show affection, when to be gentle, when to be harsh; who to be that way to and why. I think many people--and Christians--tend to have a one-dimensional view of Jesus and what He was like when He walked on this earth. They may get one or two characteristics right, such as "He was loving," or "He wasn't afraid of people," but they never really capture the essence of who He really is. In three years, Jesus showed more character than any human has probably shown in their entire lifetime. He not only came and saw and conquered, He talked and sat and got to know and healed and debated and discussed and connected and slept and ate: everything we do except with God influencing every move. The life Jesus lived was not one of perfection and bliss. But the way He met every challenge and interacted with those He met overshadowed the dull lives and bland circumstances of the people living in the cities and villages He stopped in. No one was the same after spending time with Jesus. Even Nicodemus, a Pharisee, had to reevaluate what he believed after his discussion with Jesus in John 3. Jesus changed lives of everyone He met--and everyone who He meets. Whether you believe or not, Jesus is real. He not only existed, but exists: present tense. He already knows you and everything about you, but He wants you to know Him.

There is only one way to God, and that's through His exact image and representation: Jesus. Through His death and resurrection by the power of God, we are saved. And if one believes this, as Romans 10:9-10 states, "If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." But you cannot just stop there. Growth is needed, both in knowledge and love of Jesus, and in the Bible--God's word. To be a Christian should be constant growth: constantly becoming closer to God until the day you die. Jesus was the ultimate role model for us here on earth. While we can never reach His level of perfection or even come close to His standard, we can strive to become better people within ourselves, and live to be as Christlike and Jesus-loving as possible in the short time we have here on this planet.

I hope this post has given you a more accurate picture of what Jesus is like and how He was on earth. Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever (Hebrews 13:8), so I believe these characteristics still apply as much as they did two thousand years ago.

For more information on God, Jesus, the Bible and what it means to be saved, check out the Faith Questions page at I Am Second or Answers for Atheists. (But their answers are for everyone, not just atheists. :P) They both have solid answers for serious questions that you might be asking.

Have a great day and God bless! :]

Do We Just Love God For His Stuff?

I literally have no idea why I didn't post this post until now. I just happened to be on blogger (not a very usual thing for me these days) and stumbled over this great article I forgot I had written. Its a year old, written in November 2013 and left totally untouched since. Enjoy, my dear friends, brothers and sisters. I hope this blesses you just as much as it did me. (:

. . .

Last summer, I remember reading a line from Francis Chan's book Crazy Love that really popped out at me:
Do we only love God because of His stuff?
At that time, it got me thinking, but now I really understand what Francis meant here. Is it really God we're chasing? … Or ... possibly ... just the things we want from Him?

I don't like feeling bad. Nobody does, but I really, really don't like it. I place a lot of emphasis on how I feel, or how things make me feel, to perceive the world around me. So, when I feel bad or negatively towards something, it can potentially make that whole area of my life seem darker and worse than it really is. And, seeing how I'm normally pretty mellow and laid-back, that's not a state of mind I like being in.
However, sometimes that happens so frequently that I get used to it and subconsciously accept it. Lately, God has been reminding me that I don't have to accept that, because He's set me free of all that stuff that burdens me and weighs me down. And that's great!! Praise God! But also, lately these past few months, I've noticed that's become a bigger and bigger reason for me going to God - to change how I feel, not God Himself.

That might be kind of confusing, so I'll try to state it this way: I think I've been going after God's gifts and God's promises, not going after God alone because of who He is. I want peace in my life. God offers peace. So, I go to God to get that peace, and once I have it, I just go back to what I'm doing.  Maybe later I want love, or joy. God offers both. I go to God, get me some joy, then go back to my life. Then later I want something else God offers - courage, maybe. Then self-control. Goodness. Mercy, etc. And there's nothing wrong with asking for those things; they are the fruit of the Spirit, after all. But, it shouldn't be what our entire relationship with God consists of. Here's why:
You'll live in fear of not getting what you ask for, or worse ... loosing it. 
You'll be paranoid of those moments when you feel that joy/peace/whatever-it-is-you-got-from-God slipping away. Even when feel good, you'll dread feeling bad. In a sense, you'll be a slave to yourself because you'll be controlled by your desire to experience those gifts. They become idols. You may still be close to God, but there is a loss in sincerity, since, basically, you're just there for His stuff. God's totally aware of it too; He lets this stuff happen as a wake-up call to ourselves. God cannot be mocked; He'll make sure you get the consequences that your actions deserve, both good and bad (Galatians 6:7).

So here's a question:
Would you still chase God, even if He never gave you the things you asked for? 
Obviously, it's a hypothetical question, but would you? I asked myself this a little while back, and I realized with the mindset I had and the way I was thinking, my answer would be no. I need to desire God for God. Not love Him because of what He's done or what He does for me, but for who He is. When we come to this point, our problems and situations and feelings won't matter. We won't be focusing on them anymore. We will all have our eyes fixed on Jesus, and He'll be all we need. All I need - whether He makes me feel good about it or not. :)

So I encourage you, lay down whatever that thing is, whatever you keep going to God for and leaving Him after you get it. Give it up. Ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to help you see that that feeling, thing, idea or even person, doesn't matter anywhere near as much as God matters. He is above all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). And He is the one who should have your heart - not the gifts He gives us out of His mercy, love and grace. So be strong. Leave those things behind. Pursue God. And remember, He is faithful and knows your heart. He'll supply your every need (Philippians 4:19). But, you must seek God first - and you second.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. -Matthew 6:33 (emphasis mine)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Whatever You Think, You Are Not Hopeless. Here's Why:

By Langston 

So a while back, I was opening my Bible. In my thoughts, I asked God to show me what He wanted me to read. The response was very faint, but I felt it was Isaiah 8 and 9. So, I read through Isaiah 8 which was pretty good. Then I got to verse 9, which is what dramatically changed my perspective of the Christian life.

For You have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as You did on the day of Midian. -Isaiah 9:4
Okay ... so what? God removed the burden of some random people. What's so great about that? Well, let's take a look about at exactly who this chapter is talking about. But, before I give my interpretation, make sure you plan to read this whole chapter for yourself in order double-check what I'm saying, and also to let God talk to you personally as you read it. Don't just rely on my words. Rely on His. Check out all of Isaiah 9 here!

Now back to my interpretation. From what God showed me, the passage here is talking about Jesus. Isaiah was prophesying about the coming of Christ--how God's people will be redeemed and brought back to life when Jesus came and redeemed His people. Every verse in this passage applies to God's people, today.

Romans 8:15-16 NLT says: So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. Therefore, we are God's people too! Even more, we're His children. Not only are we co-heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17), His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:10), and His friends (John 15:15), but we're also God's children! We hear this all the time, but do you ever sit for a moment and let that sink in? I mean the God who created all this--
--and this--
--and this--

calls you His child! He calls you His child in the 
same way the dad helping his daughter learn to ride a bike calls her his daughter, or a mother asleep with her baby boy in her arms calls him her son. The same image and feelings that invade those parents when they think of their children is how God Almighty feels when He thinks of you!
If you're still not really getting this, you need to watch this video: The Awe Factor of God. I have it included in the space to the right if you're reading via website; if you're reading via email just click on the video's name. To truly understand and revel in God's love for you, you have to realize where you are and where He is. He is so much bigger than us in every way - all creation screams it. Yet He still loves us! The Awe Factor of God paints in motion what I'm trying to say through written word.

Alright, so Isaiah 9 is talking about Jesus, God loves us, and we're His children. So what? Read the verse again.

For You have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as You did on the day of Midian. -Isaiah 4:9
As I said before, this verse prophesying about people--God's people--living in the time of the Messiah and beyond. We are His children, and we are living in the time of Jesus (the last days, as the apostles and prophets called it) so this verse is speaking directly to us!
"For You have shattered their oppressive yoke ... "
One of the definitions for "yoke" is: an agency of oppression, subjection, servitude, etc.
So the phrase "oppressive yoke" relates to anything that is or has been a burden to you in your spiritual life. For example, some "oppressive yokes" for me have been fear, guilt, anxiousness, lust, self-consciousness, doubt, pride and timidity.
"... and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor ..."
Not only did God shatter the yoke itself--fear, lust, anxiety, etc.--but the burden we carry because of them and the attacks of the enemy to bring us back down. We have the total upper hand! We are set free!

And finally, the last and possibly my favorite part of the verse:
"... just as You did on the day of Midian."

Say whaatt? Midian? What happened on the day of Midian? What was the day of Midian, anyway?

To find the answer of this, we have to go back a few centuries to the book of Judges. In chapter 6, we get taste of what's going on here. There we find the ancient nation of Israel, before they were a nation: back when they were a loose cluster of tribes - and constantly bullied by their more powerful neighbors. One of these powerful, oppressive neighbors were the Midianites. They oppressed the Israelites until they cried out to God, and he sent Gideon (not exactly People's Choice for best warrior) out to deliver Israel from the Midianites' grasp. You can read all this for yourself in Judges 8, but the verse I want to highlight is Judges 8:28:
So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they were no longer a threat. The land was peaceful 40 years during the days of Gideon.  -Judges 8:28 (my emphasis)
This is what Isaiah references to when he writes "just as in the day of Midian" or "just as in the day of Midian's defeat" in Isaiah 9:4. When God dealt with Midian, He dealt with them for good - they were no longer a threat. In the same way, God has dealt with the everything that oppresses us - spiritually, mentally and even physically. We may feel hopeless, doubtful, or abandoned, etc, but we aren't. We still may feel as if we're trapped in a never-ending cycle, but we're not. We may feel dirty, unworthy, weak and a waste of time, but aren't. We never have been since the day we believed Jesus came and died for our sins and mistakes and were baptized in His name. We will continue to make mistakes and feel imperfect, and that's fine - because we're human. Jesus didn't die so we could try to be perfect. He died, in part, so we could have rest from the pressures of trying to be something we're not. He died, not to simply abolish those things from our lives, but to give us the grace, the strength, the knowledge and the love to overcome them: to rise above our troubles, transcend our doubts and worries, to leave aside the weights holding us down and "run out the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1)."

You are not a slave, so refuse to live like one. Jesus set you free. Paul gave a strong command to the church in Galatia when he wrote:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1 NIV (all the crazy emphasis mine)
In the immediate context, Paul was telling his readers not to return to living under the Law after committing their lives to Jesus (another post for another time), but I think this also extends to not letting your feelings, circumstances, negative thoughts, anxieties, insecurities, "limiting" factors in your personality (which, in your personality, are actually all good traits; you're just looking at them wrong), desires, disabilities, flesh or anything else that prevents you from being who God made you to be, run your life either.

You are set free. You have hope. You have a calling. And you have a Father in Heaven who loves you; a Friend who died for you and rose again to give you freedom; a Spirit who burns with passionate desire to reveal to you the depth and the height and the width of God's love - for you! Never forget these things. You are more than you see in yourself now. You are everything God's created you to be.
And the real you - not your physical self, with its blemishes, but your soul: the traits, ideas, characteristics and true desires that make you who you are - is perfect.

But how do we remember all these things? How do we keep them all in mind? How do we keep back from falling into the hopeless cycle of literal slavery?

How can we live like this?

Like many things with God, its actual pretty simple:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. - Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT
Keep your eyes on Jesus, and that will empower you to not only get through, but rise above all you that you deal with.

Have an awesome day and God bless!! :)

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Can You Really Be Forgiven? // & Other Powerful Videos

Instead of featuring a song this week, today I'll be featuring videos - and not just any random videos, but videos by Jefferson Bethke: author of the Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus video that went viral on YouTube about a year and a half ago. He's still making videos (both spoken word poems and just regular talking), which have gotten better and better in my opinion. I watched three of them this morning, which I'll be sharing with you!
The first one is titled Can You Really Be Forgiven?. Jeff addresses the issues of sin and forgiveness, and references two awesome verses to help us all remember God's forgiven our sin and that we are bound to it no longer.
[if you cant see the video or are reading via email, click here or the title above]

The second video is Jeff's newest spoken word video, A Man & His Idols. It dives into manhood and what it really means to be a man in Christ. It's just as powerful as it is true. Use the embedded YouTube player below or click here to watch.

 The final video is Every Christian Is In "Ministry". Like in Can You Really Be Forgiven? Jeff speaks straight-forward in this one, and talks about how every Christian is in ministry, not just the pastors, preachers, missionaries, etc. This video was a quick favorite for me and I'm sure it will be for you too! Use the YouTube player below or click here to watch.

That's all for now. I hope God used one or more of these videos to help you out! Have a great day and God bless!! :]

Friday, June 14, 2013

Suddenly | Now Playing

I really don't have much to say this week, except that in reference to the song below, I think we all of those "suddenly" moments. Those moments when it's as if a rain cloud is hanging over your head and in the next light pierces though and the clouds are chased away. Those moments when you've fallen down hard in the mud but all of a sudden you're picked up and running again. Those moments where you feel aimless and lost but out of nowhere realization hits you in the face and suddenly you're flying--moments like that. Moments that increase our faith and lift us up, moments that give us the momentum to soar over our mountains and giants. Moments where God moves so quickly and so powerfully that it's a brand new day. I think that's Toby described in his song "Suddenly". I pray that, even as you listen to the song, God will give you your own experience with Him--whether it's powerful and suddenly or subtle and over a long period of time--just a time where you're with Him and He's with you. Time alone together. That should be what's at the heart of every Christian's faith: fellowship with God. Even when the whole world fails us, He never will.

God bless! :]
 [click here if the video doesn't work or reading via email]
She blew everything to pieces
He's there hanging on to Jesus
She broke everything about him down
He said he never saw it coming
Until the day she dropped the bomb
And she broke everything about him down

Sometimes there's nothing left but to believe
And suddenly all of it's behind you
And I'm here to remind you
That yesterday is gone so say goodbye
And suddenly the skies open above you
And someone really loves you
Now everything's alive ... everything's alive

She's there broken into pieces
But he swears he doesn't really see it
When she says that all of it was so unfair
But Hope road is just around the corner
It's one place there's never been a foreigner
'Cause God's love makes everybody welcome there
Sometimes there's nothing left but to believe

Sometimes it's in an instant
Sometimes we wait for years
But it comes down to the moment when faith eclipses fear
Your wandering is over
The other side is real
You've broken through
Your mountain moved
And mercy is revealed
His mercy is revealed, yeah

Yesterday is long
Gone ....

And suddenly all of it's behind you
And I'm here to remind you
That yesterday is gone so wave goodbye
And finally the skies open around you
And love has truly found you
Now everything is alive
Everything's alive ... everything's alive

Sometimes there's nothing left but to believe 
Lyrics credit: