Monday, January 5, 2015

How Closely Are You Following Jesus?

 "Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome." -Matthew 26:57-58

  Just a few verses prior, we hear Peter make an audacious claim. He boasts that "even if all fall away on account of you, I never will" (Matthew 26:33). But as the guards led Jesus away to be crucified, Peter simply "followed him at a distance." Instead of being all in for his Lord and risking his life to testify for Jesus, he was content to follow at a distance. He was interested, but not fully committed. Curious to see what would happen, but not willing to lay down his life. How many of us, along with Peter, spend our lives following Jesus at a distance? We know He's the truth and we know He's the Son of God, but something stops us from fully committing ourselves to Christ no matter the cost. We're interested in Christ and who He is, but we don't take the next step. We're curious about God and His will for our lives, but in all honesty, we're content to simply follow at a distance. Like Peter, we aren't willing to lay down our agendas, our plans, and ultimately our lives for the name of Jesus. We'd much rather lead comfortable lives that watch Jesus being taken to the cross, but refuse to be nailed to that cross with Him. We want to live safe lives that don't cost us anything, but if we don't step out and testify to the truth, then we'll miss the experience of sharing in Christ's sufferings. We'll miss true union with Christ if we choose the comforts of this world over radical obedience to Him. Radical obedience to Christ will cost us:

  Radical obedience to Christ is not easy... It's not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.” -David Platt

  Following Jesus, truly following Him, is not going to be easy in this world. But Christ is so precious, so worth it! For Peter, Christ was worth more than his very life! But what happened to the Peter that stood silent and kept his distance when Jesus was lead away to the cross? He witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this gave him incredible boldness and assurance. The resurrection confirmed Jesus as the truth, and that was enough for Peter. He poured his entire life into knowing, teaching, and living the gospel of Christ. In order to follow Jesus in this world, we have to be convinced that it's going to be worth it. Here in America, we see Christians who claim to know God, but put little to no worth on the name of Jesus. We may sing to God in church and read the Bible every now and then, but is Christ really worth anything to us? We throw our faith around like it's nothing, but in reality, around the world right now, faith in Christ is costing people their lives. According to Open Doors USA, 322 Christians are killed for their faith each month. True faith in Christ is costly, and we need to follow the example of our brothers and sisters around the world who are standing firm, even in the face of death.

  If our Christianity doesn't cost us anything, then what's it really worth? More often than not, the things that are worth the most in our lives are the things that cost us the most. So we can see how much worth we're putting on Jesus by asking ourselves how much it really costs us to follow Him. As American Christians, we get to choose whether or not we're going to give everything to Christ. In other words, we can get away with calling ourselves Christians in America without really surrendering everything to Christ. But in restricted nations where it's illegal to own a Bible, attend church, and evangelize, Christians must give their entire lives to Christ or they can't even, at least publicly, be Christians. 

  "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." 

-Luke 14:33

  Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Before Christ ascended into heaven, he had to go through the cross. And he invites anyone who's willing to join him on his journey to the cross. It won't be easy. It won't painless. But it will be worth it because, in the end, we will be with Christ! Right now in America, we aren't threatened with imprisonment, torture, and death for being Christians. But true Christians are always persecuted in one way or another. Our American culture is becoming increasingly intolerant of the Christian worldview. People are publicly mocked and ridiculed for standing with Christ, and others lose acceptance and popularity for bearing the Lord's name. Christians are considered narrow-minded and intolerant for professing the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Teachings relating to God, the Bible, and creation are not allowed in our public schools while the religion of atheism and the theory of evolution are forced upon students. Not only is sin becoming more rampant in our world, but the acceptance of sin is becoming even more widespread than ever before. As Christ followers, our beliefs are looked down upon by the world, but just look at what they did to Jesus, our King! As Jesus Himself says, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20). If we, as Christians, aren't being persecuted by the world, then something is wrong. As 2 Timothy 3:12 says, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." I'll be bold and say that if we're not being opposed and rejected on a daily basis, we aren't preaching and living the gospel of Christ. We can't share the gospel and not taste rejection. The Bible promises this. Paul writes, "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him" (Philippians 1:29). When we put our faith in Christ, we start a journey on a narrow path as we suffer the same things Jesus did. But as we reject the world and all it has to offer, we choose to be united with Christ, one with Him! No one can take Christ away from us. And He's all we need.

  In this life, we have to ultimately decide who we're living to please. Are we living to please God, or people? We can't keep going back and forth between two gods. As Elijah says, "How long will you not decide between two choices? If the Lord is the true God, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). If we live our lives trying to please both God and people, then who are we? We're living a double life, and this certainly isn't glorifying to God. Paul writes, "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I still trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). We can't be servants of Christ and live to gain the approval of others at the same time. If we genuinely want to follow Jesus closely in this world, we have to be obsessed with pleasing Him and letting His will reign supreme in our lives. This means that obeying God is the most important thing to us, even when it's risky and uncomfortable. We've made gods out of comfort and acceptance, and these idols are stopping the American church (myself included) from rising up and sharing the truth that can set the world free. We need to surrender everything to Christ. Then the world will see Jesus. I can just hear Him screaming from the cross, "I'm not calling you to a life of comfort and easy living. I'm calling you into fellowship with Me, which includes sharing in my sufferings. I am inviting you to walk in complete obedience to Me. The world will hate you for it, but I will be with you. You will be united with Me, and you will experience true peace, joy, and satisfaction. Follow me. Die with me. Experience the life I want to give you." Be challenged to live a life of surrender to God and dependence on God. This is what He's calling you to.

  "On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts." -1 Thessalonians 2:4

  But is Christ even worth following? Is He worth obeying? Is He worth our everything? Before we try to answer these questions, lets attempt to see and understand the worth and value that God has placed on us. In God's eyes, we are worth His everything. We are worth the death of His Son. We are worth the blood of Christ! Peter writes, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Silver and gold are precious, valuable metals! Yet to God, we are worth even more. We have been purchased with the blood of Christ. Did you catch that? Purchased. God has chosen to buy us back. But we come at a high price. Only by pouring out the blood of Jesus can God the Creator buy back His creation. And that's exactly what He did. He has redeemed us from a life of emptiness and vanity and ushered us into the life that we were created to live. Christ gave up everything to save us, and He asks us to give our lives back to Him so He can truly give us life to the fullest. As Christians, we have a choice to make. We can keep living our lives with one foot in the world and one foot in God's will, or we can jump wholeheartedly into all God has for us. I encourage you to choose the life that Christ paid for with His blood! God went to great lengths to redeem us and to make it possible to live according to His will. Through Christ, we "may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world" (2 Peter 1:4). How incredible is that? We, though sinners, can partake in what God's doing as we participate in the divine nature! What an indescribable gift this is! We would be utter fools if we continued in our sinful ways, stubbornly refusing the gift of participation in God's nature and the blessing of being conformed into the image of Christ. But this is what many of us do. We trample the Son of God underfoot as we cheapen and insult His grace by continuing to live as if God isn't even real. Many Christians, perhaps unknowingly, deny God's very existence by the way they live their lives. This is a heartbreaking reality, and it used to be a reality in my life. Brennan Manning writes, "The single greatest cause of atheism is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." But thanks be to God! It's never too late to change. God wants to take us on an adventure! He has entrusted us with His most precious gospel of truth, and He has commanded us to take it to the ends of the earth. If we're truly convinced that Jesus is the truth, and that through Him heaven is possible, we would be ignorant fools for not telling the world about Him. I know these are harsh, possibly even offensive words, but I think they're needed. Don't be afraid to take a stand and proclaim the gospel! "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). Seek God with all your heart, and He will reveal Himself to you. Step out of your comfort zone and obey God! Fear God more than you fear people. Surrender your all to Christ each day. Yield to the Spirit and His direction. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel and boldly declare the truth. Shine Christ's light in the darkest places, and don't be afraid to engage the culture around you. Don't be ashamed of the gospel! Give God everything you have, and watch Him use you to change your world! May God's grace be with you as you learn to live out Christ's call to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Be challenged. Amen.


  "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." 

 -Galatians 2:20




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. :)
-Langston

. . .

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.


Authoritative
 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)

Non-conformist
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)

Dedicated
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)

Hated
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. 

Wise
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.

Bold
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)

Compassionate
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.

Apologist
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.


Prophet
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. (:
-Langston

. . .

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)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Overcoming Doubts: Part 2


 God's love. It's so...unexplainable! So sweet, so precious. So fierce and relentless! From the cross to our very hearts, God's love is, to say the least, quite evident in our world. But why is it so hard for us to grasp and understand the fact that God loves us as we are? Perhaps it's because, compared to us, God's love is so big and grand. It's so beyond us. Beyond what we deserve. Many live their lives separated from God because, simply put, they refuse to believe in His love. Even many Christians can't seem to accept the simple fact that God loves them! The concept of God's love is something that I've struggled with in my walk. Several things led me to question the fact that God loved me. I struggled with His justice, and the fact that God could be both loving and just. I also struggled with the question of why so much evil exists in the world which, in turn, led me to doubt God's love because I couldn't seem understand why He would let bad things happen. Finally, my own sin and ungodly behavior caused me to question if God really loved me as I was. It was easy for me to accept the fact that God loved me when I was good! But when I sinned and fell short, I seemed to doubt God's love for me. In my eyes, God's love was conditional and it depended on my behavior rather than on His nature. In this post, I'll be tackling some of the questions and doubts that I've faced and that I think keep people from accepting God's love. For the Christian who's always believed in God's love, I challenge you to let His love penetrate your soul and change you from the inside out. Don't just believe in your head that God loves you. Let it sink into your heart, and you'll never be the same!


                                 How could a loving God send people to hell?

 This is a question that I think plenty of people struggle with. I always thought that God had to be either loving or just. He couldn't be both. For example, in my mind, the God who destroyed Sodom was far from the God that died on the cross for us. And the God that sent the flood couldn't be the same God that spared Nineveh from destruction. But the Bible teaches that God is both loving and just. In fact, love and justice collided at the cross of Christ, where God made a way to punish the sin yet preserve the sinner. God is not against us. He did everything in His power to provide a way for us to be made right with Him without compromising our free will. He has broken every chain and He's set us free! But it's up to us to choose to leave our dark lives behind and enter into the glorious light of Jesus Christ.


  "The prison has been stormed, and the gates of the prison have been opened, but unless we leave our prison cells and go forward into the light of freedom, we are still unredeemed in actuality." 

-Donald Bloesch


  The thing we need to understand is that God doesn't want anyone in hell. He created us for a relationship with Him, and although we've all wandered from His truth (Isaiah 53:6), He never gives up on us. The cross proves just how far He's willing to go to make a way for us to be with Him forever. People end up in hell because, since God is just, He has to punish sin. And we're all deserving of hell. We deserve death, punishment, and eternal separation from God because of our sin. So would it be wrong or unjust if God gave us what we deserved? No. Just the opposite in fact. It would be fair and just if every human being that ever lived went to hell. The wages of sin is death and since we've all sinned, we all deserve death. We're all in the same boat: deserving of death but yet, in God's eyes, worth dying for. Like I said before, God wants no man in hell. "He doesn't want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Peter 3:9). Our Lord "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).


  "All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from Himself." -Timothy Keller


  God allows us to choose our eternal destiny. He's given us His Son. He's given us His Word. But many choose to walk away from His promises. They've instead settled for the things of this world which were never intended to give us everything we were created to desire. Ultimately, only God Himself can fill the void that's in every human heart. God knows that He's the only thing that can truly, eternally, satisfy us. However, He still gives us a choice. For those who do everything in their power to run away from God and who reject Him and "suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18) their entire lives, God will eternally satisfy their desire to have nothing to do with Him. Check out this quote from C.S. Lewis:


 "There are only two kinds of people--those who say "Thy will be done" to God or those to whom God in the end says, "Thy will be done." All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn't be hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it."

 People end up in hell for wanting to do things their way instead of God's way. They want to be the god of their own lives and they refuse to surrender to the One who gave it all. At one time or another we've all went our own way instead of following God. So we all deserve hell. But through Jesus we've been given the choice to repent and live a life of freedom by the grace of God. Many reject this offer and continue in their stubborn, unrepentant ways. God's love for them will never change, and His desire for none to perish will never fade. However, God is a just God, and in the end, He will give people what they most desire, even if it's eternal separation from Himself.

      If God loves us, then why does He let bad things happen to us?


 While, on this side of heaven, we can't completely answer the question of why God lets bad things happen, we can know and rest secure in the fact that when suffering does seep into our lives, it's never because God doesn't love us. When we become hurt and affected by the evil in this world, we can begin to doubt the fact that God loves us. I'm not going to attempt to answer the big question of why evil and suffering exist in the world (today), but I want you to be convinced that when something bad happens to you, it's not because God doesn't love you.

 Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that God's love for us depends on our circumstances. When life's good, God must love us! But when things take a turn for the worst, why is it that we start to doubt God's love? You see, God's love in the Bible isn't portrayed as a "Santa Claus, because I love you I'll give you everything you want" kind of love. The God of the universe possesses a radical, scandalous kind of love that's constant in the midst of hardship and suffering. It never changes. Nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God!


 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." -Romans 8:38-39


 If nothing can separate us from God's love, then who can really stop us? The God of everything says that we can never lose His love. We can never slip beyond His grip of grace. There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still! This is why Paul says that we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). We are conquerors in life, not because we are immune to trial and pain, but because our God is greater than all and He promises that the worst things in life can never separate us from His mighty love.

  Lets take a look at the life of Jesus. It's clear that God loved Jesus (Matthew 3:17). It's also clear that Jesus did not live an easy life. The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus as "a man of suffering and familiar with pain" (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus was homeless for a time, He was hated by many, even His own brothers rejected Him, and He eventually died a cruel death upon a cross after being brutally beaten. If God loved Jesus, then why did He allow Him to go through such terrible suffering? "It was the LORD's will to crush Him" (Isaiah 53:10). No one could fathom the plan of God that involved His only Son, Jesus Christ, dying on a cross to set the world free from its sins. Even on this side of the resurrection, it's still so hard to contemplate the Lord's mighty plan known as the gospel. Perhaps this is why Paul refers to the good news about Jesus as a "mystery" so much in the New Testament! It is a mystery. God is a mystery. And while He does choose to reveal certain things to us through His Word and the Holy Spirit, some things He keeps hidden from us on this side of heaven. This is why we don't always know why bad things happen to good people. But through God's promise in Romans 8:28, we can trust that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. Even if you don't know why certain things are happening in your life right now, you can have faith that God still loves you! His love is constant in the midst of hardship and suffering, and He's the only true refuge. When we're broken and utterly dependent, we get the incredible opportunity to experience the love of God in a personal way. What I want you to take away from this is that God's love is not dependent on our circumstances. He loves us when life's good, and He weeps with us when life gets hard. He really is the only thing in this world that never changes, and if we want security, we have to run to Him and trust His promise that nothing can separate us from His love. You might not be able to see through the pain, but God's love is still the true and constant reality. He will never stop loving us. I pray that if you're going through a hard time right now, you'll lean your head against the chest of Jesus as He wipes the tears from your eyes and loves you with an unfathomable love that cannot be stopped by anything.


                                             Does God still love us when we sin?


 The short answer to this question is yes. I think that most of us believe in our heads that yes, God still loves us when we sin. It's basically Christianity 101. God's love for us never changes. However, I think that we all struggle to truly believe in our hearts that God loves us when we're at our worst. It's easy to believe that God loves us when we're good. But we somehow think that God loves us less when we sin. This is just simply not true. Yes, God hates sin and He can't stand how it ruins the lives of His children. But God's love for us remains the same even when we fall short. Before you were even born, God loved you. He saw every mistake you would ever make and every sin you would ever commit. He saw it all. He knew you; all of you. He knew the deepest, darkest parts of yourself that you hide from the rest of the world. He knew the real you. He saw every piece of your broken life and, before you could even think or make a decision for yourself, He concluded that you were worth dying for. You are worth dying for. Just you. As you are. With all of your imperfections and shortcomings, God still loves you with an everlasting love and He still died for you. He wants you in His kingdom. Yes, He wants you to be holy and blameless like His Son Jesus, but He's patient with you. He's working in you and, at this very moment, He's interceding for you (Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 7:25). God is for you! He's cheering you on and He wants you to succeed. He isn't staring you down just waiting for you to mess up so He can mark it down on your permanent record. He's not against you. How could Someone that died for you be against you? Whenever you have doubts about God's love for you, turn your face toward the cross, and take a few moments to gaze upon blood-drenched Jesus, whose blood was poured out for you. Simply put, God still loves you when you sin. This should give you amazing security and confidence to live for God, knowing that if you fall, Jesus will be right there to catch you.

 I think that to us, God's love is more of a concept or idea that an actual real, living, breathing, moving force. In my life, I always believed that God loved me. I heard it every Sunday and my parents ingrained in me the fact that God loved me. But I just believed it in my head. I didn't really know what it meant that God loved me. I never let it sink into my heart that the God of the universe loved me just as I was. We as Christians have to come to grips with the fact that what we believe is truly revolutionary, and it has the power to change the world. We just have to unleash it, leave everything behind, and engulf this world with the incredible love of Christ! But how can we do this if we don't believe God loves us? I still remember the day that I truly came to a real understanding of how much God loved me. After that day, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't deny it. I had experienced it, and God confirmed to me clearly in His Word that He loved me! So I stood firm on His truth and God continues to give me a greater, deeper understanding of His love as I grow closer to Him. I was reading some verses in Romans 5 when it just hit me: God loves me. Knowing all the wrong things I would do, He still died for me. All of a sudden I felt so much peace and love and joy I just didn't know what to do with myself! It was probably close to midnight but I just felt this overwhelming need in my heart to go love someone. I couldn't get rid of it! I was so overjoyed and overcome by the love of God and His touch on me that I just had to give it away to somebody else. Here are the verses that I was reading:

  "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" 
-Romans 5:6-10

 Christ died for you when you were powerless. Before you could do anything for Him, when you were still wallowing in sin and completely crippled spiritually, Jesus died for you. This is true love because it's not dependent on what you can do for God but on what He's chosen to do for you. God sent His Son to die for you while you were His enemy! His enemy. If God loved you when you were the furthest away from Him, how much more will He reveal His love to you now that you're His friend and child? The remarkable truth of the gospel is that were are completely known and completely loved. God knows every part of you yet He loves you still! It's the backbone of the gospel and if we don't believe this in our hearts, there's no way we can deliver the gospel of love to a dying world. Trust God's Word over your feelings! Your feelings are lies. You have to stand firm and believe with your whole heart that God loves you. This is truly the first step in evangelism because if you don't even believe that God loves you, how can you honestly share Jesus's love with someone else? God loves you. Believe it, stand on it, and act upon it.

 What I really want you to take away from this post is that God loves you. No matter what's going on in your life, no matter what the people around you are saying, and no matter what you're feeling at this moment, God loves you with a relentless, strong, Daddy-like love that cannot be stopped by anything. Once you accept in your heart that God loves you as you are, your life can become an overflow of His love. God can begin to remake us and shape us into His image by teaching us how to love correctly. We start to reflect the love of Christ when we experience its power on our own lives. And as we go deeper in our walk with Jesus, we'll begin to love those who are tough to love. We'll make sacrifices for other people, since Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. We'll give more than we take. We'll serve our community as the Body of Christ since "even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). My point is that if we truly let God's love manifest itself in our hearts, we'll look more like Jesus because He is love. This is the beauty of the gospel. God's truth is made complete in us when we start to extend the same love and grace that He showed us on the cross. My prayer is that the truth of God's love will motivate and empower you to share the gospel with a world that needs it. Amen.


  "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." -John 5:12