How warm?

Last night at church I was really taking stock of my life in terms of my walk of faith. I caught myself going through the motions during the singing portion of the gathering, constantly distracted by my almost three year old son. I was catching most of what the message was but couldn’t stay locked in for the need of baby wipes, cleaning up messes, and making sure my son didn’t break all his colored pencils. It all got me thinking about just how much I’m investing in my relationship with Jesus. I had to ask myself if He was my number one relationship and priority. The journey of self reflection led me back to a study I did a long time ago based on a book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love. In the book, he outlines what the Bible (Jesus specifically) calls a lookwarm believer. Keep in mind, Jesus makes no room for lukewarm faith. He says it’s worse than no faith at all. They are among those who Christ says, “depart from me I never knew you.” It’s not a category I want to be in. And it’s a good jumping off point for a good inward dive into the motivations of our heart. If you’ve never seen the book I’ve included an outline of the main indicators that our faith may not be as genuine as we thought.

A lukewarm believer may…

  • Attend church because they believe it is expected of them. (Isaiah 29:13)
  • Give money only when it doesn’t infringe on their standard of living. (1 Chronicles 21:24)
  • Tend to choose what is popular rather than what is right. (Luke 6:26)
  • Don’t want to be saved from their sin, just saved from the penalty of sin. (Romans 6:1-2)
  • Moved by stories of others doing radical things for Christ yet do not act themselves. (James 1:22)
  • Rarely share their faith with friends, coworkers, and strangers out of failure of rejection. (Matthew 10:32-33)
  • Gauge how “good” they are by not being “as bad” as the rest of the secular world. (Luke 18:11-12)
  • Say they love Jesus but only allow Him to have a part of their life. (Luke 9:57-62)
  • Can’t really say they love God with ALL their hearts, minds, and souls. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  • Love others but do not seek to love them as much as themselves. (Matthew 5:43-47)
  • Serve God and others but place limits on how far they will go. (Luke18:21-25)
  • Think about the temporary, the life here on earth, far more than eternity in heaven. (Colossians 3:2, Phil 3:18-20)
  • Thankful for the luxuries and comforts that God has given them but do not think about giving away as much as they can to the needy. (Matthew 25:40)
  • Try to be “good enough” so that they do not have to feel guilty. (Matthew 13:44-46)
  • Try to play it safe and be in control of their life rather than surrendering it to God. (1 Tim 6:17-18)
  • Feel safe just because they confess their belief in Christ with their mouths even though their actions do not match up. (Matthew 7:21)
  • Structure their life so they don’t have to be in reliance on God. (Luke 12:16-21)Aren’t that different from nonbelievers in speech and in conduct. (Matthew 33:25-28)

Live in Christ…Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

The Jar

Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭26:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Days before Jesus would go to the cross, an extravagant act of love would be shown towards Him. The perfume poured out on Jesus’ head in this story was astoundingly precious; made, according to the Gospels of Mark and John, from pure nard, which comes from a plant that only grows in the Himalayas 3,500 miles from Israel.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.

Matthew 26:6-7 ESV

The value of this gift was an entire year’s wages. It doesn’t matter where we are on the income scale, if we gave away something worth everything we would make in a year, we would feel it. What she did was amazing no matter how we look at it. When the disciples were discussing with Jesus about feeding the 5000 people in the crowd, they stated that it would take about 200 denarii to accomplish this. That’s only 2/3 of the value of this gift! The extravagance is breathtaking. The whole house must have been filled with its fragrance. Jesus’ body may still have been carrying hints of this very scent upon the cross.

And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.

Matthew 26:9-10 ESV

Not everyone is going to appreciate the sacrifices we make for Jesus. Some may even ridicule us. In those moments we have to remind ourselves who and why we’re making the sacrifices in the first place. Sacrificial living is contrary to our fallen human nature. It goes against the self centered cultures of the world. But it’s how Jesus Himself lived. It’s how he beckons His followers to live. What is the most valuable thing I could pour out upon Jesus today, tomorrow, and the rest of my life?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1 ESV

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

Uplook vs. Outlook

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:5

This post is inspired by a recent story I read from the Voice of the Martyrs. As usual, I read it at an opportune time. God ordained moments. I hope that this story inspires you as well.

We pick in Romania, many years ago, during an era of extreme persecution towards Christians. A man by the name of Florea had been arrested simply for his faith in Christ. As a follower of Jesus, it was important for him to honor the Sabbath. However, that was problematic, for prisoners did not get a day of rest. They were required to work, every day. Florea stood his ground on his convictions and refused to work. I would love to say that the prison guards honored his faith and passion and made an exception for him. But communism makes no room for Jesus or his followers. So a stand for Jesus meant extreme repercussions.

The Romanian prisoners were forced to labor every day, but each Sabbath Florea refused. For his refusal, the guards routinely beat him so bad he lost the use of his arms and legs. He could only move his head. Because he could no longer labor, Florea was forced to sit in his cell all day long. He had to rely on other prisoners to feed him. In spite of his situation, Florea was not downcast. When other prisoners would complain about their situation, Florea would encourage them. “If the outlook is bad,” he would say, “try the ‘uplook.’ When Stephen was stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This comforted Stephen’s heart, and it will comfort yours too.” He encouraged his fellow prisoners not to “look out” to their circumstances but to “look up” at Jesus. One of Florea’s fellow prisoners was Richard Wurmbrand, who was released from the prison and found Florea’s nine-year-old son. He told him what a blessing his father had been in prison. The boy smiled and replied, “I would like to become a sufferer and encourager for Christ as my father has been.”

Voice of the Martyrs

There are no guarantees of circumstances, even for the Christian. We are not promised a nice home, a perfect family, good health, or a living wage. Instead, a Christian is a person with a certain attitude toward any and all circumstances. A person’s attitude makes the difference, regardless of circumstances. A heavenly attitude focuses on God’s presence amid trials. Fixating on our hardships distracts us from a heavenly outlook. We feel burdened. Depressed. Hopeless. Fearful. In contrast, a godly outlook on our troubles brings confidence that God is at work. We relax in God’s presence, waiting to see how he will work out our concerns. Are you undergoing a trial right now? Are you focused on the waves crashing around you or Jesus walking on the water towards you? Let’s stop focusing on the outlook and give the uplook a try.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

Live Ready

This is a look at the last public teaching that Jesus gave before going to the cross. He did this, like usual, through the use of parables. And in many cases, Jesus used multiple parables to teach the same principle. He did this with the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and the prodigal son. We see Him doing it again with another trifecta of parables. In your Bible they are probably labeled as the parables of the 10 virgins, the talents, and the sheep and goats. Before we start breaking these down, let’s take a little more look into the context of these teachings.

As I mentioned before, this is the last public message that Jesus taught before the last supper and his eventual betrayal in the Garden. Jesus delivers them following His return to Jerusalem. Starting back in chapter 21, Jesus goes into the temple and cleanses it from the ungodly practices of all the Passover vendors. After leaving, He would return to the temple in order to address the leaders and religious members of society. This is where He called out the hypocrisy of the teachers and pharisees of Israel and warned the people not to follow in their example. Once again, Jesus leaves the temple and begins His discourse on the end of the age. Also referred to as the “end times” or “second coming”. It is at this point that Jesus delivers these three connected stories.

In each illustration, Jesus divides people into one of two groups. There’s the Wise Virgins and the foolish virgins in the first parable He teaches. In the second, people are divided into the Good and Faithful Servants or the Wicked and Lazy Servant. And in the last parable He teaches the two divisions are the Sheep and the Goats. Let’s look at the distinction between them now.

1-Prepared vs unprepared: The wise virgins had enough oil. They were fully prepared and anticipated meeting the bridegroom. Same with the Good and Faithful Servants, who did the work and invested their effort to bring a profit to their existence that would please the master. For the sheep, Jesus provides specific examples of what it looks like to be prepared for His arrival, and how we can invest our faith to benefit others for His glory. They all included looking for the needs in others and doing our part to fill them. We have an abundance of hurting and broken people around us. We don’t have to look too far to find someone in need, physical or emotional. To be prepared is to live like Jesus did. To seek the lost and to give our lives away for the benefit of others. Oil is often used as a representation of the Holy Spirit. To be prepared then is to be filled with the Spirit and to live according to the spirit.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

2-Active vs. inactive: One key distinction between those who are looking for the return of Christ is how active they are. Life can easily get in the way but Jesus doesn’t take that as an excuse. No matter how busy we are, we are meant to do “everything” unto the Lord. Whether in word or deed. Family, work, hobbies…they shouldn’t get in our way of doing the things of the Lord, they should be all about doing the things of the Lord. That doesn’t mean we have to all be preachers, but we should all be preaching the gospel through our way of life and our words. We display Jesus at home, at work, and at play.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

3-Bigger mission vs. self-centered mission: The wicked and lazy servant operated out of fear. The foolish virgins cared more about the load they carried and their convenience rather than being prepared. The Goats were doing everything to promote their own religiosity. God knows when we do things for Him and when we do things to promote ourselves. Jesus said to let our lights shine before men so that they will see them and glorify God in heaven. But so many do things so that they themselves will be glorified on earth. Fear won’t be an excuse. Convenience won’t be an excuse. And self-glorification certainly won’t be an excuse.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭20:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

4-A knowledge of Jesus vs. not really knowing Him: Paul said to live as wise and not as unwise, knowing the things that are pleasing to the Lord. Jesus wants us to be watching for Him and investing our lives in the lives of others. He wants us to live in a manner that points others in His directions. We all need to live less for ourselves and more for Him. Jesus tells each of the people in the negative category that He does not know them. Those are fearful words that none of us should ever want to hear. We all need to live for the future hope by leaving the best possible legacy now. We all need to pick up our cross and follow Him. He has made it possible for us to know Him. The question is, are we walking full on into His invitation?

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:15-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

What is the overall purpose of these last few parables that Jesus teaches us? What is Jesus trying to get us to see? I believe He wants to leave us with a clear message of how to be prepared for His eventual return. These words are a gift to us. It’s His final reminder before He departs. It reminds me of the farewell address given by Moses at the conclusion of giving the law and before he went up the mountain with God to die. Laid before us is life and death. Jesus’ use of contrast imagery drives home the same message. The world’s only divided into two groups of people: those who know Him and those who don’t. In the end, that is all that will matter. Our socioeconomic status doesn’t matter. Nor does our bucket list. Our career path, net income, and accomplishments all fade away in light of what Jesus is really looking for in you and me. He wants to know us and be known by us.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28 ESV

He entreats us all to take the time to listen. Hear His voice calling you by name, telling you that you are loved, inviting you into His pasture, into the abundant way of life. Listen to the good shepherd guide you to the life of love and legacy.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

We need to need Him

One of the hardest things people have to learn is that we can’t, nor should we, make it through life on our own. This is especially hard for the independent sort (me among them) who have picked up self reliance and self motivation as the sources of making their way through the world. But everyone battles with this. It’s as old as the garden of Eden. The original sin itself was rooted in a desire to become like God…to take control of one’s life and make a way for oneself. No one likes to feel like they lack sufficiency. But we all do. And that is okay. In fact, we are designed that way.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

‭‭John‬ ‭10:10-11‬ ‭ESV

Our lives are a mix of lies and truths that we believe and set out to construct our framework of viewing reality. There are two very real opposing forces that want to help in our journey to understand both our place in this world and our very identity as humans. On one hand, there is the message that we can make it on our own. We too can become like God. Life is about “getting mine” and pursuing my every desire, regardless of the wake I leave behind. It’s about me being whoever I choose to be and truth being subjective to whatever I want to believe. It’s a message that promotes the best life now, with a heavy focus on materialism and self promotion. Ultimately, its a message that leads to pain, stress, frustration, loss, and the actual death of who we were created to be.

There is another message. One that promotes surrender. One that says the source of life doesn’t begin and end with you. That joy and meaning aren’t found within us, they are bestowed to us. It’s a message that keeps us rooted in where we came from and where we’re headed. It’s a message that helps us rise above all the striving and self centeredness that the world promotes. It’s a message that says our life is meant to be spent in the betterment of those around us…that wealth and prosperity are not found in bank accounts but in the lives we touch.

It may not seem this simple to many. But it really is. Life is about making choices. And those choices lead to life or death, in us and those around us.

When we separate ourselves from our source of knowledge, peace, joy, love, grace, power, etc…we are going to feel hollow and empty. No matter how hard we work, or how much we make, or how many likes and followers we get, none of it will satisfy. It’s not meant to. The more we try and make it through life without needing anyone else, the more we’ll veer off course.

The Bible gives us a somewhat unflattering comparison. We are like sheep. Animals that are extremely dependent on both the guidance and protection of their shepherd. Those who don’t follow the shepherd end up getting lost and most likely consumed by predators. But we are sheep with a shepherd Who wants to give us the pastures with the greenest grass and purest water. And only He knows where they are. A problem enters when the sheep think they know where better pastures are and promote their interests above the rest of the flock.

“”For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”

Ezekiel 34:11-16 ESV

Not only is it okay to need Jesus, we actually need to need Him. He is the source of our life and the only place we will find true life. Even those of us who have ventured off course through self reliance, Jesus is pursuing us. Life is knocking at the door. And that life has a name. Some of us who have been following Jesus most of our lives can even fall susceptible to wandering away from their flock and their Shepherd.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-13‬ ‭ESV

Life is too hard to try and make it on our own or in our own way. We need to learn to let go and allow our Good Shepherd to lead us to the good pastures and the still waters. Because in all of our striving, we will never find them apart from Him.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

You can’t earn it

Holiness is not the way to Jesus; Jesus is the way to holiness. That can be an easy thing to forget. I think it’s humans natural tendency to try and earn our way into God’s good graces. Just look at every religion that has ever existed, with the exception of one. The Christian faith is unique in many ways. But most importantly, there is the aspect of grace. At the center of it all is a loving God who desires the redemption of a fallen humanity and goes to the greatest lengths to make that possible. In every other religion exists the constant struggle to be “good enough” or to “earn” our way. The truth is, none of us are good enough and never will be. God is holy, which means set apart. There is no one like Him. The only way any of us can ever hope to be in His presence is if He, not us, make that possible.

The freedom we get in Jesus is astounding. Not only do we get washed clean of our past sins, we also get released from the power of sin. And not just those hideous and dark sins, but also the ugly sin of self righteousness. You can’t earn God’s love. He already loves you. Just look at the cross. If that’s not proof, then nothing is. Amazing grace is a gift, not a loan. Just soak in His love and let that soften your heart and mold you and before you know it, that same love will be pouring out of you.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Wielding Your Confession

I wanted to share this message from Voice of the Martyrs that really impacted me. Here it is:

The early Christians were spiritual revolutionaries. In a society that worshiped idols and called those who refused “atheists,” Christians were a radical force that threatened Rome’s continuity. They went against the majority rule and so became a perceived threat to the Roman authority. They were hated so much that their deaths were not only numerous, but they were carried out with horrendous flair.

Christians were revolutionaries who proclaimed the last judgment and the coming transformation of the world through Christ’s return so that many could be saved. They promoted Jesus Christ as a higher authority than the Roman emperor. Therefore, Roman emperors sent out decrees stating that any professing to be Christians were sentenced to die with no further legal proceedings. No due process was provided for these “rebels” who dared to challenge the emperor’s rule. Roman imperialism sponsored ten extreme periods of persecution, each worse than the one before it. The revolutionaries became known by the term martyr. It was adopted for those witnesses who bore their testimony before judges and emperors with the steadfastness of well-disciplined soldiers. They were termed martyrs, or confessors, even if they did not die under scrutiny. They simply would not change their minds. Martyrdom signifies being a witness of one’s faith in Christ, despite exacting circumstances. Every witness for Christ is a modern-day revolutionary.

The martyrs in history were, as we are today, soldiers in a spiritual war. This battle began when Jesus routed the powers of evil by dying on the cross. In his death, he disarmed hell and its demons. Martyrs carry on his battle, however, fighting not with physical weapons but spiritual ones. Their confession is their weapon of choice. They march into enemy territory like the restricted nations and fearlessly proclaim Christ’s victory over Satan. Their prized possession is not their lives, but their testimony. This is why they are willing to trade their lives in order to maintain their beliefs. Where will you take up the battle? Are you willing to wield the weapon of your confession?

If this story touched and challenged you, check out more like it at persecution.com.

May the power and love of Christ lead you!

Wake Up!

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus *said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. But I knew that You always hear Me; nevertheless, because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Out came the man who had died, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44 (NASB)

You’ll notice when reading the verses leading up to this portion in John that Jesus was overcome by emotion. I think we can conclude that Christ also weeps over the dead soul that is yet to be awakened. That Christ weeps over the sinful acts of His children. That Christ feels greatly for those who are in the tomb or return to it. But the question is, do we? Do act as those who looked on to the tomb of Lazarus with such grief over the unsaved soul? So we plead with Christ for those who are dead just as Martha did for her brother? In the book of Ephesians chapter five we see Paul revealing to us how we’re supposed to walk as Christians. We’re told to walk in love, light, and wisdom. Isn’t it safe to say that if we aren’t living that way than Christ is weeping over us? Isn’t it safe to say that this is what Christ died for? In verse 14 of this chapter Paul makes a statement which parallels what Christ has called out to Lazarus.

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14

Christ weeps for you and me just as He wept for Lazarus. But even so He cries out “watch this!” Jesus says I’m going to show you all something that will astonish you. You will see the Glory of God. When Christ stood outside my spiritual tomb He shouted the same words…”Brook, come forth!” Rise to life because you are mine. Awake from the dead and I will shine on you and others will see the glory of God through your transformed life. Not only did Christ call us out of a spiritual slumber but He also said, “Unbind him/her and let him/her go.” We weren’t saved to remain in our burial clothes. We have been raised to so much more. We’ve been raised to freedom and a new life, and a new hope.

Banners of Faith

Why is it the radical faith and obedience to Jesus is criticized so much in the church? The last I checked, we are supposed to die to ourselves and live to Christ. I’m pretty sure the Bible says that we have been crucified in the life we now live we live by faith in the one who died for us. I believe that the Bible also says to be a living daily sacrifice. Doesn’t the scripture also read that we are supposed to keep our minds and hearts set on the things of heaven and not the things of earth? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to go to the ends of the earth spreading the good news? Aren’t we to walk as he walked?

It’s an inescapable fact that Jesus didn’t sugarcoat what it means to follow him. We are supposed to be all in. We all have a cross to pick up and carry daily. Perhaps the reason why that is met with so much criticism is that complacency and comfort have exceeded conviction and our commission in the hearts and minds of so many. I feel it weighing me down so often as well. I have to fight the urge to just go about living my life, as crazy and hectic as it is, and not put the mission of Jesus at the forefront.

The Bible says that Christ is our life, nothing else. When we see people who actually live like that, we should be motivated to do the same. Paul told people in the first century to follow him as he followed Christ. Was he perfect? Not at all. But he lived sold out for the faith. Jesus was the end all for his purpose in life. That’s what being a Christian should look like. All the times I fall drastically short of this, I draw off of the examples of so many extraordinary men and women of the faith, past and present.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

Who is God for?

LetYourLightShine

Have you ever pondered the question of whether or not God was for you? What does that exactly mean? Are we asking if God is in support of what we want or how we would like our lives to turn out? How about during strife with someone else? Do we wonder if God would take our side in the ordeal? Maybe He’s for our career pursuits? In times of war, is He for our nation’s cause or the other?

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Romans 8:31 NIV

I think its very important to understand the context of this passage in Romans. I hear or read people quote it often and quite a lot it seems to be thrown around pretty loosely to apply to almost anything. Yes, God is for us. But what does that mean? If you read the entirety of chapter 8 (in light of all of the Book of Romans) we are being told that God is for our spiritual transformation and our eternal destination. Those are the two things God wants more than anything for every person in His creation. No matter how much we run away, God wants us back. No matter how much we bring shame to His name or ridicule His holiness with our lives, He wants us back. God is for us in the best possible way. God is always faithful and God is always true. Instead of wondering if God is for us, we should focus on whether or not we are for Him.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters