Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Being Christ-like - The Priority of Forgiveness

Luke 5:20 - And when he saw their faith, he said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven."

Over the last several posts, we have looked at how we can be more Christ-like by examining how Christ lived his life on earth. We have looked at how he set his priority on his devotion to the Father, to his mission, and to the message. Today we are going to look at Jesus' priority of forgiveness.

In Luke 5:17-25 is the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. This passage takes place during one of Jesus' teaching sessions. Some of the people in crowd were Pharisees and teachers of the law, all who were known to be opponents of Jesus' ministry, though this is their first mention with Jesus in Luke's gospel. However, while he was teaching, some men brought in a paralytic. Normal access to Jesus was blocked due to the crowd, so the men went and made a hole through the roof top and lowered the man down right where Jesus was teaching. Immediately, Jesus recognizes the faith of the friends and he responds. He addresses the paralytic and tells him that his sins are forgiven. At this point, the man remains paralyzed. Therefore, I am sure there are several people in the room who are looking at Jesus with a curious expression on their faces: the man, his friends, the witnesses. The Pharisees and scribes begin to believe that Jesus is speaking blaspheme because only God alone can forgive sin. Jesus answers their thoughts with a riddle. He asks them, which is easier to say, "your sins are forgiven" or "get up and walk". The answer would be, "your sins are forgiven" because that is something that cannot be proven. He then gives them the reason for what he is about to do next. In verse 24 he states, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sins." Jesus then looks that the paralytic man and tells him to arise, take up his mat, and go to his house, to which the man immediately responds.

This episode gives illustration that Jesus' priority is on forgiveness of sins. The reason why the people brought the man to Jesus was not because of his sins. However, Jesus saw sin to be his most important need and addressed it first. The man, by faith, came to Jesus, and as a result, his sins were forgiven, an act that only God can do. This act showed Jesus' authority as God.

Jesus also teaches us about the priority of forgiveness in Christian fellowship. He gives us the command to forgive others (Colossians 3:13). He also gives us the responsibility that if we are in need of forgiveness, we are to seek that from the person we have harmed (Matthew 5:22-24).

How does forgiveness rank in your list of priorities? Do you tend to hold grudges and stay embittered? Or, are you on the other side, where you cause hurt without ever recognizing the consequences? Part of forgiveness is both asking of it when you offend others and giving it to those who offend you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Being Christlike - The Priority of the Message

Luke 4:43 - but he (Jesus) said to them, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose."

Throughout the last couple of posts, I have been looking at the life of Christ and examining how he lived here on earth. People state that we are to be like Christ, but what exactly does that mean? So far, we have looked at Jesus' priority to the Father, his priority to the ministry, and today, we are going to look at his priority to the message.

Jesus was out in a deserted place and a crowd came and found him. They tried to keep him from leaving them. I can imagine this as a scene of the people repeatedly trying to hold him back by making up continued excuses or asking more and more questions of him, doing everything they could to try to keep Jesus to stay in their presence. However, Jesus finally tells them that it is absolutely necessary for him to go to other cities in order to preach the good news. Jesus knew that it he was to be the one to go, with no substitute and he did not allow the flattery of the crowd to keep him from going where he knew God was leading him.

Jesus knew that part of his purpose was to proclaim the kingdom of God. As believers, Christ has handed over that commission to us. However, do we make it the same priority that Jesus did? Do we claim our sense of purpose to preach the good news every day?

Jesus could have surrendered to the crowd and delayed the message. However, he held the message in priority. It was held in such high esteem because he knew that he was personally called to carry it out. God sent Jesus to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God. In the same way, Christ sends you (Matthew 28:19-20). The challenge today is to make the message of God a priority in our lives. Let us stop letting others dictate our plans about whether we tell them about Christ. Yes, sometimes it may be intimidating, but hearing God say, "Well done faithful servant," is much more rewarding than a little bit of whisperings amongst the crowd.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Being Christlike - The Priority to Mission

Luke 4:18-19 (Isaiah 61:1-2) - "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty for those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

In this setting, Jesus is in Nazareth at the synagogue. He gets in front of the people and reads this portion of the scroll. As soon as he finishes, he hand the scroll back to the attendant and declares that today, the Scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing.

Jesus was sent by God to preach the orientation of the kingdom of God. As the Messiah, he was the one who would ultimately be the Good News to a lost and dying world. He would bring spiritual liberty to captives bound by sin (Proverbs 5:22). He would bring light to those in spiritual darkness (John 1:4). Jesus embraced his mission wholeheartedly (John 10:10). He recognized that God had called him for a specific purpose. He realized that his purpose was to preach the kingdom of God and not glorify himself. Therefore, his ultimate mission was based on humility. He was sent to the poor, not to the rich. He was sent to those in need. He was sent to bring hope to a dying world.

The Lord has also appointed us with a mission. We are to make disciples as we go about our lives (Matthew 28:19-20). We are to be ambassadors of Christ to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). God enables us to accomplish these tasks through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Luke 12:12.

What is God calling you to do for Him? Have you made His mission a priority? Who are the ones in your life who need to hear the good news? Who are the poor that need helping? How can you help those who are experiencing some sort of spiritual bondage? How can you proclaim God's favor to someone who desperately needs to hear it?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Being Christlike - Priority of Devotion

Luke 2:49 - And he (Jesus) said to them (Mary and Joseph), "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

Many people know the story where young Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Mary and Joseph thought that Jesus had travelled back with them, but while they were on their way home, they realized he was missing. They searched for three days for him. Finally, they found him with the religious leaders in the temple. I am sure a mixture of panic, relief, and anger filled the mother and father when they saw Jesus calmly sitting down chatting alongside his elders. The word Luke used to describe their emotional state is astonished, or better yet, dumbfounded (BDAG). Can you imagine losing the Son of God?
They approach him and, in essence, ask how Jesus could put them through so much turmoil and distress. Jesus' answers them with a simple question that demands the following answer: they should have known that his devotion belonged to his Heavenly Father and he would act accordingly. There are several reasons why we know this as the interpretation. First, the questions use the Greek negative that demands a positive answer in questions. Second, when Jesus asks them the second question, he uses the Greek verb that means "it is necessary" or "it must happen that." This gives emphasis to the fact that this is the logical progression of what should happen because of the closeness of his relationship with God. Therefore, his response to be where he was is completely appropriate.

There are many times throughout the Gospels in which Jesus' closeness to the Father is made explicit. (Luke 10:22; John 1:1, 18; 3:35; 5:19-20; 10:30; 14:7,11, 31; 15:9). His devotion was his profound dedication to his Father played out on earth. He did the work of his Father and what the Father authorized him to do (John 5:17-22, 36; 10:25; 14:31). Jesus came in the name of his Father in order to represent Him (John 5:43). He spoke the message the Father told him to speak (John 12:49-50; 14:10, 24). In Luke 22:42 (Mark 14:36), Jesus surrendered his own will over to the Father to show his complete obedience with the cross.

What are we to learn from Jesus' example? First, as believers, we have been given the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). Therefore, we are given the ability to have an intimate and personal relationship with God. It is fitting for us to take advantage of this great privilege. By making our relationship with God a priority, some might not understand. We might offend others. Jesus offended many people because of his commitment to God. People were angry with him because he refused to back down on the message and the ministry God gave him. His relationship with the Father was the focal point to his life. Everything else he did stemmed from that relationship.

So how do we spend time with God? The first is through prayer. Jesus had a lifestyle of prayer (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 9:28; 11:1; 22:41; 22:44). The second way we spend time with God is through the study of his Word. Jesus placed a high priority on Scripture, with the gospels recording him quoting from the Old Testament 78 times. Therefore, it is obvious that he had a high view of Scripture.

The challenge today is to ask yourself how you can improve your devotion to God. As we will continue to look at the life of Christ, we are going to see that he was not some fundamentalist Bible thumper. Rather, because of his devotion to God, he lived a radical, exciting, and fruitful life that was anything but mundane. When our lives consist of such passion and dedication, it is hard first, for us not to be changed, and second, for those we encounter to to be impacted.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Challenge to Discipleship

1 John 2:5-6 - By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says that he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walks.

It is a lot easier to say that we are in Christ than it is to show it. True discipleship consists of not simply stating that you love Jesus. That is easy to do for most. Rather, it is living as he lived. It is loving as he loved. It is serving as he served. These two verses seem simple enough at first glance: the proof that we abide in him is that we live like Jesus did. The word abide generally means to remain or stay, but here it is referring to an intimate, committed relationship with Jesus that is both personal and continuous (Smalley, 51). Logically, if there is a relationship that is that close and personal, then one would begin to take on those traits, especially when the nature of the relationship is to be one of mentor. Therefore, if someone claims to have this type of extensive fellowship with Jesus, but does not exemplify the traits that Jesus had, there is evidence that something is wrong with the claim.

If you are currently thinking to yourself that it is impossible to walk as Jesus did because he turned water into wine and walked on water and healed diseases and forgave sins, then you have not studied Jesus enough. We must get beyond our Sunday School knowledge of the stories of Jesus and see HOW he lived life, not simply what he did. Then, we are to do the same. When we abide in him, we are able to do much for the kingdom of God.

Over the next while, I am going to be posting about the life of Christ. I am very excited about studying who Jesus was on earth and falling more in love with him. I hope that in return I will love more like him. I hope you will join the journey with me and allow God to transform you as you become more like His Son.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Daily Challenge - July 19 - How Much is He Worth?

Matthew 13:44 - The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.

Kenny Chesney has a hit song entitled "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven." This song has always grated on my nerves to an extent. However, it holds an element of truth. The chorus of the song repeats the phrase, "everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now." The essence of the song is that eventually, after we have lived a long, full life, it would be nice to have a mansion in heaven, but there are other things that are more worthwhile right now. Similarly, I one time had a dream that Jesus came back for His Church, and everyone was disappointed because they had to stop doing what they were in the middle of.

This small parable in Matthew talks about the priority that should be given to Christ and His Kingdom. A man stumbles upon a treasure in a field and hides it again so that no one will find it before he has a chance to claim it for himself. Then he goes and sells all that he has in order to buy the entire field in which the treasure lies. This shows the great extent to which he labors in order to possess the treasure. He recognized that the treasure might not always be there, and thus he hurried in order to secure the transaction. Though he was not expecting to find the treasure, he immediately placed it in priority, showing how much the man values the treasure. The treasure is greater than anything else than the man owns and therefore he is willing to forsake all else. Likewise, we should recognize the great value of the kingdom of heaven and prioritize our lives accordingly.

Unfortunately, we sometimes take the approach that Christ will always be there and that heaven can wait. We are therefore in no hurry. However, in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus makes it clear that his return is inevitable and we must be ready.

What value are you currently place on Christ? Discipleship requires more than simply using Jesus as a ticket out of hell. It requires us to place Him above all else and make the necessary changes in our lives in order to do so.

The Challenge today is to ask yourself in what area of your life do you need to place Christ first. What are you still holding onto in this life that you need to "sell out" to Christ.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Daily Challenge - July 09 - Worship with Your Tongue

James 1:26 - If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:6-9 - These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.

Over the past several posts, we have been talking about worship. One important way in which we serve God is through our mouth. The Bible has a lot to say when it comes to how we should control what comes out of our mouth. The Book of Isaiah noted God's displeasure with the the people's vain praise because their hearts were adulterous. Jesus then quotes this passage in his teaching on how the tongue defiles.

The book of James specifically does not mince words when it comes to controlling our speech. In essence what he is saying is that if someone considers himself to be religious, but they do not actively hold their tongue in check, they are in essence deceiving themselves by thinking that their "religion" is real when, in actuality, it serves no purpose. The word for "worthless" is an adjective that describes something that has no use at all.

So why is this principle so harsh? James goes on to explain more on the subject. In James 3:9-10, he states that "with the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God." He states how blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth. He further expands on this idea through rhetorical questions to which the obvious answer is, "no". The first illustration is that a fresh water spring does not produce both fresh water and salt water. He then states that a fig tree cannot bear olives and a grapevine cannot bear figs. He ends the framing by returning to the illustration that a salt spring cannot flow forth fresh water. The point the author is making is that you cannot have two things of contrary natures coming from one source. This applies in the Christian life as well.

Jesus' teachings in Matthew 15:18 says that, "the things that come out of a person's mouth, come from the heart." Luke 6:45 states, "a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." Therefore, our words are a reflection of our heart. If our words are full of hate, rage, malice, slander, gossip, etc., then that is what our heart is full of. These are not the things of Christ. These are not honoring to God and certainly not be considered acceptable acts of worship to Him.

So practically, what does this look like? As Americans, we have the freedom of speech, but as Christians we are called to exercise restraint. We do this because the words we speak are to represent the change Christ has made in our lives. If we utter words of disgust and deceit, that is not representative of Christ. This also applies to the words we write. Thanks to technology, it is quite simple to "voice our opinions" on a global platform. Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. can be a great tool to encourage and edify one another. Yet, it can also be an outlet for slander, hurt, and gossip.

The Challenge today is to examine your words. Are they indicative of the differnence Christ has made in your life or are you simply fooling yourself by acting religious when in reality, your words give evidence that there is no change in your heart? It may be time to ask for forgiveness, take some postings off the internet, and start anew by actively controlling what you say. Then, you will be valuable to the kingdom of God, spreading his message of love. The result is that your life will be an act of worship that is well-pleasing to God.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Daily Challenge - July 08 - What is Worship?

Romans 12:1 - I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In my last post, I posed the question, "are we serving (worshipping) God in the manner of reverence and admiration to which we should or are we merely pleasing him in the manner in which we are comfortable?" Today, I want to begin to look at what it means to serve God.

In the Old Testament, worship and service revolved around the sacrificial system. Offerings were made to God at various times for various reasons. However, Jesus brought an end to the sacrificial system by becoming the ultimate sacrifice and the great High Priest and ultimate mediator between God and man, making the system of the Old Testament obsolete. Therefore, in light of the fact that worship and service to God no longer revolved around the sacrificial system, how is the New Testament Church to serve God. I believe that the first part of the answer is found in Romans 12:1.

The first verse of Romans reflects back on the salvation God has bestowed upon both the Gentiles and Jews. In light of all that believers have received, and because of God's mercies, we are to offer back to God our bodies. The word bodies, in this context, refers to the whole person, therefore indicating that genuine commitment to God involves every aspect of a believer's life (Schreiner, 650). You cannot dedicate your spirit to God and not your body, nor can you dedicate your body to God and not your spirit. Our bodies, as sacrifices, that we are to offer to God are described as living, holy, and acceptable to God. By living, Paul is referring to a person's new spiritual state. However, this quality also contrasts with the Old Testament sacrifice in that now, the sacrifice consists of a quality of constant commitment (Dunn,710). Therefore, the quality of the sacrifice to which we offer God is one of constant dedication. We, as a sacrifice to God, are also to be holy, or set apart. This quality refers to the singular devotion to God, forsaking any other. The third attribute of our sacrifice is that we are to be pleasing to God. This quality represents the element of enjoyment that God receives through our sacrifice. He is well-pleased to have our constant and consistent commitment that is given to Him alone. It is this that God sees as our act of service to Him that is thought out and dedicated explicitly to Him (BDAG).

So what does that look like in 2011: To offer our entire lives to God in a way that we are consistently committed, constantly dedicated, and well-pleasing to God? How does that practically play out in our home life, in the workplace, and in our social life? How does that play out within the church?

The Challenge today is to think about how this applies within your own life. How do you show consistent devotion in each of your realms of influence so that God might be well-pleased with your worship?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Daily Challenge - July 06 - Have We No Reverence?

Hebrews 12:28-29 - Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

The book of Hebrews delicately balances how Christians should approach God, given their new status in Christ. The author understood the Old Testament well and quoted it often throughout the book. Throughout the OT, God was seen as a God of justice and holiness, who must be approached at certain times and under certain conditions. As the author so eloquently states, Jesus Christ makes our relationship with God more approachable (Hebrews 4:16; 5:9; 6:20; 7:25; 9:14-15). In the Old Testament, man's status with God was one that was under the law, marked by its obligatory and repetitious sacrifices for forgiveness and fellowship. Now, through Christ, our relationship status has changed. We are granted access to God and have become acceptable to Him through the one time sacrifice of Christ. While our status has changed from one that was under the Old Testament law, there are still the elements of faith, obedience, and reverence, in how we approach God because the nature of God is unchanging and He is still deserving all of this because of who He is.

In the immediate context of Hebrews 11:28-29, , the author explains that God will have a final judgment on the earth and that it will ultimately crumble. However, as believers, our promise is that is that we will receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. It is because of this promise that we should respond to God with gratitude. We do this through worship. The term for worship involves more than simply praising God for what He has done. The Greek term actually refers more to an act of service. The manner in which we are to serve God is one of reverence and awe. The first Greek word for "reverence" is a rare word, only used twice in the New Testament, both times being in the book of Hebrews. It is used to indicate a reverent awe that is intended for God alone (BDAG). The second word used of "awe" is a rare Greek word only used in this instance throughout the entire New Testament. The nuance of it is an"emotion of profound respect and reverence for deity" (BDAG). Therefore, the author uses two rare, but similar words, thus emphasizing the profound respect and adoration in which believers are to serve God. This is the type of worship that is pleasing and acceptable to God because by our attitudes, our service to Him service illustrates His uniqueness and divinity. We do this out of gratefulness for what we have been given.

I want to stop here today and simply pose this question: is today's Church meeting this exhortation? Are we serving God in the manner of reverence and admiration to which we should or are we merely praising Him in the manner in which we are comfortable? Are we worshipping God to please Him or rather to please ourselves? Are our actions and attitudes soliciting a response that show that we serve the One True God? Have we embraced the "approachability" of God through Christ so much that we have neglected His holiness?

I plan to examine over the next several posts what serving God in this manner of reverence and awe should look like played out in real life as well as some other discussions relating to the issue.

The Challenge today is to ask yourself: How am I serving God with reverence and awe in a way that glorifies Him alone?

Daily Challenge - July 12 - Honor and Respect

1 Peter 3:15 - But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

There seems to have been a shift in the last generation or so in how people think of and relate to Jesus Christ. A common view is to see him as our brother and our friend. Some look to him as our mediator and savior, but neglect to recognize him as Lord. I have often heard people begin their prayers with "Hey Jesus, it's me." or "What's up Jesus." Perhaps this is an attempt to display intimate fellowship with Jesus, but I believe that intimate fellowship needs to be approached a different way. Intimacy and respect are not mutually exclusive. If you look at the way in which Christ addressed God the Father, it was always with the utmost respect and reverence. In the same way, we are to not only revere God the Father, but also God the Son.

In 1 Peter 3:15, Jesus is addressed in two different ways. First, he is addressed as Christ. This refers to his title as the Anointed Messiah, or the expected Jewish deliverer. The second title given to him is Lord. Here it is used definitively, therefore, indicating him as the Lord God. Our response to him is to therefore regard and declare him as holy. The place where this is to occur is in our hearts. Peter is writing this to help the believers at a time fear of persecution. Therefore, the believers' response is that they should recognize who Jesus is and regard him with holy fear in order to drive out their current fears and give response to those who question them about their faith (Peters, 187).

We can apply this verse in how we approach Christ in our own lives. We must acknowledge who he is. We cannot simply see him as a tool by which to get to heaven and use him accordingly. When we recognize Jesus for who he is, we cannot help but be humbled by his majesty.

The Challenge today is to spend some time reflecting on who Jesus is. For a listing of all the names and attributes of Jesus click here. Take some time to revere him as holy and give him the honor that he deserves.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Daily Challenge - July 03 - Do Not Be Anxious

Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What is it that makes us so unduly concerned about everything? I try to think of myself as a laid back person, but still I fall into the trap of playing the "what if" game. It is amazing what people become anxious over: make up and hair looking perfect, the way pair of jeans fit, whether they will be accepted by the right crowd, whether their child will make it home by curfew, whether their husband will come home on time, whether their friend will make it through the illness, whether their son will come home from war. The reason for our anxiety can go from being completely trivial in nature to seemingly overwhelming. Yet, Paul had a specific teaching on how to deal with all kinds of worrisome situations.

In Philippians 4:6, Paul simply gives the command to not be anxious. This means to not have an unduly amount of concern over a certain matter. Paul is not stating that you cannot care about what is going on around you, but rather to maintain a proper outlook and not obsess over it. Fortunately, Paul does not simply tell us not to be anxious, but he also tells us how to deal with our tendency to get caught up with our concern. He tells us that in everything, by prayer and petitions, we are to present our requests to God. This means that there is no detail too minute and no problem too formidable for God.

Paul also states how we are to present our requests to God. We are to bring our requests to God in prayer with thanksgiving. This seems to be contrary to the present situation. However, when we begin to praise God, that in essence, solicits the end of our anxiety because we begin to recognize God in the present situation (Barth, Philippians, 120). We begin to give God the glory in what we are going through. We begin to place God in the center of our circumstance. The result that comes from the presentation of petition with praise is God's peace. It is not a peace that we can understand by our own understanding. It far surpasses and exceeds what we can expect, plan, or anticipate. This peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The verb to guard was used as a military term, which referenced a soldier standing guard over a city in order to keep it from being attacked (Hawthorne, Philippians, 247). Therefore, the word picture is of God's peace standing guard over our thoughts and our emotions, protecting them from anxiety.

We can therefore surmise that God does not want us to be anxious and gives us the tools not to be. However, it is up to us to utilize those resources by looking to God in all times, not just in situations that might cause unduly concern. We must make it a practice to praise God in every situation and pray continually to Him regarding everything. When we have this upward perspective, the result is God's peace that guards our thoughts and emotions.

The challenge today is to look at what area of your life is causing you anxiety. Is it a particular relationship? Is it how others perceive you? Is it your job performance? The list is endless. Spend some time in prayer with your focus being on THANKSGIVING regarding the situation. Make God the center of the petition and the concern. Trust in His character and His nature regarding the situation.