jesus_helping

God: Nice Thought or More?

Back in April, I was thinking about how people think and act about God. Later, I saw a commercial of a show that Morgan Freeman was narrating about who God is across cultures. Watching the promo, I noticed a pattern emerge. To many of them, God was a concept, an abstraction that made them feel good.

Is that the reason many professing Christians aren’t standing out that well in a broken world? Like the rocky soil in Mark 4:16-17, they accept the thought with joy. Did you accept Jesus with a good feeling but no real life change?

A good feeling is temporary, an intangible thought doesn’t trigger change unless it’s accepted wholeheartedly. A term going around for it is practical atheism–where someone believes in God, but behaves like there is no God. He’s just a concept to them, like charity is something that is nice.

Do you fit God into your life when you find the time?

May I be so bold as to say it should be flipped?

God isn’t a concept. He’s the sovereign creator of the universe. A nice thought doesn’t get you through life’s struggles, the emptiness, none of it. That requires something bigger than you. I was told to have faith in my darkest time. Faith is having a trust in something. A nice thought that requires something or someone.

When God arrives, what I call a Godquake happens, everything is shaken up. An overwhelming feeling occurs, your heart breaks as it feels like everything is being pulled out. Then the dirt is scraped off, the gunk poured out, and it’s put back as good as new.

God is so big that when he comes in, things get knocked over.

It can happen at church during altar calls for prayer. It can happen in your home during a really good time in prayer and praise. I don’t cry, for me to shed a tear is rare. I was raised that it wasn’t manly, a foolish thought that was conditioned in me. But I cried so hard in my office at home that I couldn’t see while singing At The Cross (Love Ran Red).

Why?

Because it’s personal, more than a nice thought. Look at the chorus:

🎶At the cross
At the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You
I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red
And my sin washed white
I owe all to You
I owe all to You Jesus🎶

My life was surrendered to Jesus, I had done a great job at screwing it up. The fact that he put me back together is awesome because of why he did it. It wasn’t anything I deserved, yet he took the hit for me. Everything I had done wrong doesn’t weigh on me. Now it’s a cautionary reminder of where I came from. I truly owe all to him, he saved my life.

Yes, it’s a gift I can’t repay, and I follow him in gratitude for what was done and is being done now. It’s not like a codependent parent bailing you out again and again that you can call when needed. He picks us up, knocks off the dirt, and says follow me. 

You do follow then. Life is shaken up and you fit in his agenda rather than Jesus fitting in yours. God is the priority, so everything else is seen as a loss in comparison.

An idea cannot do that for long. Like a new toy, it’s forgotten after a while. It requires grabbing onto someone, not something. Life changes when we embrace two people, and is never the same.

Your spouse.

Your child.

With both, your dreams and priorities change. It includes them now, their needs come before yours. That’s what it’s like with a relationship with Jesus, things change.

He’s the perfect spouse, selflessly giving you what you need. Because of that, you listen and go with him wherever you go. Like it’s obvious you’re married, it should be obvious by how your life is now that Jesus is a part of it.

To see what the self-sacrificial love of God is like, look at a parent’s relationship to their kids. What would you do for your kids? What would you do to protect them?

Anything. And instruct them to stay away from things that can hurt them.

It’s the same with God. Do you know Him like that?

Superhero

Real-Life Superheroes?

What is the attraction of superheroes? Comic book based TV shows and movies are killing it right now. Non-comic geeks can tell you the origins of Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. What’s the allure?

Most of them have secret identities, a double life, one average but when duty calls they suit up. They look like anyone else, but are something greater. We live vicariously through them, aspiring to be something more.

Even up to my twenties, I would draw myself as a superhero. Usually a small twist on a current character. I wanted to be something more. These thoughts returned as I watched Man of Steel.

I wanted to be Superman, nothing could hurt him, really. He was a good guy that you could count on. Wolverine was a favorite for a long time, rough and tough, no one messed with him. Despite his demons, he had a heart of gold underneath.

Spiderman, witty and smart; he’s just fun and dealt with real life as well as supervillains. A relatable character, with a lot of bad luck, yet he persevered.

Batman?

If you know me, then you know I love Batman. Why? Because he’s good at EVERYTHING! A genius, top fighter, has a plan for everything, doesn’t stop, and just plain, frickin’ cool! He’s complex, and honestly, very scarred. Still he does good. It’s his mission.

I’m growing almost as fond of Captain America as I am of Batman. Chris Evans’ portrayal is so endearing; he’s just so unbelievably good and honest. A good-hearted runt that became more. Like Superman is to DC, Cap is the moral center of the Marvel Universe.

What do these teach us?

Despite tragedy, they do good, they persevere, whether their world exploded, family died, or like Wolverine, everyone they love dies while he lives. They help stop it from happening to others. Where you could easily crawl into a hole deep inside yourself, they refused to.

The world is a harsh place. It’s also good and beautiful. They preserve the beautiful. A cause is good. However, the center of the cause should be people. It’s more than a concept; it’s a reality. I watch broken people who have emerged from their trials, helping other broken people every week. They bring a double-edged sword that is experience and empathy. They’ve been there.

Jesus gave the disciples and Christians today the Great Commission.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

That’s the cause. The center is people, though. Look at the second greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 NIV

So who is the neighbor? Jesus was asked that.

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 NIV

The answer was the parable of the good Samaritan. To sum it up, he made the questioner answer his own question.

““Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10: 36-37 NIV

SuperheroThe past is the springboard to the future. First, climb out of yourself. Then start helping people up. We may not have superpowers, but we can make a difference. It’s about people, help one and their world is changed. Now suit up and go.

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The Dangers of Giving In

Have you ever been tempted? Most likely you have, and it was probably by food. That’s a weakness of mine for sure. It can lead to more serious issues as well.

Dangers of Temptation

Giving in to it can damage your life, and relationships to God, family, and friends. A one-night stand that devastates your spouse. The impulse-buying that wrecks your finances. The fact that every addiction began with just one drink or hit. Friends are pushed away, families are broken, and if you’re a Christ-follower then your representation of Christ is damaged.

How It Starts

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3:6 NIV

It was something that was available, desirable, attractive, and in the previous five verses, some pressure was involved. You can remove two of those and lessen the chances of giving in. If the pressure or availability isn’t there, then the impulse will weaken.

What’s The Harm?

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15

Lay’s Potato Chips had a slogan, “I bet you can’t just eat one”, a few years ago. You’d get hungry, 

take a bite, finish the chip, then another, and…soon the bag was empty. It’s a series of compromises, small at first, and then get easier to rationalize.

“It won’t hurt to flirt a little, nothing will come of it.”

“Just one drink, then I’m going home.”

Afterwards, you’ll learn and stop, or escalate. If you’re caught in a compromising situation, then the damage is done. I’m going to give you the secret to never getting caught.

Ready?

 

Don’t do it. Simple, huh?

Sorta.

Temptation works on our weaknesses, our addictions, the hard-to-control urges. Desserts, alcohol, shopping, porn, TV, etc. If you know your weakness, then you can put some safeguards in place.

For example, you’re married, but the new girl sure is cute, or you travel a lot and are lonely. In the first situation, avoid or and keep it professional. In the second, stay out of places where singles hang out, like clubs or bars. Travel with someone who’ll keep you accountable.

It also attacks your strengths, too. Overconfidence can lead to an overestimation of your abilities. “I’d never do that.” A lot of famous people thought that and BAM, their affairs were trending online. Pride goes before the fall.

What Do I Do?

Assess and have safeguards in place. Be accountable to someone who will call you out. Your life should be an open book to your spouse; the only thing you keep from them is what gift you got them. Do not give the accuser, Satan, a foothold.

What worked with Adam and Eve, he tried with Jesus. The difference is, it didn’t work. Jesus stood on scripture and corrected Satan’s out-of-context scripture. The thought pops in your head, “they won’t notice if I take a box of pens from the office supply closet”. Counter it with ‘thou shall not steal’. “Everyone else is doing it,” will probably follow. Personalize Romans 12:2 or Ephesians 5:11 like this:

I will not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Then I will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

If it gets to be more than you think you can stand, use the ‘Joseph Method’ from Genesis 39:10. Run away. Pastor Rod says to shout “I love my wife,” so they’ll never flirt with you again. Still, if the option is there, leave. You can’t fall if you’re not there.

I wrote this because we all face temptation. It doesn’t go away, even for Christians. Broken homes, divorce, jail, unemployment, those times of pleasure come with a cost. Think about this…what will you lose if you give in?

Male security guard with strong arms crossed in a dark background

How To Take A Stand

You’re in jail, and you know you’ll die there. The final part of your life has been about a central issue and you worry that it will die with you. Unless…you have a legacy. People who will pick up the baton and carry on the race after you’ve fallen.

Security Guard

That’s the backdrop of 2nd Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s last letter. The central issue was guarding the Gospel. As apologists, or to use J. Warner Wallace’s term, Christian Case-Makers, that’s what we do. We guard it from outside attacks, inside attacks, and strengthen our own faith through it.

I originally looked at 2nd Timothy 2:23-25 for a way to deal with squabbles at work. While applicable there, its context is in defending the faith. How can we guard the Gospel? To summarize before we expand; by picking our battles with the right attitude, and ability with a goal in mind. This will be almost universally applicable as you’ll see.

Pick Your Battles

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 2nd Timothy 2:23 NIV

On social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, arguments start and devolve really quickly into anger and pointlessness. YouTube is infamous for attacks in the comments. In the end, you’ve wasted energy and time for nothing. It’s worse when the other person enjoys winding people up, manipulating them for their entertainment.

This is why you have to pick your battles. Ask yourself if it’s an area of tradition or opinion. Is it a non-negotiable, an area that if it’s gone, everything falls apart?

An example of this is the deity of Christ and the Resurrection as compared to method of baptism or church attire. The first is a core doctrine of the faith, the second is a tradition, and the third is a matter of preference. It’s majoring in the minors. Which is of more importance?

We have to gauge the person we’re addressing as well. The Four Soils parable in Mark 4 is a good metric; rigid, shallowly receptive, receptive but overwhelmed, and open enough to consider what you say. If it’s been a repeated conversation with no give from them, then they may not be ready. If you see something so blatantly out of context, they either aren’t knowledgeable in it, or trying to wind someone up. This leads to anger and fights that hurt our example to non-Christians.

The Attitude Needed

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2nd Timothy 2:24 NIV

“The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome…” Honestly, that’s a good attitude to have overall. Who likes to be around argumentative people? Can you have a legitimate conversation with them or do they just dispute everything you say?

Being nice is good, kind and gentle is even better. However, if you get angry easily, then your attitude isn’t ready. I get annoyed easy which is why self-control is needed. Fortunately, it’s a fruit of the Spirit that growing Christians have. That’s a good thing because I sure didn’t have much of it before.

Then you can still be kind, not trying to hurt them, so you can engage them civilly. A wild fighter flails away. A calm, focused one delivers precise strikes. Same with dialogue, if you intend it to be meaningful.

Which is better?

This leads to knowing what to say and being the right person for the job. You can have the knowledge, and the skill, but without the other’s trust, your effectiveness is limited. On the other hand, you can have their trust, but not the ability (ow…my pride).

This means a few things: know your stuff about the non-negotiables (including arguments against), and know the history of the traditions and know it inside and out. It’s a process, a learning curve, you probably won’t be on the level of a college trained theologian..yet.

Plus, you’ll have your particular areas of interests where you’ll have more understanding. If it’s a philosophical argument, I’m good at a very elementary level. If it’s evidential, then I’m a bit better in that arena. However, my strength is when I have time to weave apologetics, theology, philosophy, and evangelism into a post.

Patience is key, frustration only hurts the movement of the conversation. Rather, forgive slights and lack of knowledge, and be gentle. We all are guilty of being ignorant in other areas. Let them teach you by asking them questions, so you can find common ground, areas that need addressed, and areas that need to be set aside.

How To Engage

“Opponents must be gently instructed,…” 2nd Timothy 2:25 NIV

“I thought we weren’t supposed to fight,” you may ask. About trivial things and certain people, yes, that is true. Some things you have to stand against, like murder, rape, slavery, and abuse. stand-up-for-what-we-believe-captain-america-daily-quotes-sayings-pictures-810x1048 There is a saying, ‘Stand for something or fall for anything.’ I thought Thorin had said it, but couldn’t find it. I did find this, “Fill your life with purpose. Without purpose man is just an empty vessel filled with maggots.”

He’s always had a way with words. The thing is that some things you plant your feet and tell the other, “No. You move.” Other things, you have to move on, or not even worry about it.

Then you have those that are receptive, and aren’t opponents in the traditional sense. They just have an opposing view. These, we question, listen, learn and guide; all with politeness and respect. Not rude, nor rough, but kindly and without arrogance. The sum total of our interactions is to get them to think about and through our point.

It’s an economy of thought. They deposit an idea, thinking through it is equivalent to interest building up. Answering a question is like withdrawing the amount of interest to transfer over. All benefit from this.

Attitude In Action

The Asbury commentary reads that the Lord’s servant (a Christian) is characterized as a shepherd of words, not a gladiator. The goal is to bring back lost sheep, not kill them and make an example out of them. It kinda hurts the goal of bringing people to Christ. Fear of man is a poor tool for a true conversion. The focus is hopeful, not resentful. They’re captive and this is a rescue mission.

Why?

“…in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” 2nd Timothy 2:25 NIV

Why do we try to persuade people? For us as Christians, it hinges on this: “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” in John 14:6.

We want them to consider a better way by following Jesus. To know the Truth that is Jesus. Truth by its nature is exclusionary, shades of it still end in absolute truth or falsehood.

To have the Life that is more than now, but eternally. The opposite is death, eternally.

It’s a rescue mission, except who we go after has the option to say no. It’s not compulsory, we just plead, and the individual has the final say. Not us, not even God. Hell is when God lets us have our own way—to not have a relationship with him, so he separates from us. C.S Lewis wrote that it’s when God says, ‘Let thy will be done.’

He loves you enough to give you a choice. To force you into Heaven would make you miserable since you’re with someone you don’t want to be with. So, like marriage is an example of the depth of a relationship with Christ, divorce could be thought of being like the final separation. Off the path, without knowledge of, and away from the source of life, being forever separated in a place that wasn’t even intended for you, but for fallen angels.

Satan doesn’t rule Hell. He’s destined for imprisonment there. His pride led him there, and he wants to bring as many with him as he can. The war is won, but the battle continues, and we—the once wounded—are rescuing those who are still wounded.

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Is There A Cause Out There With Your Name On It?

I love listening to Ravi Zacharias’ podcasts, Just Thinking and Let My People Think. In one podcast, he summed up his message like this, ‘pathos for your people, prioritize in prayer, pondering in proximity, the process of preparation, and the paralysis of pessimism.’ Then he closed saying do what is right, undergirded by the Gospel.

What does that even mean?

“Pathos for your people”

Pathos means compassion or pity. In the latter, we feel bad for them, but we don’t act, no matter how many infomercials are shown with sad music overlapping. It’s the former that makes you move.

Compassion sees something and shouts, “this should not be!” Then it acts. Is there anything out there that kindles those feelings?

“Prioritize in prayer”

Then you have to go to God with it. We can temporarily alleviate suffering, and unfortunately, there’s more out there that we can’t reach alone, if at all. We have to get our hearts right, check our motives, and make sure we’re not doing this on our own strength. If so, we’ll be like a match trying to fight back the darkness. A brief flame, and then nothing.

“Pondering in proximity”

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how a nation should be ran, yet, few have been in, or seen the inner workings of the government. We’re not fully informed, so we can’t see what dominoes would fall if we did this or that, let alone know how to change directions without collapsing everything.

We have to get close to what we want to change.

Get into the middle of it, talk to people on all levels of it so you can get a variety of thoughts and ideas. Understand where they’re coming from. Pastor Rod said, “Your pain is a key to your assignment from God. It can be used to minister to others”, during a sermon last month.

If it’s something you have faced, then you have the experience, so you can more readily identify with others. Then prayerfully think about it.

“The process of preparation”

You have compassion. Your heart is right. You know what’s up. That means you’re ready…right?

No.

You have to prepare for it, plan, rather than foolishly going off half-cocked. Like the time I locked my keys in the truck and wanted to smash the window. My wife wisely had me call a locksmith. Jesus spoke of preparation in Luke 14: 28-32:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”

 

There is a cost to everything you do and to be effective you have to plan accordingly.

  • What’s the plan?
  • What do you need to make it work?
  • Can you get it?
  • What are the alternatives?

All questions that must be answered.

“Paralysis of pessimism”

“It’s just too much for me, I’ll never make a difference.”

That thought can come in anywhere during the process, particularly during the planning or application phases. If you make a difference in one person’s life, and they make a difference in another’s, you’ll have started a domino effect. People usually pay it forward if they can’t pay it back.

“Doing what is right”

There are a lot of opinions on what’s the right thing to do. Some of them are wrong. Some are right. How can you tell what’s right?

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 NIV

“Undergirded by the Gospel”

That’s just a good, basic way to live, but what’s the foundation? Undergird means “to give fundamental support.” In Matthew 7:24, Jesus said anyone who puts his words into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. It’s a firm foundation. The Gospel is the good news of second chances at reconciliation between God and mankind. Reconciliation is the center of it.

Jesus is the foundation that gives second chances.

Find the cause that you’re compassionate for. Is it a cause that can restore people to God primarily, and secondly restore them physically, ? Consider what it looks like at the ground level. Jesus looked at the crowds and said, ‘they’re like sheep without a shepherd.’ Helpless. Prepare for it, press forward, and go forth doing good.

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What Is A Spirit-Empowered Life?

In trying to nail down my dream, I started reading A Spirit-Empowered Life again. In chapter twenty, the author had bullet points on what that life looks like, relationships, passion, redemptive love, crossing boundaries, and how you can do it. I’m going to expand on them today.

What Is A Spirit-Empowered Life?

It’s a life with a deep passion for people that you connect with. You can’t stay on the sidelines when they need help. I connect deeply with but a few, and those I do I generally ‘adopt’. They become like family. I’m there when they laugh, listen when they cry, and watch over them always.

Not all relationships have to be that deep. Others I get concerned and help when life gets them down, reaching out when I see them outside our usual settings, or stop and listen when they have a burden to unload.

A Redemptive Love

What is redemptive love? It’s the love of second-chances. It’s what the Gospel is, the good news of God giving everyone a second chance to come to Him. You have to love someone enough to give them a second chance.

That flows into the expansiveness of it. We cross boundaries both real and imagined, like Jesus with the Samaritan woman, the leper, and the prostitute. He did, so our reason for not doing it is invalid. There is no reason for why you cannot reach out to the Middle Eastern man, or illegal immigrant. That person who has HIV, or the woman that people say is just no good, reach out to them too. We were once there at one point ourselves.

Take the first step. We do good for others first. It’s like seeing a mess, and waiting for someone else to clean it up first. You do it. It’s hard and we ask, “why should we?” Or say, “I can’t.”

You can.

SupermanThe Holy Spirit is working inside the follower of Jesus, equipping us. Yes, it is hard to love first. For one, we don’t have any assurance of reciprocation. Secondly, we’re not even sure we’ll like them.

If you expect reciprocation, that’s not loving-kindness, that’s doing business. Just because you don’t know if you’ll like someone isn’t a reason either. We can be unlikable and incompatible, but being nice and doing good never goes out of style.

God loved us when we were living in rebellion, rejecting Him, and still a way was made for us. Can we do otherwise? I’ll close with the two questions the author posed to the reader:

  1. How does knowing God loved me first help me view the world’s needs?
  2. What would it look like for me to love people first?

Ask yourself that.

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How We Can Make An Impact

What happens when someone stands up and stands out? They get attention, sometimes it isn’t good attention either. Why keep going forward?  Why sometimes you may not even be a victim, you could just be acting like a jerk. Why don’t we look like the early church and how we can start right now? This is the questions we’ll deal with today.

You’re Not Alone

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4: 12-14 NIV

It’s even in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Paul writes in Romans 8:17 that we’re heirs that share in the inheritance with Christ, His glory, and also his suffering. Why?

Because of who we represent. In Matthew 10:24-25, Jesus reminded them of how he was scorned. He was called demon-possessed, and illegitimate, people tried to stone him to death, and he was betrayed, beaten, and died a painful death.

Comforting, huh? Especially when he says in verse 38, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” It can get uncomfortable to say the least. What does he know about being uncomfortable? Imagine Bill Gates walking away from his assets and wealth, moving to Wichita, Kansas without a dime to his name to help people under a new name. He doesn’t have his resources or reputation, and will die a “nobody”.

Jesus understood, and there is comfort in this, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:28-32

There is hope in this, he stepped out of Heaven to provide a way to bring us to Heaven, and returned to Heaven himself. We are heirs inheriting the Kingdom of God. We have a down payment that is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:14) who Jesus provided (John 14:16-17). The Spirit has many roles: comforter, counselor, helper, intercessor, advocate, and strengthener that is there to help. We’re not alone in our trials and suffering.

What Suffering For Jesus Isn’t

There is a line, though, on whether you’re being persecuted because of Jesus or because you’re a jerk.

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or any sort of criminal, or as a mischief-maker (a meddler) in the affairs of others [infringing on their rights].” 1 Peter 4:15 AMP

Cloaking a bad attitude, self-righteousness, and condemnation in the name of Jesus doesn’t make you legitimate. Killing or hurting others in the name of Jesus is so far from what he taught, it isn’t even funny.

Yes, we can have a bad day and snap. The point is apologize, ask for forgiveness, and don’t do it again. Don’t overlook bad behavior, nor condone it; however, it’s not our place to condemn the person either. We all were facing condemnation until we choose to follow the one who took the hit for us. Forgive others freely because we’ve been forgiven. Actions won’t change until someone’s heart–their inner being–is changed.

Even living by Christ’s example, there will be some push back.10422528_794711780632606_2088819777424735679_n

“But if [one is ill-treated and suffers] as a Christian [which he is contemptuously called], let him not be ashamed, but give glory to God that he is [deemed worthy to suffer] in this name.” 1 Peter 4:16 AMP

When Peter wrote this, he was probably remembering when the Sanhedrin arrested him, beat him, and told him to keep his mouth shut (Acts 5:41). It can make people uncomfortable to see something different. Until we learn about it, it’s unpredictable, which is worrisome. When someone is uncomfortable they retreat, try to make whatever is making them uneasy retreat, or they learn more about it. I’m for the third option.

Why Don’t Churches Look More Like the Early Church?

In 130AD, the Epistle (letter) to Diognetes was written. Here is an excerpt from it: “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life…” “…They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.” “…To sum up all in one word–what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.” 

Check your life in comparison with these that were living their faith rather than just spending a morning in church. They were the church and they brought it wherever they went. Aristides wrote “They observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah; they live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them.

Gods Not DeadDo you truly follow your Lord?

What Do We Do?

When Jesus walked the earth, he walked in the will of God. Look at John 5:19, “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Then in verse 30, from the Amplified he makes it applicable to us.

I am able to do nothing from Myself [independently, of My own accord—but only as I am taught by God and as I get His orders]. Even as I hear, I judge [I decide as I am bidden to decide. As the voice comes to Me, so I give a decision], and My judgment is right (just, righteous), because I do not seek or consult My own will [I have no desire to do what is pleasing to Myself, My own aim, My own purpose] but only the will and pleasure of the Father Who sent Me.

Christ did what God the Father said, Christ-followers do what God the Son said. Does that mean you have to memorize the Bible and do everything in it? No, that’s missing the primary principle.

Jesus leaned on God for strength; he was a mortal man when he walked the earth, not a superman. He surrendered his desires to God and made God’s desires his own. What does God desire?

It’s found in the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

What does that mean in practical application? “Seeking first the Kingdom of God…”, the tagline for my blog and personal priority. This is done by the “Golden Rule”, doing for others as you would have them do for you and pursuing Him and Them. Why?

Because his desire is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). I was once astray, lost, and he brought me back. He wants us to bring others back as well. FirstNLR has it summed up like this, “Every Soul Matters To God.” Because of that, they should matter to us.

I’ve covered much more than I expected. Look to see what you need to change in your life, then surrender it to God to live life as a high-impact Christian. When it gets tough, just remember Galatians 6:9 NIV, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

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High-Impact Christianity; What’s It Look Like?

Are we living up to the hype of being a Christian? Is there a noticeable difference in our lives before Christ (B.C ;)) and after? What about in comparison with the society we live in? What is it supposed to look like? What did the early Christians look like and how can we make the same kind of difference today? These are the questions I’m answering from 1st Peter 4 in a two part post series.

New Life, New Mission

Gods Not DeadGospelHow did you live before you started following Jesus? In verse one of 1st Peter, Peter wrote to the persecuted church to ‘arm themselves with the attitude of Christ’ during the time of Nero, who famously used the bodies of Christians as torches for his parties. That attitude meant a focus on the will of God that eventually led to the cross for both Jesus and Peter. Shedding tears of blood, Jesus said in Gethsemane, ‘not my will, but thy will’.

How many of us instead say, “I’ll do it my way, not yours?” That’s the difference that should be seen—not living for yourself but for God. That’s how we can make a tangible and noticeable difference. That is our past as opposed to now.

So What Is God’s Will?

Seek first the Kingdom of God and all righteousness.” To do that, you have to love God and love others. The practical application to start with is to make Jesus the Lord of your life by climbing off your throne, giving it to him, and being ready to follow him to hell and back.

The second application is to do for others what you would want them to do for you. It goes beyond being nice, it’s an action. It is seeing a hungry man and instead of feeling bad for him, you instead buy him lunch. It’s interrupting your schedule to help someone in need.

The pattern is ‘Him and them’ as Mike Clarensau writes in SpiritEmpowered Life as the Great Commission lays it out. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 19-20 AMP

Go out and bring more people to Jesus; check out the evangelism resources on my Equipping the Saints page for help. You don’t have to preach at or to people, but people should see the difference Christ made in your life. When they ask then you should be prepared to give them more detail. Look for proactive opportunities like inviting people to church, or just take time to get to know them, give to missions or go on missions. Serve on a ministry or write on a blog like this one.

The thing is, someone who hasn’t seen you in a year since you started following Jesus should see a significant change. If life was all about the stuff you had, the desire should be less. If it was about partying and hooking up, just think of the looks you’ll get when you drop it like a hot rock. They’d think something fishy was going on.

Not Of This World?

Have you ever met someone from a different culture? How unnerving is it until both of you find common ground? That’s what happens as friends adjust to the new you.

Suddenly you’re not interested in going out for a drink after work or on the weekend. You cancel things on your schedule to do volunteer work. Instead of your time being about you, your interests have shifted towards feeding the homeless or visiting sick people. It could be the difference in the day-to-day behavior of you compared to everyone else at work.

Like pointing out where you were overpaid on a check. Or refusing to get even with someone at work, and even protecting someone from another person’s vendetta. On the other hand, it means not protecting someone from the natural consequences of their behavior after they’ve been warned and they persist. When someone gets argumentative and yells at you, you don’t give in to the urge to yell back. People see that, and it can cause some friction.

But They Can’t Treat Me Like That!

“But they will [have to] give an account to Him who is ready to judge and pass sentence on the living and the dead. For this is why the good news [of salvation] was preached [in their lifetimes] even to those who are dead, that though they were judged in the flesh as men are, they may live in the spirit according to [the will and purpose of] God.” 1st Peter 4: 5-6

The “Him” is Jesus. Those who are still alive and those who are dead have had their chances until the day it’s lights out. Remember Why Should I Forgive where I taught that we’re all going to be held accountable?

Here we may be condemned by human standards as we live for God. That is better than being condemned by God’s standards when you consider Matthew 10:28 when Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” It’s scary and comforting depending on where you stand.

So How Am I Supposed To Respond?

“The end and culmination of all things is near. Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him.]” 1st Peter 4: 7

First, stay balanced and focused on the things of God. The early Christians were united under this all encompassing truth, Jesus Christ is God, and the only way to enter a relationship with God. Despite what some believe, the Council of Nicea didn’t think all this up in 325 AD.

Consider this quote from Tertullian who lived in the years between 160-225 AD as he described Christians: “We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This strong exertion God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation.”

They were living it after Peter wrote about it a century earlier. Tertullian lived in North Africa so the message was spreading. There is more, too.

“Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].” 1st Peter 4: 8

Again we look at what Tertullian had to say: “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See’, they say, ‘how they love one another’, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. ‘See’, they say about us, ‘how they are ready even to die for one another’, for they themselves would sooner kill.”

Note the contrasts—one was loving, the other driven by hatred; the self-sacrifice where another would rather kill than die. In the Apology of Aristides, that love is expanded on: “They abstain from all impurity in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world. As for their servants or handmaids or children, they persuade them to become Christians by the love they have for them; and when they become so, they call them without distinction, brothers. They do not worship strange gods; and they walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another. When they see the stranger they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as over a true brother; for they do not call those who are after the flesh, but those who are in the Spirit and in God.”

They lived pure lives and it was noticed. Those of a lower cultural status were loved and treated as equals, and because of that they wanted to know more. Do you go from church to the restaurant where you yell at the server or complain bitterly? That’s also noticed and that’s not a good thing.

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12 NIV

They were kind and humble, not hung up on pretense with lives of honesty and integrity. Depending on where they were, they would stick out like a sore thumb or shine like a beacon. Pick your metaphor. They welcomed strangers with open arms, which leads to verse 9:

“Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”

Again from Aristides on how they dealt with those in need around them: “And there is among them a man that is poor and needy and if they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days, that they may supply the needy with the necessary food.”

I’m not sure I’m even comfortable with not eating for a couple of days so a stranger could eat. That is a pure self-sacrificial love that is rarely seen these days. To give from your abundance is one thing, to give all you have at the moment, though? Why would they do it?

Here’s Tertullian again: “Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . not spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.”

They gave freely. Paul in 2 Corinthians 8: 1-9 wrote about the poor Macedonian churches’ generosity. Later in 2 Corinthians 9:7 he wrote, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

In Luke 21: 3-4, Jesus said of the widow who placed two copper coins into the temple treasury, “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” He praised her generous heart.

The church was the center of the social programs, not the government. In fact, the Roman government did little to help it’s citizens during a plague. It was the Christians who cared for them and some ultimately died while caring for them. (Source)

Who else feels only two inches tall?

The church supported people in their needs, so that should cause us to ask ourselves if the church you go to is ministering to the sick, poor, and homeless? They supported poor kids and orphans, does yours have a food pantry that provides aid? I love the Share Your Lunch program; I’ve watched it make a difference at FirstNLR. Last year, we gathered over 30 tons of food in 9 weeks, and took an offering that made sure 180 kids were fed every weekend when they weren’t at school. This year, we’re feeding 300 kids, and gathered 14.5 tons of food in four weeks. If every church in the city did that, then there would be no one going to bed hungry.

The sick and elderly should be looked in on, it’s not just the pastor’s job. Like what they did in Acts 6: 1-7 a ministry was started to reach out to the community. It should be relatively simple for you to do that. The early church was made up of average people like my cousin Whitney who started a ministry to help hungry people in Arkansas because she saw a need.

When disaster struck, they reached out. Pastor Randy’s sermon on Amos gave the reason why when he said, ‘the body of Christ is the resource, the church is the program, and the application is ‘loving your neighbor as you love yourself’. Jesus told his disciples before he sent them out, ‘freely you have received, so freely give.’ Pastor Rod calls it open-handed living. Because you don’t hold on tight to your position or possessions, you can more easily give it to another if needed.

Don’t think you can do it?

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” 1 Peter 4:11 NIV

It’s about teaching and reaching, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 to let the light shine so that man will praise the God we serve. To live a life of integrity, with good and noble deeds, along with careful speech (Ephesians 4:29). People will see and one day when you get to Heaven you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:23 NIV

I’m going to pause here and remind you that salvation is by faith alone in what Jesus did

on the cross. This is that faith in action rather than the dead faith James wrote about in James 1:26-27 and 2:17. It’s the life change I was telling you about in the beginning.

That is what high-impact Christianity looks like. In the next post we’ll get into how the world may respond to a person living that life and how we can continue on. Don’t you want to make a mark on the world?