Monthly Archives: September 2010

Beyond Talk, Forget Excuses

Jesus sometimes spoke very strong words to His followers and those who expressed a desire to follow Him. From calling people to be perfect to saying that the crowd should eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus knew how to challenge everyone outside of their comfort zone. He harshly rebuked Simon Peter on a number of occasions. Jesus continually pushed the disciples to new places of faith and self abandonment.

Jesus told people to take up their cross and follow Him, a concept that would have seemed more repulsive during the first century than it does today. When one man asked for time to bury his father, Jesus said that the dead should bury their own dead. Jesus called those who followed Him to put everything else below their devotion to God. There are no excuses or reasons to shy away from God’s call. Either you are in, or you are not. There is no middle ground. That is where the double minded live, and they are unstable in all that they do.

Why did Jesus seem to set the bar so high? I think Jesus did this because He knew our human tendency to look for ways to get out of what we know we should do. The truth is that we do what we want to do. We have all the time we need to do what matters most. But all too often, we say something is really important and ignore it. We have lied to ourselves. And until we realize that, we just won’t change.

Anyone who is a Christian should hear the call to abandon all and trust God with everything. This requires us to go beyond talk and good intentions. We have to act in faith and divine empowerment as enabled by the Holy Spirit.

Check out this related devotion at http://utmost.org/the-go-of-renunciation/

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

There are some passages of Scripture that are hard to accept and easy to dismiss just because they seemingly contradict commonly held ideas about God. This is especially true when Scripture makes God appear too stern, demanding or downright unfair. We are more attracted to a concept of God that resembles Santa Claus than say a holy, just God.

One of the common ideas today is to envision God as all love and no bite. People talk about God as if He is their best friend, yet they show Him little respect. But this oversimplifies a very complex reality. True, God is love. But He is also just, all-powerful, holy and beyond anything we can imagine. God is vast like a canyon with no end. God is worthy of our praise, adoration and yes, outright fear.

I have heard Bible teachers talk about the fear of the Lord as if we are to respect but not really fear God. This line of thinking seems to believe that if people are afraid of God they won’t want to be in relationship with Him. And while this may make sense in some aspects, it is also true that we cannot really understand God and our need for Him unless we learn to do more than just “respect” Him.

Scripture states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Time and time again, people in the Bible had direct encounters with God and they were forever changed. Some of these experiences clearly indicate that the people who had them were visibly shaken by the presence of God. Think about the children of Israel who dared not go up to meet God but sent Moses as their representative. They maintained a safe distance because they were completely afraid of God. Or consider Isaiah who proclaimed his sin as a man of unclean lips at seeing a vision of God. He feared for his life until an angel proclaimed his atonement by touching his mouth with a piece of coal. And in the last book of the Bible, the apostle John fell down as dead at the revelation of Christ. But Jesus told him to get up.

Maybe one of the reasons why we don’t see more real life change in the lives of so-called Christians today is because we haven’t had meaningful, fear-filled encounters with God. If we had the kind of experiences recorded in Scripture, we would never forget them. We would be forever transformed by five seconds in God’s direct presence. Then, as we are overcome with fear and dread we would also know that this same God speaks peace to our hearts. By knowing God’s greatness we come to realize that He is trustworthy and able to do what we cannot. This causes us to hope, rejoice and live in freedom.

These thoughts were inspired by the recent Francis Chan short film entitled BASIC Fear God. I encourage you to check it out at http://store.flannel.org/fear-god.html

WWJD? – Would Jesus Burn a Koran?

Now that the Florida “pastor” has agreed to cancel his Koran burning ceremony this coming weekend, it may seem like old news. But I would like to comment on the idea that many “evangelicals” presented this controversial action as something Jesus just would not do. Although I am not Jesus’ publicist or the official PR spokesperson for God, I am a Christian and do know a thing or two about following Christ. For the record, I claim no divine direction on this matter or supernatural vision. But I would like to take a look at what Scripture recorded that Jesus did to see if burning a Koran is something that Jesus just might do.

Controversy…
Jesus loved to do controversial, almost disturbing things. Jesus was a prophet. And prophets tend to make bold, brash claims that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom. Jesus was no exception. He made divine claims about Himself, forgave sin (something only God was supposed to do according to Judaism), talked about the Temple being destroyed and resurrected in three days, and called the religious leaders of His day “a den of vipers.” Jesus further insulted some of the Jewish religious leaders saying that they were “sons of hell” who followed Satan as their father.

After Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown, the crowd got so angry that they moved to kill Him. And as most people know, Jesus made such a spectacle of things that the religious leaders incited the crowd and Roman authorities to seek Christ’s execution. So far, this is not the picture of man who was afraid to stir up controversy.

Even Jesus’ followers were not immune from criticism, He saved some of his “harshest” comments for His disciples. Remember that Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan, you have not the thoughts of God but the thoughts of man.”

Yet, Jesus did not seek to make controversy for controversy sake. He said that everything He did was led by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the will of God the Father. Christ claimed that His words served a higher purpose than self promotion or His own personal agenda.

Spotlight…
Jesus was not a camera hog. After some of His most unforgettable moments, Jesus told His followers to keep it a secret or avoid making a public spectacle out of what He did or said. Quite the opposite from call a press conference, Jesus would sneak away from crowds and avoid publicity. That is one major difference between the recent situation with the Florida pastor and Christ. Jesus didn’t perform for the cameras.

Pick the Right Battles…
Jesus waited for the right time to do everything. The Gospels present Jesus as a man who did everything with purpose – picking the right time and the right battles to fight. Jesus knew when to make a whip and clean out the Temple or stay away from the crowds and seclude from outside pressures. Jesus knew how to avoid confrontation with religious opponents as well as to turn around public arguments.

Jesus Didn’t Focus on the “Bad” Guys…
Jesus did not spend a lot of time talking about the “bad” guys or trying to fight them. Instead, Jesus focused on the message that He had been sent to preach and embody. He only talked about Satan or religious opponents when trying to setup the agenda or explain certain concepts to His followers. Even some of Christ’s most controversial statements came as teaching moments to correct wrongful thinking among His disciples. There may be no greater example of this then when Jesus talked about the Temple being destroyed. Imagine just how scandalous that would have been in Jesus’ day. He was responding to a comment by one of His disciples about the massive size of the stones around the Temple complex. Jesus wanted His disciples to know that God was building a new Temple inside the hearts of the faithful. Their focus should not have been on what was visible in the existing religious establishment.

Comparing Christ’s statement to today’s world, it might seem similar to a prophet touching the side of the U.S. Capitol building and saying it would soon collapse into a pile of rubble. Jesus spoke the truth – a harsh reality to prepare His followers for what was to come.

Wisdom…
Jesus called His followers to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” This suggests that Jesus wanted His people to be smart about how they lived. They had to use wisdom. Ask yourself, “Will this accomplish a greater, divine purpose?”

Thinking through all these aspects of Christ’s life, I don’t see Jesus as being a big fan of Koran burning. That would just give too much focus to the wrong place. It would embolden and provide a rallying cry for enemies abroad with no real benefit for the Kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t need to win an ego contest with false religions.

I think Jesus would instead be like one of the missionaries who recently died for the Christian Gospel in Afghanistan. He would be willing to sacrifice to accomplish a greater good without caring if CNN were there to cover the event. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus’ enemies should think of Him as weak. Scripture is clear that when Jesus returns (whatever that looks like), He will come back as a conquering hero and the King of Kings.