The Word is Alive

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14

Jesus has called those who believe in Him on an amazing adventure.  He has not just called us to believe in Him, or to obey Him, but to follow Him.  The invitation itself shows us the intended nature of the relationship.  The Christian life is designed to be lived with Christ, not merely for Him.  In fact, it is impossible without Him.

This is an important truth to grasp, because in most other religions, once a person has learned the teaching, he could lose the identity of the teacher and yet still follow the teaching.  This is not so with Christianity…Christ, not His teachings, is the goal.  Jesus cannot be separated from His teachings – this distinguishes Him.  Jesus didn’t say, “Follow My teachings.”  He said, “Follow Me.”

This does not mean that we do not revere the Bible.  In fact, we have a high view of Scripture because we have a high view of Christ – and the two should never be separated.  Truth is not a book, or a creed…Truth is a person and Jesus Christ is His name.  Christianity, then, isn’t about following a book…it’s about following a Person.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t obey God’s Word.  But obedience must be understood in light of the supremacy of Christ.  The Bible helps us to follow Him because it testifies of Him.  The Bible doesn’t offer a blueprint for living…it is the story of His life…a map that leads us to the Living Word.  The Bible is not the destination; it is a compass that points us to Christ.  If we aren’t careful, Christ can become more like a once-a-week mascot than a living Lord.  He can become a figure that we rally around on Sundays and then sideline for the rest of the week.  Or we can begin to treat Him like Santa Clause…selfishly using Him to for all we can get from Him.

Jesus Christ is not an ideology, or a religion, or a set of beliefs.  He is a person.  He has always been and always will be.  All that has ever been created exists to glorify Him.  And yet, this glorious Christ desires intimacy with His children.  What an amazing life He has given us…may we not waste one single second of it!

Father, When I stop and ponder the life You have given me in Your Son, I am silenced and humbled.  You haven’t called me to rules and rituals…but to an amazing relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Please forgive me for taking Him for granted even for a moment.  May my life glorify Your Son today!  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  

 

Abiding in Christ

“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”  John 15:4

Major Ian Thomas, a Christian speaker and writer, once said:  “Beware unless even as a Christian you fall into Satan’s trap. You may have found and come to know God and the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving Him sincerely as your Redeemer. Yet, if you do not enter into the mystery of godliness and allow God to be in you, the origin of His own image you will seek to be godly by submitting yourself to external rules and regulations and by conforming to behavior patterns imposed upon you by the particular Christian society that you have chosen and in which you hope to be found acceptable. You will in this way perpetuate the pagan habit of practicing religion in the energy of the flesh. And in the very pursuit of righteousness commit idolatry in honoring Christianity more than Christ.”

God help us not to fall into the trap of honoring Christianity more than we honor Christ!  But I believe that’s where many believers today are…and I believe this is something we will always have to guard against.  The enemy of the best is not the worst.  The enemy of the best is the good.

The wonderful thing about Christlikeness is that it requires dependence on and cooperation with the Christ we are following…that is why Jesus said, “Abide in Me, apart from Me you can do nothing.”  It’s all about the relationship.  The Gospel isn’t just the imitation of Christ, it’s the incarnation of Christ in you.  We are called to more than copying Him…we are called to manifest His presence.

When Paul wrote the words, “Be imitators of Christ,” he understood this truth.  That is why he also wrote, ”I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  Think about it, the only person that can imitate God is Christ.  Incarnating Christ isn’t just doing the tasks that Jesus did, or taking up the causes that He might if He were on earth today…it is a living relationship with Him.  The question is not, “What does Christ want me to do,” but, “What does Christ want to do now through me?”

Christ is our goal, so we must rediscover Him, the incomparable Lord who saved us.  When we connect with Him, the giver and sustainer of life, we will be empowered to deny ourselves and live beyond ourselves.  This is what it means to abide in Him.

Father, I know that I cannot do anything apart from You.  Please forgive me for the times that I forget that, and try to live on my own.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of following Christianity instead of following You.  Lord, I want to know You and love You more.  Show me today how to remain in You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  

 

 

Unresolved Conflict

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.”  Galatians 5:16-17

Have you ever helped your child perform that famous science fair experiment where you pour oil into water and try to mix it up?  No matter how hard you shake or stir, they will always separate…because oil and water just do not mix.

Picture your physical body as the container.  Inside, as a Christ follower, you have the living water of Christ – the Holy Spirit.  But you also have a sin nature (also called the flesh).  And just like oil and water, these two will never mix.

Not only don’t they mix, they are opposed to one another.  What the Holy Spirit desires, the sin nature will set itself against, and vice versa.  At times it can feel like an agonizing game of tug-of-war as the Spirit pulls towards holiness and the sin nature yanks your conscience towards the desires of your flesh.  It is no wonder that Paul describes it as a conflict in verse 17.  And as long as you live in this body, the conflict will remain unresolved.

Many Christians have been misinformed, or uninformed, about this struggle between the Spirit and the sin nature.  Many live in overwhelming defeat and frustration because of the battle that rages within their hearts and minds.  We must understand that the battle itself is not sin.  In fact, it is inevitable.  The good news is that we now have the freedom in Christ to make a choice.  We are not slaves to our sin nature.  We can choose to go with Christ, even when the sin nature pulls against us.  The Spirit is stronger!

So, instead of focusing on the battle, let’s set our hearts on Christ, our Deliverer.  When we choose to yield control to His Spirit, He will always lead us away from sin, and closer to the heart of God.

Lord Jesus, thank You that You have overcome sin on my behalf.  Thank You for giving me Your Spirit to lead me each day.  Please help me to choose each moment to live by Your Spirit so that my life glorifies You.  Amen.

The Danger of Plenty

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  Deuteronomy 6:10-12

“As Americans, we are rich.  In fact, the poorest among us are wealthy by global standards.  According to the World Bank, just under 80 percent of the world’s population live on less than $10/day.  Lots of us spent more than that on a meal today.  This observation is not intended to stir up guilt but to acknowledge responsibility.  God has blessed us in abundance, and Jesus commands us in the Gospels to be generous, sacrificial and cheerful givers.” ~ Tony Merida in his book, Orphanology.

Prosperity can be a dangerous thing.  Wealth, in and of itself, is not sinful.  However, material blessing often leaves us vulnerable to worshiping the gifts instead of the Giver.  Whether in 1400 BC or 2017, Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 6 rings true…”Be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  The Israelites were delivered from a literal land of slavery.  But all Christians have been delivered from slavery to sin.

Moses’ concern was for the hearts of God’s people.  They had been slaves for more than 400 years.  They had to depend on God for everything during that time.  All the while, He was preparing a place for them to live – a land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob where all of their needs, both physically and spiritually, would be met.  Moses feared that when there were trees and vines rich with fruit and wells full of clean water waiting for them, they would not remember from Whom these provisions came.  And that is exactly what happened.

Aren’t we just the same?  How often when we turn on the shower or faucet do we give thanks to the Giver of clean water?  How often when we fill our grocery cart do we thank God for food to eat, and for the money to buy it?  How often when we go to the ATM or drive through the bank do we life up a shout of praise to God for His provision?  Yes, some have more than others.  But if you are reading this, you have electricity and access to a computer.  You have enough education to be literate.  These are precious gifts that many do not have…and we would be wise to remember the Giver and not forget Him in our prosperity.  What we have been given is not a right; it is a blessing.  And the Giver deserves all of the glory.  Because in Christ, we are all gloriously rich!

Dear God, Please forgive me for taking Your gifts for granted and for forgetting You in my land of plenty.  Please help me to be generous with all that You entrust to me, and to remember that it is all Yours.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

True Love

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”  Luke 6:32-35

“I love you” is a term that is carelessly used in the world today.  Most define love as a feeling, something you can fall in and out of throughout your life.  But God does not define love in this way.

In this passage, Jesus compared worldly love and godly love.  One is based on the actions of another.  Godly love is given regardless of if the other deserves it or not.  Even someone without Christ can love someone who loves him.  But it takes the supernatural power and presence of the Holy Spirit to love the unlovable…to love someone who is un-loving towards you.

And yet, this is how Christ has called His disciples to love.  He wants us to love others with the same grace and mercy with which He has loved us.  That requires more than candy hearts and boxes of chocolate.  For some, loving those who haven’t earned it may mean loving your spouse or other family members.  For others, it might be co-workers, neighbors, or even fellow church members.  “Enemies” are not necessarily those who physically come against us, but also those who have betrayed our trust and hurt us emotionally.

Unconditional love is no small task.  It is in our nature to protect ourselves from physical and emotional harm.  But Jesus showed us how to lay our lives down for others for the sake of the Gospel.  This does not mean staying in an abusive relationship.  It does mean putting the needs of others before our own.  This does not mean self-loathing.  It does mean exalting Christ, and seeing ourselves, and others, through His eyes.

It is easy for us to give up on people who are selfish and cruel.  But with Jesus there are no lost causes, because with God, all things are possible.

Dear God, Thank You for loving me when I was Your enemy.  Please help me to love others well.  May Your enemies see Your love through my life.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.