Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Get Fit in 2015

A Personal Get Fit Plan…

Want to know how to develop a personal growth (Get Fit) plan for 2015? It’s basically asking yourself a series of questions and prayerfully answering them through the guidance of God’s Spirit. Below are some good questions to get you started.

Get a blank piece of paper and a pen. Set aside an hour or so. Pray and ask God to lead you. Start writing.

Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Remember: A goal without a deadline is a pipe dream.

***

What’s it going to take for you to finish well?

What’s it going to take for you to die empty?

What is lacking in your life? What are you missing?

What will you delete, add, tweak, and change this year?

In what area of your life do you need to grow to be more like Jesus?

Which fruit of the Spirit needs most development in your life?

How will you grow as a Beloved Child?

How will you preach the gospel of grace to yourself more and better?

How will you overcome worry, depression, stress, anger, guilt, shame, and self-condemnation?

How will you protect yourself from Satan’s attacks, accusations, and condemnation?

How will you grow in your prayer life this year?

How will you grow in your love for God?

What new disciplines do you need to develop?

How will you grow as a Self-Feeder?

What will you read in Scripture this year?

What sections of scripture will you endeavor to memorize?

What will you read, see, and do that will inspire and inform you?

What music will help you worship more?

What books will you read or reread?

What CD’s or podcasts do you need to listen to?

What seminars/conferences do you need to attend this year?

How will you grow as a Servant?

How will you listen better, encourage more, equip better, sacrifice more?

With whom do you need to build a relationship/friendship with this year?

How will you grow in your love for others?

How will you grow as an Investor?

What percentage of your income will you give to the Lord’s work?

How can you make better choices when it comes to eating and exercising?

How will you give into my flesh less?

How will you grow as a Discipler?

How will you grow as a Missionary?

How will you grow in your love for the world – the people who do not yet know Christ?

Who are the 10 people in your life that you most want to come to faith in Christ?

How will you seek to reach them? How will you share a NewLife Conversation with them?

Who will hold you accountable?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Because of where His-Story is headed, we have reason to hope and to give Christ praise

Do you ever have the feeling that you ought to praise God the Father more for His Son, Jesus? Why not take a few minutes and worship during this busy season? Here's a way to praise...
***
O Holy heavenly Father,
Thank You that because the eternally existing Lord Jesus humbled Himself to be born as a baby, to live a perfect life on this planet, and to become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, therefore You have highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess (as I do at this time) that Jesus Christ is Lord, so that You, Father may be glorified (Philippians 2:8-11).
Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her king; Let every heart prepare Him room; And heaven and nature sing.
I thank You that all authority has been given to Him both in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) and that You have set Him over the works of Your hands and have put everything in subjection under His feet, and have crowned Him with glory and honor (Hebrews 2:7-9).
Joy to the earth! the savior reigns; Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains; Repeat the sounding joy.
Jesus indeed is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). You, Father, the Ancient of days, have given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom, an everlasting dominion and a kingdom that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).
No more let sins and sorrows grow; Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow; Far as the curse is found.
You have placed the government upon His shoulders. His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace; and of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7).
He rules the world with truth and grace; And makes the nations prove; The glories of His righteousness; And wonders of His love.
You, Father, have set Him as a King upon Zion, Your holy hill (Psalm 2:6). Thank You that He will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:33). He will put down all opposing rule, principality, and power (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). All His enemies will be made a footstool for His feet (Hebrews 10:13) and then He will deliver the kingdom to You, God ourFather (1 Corinthians 15:24) that You, God, may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we. Let all within us praise His holy name! I fall on my knees. I hear the angel voices. O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
Today, I pause, O Father, and give You praise for Jesus Christ, Your Son and my Savior and Lord. He is the Light of the world and the Light of my life. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to pray for people who need New Life in Christ


Prayer connects us with the One who can do seemingly impossible things, including changing the destiny and trajectory of someone you love.

Think about the people you know who are far from God. Are you truly praying fervently for them? Are their names written down on a prayer card or in a prayer journal so you are reminded to pray for them often?

Why do they need you prayers? They are blind, bound, and buried. 

  1. People far from God are blind. II Corinthians 4:4.
  2. People far from God are bound (captured). II Timothy 2:16.
  3. People far from God are buried (dead). Ephesians 2:1.
Apart from Christ, every person on the planet is in a spiritually helpless and hopeless state.

Who gives sight to the blind? Who set the captives free? Who raises the dead to life? That’s right! Jesus!

And this is precisely why we should pray! Prayer is asking Jesus to do for us what we cannot do.

People far from God don’t just need a new set of glasses; they need a new set of eyes. And that’s what Jesus does. A blind person isn’t just short-sighted or far-sighted. It’s pointless to say to a blind person, “Just focus more!” Pleading with a spiritually blind person to try harder to see the gospel of Jesus won’t work. Why not? They can’t see.

People far from God don’t just need a little more fresh air; they need to get out of jail. And that’s what Jesus does. An imprisoned person isn’t just in need of a little stroll in the jail yard. It’s pointless to say to someone who is incarcerated to try hard to live free. Begging a spiritually entrapped person to kick his ungodly addictions won’t work. Why not? She’s in Satan’s snare.

People far from God don’t just need resuscitation; they need resurrection. And that’s what Jesus does. A dead body cannot respond. It’s pointless to shout at a corpse: “Hey! I know you are in bad shape. But pull yourself together and get up!” Making an appeal to a spiritually dead person won’t work. We can’t simply say, “Just try harder to be a good person.” It won’t work. Why not? They are dead.

A blind, bound, and buried person does not have the capacity to repent and believe the gospel. No preaching, no spiritual motivation, no psychological techniques, no positive thinking, no do-it-yourself schemes will help. So, what can help?

Prayer!

To help you learn how to pray biblically, here is a prayer based on the truths we see in II Corinthians 4:4, II Timothy 2:26, and Ephesians 2:1.

Lord God Almighty, You are infinitely rich in mercy and You delight in making all things new. Please be merciful to _________ and make him/her into Your masterpiece. He/she is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins.  So, please raise him/her to life. He/she has been held captive by Satan to do his will. Please set him/her free to do Your will instead. He/she has been blinded by the enemy and cannot see the grace of God in the face of Christ. Open his/her eyes to behold the glory of Your grace. Show off Your great power in saving him/her and giving him/her the gift of faith in Jesus.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What if you began to pray this for those you know who are don't yet know Christ? What if you prayed for them for years if you have to? 

Today, make a prayer list of at least 10 people you know who need Jesus. Keep your list in a visible place in your Bible or in a journal.

See, you can’t raise the spiritually dead. You can’t make a set a captive free. You can’t make a blind person see. But you can talk to the One who can. You can pray. Will you?

10 lessons on leadership from Marcus Mariota's Heisman Trophy acceptance speech


Marcus Mariota, the Oregon Ducks quarterback, won the Heisman Trophy Saturday night. He shared some powerful leadership principles in his emotional acceptance speech.

1. Stay humble.

"Thank you. I am humbled to be standing here today and honored by this award."

2. Show gratitude.

"Thank you, Heisman Trust, for making this night possible. Everything you do has made so many dreams come true."

3. Appreciate your competition.

"Amari [Cooper], Melvin [Gordon], it’s been a pleasure meeting you both, and I wish you continued success."

4. Share the honor.

"This award belongs to my teammates. The amount of hard work and sacrifice that each of them has made has not gone unnoticed. Thank you to the offensive line and their ability to fight through adversity. Thank you to the skill guys, who constantly make my job a lot easier. Thank you to the defense, for making our team complete and bailing the offense out of bad situations. And to all my teammates: I love every single one of you, and I’m truly grateful for all the experiences. I hope each of you will take pride and understand that this is your trophy."

5. Salute your mentors.

"Coach Helfrich, Coach Frost, and Coach Kelly, thank you for the opportunity. You took a chance on me, and I am truly grateful. And to the rest of the coaches and teachers throughout my life, thank you for the countless life lessons that have shaped me into who I am today."

6. Wear your colors proudly.

"Thank you to the University of Oregon for the education and support. Thank you to the community of Eugene, for the hospitality and allowing me to meet wonderful people like Phil Knight. Phil and Penny, thank you for your contributions to the university. And to Duck fans everywhere: Thank you."

7. Celebrate your past.

"To the men of Kalaepohaku and the St. Louis [High School] brotherhood, thank you for teaching me to always be mindful and faithful. A special thanks goes to my boys, who believed in me. Thank you."

8. Stay grounded.

"To Hawaii nei [beloved Hawaii], thank you for teaching me humility and respect, two aspects of my life that I will never change."

9. Inspire others.

"To the Polynesian community, I hope and pray that this is only the beginning. Young Poly athletes everywhere, you should take this as motivation, and dream big and strive for greatness."

9. Honor your father and mother.

"Finally, Mom, Dad, Matt and the rest of my family, thank you. Thank you for sacrificing and providing me and Matt every opportunity we could have. Words can’t express how much you guys mean to me. I’m truly grateful to have you guys in my life. Mom and Dad, thank you for your love and for sharing that with me and Matt. We are truly grateful."

10. Remember the Lord.

"Fa’afetai tele lava [thank you very much]. God bless... and go Ducks."

***

Mariota is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Oregon. In Sharing the Victory, FCA's national magazine, he shares more about his faith in Christ in an article entitled "In His Own Words."

Prior to the 2014 college football season, FCA Magazine traveled to Eugene, Ore., to interview Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota about his faith, how it translates onto the field as he goes “All In” for Christ and his team, and what God has taught him during his time as a Duck.

Mariota said, “Going ‘All In’ for God is glorifying Him with the abilities He’s given us and shining our light for Him.”

FCA: How is your faith a part of you being a football player?

MM: Being a football player, faith plays a huge role. When things start to get rough you find comfort in your faith. Knowing that no matter what, you can dust yourself off and be okay. And you know you do it for [God’s] glory. You do it for your teammates, your family, but also for His glory and to represent His name.

FCA: Through the ups and downs of a season, how do you feel like your faith strengthens you?

MM: Going through the challenges of the season, my faith has been the steadying force that’s pushed me, along with my family, my friends and my teammates. Losing–especially here [at Oregon]–is tough. We have high expectations as a program to go and win national championships. It’s a huge pressure, but you learn a lot about yourself through it. Coach [Scott] Frost has helped me learn that football doesn’t define me. It’s just what I do. That was a huge life lesson for me. I really took that and ran with it. My faith is what keeps me going and I can always grow in that.

FCA: What comes to mind when you think about going “All In” for Christ?

MM: I think as an athlete when you’re able to go out there and have the abilities that the Lord has blessed you with, you want to glorify Him. You want to go out there to represent Him in the right light. To represent your family in the right light and to do that through His power.

FCA: How has FCA impacted your faith while at Oregon?

MM: FCA allows athletes to find a family away from home. You’re able to bond through your faith, as well as the difficult times in sports. We relate to each other as athletes and grow in our faith and as human beings.

FCA: What has God taught you about yourself while at Oregon?

MM: Since I’ve been here at Oregon, I think my faith has grown tremendously. In high school, I learned about God and Jesus Christ, but I wasn’t really invested in it. I think coming here I got involved with FCA and [FCA’s] Tony [Overstake] and it really introduced me into my walk and into my journey. I’m not perfect, but I’m encouraged everyday to continue to open up in my faith. I’ve learned that no matter what, my faith will guide me. However I play on the field, I know my faith will guide me. After sports, my faith will guide me. As I’ve grown in my faith, that’s something that’s given me comfort. God has taught me that I can trust in Him. No matter what–whether things are good or bad–I know I can always trust in Him. And that has really allowed me to go All In for Him.

***

“Going All In is glorifying God with the abilities He’s given us and shining our light for Him. It’s being motivated to always set the bar higher and never getting complacent. We do that with His power for His glory.” – Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in the November/December 2014 FCA Magazine

“When I relentlessly pursue Christ, I put all my faith in Him to be able to play well and lead my team. With His power, we are able to pursue and play for His glory. We want to go out and show the world that Christ lives.” – Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in the November/December 2013 FCA Magazine

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Alphabet of Gregg Jacobsen

Gregg Jacobsen, Executive Pastor of Administration at Cuyahoga Valley Church, celebrates his 60th birthday today. 

It's been a TRUE JOY serving Jesus alongside him at CVC. He's gifted, smart, committed, joyous, and positive. My life is much, much richer because of Gregg,

As I reflected on how to tell him "happy birthday" I thought about "The Alphabet of Gregg."  

Here it is:

A - Achieving results
B - Building consensus
C - Creating cohesion
D - Developing solutions
E - Empowering others
F - Finding partners
G - Getting buy-in
H - Helping the hurting
I - Imagining a better future
J - enJoying his family
K - Keeping focus
L - Leading excellence
M - Maintaining peace
N - Nurturing souls
O - Offering options
P - Pursuing Christ
Q - Quenching not the Spirit
R - Restoring hope
S - Staying the course
T - Trusting Jesus
U - Uniting teams
V - Valuing others' ideas
W - Waiting on God
X - eXhibiting Christlikeness
Y - Yielding to the Spirit
Z - Zealous for truth

Maryanne and I love this tremendous man of God, a man of integrity and loyalty, 

Happy birthday, Gregg!

3 reasons why persecution is a blessing

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, "Blessed are... the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:3-9). These are, for sure, challenging ideas. If you think about it, they build on each other. 

But Jesus saved perhaps His most challenging idea to present last. "Blessed are  those who are persecuted... (Matthew 5:10). 

Wait a minute! Isn't the persecution of a believer is an evil thing? Yes! But Jesus is able to shine His light into that darkness. 

According to Jesus, here are 3 reasons why we can see persecution as a blessing.

1. It’s proof that I belong.

"… for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:12c).

If ever you find yourself persecuted for Christ and for righteousness’ sake, you have proof that you are one of God’s people. You are like the prophets, God’s chosen servants, who are now with God, rejoicing in His presence. You can say to those who persecute you, “Thank you. You’re giving me proof that I am a child of God – that I belong to God’s people.”

2. It gains great reward.

"…for your reward is great in heaven…" (Matthew 5:12b).

When persecution happens to you, it’s proof of your eternal destiny. The world is dramatically telling you that you do not belong here. You are set apart. You belong to another realm.

Our bodies will be changed and glorified. There will be no sickness or disease. There will be no sorrow and no sighing. All tears will be wiped away - no wars, no unhappiness even for a millisecond! We will know only joy and purity and wonder! This is what is waiting for us. We must not forget that!

This is why we can say, like Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

This world is cannot the source of contentment and security for us. We can say to those who would persecute us, “You want to belittle me? You want to torture me? You want to kill me? This world is not my home. Pain and death are not the ultimate threat. I have a home in heaven and a reward waiting for me.”

Persecutors don't have the last word. can’t destroy us. God will have the last word in heaven. Stand with Jesus and stand for Jesus in this life and you will be with Him for all eternity. You’ll receive a GREAT reward. Jesus isn't messing around.

3. It shows off the worth of Christ.

"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account" (Matthew 5:11).

When we suffer persecution “on account of Christ,” it proves that we see Jesus as Someone supremely valuable. He is so worthy – so amazing, so treasured – that we are no longer preoccupied with self, with safety, with security. We are proving that what Jesus has done for us on the cross and through His resurrection to save us from our sins, to give us a home in heaven, to show us how much He loves us is worth more to us than our personal peace, more than our comfort and affluence.

When we are willing to suffer on account of Christ, some of the people around us might take note. They will wonder, “What is so great about Jesus that causes him/her to be willing to suffer?” They will be drawn to the Savior who is so supremely valuable to us. This is why the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

So, don't go looking for persecution. But when it comes, remember that it’s proof that we belong; it gains great reward; and it shows off the worth of Christ. No wonder Jesus said “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” It’s part of the good life. Your “best life now” – your blessed life now – includes so very many opportunities. And one of the opportunities is the pain of persecution.

No wonder we can “rejoice and be are exceedingly glad.”

But if Jesus is your example, your forgiver, your Lord, and your treasure, then you can rejoice in the face of persecution. You’ll be like Him, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2).

Blessed are you. Great is your reward in heaven. Rejoice and be glad. Because you are sharing in the sufferings and the joys of Jesus.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

How to handle 21st Century persecution in the USA


"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"(Matthew 5:10).

When we hear the word "persecution," we often think of imprisonment and martyrdom. And that’s what many of our brothers and sisters are facing in the world today. We must not forget that.

"Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body" (Hebrews 13:3).

We ought to want to know more. Two books are helpful: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Jesus Freaks. And two organizations can help us stay informed: Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

While we must be informed and in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, we ought not to minimize what believers in North America might be facing. If we don’t call milder forms of persecution persecution, then we won’t handle it the way Jesus teaches us to handle it.

The word "persecuted" means to be harassed, troubled, or mistreated. The word "reviled" that Jesus uses in Matthew 5:11 means to be reproached [criticized, blamed, insulted, condemned, scorned]. Jesus uses another phrase, too, in Matthew 5:11. "All kinds of evil uttered against you" includes slanders, lies, rumors, and scandalous accusations.

So, you might say, "I'm not dying or in jail for my faith in Christ like my brothers and sisters overseas. What I’m going through is not persecution." That might sound humble and noble. 

But if you are being verbally abused or insulted or laughed at or mocked at work, at school, or at home it’s a form of persecution. To minimize it does a disservice to a son or a daughter who might be facing ridicule for their faith at school.

It’s helpful for us think of persecution in two ways: Types and Degrees.

Persecution comes in many forms. Yes, we read of believers being burned and shot and murdered. And  yes, some people will actually do believers harm if they can. It's been said that more people have died for Christ in the 20th century than all the other centuries combined. It continues today in the 21st Century.

Here in America, we find ourselves in a Post-modern culture that is increasingly becoming more and more hostile to our faith. Tolerance is the key virtue. In spite of that, though, ridicule and mocking the Biblical worldview is the norm. Just about everything and everyone is off-limits to criticize or ridicule or speak against except for Christians. People who seek to apply Biblical values to public life and who believe Jesus is the only way to be saved will be ostracized. It seems to be open season on Bible-believing, righteous-living followers of Jesus.

It’s time to prepare ourselves our children to live in a world increasingly hostile to followers of Christ.

The word "persecution" literally means “to pursue.” You’ll be hounded. Your friends and family may joke about you. Perhaps you’ll be passed over for a promotion. You might face personal insults – sneering and jeering and laughter and whispers. You might be marginalized. Your words might be twisted and your actions misrepresented. You might be “disinvited” to social functions. Teachers might ridicule you or ever grade you down if you have Christian content. Get really serious about Jesus and people will think you are a fool or a fanatic.

Has anything like this happened to you? I hope so.


May we become convicted by the Spirit of God if we can go day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year and never face persecution of any kind.

Let's pray, " Lord God, let me more and more be like You. I know that if I stand up and speak out for You and Your kingdom, I will suffer at least mild forms of persecution. Help me be willing to suffer. Help me be faithful to You all the way to the end of my life. Use me to bear witness and bring many people to You. Help me never be ashamed of You or Your gospel. Keep me loyal and true so that I can even count it a joy to suffer for You. In Jesus' name. Amen."  

Friday, December 05, 2014

4 mistakes zealous Christians make about persecution

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).

Sometimes, believers in Christ mistakenly call certain kinds of troubles they face as persecution when it's not. 

It's helpful to ask ourselves, "What’s not persecution?" Here are 4 kinds of troubles that we face that are not persecution.

1. The trials of life.

What does it mean to be persecuted? It's not just the normal trials of life that we all go through. A flat tire on the way to church is not persecution! A water heater that blows up on the mission field is not persecution! A lost passport on a short-term mission trip is not persecution!

2. Suffering for self-righteousness’ sake.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who are suffering because they are offensive, obnoxious, unpleasant, or hateful.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who are in trouble because they have been foolish and "holier-than-thou" in how they share their faith.”

Sometimes, we just come across as insensitive, arrogant, judgmental know-it-alls. No wonder we get negative push-back. “Being persecuted for our faith is different than being persecuted because we’re acting like jerks" (Relevant Magazine).

3. Self-inflicted wounds.


If you are crabby and other people then become difficult for you to live with, that's not persecution. If you aren’t doing your job well and you’re fired, demoted, or not given a raise, that's not persecution. If you are suffering for something foolish you've done, that's punishment, not persecution.

4. Partisan political conflict.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are they that are persecuted because of some cause.” 


Let me hurry to add that some causes, of course, are biblical. We stand up for the unborn, the poor, the orphans, and the oppressed – for those who can’t speak for themselves. We fight against injustice. 

But we better be careful about mixing religion and politics. Jesus doesn’t say, "Blessed are you who are persecuted because you are a Fox News fanatic or because you are NPR groupie.”

Truth doesn't come from the right or the left. Truth comes from above - from God. Some positions that biblical Christians take might seem way left to some people. Other positions that biblical Christians take might seem way right to some people. But no matter what position we take, let's make sure we do so carefully and graciously.

If you claim to be a Christ-follower and you feel that you are constantly being persecuted because people don’t like your Facebook posts, then please take a look at how you are communicating. Are you attacking people or loving them? 

Often Christians might just be getting justified push-back, not persecution.

Jesus is our example. He didn’t bring down persecution on Himself because of His arrogance and foolishness. He was meek and merciful. He was a peacemaker. He was kind and gentle. It was His righteous life and His calling people to live righteously that led to His own experience of persecution, His own death on the cross. Jesus spoke the truth in love. He was full of grace and truth.

Look closely at Matthew 5:8-10. The kind of persecution Jesus is talking about here is “for righteousness’ sake” and “on account of Me.” 

According to Jesus, genuine persecution will come to us because of 2 things: 1) the life we live and 2) the Lord we love.

Question: Are you living a truly righteous life? Are you fully identified with Jesus? If so, then expect persecution. Then rejoice and be glad. Great is your reward in heaven.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Is Jesus "a way" or "the way"?


Have Christ-followers today become less passionate about evangelism? Most of my pastor friends would say "yes!" Why? Maybe it's because we have come to believe what our culture says about there being many paths to heaven.
Christians today are not believing as passionately as we once did that Jesus is the only way.

Church leaders have some teaching to do about the uniqueness of Christ. We must keep reminding our people about the "only-way-ness" of Jesus. Why? The culture will seek to convince our people that religious intolerance is the real culprit behind much of the conflict we see in the world today.

I was recently reading through John 14 and the following thoughts came to mind...

I love traveling the world. The peoples of other religions intrigue me. I have friends who not Christians.

I was trained in the Religious Studies Department at Vanderbilt University in the principles of acceptance and tolerance of all world religions - that there are many roads to God.

But in spite of what my professors said, Jesus doesn't give us the "many paths to heaven" option.

He claims to be unique.

He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

He not saying that He's a way, a truth, and a life. He's claiming to be THE way, truth, and life - the only way to God.

We are not left with the great man/good teacher option when it comes to Jesus. He's claiming to be unique - the only way to be saved. He's either right or wrong about that. M

Why would He make such an audacious claim? How could He?

Jesus is the only religious leader who claimed to the God (John 8:58, John 10:30), who is the Creator (John 1:1-3), who never sinned (II Corinthians 5:21), who loved us enough to die on the cross so we wouldn't have to (Isaiah 53:5-6, Romans 5:8), who takes away/forgives sin (John 1:29), and who rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6), who ascended to heaven (Acts 1:6-10), and who is coming back to take us to heaven (John 14:1-3).

No other religious leader - not Moses, Buddha, or Mohammed - made these kinds of claims or lived this kind of life. Jesus stands alone.

No wonder we worship. No wonder we love Christ. No wonder we want to tell as many people as possible about the only way to the Father.

In our culture of tolerance where saying Jesus is the only way is not politically correct, let's not play it safe.

Let's lift up Christ and watch Him draw people to Himself. Let's be bold witnesses. Let's go to heaven and take as many people with us as we can.

Do you have a story to tell about how Jesus has changed you? Who will you tell today?

That someone you know? That someone you love? Only Jesus can change the trajectory and destiny of their lives.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Believe it or not, "Your Best Life Now" as a Christ-follower includes persecution

What is the goal of most followers of Jesus in the western world?

It's the good life - "Your Best Life Now." Somehow we have come to believe that a really great Christian is a nice, popular person who never offends, who is universally applauded, and blessed by God with affluence, comfort, and safety.

Yet Jesus had an entirely different view. According to Jesus, "Your Best Life Now" includes not safety and security, but persecution. In fact, His 12 closest followers suffered greatly.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).

Sobering words. 

The blessings that come with the other 7 Beatitudes seem so much more desirable. Blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the merciful, and the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. To those blessings, our hearts can say, "Yes!" But blessed are those who are persecuted? Not so much! That's a blessing we naturally want to by-pass.

What if we turned this passage inside out and upside down? What if we "flipped" it? It's even more provocative. It might sound like this:

Cursed are those who are not persecuted for righteousness’ sake –
   who play it safe,
   who won’t go public with their faith,
   who won’t speak up and be verbal witnesses for Christ,
   who are ashamed of being Christ-followers,
   who want to simply blend in,
   who want to be liked by everyone,
   who won’t stand up against injustice and oppression,
   who make affluence and personal peace most important,
   who are lukewarm, complacent, and worldly,
   who are “stay-inside-the-closet” Christians
(cursed are these who are not persecuted) for the kingdom of heaven is not theirs.

That's eye-opening. That's challenging. That makes us swallow hard.

Jesus is saying that unless we face some form of persecution as followers of Jesus, we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

If we are going to follow Jesus, then we will suffer. We are not called to go out of our way to seek to be un-liked. We aren't to irresponsibly pursue pain. But the scriptures are clear. Experiencing some level of persecution is normal for every follower of Jesus. It might be a milder form of persecution. But you can’t be a genuine Jesus-follower and escape suffering.

Consider a few more verses. The Apostle Paul wrote...

"It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).

Paul says it's a privilege - a gift - to suffer for Christ. In another place, Paul tells us what all godly Christ followers can expect.

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Timothy 3:12).

Who lived the most godly life ever? Jesus! Yet, the world hated Jesus. Why? The world loves darkness rather than light. When given an option, the world chose a murderer to live instead of Jesus. They put Him to death on a cross. And Jesus Himself said…

"Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20a).

Just a few verses later, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-15). Salt stings a wound. And light reveals darkness. Followers of Jesus are like that. We irritate the wounds of this world and shine a light on its darkness. So, a world that’s not ready for healing says, “Remove that salt and put out that light.”

Followers of Jesus have been called to carry a cross. We weren’t saved so we could avoid hard things. We were not called by Jesus to play it safe.

Would you, just for a moment, stop and evaluate your life?

Have you been mistakenly thinking that Jesus is honor-bound to protect you and yours? Or has sacrificially serving Him to advance been your focus and your aim?

Maybe it's time for us to repent of this sin of seeking to use Jesus to achieve your goals of safety and security. Maybe it's time to ask Him to use you to build His kingdom, not yours. Maybe it's time to say, "Lord, I am going to stop playing it safe. Instead, I will risk losing comfort, security, and safety because Your and Your kingdom matter most to me."

Let's live by FAITH: Forsaking All I Trust Him.

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