Imaginary Jesus

“We can’t know Jesus apart from the Bible because, as Jesus himself says, the Bible always and on every page testifies to him. Any other “Jesus” is just a Jesus of our own imagining.” -Barry Cooper

 

I’m currently reading a book called “Can I really trust the Bible?” In it, Barry Cooper talks about the difference between the word (the bible) and the Word (Jesus). He points out that the religious or spiritual people of Jesus’ day wanted the word but not the Word. And how today we seem to want the Word but not the word. Hang with me here, I know this sounds a little confusing but the point he’s trying to make is extremely important.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders spent their entire lives studying the bible. Yet, despite being in the word of God their entire lives, they never actually met God. They studied the scriptures day in and day out, increasing in knowledge but never in love. They turned God’s word into a profession instead of a relationship. Fast forward 2000 plus years and we seem to have flip-flopped. We want the Word, but not the word. We want God’s grace, mercy, and love, but have no time for his word. Which begs the question, if we are not reading the bible then are we really following a biblical Jesus? Or are we worshipping our own imaginary Jesus. I fear many are worshiping a false Jesus, a Jesus made of good intentions instead of biblical truth. We have to make it a point to dive into God’s word in order to truly know the Word.

Jesus shows us the importance of the word of God while being tempted by the devil in Matthew 4:4, “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Jesus says, “It is written,” indicating his knowledge of the written word of God. Another interesting point in Matthew and the temptation of Jesus is the fact that the devil tried to use scripture against Jesus. The devil quoted Psalm 91:11,12 trying to tempt Jesus into sin. I believe this is one of the most important reasons we must study God’s word. The enemy has proven that he knows the scriptures. He knows the scriptures well enough to quote them to us in an effort to make us stumble. As Christians, we must be prepared to do spiritual battle with the enemy just as Jesus was in the book of Matthew. Ephesians 6 talks about the armor we are to wear in this battle, and the only offence we have against the enemy is the word of God.

In Ephesians, the word of God is called “the sword of the Spirit”. If I am going to battle with a sword, I want to make sure I know how to use it before I am thrown out onto the battle field. Much like a knight would spend time training with his sword, we must spend time training with ours.

If you are a Christian and reading the bible is not part of your regular routine, I highly encourage you to do so. At first, some of the scriptures may prove difficult, just as it would prove difficult to weld a sword for the first time. Don’t let this discourage you. With time, and help from the Holy Spirit, you will grow in your knowledge of the word and your skill with God’s sword.

 

 

 

 

Cracker Jack

This morning I was in the gym (killing it #humblebrag) and this thought kept popping into my head, “crackerjack clean”. It just kept repeating itself in my mind, crackerjack clean, crackerjack clean, crackerjack clean. I thought on it and what it meant. It just kept going over and over again, crackerjack clean, to the point I was starting to get annoyed. After returning home and getting my son to school, I started looking through old notes, googling the phrase, and after a few minutes I found it. A quote in one of my study bibles by Chuck Swindoll, a former Marine.

“Few things are more infectious than a godly lifestyle. The people you rub shoulders with every day need that kind of challenge. Not prudish. Not preachy. Just crackerjack clean living. Just honest-to-goodness, bone-deep, nonhypocritical integrity. Authentic obedience to God.” -Chuck Swindoll

Chuck was talking in reference to David in 1 Samuel 24:1-7 when he found King Saul, who was trying to kill David, a little exposed. David had the opportunity to take King Saul out, but chose not too. Why? King Saul was God’s anointed one. David stood for a righteous principle. He stood for God, and he was obedient.

For me, this quote by Chuck means something else. It means I need to adjust my life. It means I need to remove every stumbling block in my life that may cause another brother or sister to stumble or hinder a nonbeliever from coming to Christ. It means living a “crackerjack clean” lifestyle. A living sacrifice.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:13 NIV, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall in sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” That’s pretty intense! Paul is saying that if by him eating meat it causes a brother or sister to stumble or fall away from Christ, he would stop eating meat altogether! But maybe today, for us, it’s not meat, maybe it’s a beer or a glass of wine. Maybe it’s encouraging gossip or slandering someone. In reality, it’s ANYTHING that would cause a brother or sister to stumble.

We have been called, by God Himself, to point others to Jesus Christ. An anything that would hinder that needs to be eliminated from our lives. Crackerjack clean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking Body

“Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT

 

The bible states over and over again that we, Christians, are the body of Christ. The body of Christ, that’s kind of a weird analogy. But lets really take a look at this. Like a body, we Christians all have a purpose. We were all created to have a function on this earth that will help the church. We each have a calling in this life that will further God’s kingdom.

Now, like a human body, not every part of the body of Christ is as glamorous as others, (nobody wants to be the colon…) but they are each one just as important as the others. The bible says, “But God made our bodies with many parts, and he has put each part just where he wants it.” 1 Corinthians 12:18 NLT. I know a lot of us would love to be the fiery preacher on stage, when in fact God may be calling us to drive the church bus full of seniors to pick apples. But we must not look down on these parts of the body, or feel bad when we are not called to be the “glamorous” parts of the body. Each part is essential for a healthy body.  “In fact, some of the parts that seem the weakest and least important are really the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while other parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other equally.” 1 Corinthians 12:22-24 NLT.

The problem that we run into today in the church is that a lot of Christians are simply not functioning the way God intended. It doesn’t work very well when your hand tries to act like a foot! We can’t pick and choose what part of the body we want to be, rather we must step into what God has called us to be. So how do we know what God has called us to be? How do we know if we are a foot, or a hand, or an eye? Well, to put it simply, you jump in! Start serving, start volunteering, see where your talents are. Try to pick up a cup with your ear or write with your feet, you’ll soon realize what and where your calling is. Some are called to be greeters, some worship leaders, and others are called to full time ministry. My point is to get out there and try! The church is always in need of more volunteers. Who knows, you may just be the next mouth of the church….or possibly the colon.

Resolution

“For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

 

Looking back at 2016, I’ve had highs and lows. Spiritual mountaintops and darkened valleys. Like David in the Psalms, I had moments where I praised God aloud for His grace and mercy and then screamed out, “Where are You?!” I’ve had moments where I asked myself, “How did I get here? How did I end up in this situation?” If I were to be completely honest, those times of darkness were often times I turned away from God, thinking I knew better than He did, and trying to do life on my own program. But one thing always brought me back around. One emotion or concept. One feeling, love. The bible says in 1 John 4:8 that God IS love. When I was down and out, feeling blue and sorry for myself, there was always someone there to love me through it. Someone to sit me down and speak truth to my life, not anger or hatred, but love and truth. I thank God for the people He has placed in my life. People of strong faith, people to keep me accountable, people to love me. I’ve seen what my life looks like without the love of God and His people in it and it is not a pretty picture. That is why my new year’s resolution is 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.” I’ve allowed myself to drift into the cares of this world for too long, forgetting what true love looks like. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT.  God is love. There is no clearer picture of that than Jesus Christ on the cross. That is true love.

 

 

 

 

Crazy Talk

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT

 

I believe the bible. I believe every word. I don’t always understand it, but I believe it. I believe that God sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for the sins of the world then raised Him from the dead three days later. I believe that one day Jesus will return and we will all have to answer for our time here on earth. I believe that each and every one of us will be judged for what we have done and the only way to avoid God’s righteous wrath is Jesus Christ. I also believe that sounds completely crazy to anyone who doesn’t believe that. So how do we reach these people? People that look at our beliefs and think we are some kind of crazy. The bible says that, “Faith comes from listening to this message of good news-the Good News about Christ.” Romans 10:17 NLT. It’s up to us to tell them, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable, we must tell them about Jesus. Romans 10:14 NLT says, “But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?” Jesus has given us a commission, a calling, a command. At the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples.  So why aren’t we doing it? What’s holding us back? This commission wasn’t just for preachers, it’s for every man or woman that would call themselves a Christian. It can, and will, be awkward. Push through it. If we truly believe the bible, we have to believe what it says about hell and the unbelievers. “But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshipers, and all liars-their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.” Revelation 21:8 NLT. Hell is not something that is particularly fun to talk about, but it is a reality. A reality that many choose to ignore or pretend doesn’t exist. I recently read an article that said 43% of Americans were “unchurched”. 43%. Almost half of the US is headed to eternal damnation, separated from God, forever. Christians, we must step-up. If we truly believe what the bible says, and we have any love in our hearts, we must spread the gospel. We must reach out to those who don’t know the hope of Jesus. We must shine the light of God in this dark world. It wasn’t merely a suggestion from Jesus, it was a command.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end 0f the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NLT

Fearing Man

I’ve made a reputation for myself, and not necessarily a good one.  I’m not sure how I get here. Actually, I take that back, I do know. It starts with me turning from God.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 ESV

I try so hard to be cool, to fit in, to make people laugh. I’m still trying to be part of the “cool kids” club. But in truth, I’m running from God. I’ve made friends here, good friends, that desperately need the hope of Jesus. But instead of speaking truth to them, I engage in idle chatter. Ephesians 5:16-17 NLT says, “Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” I understand what the Lord wants me to do, yet I run. I run from the awkwardness of confessing my faith to people out of fear of what they will think or say. I hold my tongue when God is clearly telling me to speak. Instead of asking, “How can God use me?” I’m asking, “What will they think?” Bouncing back and forth between Galatians and Ephesians, it’s clear how we as Christians are supposed to act. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Ephesians 5:11 I am tired of living my life to please man. It is fruitless. If I stop and look at my life and everyone agrees with me, then I can almost always be assured that it doesn’t agree with God. We as Christians follow Jesus, a man that was murdered for the way He lived. Why should we think that, as Christians following this example, we would not face some form of resistance? 2 Timothy 3:12 ESV assures us that we with face persecution if we are true followers of Christ. Looking at the world around us, it’s painfully clear that we are trying as hard as we can to please man, not God. We try to be politically correct in everything we do, worrying more of what some group of people will say about us instead of what the creator of the universe will. We think that we are making progress in law and rights when, in actuality, we are plunging further and further into darkness. We true Christians have to make a stand. We can no longer afford to fear man, we are losing too many brothers and sisters. Paul spells it quite clearly for us in a letter to Timothy. “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV I don’t think you can paint a clearer picture of the world today than that. So what do we do? As Christians what can we do in such a dark world? Paul gives us the answer in the next chapter of the same book. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill you ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:2-5 ESV I hope these words are as sobering for you as they were for me.

We are called to action. Prayer is great, and I highly encourage it. But we are called, by God Himself, to do more than just pray. We must reach out. How will they ever be saved if we fail to tell them about the love of God? Fulfill your ministry, whatever that ministry may be.

Withdrawn

“However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

 

As I look through some of my recent journal entries, one word seems to be popping up in almost all of them, distant. Distant from friends and family (mainly because I live in a different country) but also distance from God. I don’t feel as close to Him as I have in the past. It has been weighing on me for a few weeks now.

This morning I had a few minutes before I had to take my son to school, so I decided to read a chapter. I have been on a journey through the entire bible and have made it up to 2 Chronicles. The book is recapping all the Kings, good and bad, that have ruled in Judah and Israel. Hezekiah had put into place some religious reforms to bring the people back to the Lord. As I read about the success of Hezekiah, the chapter closed with the verse above. The last part of the verse is what really hit me, “…God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” In the ESV version of the bible it says, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” That’s exactly how I have felt lately, left to myself. But as I prayed and really tried to look at this verse, God gave me a different perspective. It says that ambassadors came to ask about all the remarkable events that had happened. I believe that God left him to himself to see what he would say in regards to the miracles that God had done in his life. Would he give God the glory, or would he try and take credit for it.

As I reflect on this verse, I can’t help but be humbled by what God has done in my own life. The miracles He has worked in me, the gifts He has given me, His grace and love.  The truth is that without Jesus in my life, I can do no good. The only “good” is what Jesus does through me, when I allow His living and active word to change me and work through me. When I stop trying to take the glory for His works and just thank Him for all He has done for me. What about you? Are you having a season of “withdrawal”? Maybe this is a good time to stop and look at all the things God has done for us. His miracles, His grace, His love, His mercy. I know for me it was. This one short verse stopped me in the middle of a selfish “all-about-me” season in my life. A “test” to see what was truly in my heart.

I pray that you will give yourself fully to Jesus Christ. Hold nothing back from Him. Give every area, the good, the bad, and the ugly over to Him. Trust me, He can handle it.

 

Daily travels along the straight and narrow path to salvation.