Holy week

“The truth is that we need reminders. We need to make the gospel, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, as personal as possible. We need to remember. We need to set aside the business of our everyday lives, and allow ourselves to walk through the events of Holy Week.”–Rebecca Prewett

Before my evangelical friends wonder if I have become Catholic, I would like them to remember that Jesus told us to remember what he did. I know the writer of this post personally and can attest to her deep devotion to Christ as her personal Savior. She emotionally reminds us to not casually dismiss what Christ did. We gratefully talk about how Christ rose from the dead. We appreciate the Miracle of His Resurrection, but do we realize what a miracle it was for Christ to suffer the way He did. Think about it. Look at the love Jesus showed in his suffering. The greater miracle was the compassion, the love, the consideration, the gentleness and the self-control that Jesus demonstrated in the midst of His incredible suffering. Could you do this? Every Christian needs to be aware and deeply ponder this incredible non-human act, during this very Holy Week.

Do You Repeat The Same Mistakes?

Christ took our sins and the sins of the whole world as well as the Father’s wrath on his shoulders, and he has drowned them both in himself so that we are thereby reconciled to God and become completely righteous.–Martin Luther

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Skyline Hiking Trail Photographed by Stephan Caraway

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 6:11-14)

My life has been a series of struggles. I have always wanted to follow Jesus but for many years I just lived in failure. Then through a series of encounters with God I began to understand. A few years ago this passage revealed the hope of having victory over my failures to consistently follow Jesus. My hope was not found in my actions, but in the holiness of God and what Jesus did on the cross. It is all about God’s love for us.

The people of Ephesus struggled, like most people today, with doing right by God’s standard. The fact is that Christians are not perfect. We sin just like everyone else. The difference for Christians is Jesus. When we choose to have a relationship with Him and acknowledge our wrong doings, He wipes our sins away. Through Christ, God forgives us. It is all about Jesus, His love, the price He paid, His Righteousness and His Kingship. Paul understood that his disciple Timothy was not perfect. He knew that Timothy would struggle with his faith. The struggle is actually good. It is when we are not bothered by our sin that darkness prevails. God knows that we are flawed by sin. That is why Jesus came. God loves us and wanted us to have hope, the hope of being saved from our failures that separate us from God. That Hope is in Jesus Christ.

So why do Christians seem to struggle with repeating the same sins over and over again? It is in this passage that Paul gives Timothy some very important keys to overcoming the sins that abuse us and drag us away from God.

…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:22)

The first key is to run from your old life. We need God’s strength to do this. Paul tells Timothy to flee from from wrong doing. He even advises Timothy earlier in the letter to avoid false teachers, people who lead you astray. This can be extremely difficult and even painful. This means that you need to allow the Holy spirit to remove everything that distracts you from having an effective walk with Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans:

Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Think of it like this; while you were at work, if you took personal calls through out the day that kept you from doing your duties, would your work performance be effective? Could it possibly impede your production and lead to termination? Of course it would! It is the same for your Christian life. Confess to God, what you know is wrong. Get rid of relationships, habits and activities that keep you from God. Ask God what distracts you from him. Pray that God will break those habits and activities that drag you back to your old life. Rely on the Holy spirit to guide you.

Early in my marriage I realized that I had a serious problem with video games. They kept me from praying, reading my Bible and they were wrecking my relationship with my wife and kids. My video game friends and I talked more than I did with God or my family. I realized that I had put games before God and my family. I was selfish. Today if you walk in to my home you will not find a video game console. Every once in a while I find myself tempted by the illusion of that old life, but the fulfillment I have in Christ is far more satisfying. Run from your old self and pursue Jesus and what He has for you. Let Him Give you rest.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

The second key is to pursue the gifts God has for you. Paul gave Timothy the next key in overcoming sin. He says, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness”. Let’s be blunt here, if we could achieve these on our own we would not need Jesus. Humanity is flawed and depraved and we cannot achieve perfection. We are devolving into a crueler, more violent species. Society is imposing less restraints upon us, while encouraging our worst instincts and behavior.

This is why we need God. Throughout the world no matter the country or race people seek God. It is in our genetic code to desire a relationship with him. God wants us to be better than we are. That is why Jesus came and gave his life for us. It is God, through what Jesus did on the cross , who provides our righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. None of this can be achieved by us. It was achieved on a blood stained cross by the perfect Incarnate Christ. So Paul is telling Timothy to pursue Christ’s Righteousness, Godliness, Faith, Love, Perseverance and Gentleness. God gives them to those who follow Him, who pursue Him. They are the perfect gift and they only come from Him. Pray and ask God to help you! These gifts come through sorrowful repentance and prayer.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

The third key is to take hold of Jesus. This is where things get really exciting. Paul tells Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called”. Eternal life comes from one source, Jesus. Jesus is eternal life. Take a look at the passage below:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He was calling people to follow him. We are not to follow some ideals, or a political leader or even a pastor. We are to follow Jesus. My dad always told me not to put my faith in him or to place my salvation in his arms. He warned me that one day he would unwillingly let me down. “Follow Jesus,” my father would say. “He will never let you down.” (Note: My father has yet to let me down, but my actions did hurt him quite a few times. I have always seen Jesus in him.)

Jesus is perfect. He is without sin. He experienced the violent, cruel world of humanity. He came into this world willingly, to give us life. If we want an abundant life that is eternal, then we must take hold of Jesus. Jesus is life. He can give life to our weaknesses. Are you following Jesus or are you just a fan? Are you leaving the old life behind like bad garbage? Do you really know Jesus? Ask your self, “Do people see the love of Jesus in me”? Take hold of Jesus grab onto him. Surrender everything to him. He is the one who defeats sin, not us. He is the one who raises us up when we fall. It is when we experience the power of Christ in our lives and his transforming love, that we should share what God has done.

The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely,But He has not given me over to death. (Psalm 118:16-18)

The fourth key is to share publicly what God has done for you and be accountable.

Paul reminded Timothy about the confession he made publicly. There were many witnesses to the declaration that Timothy made, to follow Jesus. Testifying to what Jesus has done builds your faith up. It keeps you accountable. Yes it does put a bullseye right on your back, but that is the whole point. Jesus put your sins on his back and nailed them to a cross so that you could have life. Be bold in testifying to what Jesus has done. Let everything in your life point to Jesus, every word and every action.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (1Peter 3:15-16)

** Authors Note: Sorry for this long post. It has been in the works for 4 months. This may sound like a doing and striving post, but it is not. It is all about Jesus and what he has done. It is His work on the cross. You may be exhausted with your life. Let Jesus take your troubles let him give you rest. May God bless you and give you the endurance to run the race! Take hold of Jesus! God Bless.

 

Is There Proof that You Follow Jesus?

The gospel of a broken heart demands the ministry of bleeding hearts…We can never heal the needs we do not feel. Tearless hearts can never be heralds of the passion. — Dr. John Henry J. H. Jowett

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Does your life bear fruit? –Cleveland National Forest.

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8)

Jim has become a good friend of mine. I have had the privilege of watching him grow in Christ. Early on he struggled with his decision to follow Jesus. He would not follow through on commitments and he would often slip into the bad habits of his old life. It was a challenge to lovingly encourage him. I did not want to come across as judgmental. The reminder of my own failures gave me the patience and love to build him up in his faith. God kept reminding me not to “fix” Jim. The Job of life changing transformation belongs to Jesus. My Job was to point to Jesus and to encourage him.

One day Jim was with a client and out of the blue, the client turned to Jim and asked him, “How long have you been a follower of Jesus?” Jim was stunned. He later asked me, “How did he know?”

That leads me to a few questions that I have been asking myself for the last few years. Do the people I know, see Jesus in my life? What evidence is there that I am not just a “Christian”, but an active follower of Jesus? What is the Proof of my faith?

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Which of these sins do you struggle with? When looking at this passage, there are a few of these sins that we can cross off our own”naughty list”. But lets be brutally honest about the ones we tend to ignore. Do your Facebook rants make you look like Jesus or the Devil? Do you love to create arguments or do you create peace? Does Jesus approve of your sex life, or do you toss him aside for a moment of lustful pleasure? Does your behavior prove that your really love Jesus, or does it prove that you are a fake Christian?

A few years ago, God convicted me that my political discussions on social media were doing more harm than good. I was more concerned about convincing people to follow my political view instead of following Jesus. Politics had become an idol. I had more faith in a political solution than in a spiritual one. With a deeply repentant heart I gave up the belief that “great men” could solve America’s problems. Man is flawed and needs God. Only through repentant sorrow can God change the heart of a nation. The only way to save America is for her people to turn from their own selfishness and rush towards the cross of Jesus with a repentant heart.

Paul warns us that if we continue to practice the deeds of the flesh, that we will not inherit the kingdom of God. So what should the proof of our faith be like?

It is a faith that bears fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

This is what a follower of Jesus demonstrates on a daily basis. These are the gifts that God gives us when we allow him to change us. They are the character of Christ that shines  from with in, as a beacon of light to a dark world. The Christian turns hurt into God given love. When trials overwhelm the day, God provides our joy and peace. We show patience to the impatient. We are to be good and kind to those who are not. We are faithful to those around us, because of God’s faithfulness to us. We should exhibit gentleness to a violent world and self-control in the face of an angry one. The true Christian places his desires and passions at the foot of the cross. These gifts come when we seek God and ask him to transform our lives. They are the fruit that we bear and the proof of our salvation in Jesus. If you lack these characteristics in your life, ask God to help you with them. God knows that we are flawed, and  in spite of our flaws He loves us.

The real proof of your faith is found in love and the fruit that you bear. Are your friends overwhelmed by your love? Do they know you, by Christ in you? Do they see God’s love in you?

 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

 

The Crazy Chaos of a Busy Life…

There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.” C.S. Lewis

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So, then, be careful how you live. Do not be unwise but wise, making the best use of your time because the times are evil.Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.(Ephesians 5:15-17)

This  past month has been an absolutely crazy and busy one for me. When I made the commitment to start blogging, I set a schedule up so that I could stick to a time frame in which to write. The plan was working out great for about two months. Then life happened. Oh yes, I do have some great excuses. February was one of the most stressful months, that I can remember. The fact is, when life becomes chaotic we do have to prioritize. For the follower of Jesus, our time with Him should always come first. How will we know what to prioritize unless we go to God and ask Him? Do you pray more than you stress over situations? We need to know what the will of God is in every situation.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

The true Christian puts Jesus first in everything he does. One should not even think about taking a step with out seeking the council of God. Reading your Bible and beginning your day in prayer, must be the first thing you do. I recently spoke to a friend that made a panicked filled decision. She told me that she prayed over it, but was never comfortable with her descision. She regretted her choice because she knew it was not what God wanted. That decision was now costing her thousands of dollars. We need to wait on God and be patient. We need to trust in God’s timing. Do you trust God? Are you willing to wait on his answer? What if it took a year or two for God to answer you, could you wait? Could you wait twenty years?

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Before each decision, place it into the hands of God. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that your problem or task is to small to take to God. Do not be afraid, fear is the mind blower. (For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.–2 Timothy1:7) When chaos comes and life gets hectic, you should feel the calming Spirit of God Guiding you peacefully through the storm. The Christian should always be prepared with prayer, scripture and a heart of thanksgiving. Here are three things that I am learning to do when faced with overwhelming circumstances.

  1. Stop, breathe and give thanks to God. He is in control. Thank him for the lessons you will learn. Slow your mind down and put your trust in God. Thank Him at every step. The darker the moment, the more God is there. Look for God’s blessings and thank Him for them. Do not be afraid!
  2. Pray! Pray before you make a decision. Pray about the situation, ask for God’s will. Pray persistently. Jesus encouraged persistent prayers.
  3. Seek Godly wisdom. Go to scripture first, then talk to someone who demonstrates the characteristics of a Godly Christian. Do not seek the council of a non Christian. (How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. –Palms1:1a)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)