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(Ab)Normal Christianity

Photo credit: unsplash_RBenad Moving to Indonesia I thought I would learn how to live a normal Christian life, an ordinary Christian life. A lifestyle that instinctively turns to God for guidance. 

A mind-set where, above all, my heart was set on Christ in all things. This would be my default.

I thought my time in Indonesia would reprogram my brain so my natural instincts were for God, a pretty noble desire if I do say so myself.

A noble desire

Now, I am not so sure it's how things work. Of course, I think it is good, possible, and appropriate to place God above all else in our hearts and minds, and have our actions follow suit.

However, I am not convinced that Lordship and obedience are as natural or instinctive as I hoped, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

If, indeed, there is no greater love than a man laying down his life for a friend (John 15:13), then love requires sacrifice, a non-instinctive sacrifice.

We are self-preserving creatures. To lay down our lives, to give up control, hand over the reigns, to love, all these actions are in direct opposition to our instinct of self-preservation.

If our worship is offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) and loving Jesus is obeying him (John 14:15) despite what our flesh (selfish nature), our society, our instincts are leaning towards.

Maybe Christian living is never normal

Maybe Christian living is denying what is normal, despite emotions, desires, instincts, or conventional wisdom.

I see this in the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ. He pleads with God to take the "cup" of the cross away from Him (Mark 14:36). Everything in Him, including His instincts, scream for another way. 

Instead, He refuses to give in. He is obedient to the Father, not his instincts as a man.

Christ's amazing love

How much more do we feel Christ’s amazing love because of his obedience instead of giving into an alternate route?

When everything in Him said no, He said yes—yes to the Father. He said yes for us! What an amazing sacrifice!

I also believe the reciprocal is true. When we are obedient to the Lord through the Holy Spirit, though everything in us is saying no and looking for an alternative, I believe the Father receives a little bit of that same love his Son poured out on the cross 2000 years ago when we deny our self.

Maybe we should view our battle against the flesh, our instincts and our desire, more as a platform to show our gratefulness to our Saviour and to love Him in a fraction of the way he loved us.

Maybe I was defining the term normal Christian life more as an easy Christian life. Maybe such a life does not exist, because it is contradictory to our nature.

To oppose our selfish nature, our instincts, and have victory in the Holy Spirit is our way of loving God just as Christ loved us. Obviously, on a much different scale, yet, what a privilege it is to return a fraction of that amazing love.

Not by our own strength

By no means do I believe we are to oppose our flesh (selfish nature) by our own strength, that would be ridiculous!

How are we to oppose the flesh with our own strength, which is by nature selfish? It is counterproductive. Rather, our greatest weapon is surrender. Surrender to the Spirit.

Therein lies the battle. The Spirit defeating our selfish nature is the easy part. The Spirit of God conquered death—by knockout in the first round. It wasn’t even close. God beats anything and everything else, every time. He is the heavyweight champion.

The battle is surrendering our spirit and our will to Him. Yielding ourselves to God. Nothing about this is normal.

Anything but normal

Normal is popping on a pair of overalls every time I face an obstacle and going to work. If I am too weak, I go to the gym, not smart enough, I head to school. But I will overcome. Me.

Victory in Christ is completely opposite. Victory in Christ is admitting defeat in the natural, surrendering, then saying "I am incapable on my own, but with Christ the victory is mine." It is counterintuitive to our instincts, it is contrary to conventional wisdom, but it is Lordship in motion.

Surrendering our self to Jesus recognizes who our King of Kings really is and allows Him to take His rightful place in our life. This is worship and victory all rolled up into one package.

Now, I am not trying to obtain a normal instinctive Christian walk, I am allowing Christ in me to oppose the norm. Now what I see as normal Christianity is anything but normal.


This is a guest post by Cole H who is a missionary with YWAM in Indonesia.

Nothing Harmful

Photo credit: lightstock.com Pay your debts as they come due. However, one debt you can never finish paying is the debt of love that you owe each other. The one who loves another person has fulfilled Moses’ Teachings.

The commandments, “Never commit adultery; never murder; never steal; never have wrong desires,” and every other commandment are summed up in this statement: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor. Therefore, love fulfills Moses’ Teachings.

You know the times ⌊in which we are living⌋. It’s time for you to wake up. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first became believers. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So we should get rid of the things that belong to the dark and take up the weapons that belong to the light.

We should live decently, as people who live in the light of day. Wild parties, drunkenness, sexual immorality, promiscuity, rivalry, and jealousy cannot be part of our lives.

Instead, live like the Lord Jesus Christ did, and forget about satisfying the desires of your corrupt nature. (‭Romans‬ ‭13:8-14‬ (GW)


Many people hold the idea of doing no harm to others as a guiding principle. It's a good principle to live by. Along with this principle, many believe each person needs to define their own belief in God.

But a self-made, self-serving belief is exactly that—based on self, not God, the Creator of all humanity.

The true test of doing no harm is measuring our life against the summation of God's Law—love your neighbor as yourself. As it says—Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor.

The selfish nature is wired to one over-riding drive—to please itself and satisfy its desires.

When we give in to this drive, and we all do, we send out a ripple effect that touches others. The idea that "I'm only harming myself," just isn't true.

It is wishful thinking that we can live unto ourselves and do no harm. This is only possible when we trust in the Lord Jesus alone to do a transforming work within us. ©Word-Strong_2016

[bctt tweet="Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor" username="tkbeyond"]

Obedience and the Government

Photo credit: lightstock.com Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God.

Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.

People who do what is right don’t have to be afraid of the government. But people who do what is wrong should be afraid of it.

Do what is right, and it will praise you. The government is God’s servant working for your good.

But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid. The government has the right to carry out the death sentence. It is God’s servant, an avenger to execute God’s anger on anyone who does what is wrong.

Therefore, it is necessary for you to obey, not only because you’re afraid of God’s anger but also because of your own conscience. That is also why you pay your taxes. People in the government are God’s servants while they do the work he has given them.

Pay everyone whatever you owe them. If you owe taxes, pay them. If you owe tolls, pay them. If you owe someone respect, respect that person. If you owe someone honor, honor that person. (‭Romans‬ ‭13:1-7‬ (GW)


It takes faith to see beyond what everyone else sees. Spiritual insight is needed to think beyond the restrictions of opinion, philosophy, and rhetoric.

Paul wrote these words [by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)] while living under the oppressive government of the Roman Empire. The emperor was Nero, a twisted, perverted, and evil man.

I've lived and worked under a foreign government and visited countries with oppressive governments. When I hear the emotional rhetoric of the day, I see it for what it is—empty words, void of truth.

Men of faith, such as Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, lived and served the Lord under powerful and oppressive governments. They, as Paul, understood that all governments are subject to God, for He's the one who is sovereign over all.

Do what is right and true and good—including paying taxes—and trust God. He is the One to whom we are ultimately accountable. ©Word-Strong_2016

[bctt tweet="Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor" username="tkbeyond"]


Here's a tweet I saw last week that rings true and is in line with this text in Romans 13—

A similar theme to this text in Romans 13 is also found in my recent post— Independent or Dependent?

Unconquered by Evil

Photo credit: lightstock.com Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you. Focus your thoughts on those things that are considered noble. As much as it is possible, live in peace with everyone.

Don’t take revenge, dear friends. Instead, let God’s anger take care of it. After all, Scripture says, “I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back, says the Lord.”

But, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will make him feel guilty and ashamed.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭17-21‬ (GW)


A refusal to seek revenge or payback of some kind is often viewed as weakness. We live in a reactionary world. The capacity to defend and protect one's self is typically viewed as a strength.

But life in God's kingdom, governed by the nature and character of God, often appears at odds with the world around us. Why? Because it is!

Our perception of the world is naturally limited, we can only be in one place at one time. Even with a global view through the worldwide web, we still only see a very small slice of all that goes on in the world.

When we choose to follow Jesus as our Lord, we gain His all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present perspective. We don't see it on our own, but when we surrender our hearts and lives to Him, Jesus gives us glimpses of His eternal view of things.

It's only by faith we're enabled to see beyond the evil and wickedness that invades our lives. When our confidence and trust in God is genuine, we can trust the Lord to settle our accounts when we are insulted, slandered, or defamed. Even when worse things happen to us.

God's strength is far greater than ours and His reach far exceeds our own. We can choose to retaliate or forgive. We can choose good over evil, or take things into our own hands.

I seek to trust in God, not myself. ©Word-Strong_2016

How good is good?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_LMichael

Ask people if they'll go to heaven after they die and many will say, "Yes." If asked why, they often say something like, "Because I'm a good person, and I try to do good."

It's just possible that, much of the time, a person may look pretty good in comparison to some others. But other comparisons are not so favorable.

Ask Christians how to please God, and you're likely to get a similar answer. But how good is good?

The problem of comparisons

Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort. Though you may find favorable ones, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.

[bctt tweet=" Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort" username="tkbeyond"]

Of course, when we compare ourselves with God, we lose every time. Think not? Try comparing yourself to Jesus, the Son of God. It shouldn't take long to see your dilemma.

A common Christian test is inserting your name in place of "love" in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We're told by the Bible, mentors, psychologists, and talk-show hosts, not to compare ourselves with others. But try as we may, we still make comparisons to see how we measure up.

"Am I better looking than... smarter than... thinner than... kinder than...?" And on it goes. We seem powerless to stop it. As the apostle points out, it's an unwise thing to do.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Co 10:12 NIV)

Trying to measure up

Not long ago, I did a home inspection that had height measurements marked off with dates on a wall. This helps answer the question, "Am I growing taller?"

But how do we measure ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth? If we compare ourselves to others, it's only a matter of time before we don't measure up in some way.

Trying to measure ourselves on the basis of behavior or habits, or any similar metric, is also futile. Why? Because we're using the wrong metric.

Evaluating a person's moral behavior is not a measurement of their spiritual growth. As the common saying goes—it's like comparing apples to oranges. Morality is based on performance, while spiritual growth can only be measured by eternal qualities.

So, how do we determine spiritual growth? Perhaps a better question is, why do we need to measure it at all?

[bctt tweet=" Why do we need to measure spiritual growth at all?" username="tkbeyond"]

Beyond our reach

A young, wealthy man came to Jesus with a question about how to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as, "Good teacher (rabbi)..." (Mark 10:17-25).

Jesus asked back, "Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 NIV).

True goodness is out of reach for us mere mortals. It is an eternal quality.

So, should we just give up on all of this? Yes and no.

We need to give up measuring and comparing ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth. But we need spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is the indicator we have that spiritual life is going on within us, but how do we gauge it?

In the story with the young wealthy man, Jesus instructs him to leave all his wealth to become one of His followers. This young man claimed to have kept the Mosaic Law since childhood.

Jesus didn't debate Him on this, but went to the core of what the man trusted in—himself and his wealth.

Even if we claim to be righteous in a moral sense, we still fall short of God's goodness (Rom 3:10-12).

Some good news

Thankfully, no one needs to obtain moral perfection to gain entrance into God's presence. Jesus did this with His life on earth and through the cross—His death and resurrection (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Heb 9:11-14; 10:10). This message of redemption (the gospel) is echoed throughout the Scriptures.

But... how do we know if we're growing spiritually?

As pointed out before, we don't need to measure spiritual growth, but we need to grow spiritually. But, how can we tell if it's happening?

The answer is pretty simple. If we go back to the story of the young rich man (Mark 10:17-25), we see what Jesus said to him—to sell all he had and follow Jesus.

Many messages based on this story focus on what the man was to give up, but this misses the main point. Jesus was inviting this young man into relationship.

When we enter into a genuine relationship with God, spiritual growth comes naturally (John 15:5-8).

[bctt tweet="When we are in relationship with God it will be obvious to others" username="tkbeyond"]

We don't need to make comparisons, we need to continue in a personal, fruitful relationship with Jesus—the Vine (John 15:1). Then our spiritual growth will be natural and evident, even to others.


This is a revision of an earlier post a couple of years ago, as a follow-up to last week's post—What Does It Mean to Flourish?

What Controls Your Thinking?

Photo credit: lightstock.com People who live following their sinful selves think only about what they want. But those who live following the Spirit are thinking about what the Spirit wants them to do.

If your thinking is controlled by your sinful self, there is spiritual death. But if your thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace.

Why is this true? Because anyone whose thinking is controlled by their sinful self is against God. They refuse to obey God’s law. And really they are not able to obey it. Those who are ruled by their sinful selves cannot please God.

But you are not ruled by your sinful selves. You are ruled by the Spirit, if that Spirit of God really lives in you.  (‭Romans‬ ‭8:‭5-9‬ ERV)


We are all, by nature, selfish beings. This is the reality of every human born into the world. The only way this can change is with God's intervention.

But this intervention needs to be continuous and internal, not temporary and external, which is how our selfish nature would prefer it. Why? Because we don't like to surrender our will to anyone, even God.

The contrast between a life led by our selfishness and a life led by God's Spirit is dramatic. A life surrendered to selfishness leads to a tyrannical state of slavery. A life in submission to God's Spirit, brings freedom, peace, and a life of joy.

The battle of the will takes place in our mind. What we choose to focus our thoughts on each day, throughout a day, determines what rules our life. Either we choose the old tyrannical way of self, or we choose the freedom found only in surrendering our will to God. ©Word-Strong_2016

Frustrated

Photo credit: lightstock.com So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind I am happy with God’s law.

But I see another law working in my body. That law makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and that law makes me its prisoner.

What a miserable person I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? I thank God for his salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful self I am a slave to the law of sin. (‭Romans‬ ‭7:‭21-25‬ ERV)


Do you wonder why this "rule" exists? Why, when you want to do good, does evil seem to rear its ugly head? Great question! Here's the simple answer. I say simple, because it does go deeper, but sometimes we need to see things in their simplest form.

When the first humans ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1-8), they introduced this dual dilemma—good and evil—into the human experience. Up till then, they only knew a sense of innocent goodness (Gen 2:24-25; 3:9-12).

So, as expressed earlier in Chapter 7, there is a conflict—a struggle of good and evil, right and wrong—going on in each believer, because of the sinful or selfish nature in all humans. It doesn't just go away when a person is born again (as a believer in God's redemption through His Son, Jesus).

This dual dilemma is only resolved when we surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. This surrender of our life needs to be a daily denial of our selfishness (Luke 9:23). Sometimes the struggle is so intense that we need to do this throughout a day or night.

The bad news is that as long as we live in these physical bodies, this struggle will continue day after day.

The good news is this—Jesus won this battle for us once and for all (Heb 9:28) through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead! ©Word-Strong_2016

A Cry Answered

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Our sense of identity is important. Every person needs a sense of significance—a sense of value and purpose. It is built into us, not at birth, but at conception.

Humanity was created in the image of God, but are often at odds with Him. Some of us are in various states of rebellion towards Him, while others are lost in the maelstrom of our culture.

How does one gain or pursue significance? Success? Psychology? Religion? Soul searching? Social media? Branding? Israel's King David knows a thing or two about significance. Let's see what he has to say.

Scripture

O Lord, look how my enemies have increased! Many are attacking me. Many are saying about me, “Even with God ⌊on his side⌋, he won’t be victorious.” Selah [vss 1-2]

But you, O Lord, are a shield that surrounds me. You are my glory. You hold my head high. I call aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah [vss 3-4]

I lie down and sleep. I wake up again because the Lord continues to support me. I am not afraid of the tens of thousands who have taken positions against me on all sides. Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! You have slapped all my enemies in the face. You have smashed the teeth of wicked people. Victory belongs to the Lord! May your blessing rest on your people. Selah [vss 5-8]

(Psalm 3:1-8 GW) [Context– Psalm 3]

Key phrase— I call aloud to the Lord, and he answers me

[bctt tweet="I call aloud to the Lord, and he answers me"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What seems to be King David's situation at the opening of this psalm?

How does he answer those who oppose him? Where does King David find his identity and significance?

Where does he place his confidence and how does it benefit him?

Why does he have this confidence in God?

Reflection...

Today's culture, as world culture always has, places great importance on external things. A sense of identity and value is often invested in what a person owns, their status among others, who they know, or what they're known for.

But these are fleeting and fickle values.

Did you notice the word selah repeated three times? It's not an easy word to explain or translate, but is believed to be a literary marker to remind the reader (or listener) to pause and consider what's just been said.

Each selah is intended to reflect on what's said, but also to helps us see the progression of thought expressed.

King David realized his situation was dire, but kept things in perspective by reaffirming his trust and sense of identity in his relationship with God. The result is a confidence and assurance in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Where do you find your sense of significance—your value and purpose in life?

Do you have a similar trust and confidence in God as King David did?

How have you seen God answer your prayers and when you call out to Him?

What are present situations or difficulties that you need to entrust to God?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Confused

Photo credit: lightstock.com

We know that the law is spiritual, but I am not. I am so human. Sin rules me as if I were its slave.

I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do the good I want to do, and I do the evil I hate. And if I don’t want to do what I do, that means I agree that the law is good. But I am not really the one doing the evil. It is sin living in me that does it.

Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is not spiritual. I want to do what is good, but I don’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do. I do the evil that I don’t want to do.

So if I do what I don’t want to do, then I am not really the one doing it. It is the sin living in me that does it. (‭Romans‬ ‭7:14-20‬ ERV)


The truth about sin is hard to navigate. As said last week, it is often associated with bad behavior, but it is an internal, spiritual power. It is our own selfish nature, also called the flesh in many Bible versions.

Here we're reminded how powerful it can be, like a slave master. This can produce a lot of confusion. As said so clearly here, what we want to do, we don't. But the things we don't want to do, we keep on doing. This underscores the goodness of God's law and our weakness to keep it.

The point is that no one—no one—has enough will power to overcome our own selfish nature and do good all the time. Some people may do it better than others, but no one is good and obedient to God's righteous law all the time.

We need to recognize our own powerlessness to overcome sin on our own. This is a good thing. We need to understand that the sinful, selfish nature has a power that only God can subdue. But don't lose heart! Next week we'll look at how this problem is resolved.

For now, realize the power of selfishness and your own powerlessness to overcome it on your own. ©Word-Strong_2016

Who's Your Master?

Photo credit: lightstock.com If we died with Christ, we know that we will also live with him. Christ was raised from death. And we know that he cannot die again. Death has no power over him now. Yes, when Christ died, he died to defeat the power of sin one time—enough for all time. He now has a new life, and his new life is with God.

In the same way, you should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive for God through Christ Jesus.

But don’t let sin control your life here on earth. You must not be ruled by the things your sinful self makes you want to do. Don’t offer the parts of your body to serve sin. Don’t use your bodies to do evil, but offer yourselves to God, as people who have died and now live.

Offer the parts of your body to God to be used for doing good. Sin will not be your master, because you are not under law. You now live under God’s grace. (‭Romans‬ ‭6:8-14‬ ERV)


Some habits are hard to break. Developing good habits can also be hard. Why? Because we all have a selfish nature, which is stubborn and resistant to denying it.

It doesn't matter what the habit is—cussing, eating junk food, smoking, or biting your nails. Even when you know it would be good to stop, it's just not that easy to get our selfishness to step aside. Developing a good habit, like exercise, eating healthy, or reading the Bible, is also a challenge. Again, because it's hard to give up our selfish ways.

So what can we do? We need to make an exchange. We need a new unselfish nature. Here's some good news. When we give our life to Jesus (that's the exchange—His life for ours) we get a new nature through spiritual rebirth. We get a new life.

But that's only half the battle. We still have our own self-will. We still need to surrender our will to Jesus...often.

Here's more good news. We now have God's grace, His goodness and kindness, to enable and empower us to offer ourself, our will, to Jesus. This brings real freedom.

So, who's your Master? ©Word-Strong_2015

Here's the Reason Discipleship Can Be Difficult

Photo credit: unsplash.com_GRakozy We Americans live in a culture focused on self. More and more, the concept of team or community is just that—more of a concept than reality.

Self-identity is an industry, not just a psychological term. More attention is given to individuals than groups. We fawn over star-power, whether it's American Idol, fantasy sports leagues, or CEO's pulling down outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Yet, focus on self isn't just an American cultural phenomenon, it's a human issue. Self-interest has been with us since the first humans on earth.

Just follow Jesus

When most everyone around you is focused on doing what's best for them, following Jesus can feel a lot like swimming against the tide. It can wear you out fast. Unless you learn how to do it from the Master Himself.

Believers and followers of Jesus need help, His help. Jesus is the core of the Gospel, and the core of the Christian faith. By Christian faith, I mean all the theology, doctrine, and practice known as Christianity. Jesus is the core of the Gospel and He calls each believer to follow Him.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the gospel and core of the Christian faith"]

His call is a personal one. It's a call to surrender our free will to Jesus, and put Him first in our lives. Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. But this involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

This is difficult, no, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally, but it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment"]

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus can bring this about. But He chooses to do this through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly and dying to a life fixated on this world.

Are you confused?

Why does the world have so many different ideas and misunderstandings about Jesus and Christianity? Perhaps it comes from the body of believers who profess to be Christians.

What message does the world receive about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Christian Faith through the followers of Christ? What is the church’s living example?

If there is confusion about who Jesus is among Christian believers, it's communicated by speech and example to others, and confuses those who seek to know Him.

[bctt tweet="If we're confused about who Jesus, it's communicated by speech and example to others"]

Jesus, the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, is the core call and purpose of a believer’s life. By core, I don’t mean the center, but the central strength and nature of life in Him.

This could be likened to the nucleus of an atom, defined as “the central point of the atom.” An atom’s particles, protons and neutrons, are bound and held together around the nucleus by a nuclear or residual strong force.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, and core of a believer’s life"]

These properties of a nucleus and atom always remind me of this description of Christ in Colossians—

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17 NIV)

Jesus at the core

Perhaps what Jesus expressed about His own self-denial in going to the cross helps make this clear—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

Looking at a kernel of wheat, or the seed within a fruit like a peach, the importance of the core is easy to see. The very life of a peach tree is in the core of the fruit itself. The flesh of the fruit surrounding the seed is eaten, and the seed is thrown away.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is not just what we focus our lives on, He is our source of life"]

When the seed is planted it grows into a tree, but the seed has to die before it can germinate into what becomes a tree. This is God’s design. It’s God’s continuing illustration within nature of the importance of the core.

This illustrates the simplicity and necessity of keeping Jesus as the core of the Gospel. He is not just what we focus our lives on, He is the source of our life.

More than a belief

Our daily life example needs to match what we tell others. God’s Story is more than a belief to hold onto, or something to be done—it's a personal relationship with Jesus who transforms our life.

When we can express the simple truths of the gospel and others see Jesus at work in our life, it is an easy and natural thing to share our faith with other people.

[bctt tweet="God’s Story is more than a belief, or something to be done—it's a relationship with Jesus"]

Jesus is the core of the Gospel. He is the Savior of all people and the Son of God. He, God the Son, came into the world, died upon the cross for all humanity, and rose from the grave victorious over death.

He calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing.

Each follower will need to give up his or her own selfish ways, the natural lifestyle of this world, and trust only in Him for all things, in every way, every day.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing"]

Jesus honors this commitment with life beyond anything the world has to offer, and a life beyond this world. He alone is worthy of a person’s unreserved trust.


This is the last in a series of posts taken from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here are links to the previous posts—

Who Is Jesus…Really?

Who Jesus Is

A Culture Conflict

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share these posts!

Nothing to Brag About

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So do we have any reason to boast about ourselves? No reason at all. And why not? Because we are depending on the way of faith, not on what we have done in following the law.

I mean we are made right with God through faith, not through what we have done to follow the law. This is what we believe.

God is not only the God of the Jews. He is also the God of those who are not Jews. There is only one God. He will make Jews right with him by their faith, and he will also make non-Jews right with him through their faith. So do we destroy the law by following the way of faith? Not at all! In fact, faith causes us to be what the law actually wants. (‭Romans‬ ‭3:‭27-31‬ ERV)


We all brag about something. It could be about what we've done or haven't done. Maybe it's because of who we're related to in some way.

But no one—not one person—has anything to brag about to God. There is nothing we have, can do, or not do that will bring God's approval. Any effort to look good in God's eyes or get into His good graces is futile. It doesn't work that way.

How does it work? When we genuinely and personally trust in Jesus, we do the one right thing He desires. What about God's laws? Jesus fulfilled and took care of it all—once for all. (Matthew 5:17; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:12) ©Word-Strong_2015

Don't Waste Your Strength

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Growing up, I realized certain things were expected of me. Some of these expectations were spoken, and many others were not. All parents have expectations for their children. It's built into us. We know it inherently.

Not all expectations are good and beneficial. We all tend to replicate or reject what we know from experience. Children growing up in difficult or dysfunctional homes may become strict or harsh parents. On the other hand, their own household may have little structure or discipline.

Each of us choose the way we will go. Either we choose something similar by default, or consciously choose a better or different way. This choice has consequences. We either make wise and beneficial choices, or squander our opportunity in self-destructive behavior.

Scripture

These are the words of King Lemuel, the message his mother taught him: “My son, I gave birth to you. You are the son I prayed for. Don’t waste your strength on women or your time on those who ruin kings. “Kings should not drink wine, Lemuel, and rulers should not desire beer. [vss 1-4]

If they drink, they might forget the law and keep the needy from getting their rights. Give beer to people who are dying and wine to those who are sad. Let them drink and forget their need and remember their misery no more. [vss 5-7]

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; defend the rights of all those who have nothing. Speak up and judge fairly, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.” [vss 8-9]

(Proverbs 31:1-9 NCV) [Context– Proverbs 31]

Key phrase— If they drink, they might forget the law

[bctt tweet="If they drink, they might forget the law"]

Digging Deeper...

What is the wise advice this mother speaks to her son?

Do you think this is an anti-alcohol message, or is there more to it than that?

Why is this son (the king) encouraged not to indulge in excessive drinking?

What is this son (the king) encouraged to do? How is it expressed as a choice?

Reflection...

It was said of King Solomon that he was the wisest man in the world. Even the queen of Sheba traveled to Israel from Ethiopia to hear this great king's wisdom. But at the end of his life, King Solomon strayed from the wisdom he wrote and expressed to others.

These verses are a reminder to remember the higher calling God has for each of us. We are not to "waste our strength" or give ourselves to what ruins our life. It isn't just intoxication, it's settling for less than what is the best God intends.

There are much higher purposes in life than indulging in what occupies the lives of others. When we lose sight of the truth—the truth of God—we neglect what is right, true, and good. We become like everyone else who is adrift in life.

You and I may not be kings and queens, but if we know what is just and true, we are responsible to uphold these virtues, even on behalf of others who have no voice.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What gifts and skills has God given you? Are you utilizing those gifts and skills as God intended?

Do you follow along with the crowd, or stand up for what is right, true, and just?

Do you cave in to the expectations of those around you, or live by a higher code of life?

In what way do you speak up for the weak, help protect their rights, and defend those who have no voice or strength?

It Was Not Automatic

WS-devo_PMSThey went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before.

When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (‭Mark‬ ‭14‬:‭32-36, 38-39, 41‬ NLT)

Nothing Jesus did was automatic, as if without thought. Major decisions were prefaced with deep prayer, even His final commitment to the Father.

This glimpse into the Lord's struggle in prayer serves as an example for us. The Father didn't remove the need for Jesus to decide what He would do. This is true for us.

Even when we fail, there's a choice. Our spirit may be willing but our body and selfish nature are weak. This is why we have a hard time surrendering our will to the Father.

Jesus has gone before us in this struggle. Take heart, trust Him, and learn from His example in the garden. ©Word-Strong_2015

The Art of Yielding

Yield-signs If you drive a vehicle of some kind, you've seen the signposts with the upside-down triangle. Sometimes yellow, sometimes red and white, and sometimes they have specific wording or symbols.

It's a yield sign. It tells drivers to yield, to slow down and allow other drivers to proceed before entering the other road. Many drivers don't seem to understand this. Instead of giving way to other drivers, they seem oblivious to the oncoming traffic, or even think they have the right of way. I've seen honking, frustrated drivers who have to give way to them.

Which driver are you? Are you the one who has to give way to the ones who ignore the yield sign, or the one who ignores it? Or, have you been both at times?

Why is it hard to yield to others?

Why do we have a hard time yielding to others on the road? Is it ignorance of driving laws, or a symptom of our cultural tendencies, a sense of entitlement? What I see on the roads of America, I see in our culture. It also permeates the church culture of America.

I can't speak of this based on research or with polls to back it up, only simple observation. We Americans don't seem to be good at yielding to others. I'm not speaking of driving habits, but daily life. This isn't a condition of one generational age or another, or one denomination or another. It's a human condition.

Perhaps it's easier to see on our roadways, but I've seen it first hand in many ways and in many places. I've also seen it in myself, and I'll bet, if you're honest, you've seen it in yourself, as well.

[bctt tweet="Why do we have a hard time yielding to others"]

What's the problem?

So, what's the reason for this? And don't give me the glib, "because we're sinners." There's a deeper issue here. This goes to the core of who we are when we claim to be Christians—Christ-followers. And Jesus knows this is our problem, all of us. He addressed it many times with the disciples.

What was the final teaching expressed by action that Jesus did before He went to the cross? What was the subject the disciples argued about with each other that prompted some of Jesus' most poignant teaching?

When the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them, Jesus exhorted them about servanthood (Mark 9:33-37). What did He do to them on the final night He was with them? He washed their feet, then exhorted them to do the same (John 13:1-17).

His admonition for all of us who want to be His followers gets to the crux of it all.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me." (Matt 16:24 NLT)

How can we change?

How do we turn from our selfish ways? I trust you've found this is not so easy. Yes, Jesus gives us the supreme example, but any attempt to be like Jesus in our own strength, by our own will and determination, is bound to fail. Paul the apostle spoke to this in Romans—

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:18, 19 NLT)

[bctt tweet="How do we turn from our selfish ways? Why is it so hard?"]

The apostle Paul helps us with this dilemma in his epistle to the Philippians. He connects our difficulty with yielding to others (because of selfishness and self-centeredness) to the example of Jesus.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (Phil 2:3-6 NLT)

Others

Reading the larger context of Paul's admonition in Philippians 2:1-9, it's clear that we are to think of others in a similar way as Jesus did. He let go of His rights as God (the Son) and became human. He humbled Himself, emptied Himself, and died for our benefit.

General William Booth wanted to send a telegram of encouragement to his leaders, but could only afford one word. What word did he choose? Others. This was the focus he wanted his Salvation Army leaders to have.

[bctt tweet="The key to yielding is considering others and their interests above our own"]

This is the key to the art of yielding. When we consider others and put their interests above our own, we express the nature of Jesus. As Jesus said in another dialog with His disciples—

"But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45 NLT)

Yielding to others

So, whether you're driving, or at a supermarket, waiting in line somewhere, or in a discussion with others—think about them. Consider them. Put yourself in their place. Give way to them, even when you think you're right or have the right of way.

[bctt tweet="Think about others, consider them and put yourself in their place"]

If we all did this just once a day, it would change our lives, and probably begin changing the lives of others around us. It may not be a lot, but it's a start. It's a start in the right direction—away from just thinking of ourselves.

Here are some questions to consider and act on—

When was the last time you yielded—gave way—to someone else in some way?

When was the last time you didn't insist on being right in an argument?

When did you last do something to bless someone else without any expectations?

Forgiveness—Forgotten Facet of the Faith

©2002 JohnMartinBorg.com Forgiveness seems in short supply in our age of libel, lawsuits, and violence. Revenge is valued over restraint. Forgiveness is set aside to pursue personal rights.

What happened to our Christian nation? It never was a Christian nation. Our nation was founded on the principles and pursuit of religious, political, and economic freedom. Of course, now many pursue freedom from religion, but that's another topic altogether.

Even within Christianity, forgiveness can become a forgotten facet of our faith. And yet, it's foundational to our faith.

Sent as Jesus was sent

Forgiveness is an integral part of the Great Commission. It may get overlooked carrying out the command to go preach and make disciples, but it's an important part of the message. It's found in two of the four gospels (Luke 24:45-48; John 20:21-23).

It's the bedrock of the Lord's ministry of reconciliation between God and humanity. Forgiveness for sin was given under the Old Covenant (Mosaic) Law, but it was temporary.

Jesus, by dying on the cross and atoning for sin once for all (Heb 7:27), made forgiveness the entry point to eternal life (Heb 9:12).

[bctt tweet="Forgiveness is an important element of the Great Commission"]

How many times must we forgive?

In a culture of individual rights and freedoms, we want to receive forgiveness more than extend it. But it's not just our present culture, it's a human issue. It was the apostle Peter who asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matt 18:21)

This followed the Lord's teaching on several things including resolving conflicts. Jesus' answer was a parable about an unforgiving servant, who was forgiven a great debt. The parable's simple truth is that we are to show mercy toward other debtors.

[bctt tweet="We want to receive forgiveness more than extend it"]

Jesus also warns that if we don't forgive others in the same manner as we've received forgiveness, the consequence is great—

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matt 6:15)

But what about justice?

An inevitable objection to forgiveness is the appeal for justice. After all, we live in a nation ruled by law. If you break the law, there is a penalty—a judgment.  Wouldn't this be true in God's kingdom? Here are two things to consider.

First, no one is in a position to judge wrongs more than God. He alone will bring judgment as it's needed. And He alone can, has, and will set things right. It is a dangerous place for us to sit in His seat of judgment, especially when we deserve it ourselves (Heb 10:31).

[bctt tweet="It is a dangerous place for us to sit in God's seat of judgment"]

Contrary to the opinion of some, God is not an angry God yearning to bring judgment on sinners, He is full of mercy. This is His nature (Psa 103:8; Luke 6:36), and mercy is greater than judgment. Jesus' half-brother said it well—

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Judgment or mercy?

This is seen in the story of the adulterous woman brought to Jesus by some scribes and Pharisees (John 8:2-11). The Law required her to be stoned. What would Jesus do? He invited whoever was without sin to cast the first stone.

We don't know what He wrote in the sand, but every man left without objection. When the woman was left standing with Jesus, He didn't condemn her but showed mercy.

Forgiveness and how to find it

When we are wronged by someone, it is difficult to forgive. The deeper our heart is wounded, the harder it is to forgive. And yet, as followers of Jesus, we are commanded to forgive one another.

But how do we forgive when the person is clearly wrong and unwilling to own up to it? How do we forgive when we don't feel forgiveness?

[bctt tweet="How do we forgive when we don't feel forgiveness?"]

When my son was five years old, he told us he didn't feel love. We are an affectionate and close family, so this stunned us. Thankfully, the Lord gave us some wisdom.

After a bit, we encouraged him to show love, then he would feel it. He's done that ever since, which is reflected in his life and family.

Just like Jesus

The final words of Jesus on the cross are referred to as the seven last sayings of Christ. Offering Himself up as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Jesus forgives the ones who crucify Him.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus didn't just tell us to forgive, He showed us how to do it.

A position of strength

One thing that's helped me over the years is realizing that forgiveness is an act of mercy. It is a suspension of judgment, a forgiveness of a debt of wrong "owed" to me.

It is also a position of strength. In a courtroom, only the judge can extend mercy. When I forgive, or extend mercy, I have the position of strength. Forgiveness also brings freedom. It frees me from pursuing justice or carrying the resentment of the "debt" owed.

[bctt tweet="Forgiveness is an act of mercy and strength"]

We can only follow Jesus with a genuine faith when we carry and live out the same message as He did.

Questions to consider and ask ourselves

What holds us back from forgiving others?

Who do we need to forgive, in the same way Jesus forgave us?

Self-Preservation at Its Best

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It's been said that self-preservation is a basic instinct. But what's key to preserving oneself? Is it self-indulgence or is self-control a more valuable asset?

When our hearts start wandering, they are not the best guide. This is when self-discipline becomes important.

Is your life driven by desire or guided by discipline? Each has a very different end point.

Scripture

Drink water out of your own cistern and running water from your own well. Why should water flow out of your spring? Why should your streams flow into the streets? They should be yours alone, so do not share them with strangers. [vss 15-16]

Let your own fountain be blessed, and enjoy the girl you married when you were young, a loving doe and a graceful deer. Always let her breasts satisfy you. Always be intoxicated with her love. Why should you, my son, be intoxicated with an adulterous woman and fondle a loose woman’s breast? [vss 17-20]

Each person’s ways are clearly seen by the Lordand he surveys all his actions. [vs 21]

A wicked person will be trapped by his own wrongs, and he will be caught in the ropes of his own sin. He will die for his lack of discipline and stumble around because of his great stupidity. [vss 22-23]

  (Proverbs 5:15-23 NCV) [Context– Proverbs Chap 5:7-23]

Key phrase

Each person’s ways are clearly seen by the Lord...

Digging Deeper...

  1. What is the primary focus of these exhortations? What picture is given and how is it a reminder to guard our hearts?
  2. What are the questions and encouragements directing this person to do? How is this the best kind of self-preservation?
  3. What two things are we reminded of about God and the lack of self-discipline?

Make it personal...

What areas in your life are difficult for you to have self-control?

Are there times when you feel isolated and disengaged from important relationships?

What are some simple things you can do to develop self-discipline and self-control in your life?

Reflection...

Our culture in America exalts self-gratification and promotes self-absorption. This is a destructive and disruptive focus. When desire is pursued—whatever its flavor—and comes up empty, what is left? Relationships are tossed aside and disillusionment is the reward.

Self-discipline and self-control are not popular topics in our culture, yet there is great need for them. In the end, a person who is not driven by desire and who honors valuable relationships will enjoy the best kind of self-preservation.

 

What Should I Do?

WS-devo_PMSAs Jesus was coming out to the road, a man came running to him and knelt in front of him. He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Never murder. Never commit adultery. Never steal. Never give false testimony. Never cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

The man replied, “Teacher, I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. He told him, “You’re still missing one thing. Sell everything you have. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!”

When the man heard that, he looked unhappy and went away sad, because he owned a lot of property. (Mark 10:17-22 GW)

The issue here is not money but relationship with God. This young man put great confidence in his own ability to keep the Law, that is—his own righteousness. It says Jesus loved him, then He called him to a relationship of trust in God rather than self.

What do you trust in? Your own religious effort at being good enough for God, or in God (Jesus) alone?

Condemned?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18 NIV84)

How often do we judge and condemn others, yet when judged by others we justify ourselves? We bring condemnation onto ourselves. God alone is worthy to judge, yet He chooses to forgive if only we accept it. ©DailyDevo2012

Giving

Brothers and sisters…God showed his kindness to the churches… While they were being severely tested… their overflowing joy, along with their extreme poverty, has made them even more generous…by their own free will they have given all they could, even more than they could afford…more than we had expected. First, they gave themselves to the Lord… You know about the kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor in order to make you rich through his poverty. At the present time, your surplus fills their need so that their surplus may fill your need. In this way things balance out. (2 Cor. 8:1-3, 5, 9, 14 GWT)

Give yourself to the Lord and let Him give through you. ©tkbeyonddevo2012