Mark Batterson once stated, “Many people believe that they are following Jesus, but they have mistakenly invited Jesus to follow them.” You cannot do things both your own way and God’s way. One of the two will eventually choke the life out of the other.
The cross of Christ is both a reminder of his radical love for us, but also a reminder of our radical duty to follow him. The cross is a symbol of suffering and death. The cross of the Christian is a commitment to follow Christ to the grave, not to live for the pleasure and glory of self. God, the creator of life, has shown us the correct way to live through the person of Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, however, we think that we know life better than God. We sometimes try to replace God with our own desires at the sacrifice of his. We think that we can give our own life purpose and meaning, and we invite Jesus along for the ride.
Some admirers of Jesus tend to think that a little decorating is needed, when in reality Jesus wants to tear down the house completely and rebuild it from the bottom up! The cross will always cost you something. Countless examples in the Bible teach us that accepting Jesus into your life will always challenge us to change. Following Jesus will always interfere with your life in some way. The cross of a Christian is never convenient. Has following Jesus interfered with your life? Have you been inconvenienced by the cross? If not, are you even following him? Or are you just following a Jesus you made up that fits within your own desires?
What if instead of wearing the cross around your neck as a showpiece or as a tattoo on your skin, you started following the example of Jesus, taking up your own cross and following him, regardless of the cost?
If following Jesus cost you everything, would it be worth it? I think the Bible is a story that proclaims this truth: Trading all you have for all God offers is the best deal you or I can ever make.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Matthew 16:24-25, ESV
Our culture has taken a turn over the past few years towards a focus on self-esteem. You don't have to search very far to see parents who puff up their children in order to make them feel good about themselves or people who boost up themselves (sometimes at the expense of others) to create a facade in which they want others to view them. With social media displaying the best version of the lives of the people around us, we struggle more and more with our cold, harsh realities when we examine our own, less-than-average lives. The self-esteem theory seems to be that those who can develop a high self-esteem will be successful, whereas those who lack self-confidence are left as prey. Right? Not exactly.
The main drawback of the self-esteem movement is the pre-occupation with "self". Whether someone has low self-esteem or high self-esteem, the problem is that their esteem is rooted in "self". Many people struggle with the Biblical doctrine of total depravity (that we all have a corrupted nature) because to accept it means to accept that YOU are CORRUPTED, SINFUL, and NOT GOOD ENOUGH! This is hard to accept in a culture where being better than average seems to be the goal. This is dangerous territory, however, because when people fail to see the depths of their own sin, they miss out on experiencing the wonderful grace of God.
How then, should a Christian view themselves? Should we see ourselves as sinful, as not good enough? By no means! 2 Corinthians 3:4-5 says, "Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God." (ESV) As Christians, we should understand our corruption apart from God's grace. We should boast about nothing of ourselves, because all of our goodness and value comes from God. High or low self-confidence is irrelevant in Christianity. ALL of our confidence and boasting should be in God and because of God. The rest of our boasting is a vulnerable means for destruction.
"Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence." (1 Corinthians 10:12, MSG)
The story of the Exodus from Egypt is one that has been talked about for centuries. It is a wonderful story about how God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land, where they would be His chosen people, and God would provide and care for them.
Numbers, the fourth book in the Bible, describes the Israelites' journey through the wilderness, on their way to the promised land. Underlying the book of Numbers is the theme of faith. When the Israelites have faith in God, He provides them with blessings. When the Israelites fail to have faith in God, they miss His blessings. This is no fail on God's part, for the promise always remains: Be faithful and prosper; be faithless and perish.
Numbers 13 describes the Israelites' arrival at the Promised Land. Moses sent twelve spies out to scope out the land to see if it was able to be taken. Ten of those spies came back saying, "'We went to the land where you sent us. It really is a land flowing with milk and honey. Here’s some of its fruit. But the people who live there are strong, and the cities have walls and are very large....We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!' So they began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored is one that devours those who live there. All the people we saw there are very tall. We saw Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak are Nephilim.) We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.'" (v. 27-28, 31-33) However, "Caleb told the people to be quiet and listen to Moses. Caleb said, 'Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.'" (v. 30) He and another man named Joshua were the only ones who believed the Israelites could take the land, not because of their own strength, but because they trusted God. They knew that God had performed miracles to deliver them from Egyptian oppression (see Exodus 7), and they saw the Red Sea be parted so they could walk through (see Exodus 14). Why would God, at this moment, stop providing for the people He had led this far?
In Numbers 14:11, "The Lord said to Moses, 'How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?'" What challenges are you facing today that you deem to be too big to handle? What fears do you have that seem to be too great to overcome? The same God that delivered the Israelites out of Egypt is guiding your life as well! You may not trust your own strength, but do you trust His?
The US Constitution is one of the most influential documents in the history of our country. The Constitution is a federal document signed in 1787 that established America’s national government, and it established basic laws and rights of the people.
I was watching a TV show one time, and it was about how intensely the Constitution is guarded. Here are some facts about the Constitution:
In this show, they showed a guard who spent every day guarding the Constitution. The reporter asked him questions such as “What is the 16th amendment?” and “What rights does it cover?” The guard tried to fudge some answers, but eventually he confessed that he had never actually read it.
In the same way, as Christians, we are defenders of God’s Word. We can call ourselves Christians and say that we believe in God, but that sounds silly if we don't actually read God’s Word!
God’s Word gives us a special strength for our lives as Christians. Jesus demonstrated how the Bible helps us in our lives when tempted by Satan in Matthew 4 (NIV):
1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Notice that every time Satan tried to make Jesus rely on Himself for strength, Jesus responded by saying “It is written…” The devil tried to get Jesus to rely on Himself, but Jesus pointed to Scripture for His strength. I love that Jesus says in Matthew 4:4: “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (This is a quote taken from Deuteronomy 8:6)
In Jesus’ culture, bread was not a side to the meal; bread was often the main meal. That leads me to the question, what would happen if you didn't eat? You'd become depleted, and you'd really start to deteriorate, and eventually die. You'd lose all your strength. When Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone,” he meant that as food is so important to you physically, reading the Word of God to you spiritually.
How do we respond to that? I want to encourage you to do three things to help feed your spiritual self:
1. Get a Bible or Bible app (a translation you can understand). Obviously you cannot read the Bible without possessing one.
2. Don't be afraid to only read a little bit. You don't have to read chapters upon chapters of the Bible at a time, but even reading a small a parable that Jesus told in the morning or before bed will help you learn a new lesson for that day that you can meditate on.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many people have questions about God and Scripture that they are afraid to ask because they don’t want to look dumb or question God, but the truth is that the one of the best ways to grow as a Christian is to ask questions to people you trust in the biblical area, such as a pastor or Bible teacher. It also might not hurt to ask a few people the same question to see if you get a consistent answer (personally, I would trust the person with the most schooling or experience). Asking questions is vital to growth in any area, especially as a Christian.
4. Commit to reading daily. Would you go a day without food? Don’t just feed your physical body consistently, but be sure to feed your spirit consistently as well.
The living Word of God has power to change your life. That change doesn’t take place if your Bible remains closed.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." (NLT) Prayer is the staple of the Christian life. However, our prayer life can always be improved and worked on, which is why I would like to present six helpful tips to help you in your prayer life:
1. Thank God for all He has done. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4, "Thank him for all he [God] has done." Faith in God for the future is developed by recognition of what God has done in the past. Before you ask God for anything, take time to thank God for all He has already provided you with. Taking time to do this will change your mindset significantly.
2. Be authentic with God. Sometimes we get so caught up in the way we pray that we miss out on the purpose of prayer itself. God doesn't require that you use eloquent speech or elaborate vocabulary when you pray. God wants you to talk to Him like you are talking to your father or best friend--with respect, but authentically. God doesn't want you to try to sugar coat your feelings in prayer either. If you don't understand why God let something happen, tell Him about your confusion. If you are having doubts, tell Him about your doubts. If you are frustrated with life, don't be afraid to scream out to God. It is when we are completely authentic with God that our relationship with Him grows and begins to flourish.
3. Be consistent in prayer. Prayer is vital for a relationship with God. The best way to have a good relationship with someone is effective and consistent communication. It is the same with a relationship with God. In order to know God better and grow closer in relationship to Him, you must make time to talk to Him every day. Don't let the commotion of the world consume your day as you try to take it on yourself. Let God enter your life by asking Him through prayer.
4. Pray for others. Praying for others changes the perspective you have on your own life. By praying for the struggles and successes of others, it allows you to be more selfless about your own situations in life.
5. Pray for those who hurt you. Matthew 5:44 says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (ESV) This is probably the most difficult thing to do in prayer. Praying for people who hurt you is the best way to deal with that hurt. Praying for those who hurt you turns your perspective from hating someone to actually rooting for them to come to Christ. This may seem difficult at first, but forgiveness is the lace that binds the body of believers and the Christian faith itself.
6. Don't be afraid to pray about little things. Nothing is too small for God. He cares about your smallest worries and concerns just as much as you do. Keep this in mind as you pray.
God is waiting for you to talk to Him. What are you waiting for?
Describe yourself in one sentence. No, don't keep reading. Actually take a moment to do it. This is important for later on.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love." (NLT)
1 Corinthians 13 is a commonly read passage in the Bible, and this final verse wraps up Paul's teaching on love. According to Paul, faith, hope, and love are the only things that will last forever. Everything else will one day be gone. Faith, hope, and love all have one thing in common: they cannot be seen. Hope is felt, but it is not seen. Faith is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Love is the magnificent force of God Himself expressed through His creation. God expresses love so naturally within His nature and His character is so perfected by it that He is the perfect source of love. In fact, in 1 John 4:8, John writes, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (NLT) Paul writes that of the things that will last forever, love is the greatest because it is the expression of God to His creation done through His creation when we love others.
That being said, faith, hope, and love are placed in no random grammatical order by Paul. Faith gives way to hope, which gives way to love. Faith is where everything begins. What we have faith in determines how we see the world. If we have faith in the God of sound doctrine, then our faith should be rooted in God's love for us and His forgiveness of our human depravity. This faith allows us to secure a hope for eternal life, which gives us the security and stability to love others unselfishly. If our faith is placed in things of this world, such as our finances or human abilities, our hope is prone to being broken, and our love will never be fully expressed due to instability in our identities.
At the beginning of this blog, what sentence did you say described yourself? What identifies who you are? Is it your occupation, or maybe your appearance or social status? Is your hope vulnerable? Because if your faith is not grounded in God as yur identity, you are holding back a secure hope that allows you to fully manifest God's image in you and in His creation through your love.
If you have ever heard the story of Job, you know that Job had to face much adversity in his life. But in order to understand the significance of this story, we must first look at Job’s life before he faced tragedy. Job 1:2-3 says, “There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” (ESV) God allowed Satan to do everything he wanted to tempt Job to lose his faith in God. Job lost his property and children, his animals, and his health. Despite all this, Job responded, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21, ESV)
The big question many people ask when looking at the story of Job is why God allowed Satan to take these things from Job. Is it really fair that Job would be so faithful, yet God would just allow his life to fall apart in this matter? Maybe this sounds like your life. You feel as if you are faithful to God, yet things in your life continue to fall apart. Maybe life is taking its toll on you. Take heart, this happened to Job as well, yet he stayed in faith. One who has experienced a similar situation is left to ask, “How did Job keep his faith despite his fallen circumstances?”
The answer to this question is revealed in where Job placed his joy. Job did not place the stability of his joy in things that are unstable. Job didn’t receive his joy from his oxen, his servants, his barn, his health, or even from his family! The joy of the LORD was his strength, and all of these extra things were added to him. So when something was taken away from him, Job did not lose his stability, because his stability was placed in the Lord. God knew this about Job, which was why He allowed Satan to tempt him. God knew that no matter what Satan took away from Job, as long as he had his life (See Job 2:6), he would have joy in Himself. God cares more about changing your circumstances than He does about changing you. That’s not to say that God doesn’t care about your circumstances, but that your joy should not rely on them.
When we put our reliance for joy in things of this world, we are vulnerable to the attacks of Satan to steal, kill, and destroy our joy. But when we discover and live out our joy in the Cross, Satan is unable to overcome it. This is why Nehemiah proclaimed for times of trouble, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10, ESV)
The world has a way of breaking us down and sucking us in. No matter how hard we try, sin always seems to end up seeping into the better part of our lives. The answer to this frustration is found only in the Cross of Christ.
The Cross isn’t new, but it is always fresh. Although Jesus told many stories of grace, Jesus is never recorded saying the word “grace” in the Bible, because grace is not to be taught; the Gospel is to be taught and the grace of its message is to be experienced. Grace cannot be explained; it must be experienced. The Gospel is not an initiation; it is fuel for our service. As servants of God, we are not called to just receive grace, but to live it out!
As our weakness increases, God’s grace is able to fill even more space. Romans 5:20 says, “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” (NLT) When you fall flat on your face, are you frustrated by your performance or even more overwhelmed by God’s grace? 2 Corinthians 12:9 says,“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (NIV) But we don’t often feel this way.
We will never be self-sufficient. But when we turn to the masters of this world as our source of sufficiency, they fail to offer any help, because our empty voids are not filled in created things, but only in the Creator Himself. Despite our imperfections and rebellion, God is perfect in His pursuit and restoration. The Good News is, despite our inevitable inconsistency, God is forever consistent. We don’t have to keep a consistent hold on perfection because the grace of God keeps a consistent hold on us. This is why in the next verse (2 Corinthians 12:10), Paul proclaims, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NIV)
Christianity isn’t about getting stronger or even doing better. Christianity is about realizing more and more how weak you really are and how strong God is through your weaknesses. Welcome to Christian growth. When we come to the realization that we are nothing by ourselves, we discover through the Gospel that we are everything in Christ.
Goals rotate the world. Goals are the birthplace to greatness—to success. Goals are the gateway to growth. If you aren’t striving for anything, then you aren’t growing, and you are missing a huge chunk of fulfillment in life. However, people often fail to set solid goals. Below are six things to consider when setting goals.
1) Set both short and long-term goals. Short-term goals will give you something to work towards on your way to your long-term goals. Short-term goals could be within a week, a month, three months, or even a year. Long-term goals are those things that you aspire to do or be one day that will take time and require a change in who you are.
2) Set a daily goal. Don’t get this confused with a to-do list. Make your daily goal one specific thing that you would like to accomplish that day. It can be the same each day or it can vary. It all depends on your schedule and what you want to do with your day. Ask yourself, “What one thing will give me success today?” When you focus on that one daily goal, everything that you do in the day will revolve around achieving that goal. This will make for more and more positive, progressive, and successful days.
3) Ask, “Are my goals just for my own satisfaction, or do they bring glory to God?” If your goals are just for personal satisfaction or for attention, then your goals are not really worth pursuing and your successes are futile in the long run. Reevaluate your goals. Think about if what you are doing will actually matter when it’s all said and done.
Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
—Psalm 127:1, NLT
4) It is vital to set tangible goals. You will burn out if you set goals that are vague. For example, let’s say you want to lose weight. Your goal can’t be to “lose weight” because there is no way of determining your success. A good goal would be to say that you want to lose 20 pounds. That way you can determine when you achieve your goal.
5) Put a time frame on your goals. This can be helpful, especially with short-term goals. Using the same example as #4, you could say that you want to lose 20 pounds by a certain date. That is a specific, tangible goal, and the time will also hold you accountable to work for it by sticking to a plan and not procrastinating. Putting a time frame on your goals eliminates the, “One day I’ll do it” phrase.
6) Set goals that stretch you. Despite the outcome, challenging goals are needed in order to find true joy in what you are aspiring to do. You need to have goals that will require you to operate on the next level, physically and mentally. This is where measurable growth begins.
Welcome to the June blog! I appreciate your comments, and be sure to check in on every 1st day of each month for a new blog!
Within every human soul, there is an intimate longing to belong. To belong somewhere where we don't have to pretend, and yet we are still accepted as we are. This search for belonging leads us to some places far from that mark. Often in our search for a place to belong we find a place where the false self we create out of a longing to belong belongs, but our true self remains lost and alone, seemingly distant from the world itself. When searching for belonging, we are vulnerable to picking up bad habits, sometimes addictions, and often changing the course of our lives to fulfill our craving to fit in. In our search to belong somewhere, it is often not the place around us that molds to us, but rather we mold ourselves to our surroundings in order to create the illusion in our own eyes that we belong. In this process we lose our true selves. Our true selves get shoved so deep down within our being that we no longer see that person when we look in the mirror. Instead we see a mortal body, a shell that we no longer belong in. The only source that can bring that true self to fruition once again and provide a state of belonging is the love of Christ. Belonging is not a matter of where we GO, but rather of who we allow to dictate our lives. When we allow God to be that source, rather than our "friends", colleagues, or material items of the world, we find authentic belonging. In His presence is where you find belonging, and a new identity as one loved and accepted as you are. This is a belonging found nowhere else because Christ is the only source that wants to give and never requires anything in return. Created as a citizen of Heaven, we can go nowhere but to the Creator of the Heavens and the earth for belonging. Nowhere else. Where do you find yourself searching for belonging? Stop searching. It's only found in one place, and that place is not of this world.
Hunter Kallay, author of "Plug in Your Life." He is a Christian leader and speaker.