I try hard to be a disciplined and healthy individual… But I often fall short of even my own goals.
I try to work out at least 2x a week. But even then, I look for every excuse to skip the gym (especially leg day, you know what I’m saying?). I like waking up at 5am so that I can have a few hours to myself before everyone wakes up. But I often find myself snoozing till 6:30a. I try to observe a low carb, low sugar diet, but last night I had a Nerds Rope, 3 miniature Baby Ruth bars, and a handful of tortilla chips. I’ve set goals to limit my coffee intake and increase my water intake. But on average I drink 3-5 cups of coffee and maybe 2 cups of water… If I’m lucky.
I have in my mind that I’m not the kind of person that drives my gas tank until it’s on “E”, but I rolled into the station on “E” this morning. My wife and I say all the time, “We are only gonna eat at home this week…" And then lunch time rolls around and we find ourselves sitting at the local Chinese restaurant once again enjoying a buffet with mounds of Lo-Mein and Spicy pork (not really a low carb meal!).
I can try really, really hard to be healthy and disciplined. But I admit, I fail more often than not
In much the same way, I try hard to be a holy follower of Jesus. I want to be someone who has their life together and doesn’t fall into to sin. But as hard as I try, I know that the anger still creeps in when my patience is wearing thin. I know that when I’m scrolling through Instagram or Facebook that inappropriate images or posts will grab my attention or entice me to linger longer than I should. I know that I shouldn’t be envious or jealous of other people’s success, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at other people and say “I wish I had that talent, money, or success.”
The reality is, as good as we might try to be, we will still fall short of perfection. I can barely reach my own personal and professional goals, let alone my spiritual goals. And if I can’t live my diet, routine, and overall health lifestyle to perfection, why in the world would I ever think that I could be perfect spiritually?
Yet, so many of us, knowing that we can’t even reach a simple goal like waking up at 5am every morning, look at our lives as followers of Jesus and say, “I got this. I’m doing okay. I don’t need to change. There are no areas of sin that I need to cut out.”
That mindset, however, is immediately confronted when the Apostle Paul writes, “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In other words, everyone has sin in their lives. Even the best of us. And the devil’s greatest lie is, “You’re not that bad. You’re doing great.” Because, if Satan can convince us that we are “doing okay,” then that means the death of Jesus on the cross won’t impact us the way it should.
However, if we can recognize our sin... If we can name our sin and acknowledge that we aren’t perfect… If we can admit that we need a savior who can actually remove the stain of sin from our lives, then the power of the cross becomes paramount in our lives. We realize that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that we can experience freedom from our sin. It’s only by His blood that we are washed and we are cleansed from failure.
But we have to admit our sin first. Because if we aren’t sinful, then Jesus died for nothing. So you have a decision to make: Will you believe Satan when he whispers, “You’re okay. Keep doing you. Be happy.” OR will you believe the God who says, “All have sinned… But I’m giving you a way out in Jesus.”
The essence of the Gospel is that Jesus came to defeat evil and rescue sinners… So, if you’re not a sinner, then His sacrifice on the cross was kind of pointless. But if you are a sinner, then your life has changed forever. Because the greatest news in all of history is that on the cross your sin was forgiven and you are now found to be whole and good before God.
Admit it... You're a sinner. But God loves you anyway and shows His love for us because while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.
We don’t like being told what to do. In fact, we despise it. We spend our lives being told, “Just do whatever makes you happy. Find your truth and make sure you live your truth. If we just stay true to ourselves, we will find peace and happiness. Nobody can tell you something different than what you know to be true about yourself. You do you.”
How’s that working for you? Are you happy?
My guess is probably not. We are more depressed and more unhappy than we’ve ever been. I’ve read multiple articles that show how our wealth has increased over the years but our happiness has dropped. How can that be? Isn’t the chase for wealth and the American Dream supposed to solve all our problems? Isn’t chasing my dreams, my comfort, and my well-being supposed to give me peace in life?
Again... How’s that working for you? Are you happy?
Here’s the problem: we worship at the altar of self. We’ve bought into the lie that if we live our truth and do what makes us happy then we will be happy and at peace. Yet so many of us find that we are still restless.
You may have all the money in the world yet still feel poor.
You may be a sexual icon that everyone loves and adores yet still feel ugly.
You may be successful and powerful yet still feel weak.
Why? Because living for yourself has never worked and never will.
When Jesus stepped onto the scene though, He gave us a better way. However, with this better way He made some very exclusive claims that gets in the face of our “You do you” mentality. Things like, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life... Nobody comes to the Father except through Me.”
Let me translate that for you... Sorry god of self. Sorry Allah. Sorry Buddha. Sorry to all you 100s of Hindu gods out there. Sorry god of comfort and god of wealth. Your ways won’t cut it. The only way to see God and be with God is through Jesus. Simply put, Jesus doesn’t leave much room for “All roads lead to God” theology.
It’s a pretty bold claim and it’s a pretty exclusive claim. One that doesn’t sit well with our modern sensibilities because we just want everyone to be happy living their truth. We don’t like thinking that God might punish someone who is a good person but refuses to believe in and follow Jesus. We don’t like thinking that the devout man or woman following another religion will be separated from God. But Jesus is clear — You only come to the Father through me. Not your happiness. Not your wealth. Not your Buddha. Not Mohammed. Only Jesus.
But please recognize, this exclusive claim follows the most inclusive invitation in history. We’ve talked about it a lot in this blog series, but here it is again:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
We don’t like the exclusive nature of Jesus saying “Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” But we don’t like it because we fail to attach it to this beautiful call for THE WORLD to follow Jesus.
Jesus can make such an EXCLUSIVE STATEMENT because He’s already made an INCLUSIVE INVITATION to the world. Christianity is the most inclusive-exclusive religion. It’s for everyone... Jesus is for everyone. He came to seek and save the lost. Not just the wealthy. Not just the elite. Not just Americans. Not just white people. Not just black people. Jesus came to save everyone!
Jesus offers the most inclusive invitation that offers a life of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment (notice I didn’t say happiness or comfort). But with this invitation comes the exclusive requirement that we believe in and trust that His power and work on the cross is enough to save us.
The god of (FILL IN THE BLANK) must die in your life... And who has the power to overthrow it?
This is part 2 of our blog series that is looking at the simple truth of the Gospel. If you missed part 1, Starting Point, be sure to check it out!
We began this series by noting that Jesus was God in human flesh. In Jesus, the Divine has come to Earth. And we noted that if this is true, then everything in your life must change. But why?
Let’s let Jesus answer this one for us. John 3:16-17 says,
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).
Notice that Jesus’s coming has a direct connection with God’s love for you. In other words, Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth because of you (See Philippians 2). He didn’t come to judge the world, but to save the world. The coming of Jesus (God in a Bod) to Earth was because He loves You.
In my opinion, something as profound as the love of God deserves a response from the one receiving that love. When you experience the love of God, the One who is Supreme over all (see Colossians 1), your life must change. This is not just about God coming to Earth in Jesus (see part 1), but this is about realizing that God came to Earth in Jesus FOR YOU! His love for us was so deep and so vast, that He couldn’t stand to let us face eternal punishment for the sins we are all guilty of.
Which takes us into a deeper conversation that we will talk more about it Part 4. But here’s a preview: If God is just, how can He not punish sin? When someone commits a crime, somebody has to pay. At the same time, God claims to be love… If God is loving, how could He punish someone eternally because of sin? You see the dilemma?
Only in the coming and sacrifice of Jesus is this dilemma satisfied. Jesus took the punishment we deserved for our sin (thus paying for the crime), and at the same time, shows His love and mercy for us by being the substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. On the cross, the justice and the love of God are BOTH displayed. And because of that, Jesus now says,
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.
So where am I going with this?
Through the coming of Jesus into the world we see the love of God for humanity. Through Jesus (and only Jesus) we are given the free gift of eternal relationship with Him. If we believe in Him, judgment is done away with. However, when we choose to neglect Him, to not believe Him, to not re-order our lives and our loves around Him, we are choosing to love the darkness more than the light. And we place judgment on ourselves. Understand, it’s not Jesus or God condemning us — we condemn ourselves by refusing to love Him back. Jesus has already gone to great lengths to love us and welcome us into His Kingdom… .The question is, what will our response be?
In fact, that’s how Jesus finishes His speech. He concludes,
But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”
In other words, when we believe in and place our trust, our hope, and our lives in the hands of Jesus, our lives change. We begin doing what is right by showcasing and living into that same type of self-sacrificial love that Jesus has shown us.
Jesus would later say that the greatest commandment (if you’re really living in the light) is to love God and love people. When we choose to believe Jesus is God, our lives change to be more like Him. And we begin to love others the way He has loved us. If you’re not working to imitate that love, have you truly believed in Him?
The bottom line this:
Jesus has gone to great lengths to love us and save us… You must to decide if you believe the story and if you are willing to trust Him fully.
What is the Gospel? Why did Jesus come to Earth? What did Jesus do while living? Why did Jesus have to die? Is the resurrection true? These are some of the most foundational questions that must be answered to get a clear understanding of what exactly the Gospel is. Over the next five weeks, let’s dive into the simple beliefs and principles of what we actually believe when we choose to follow Jesus.
Before we get too far, however, we need make sure our starting point is clear. My professors always taught me that how you start is just as important as how you get to a conclusion and the conclusion itself. If you have a weak foundation, the whole building will be compromised. So where do we begin?
Our starting point can be somewhat controversial. In fact, you can’t avoid this topic. It comes after each of us and there’s no indifference or half-hearted answers. Sooner or later, you must answer the question, “Who was Jesus?”
For centuries this question has been tossed around. It’s caused division and church splits. It’s broken friendships and turned family members against one another (Check out Matthew 10:34-39 if you don’t believe this is possible). We like to think of Jesus as this calm, gentle fellow that welcomes everyone into his home, but the truth of the matter is, Jesus is a polarizing figure and often times His claims and His teachings can divide.
So who do you believe that He is? Was a He just a great teacher? Was He a psychotic genius who figured out how to fool everyone? Was He just a legend that His closest followers made up to give people hope? Or, do we believe Him at His word and say, “He’s God in the flesh?”
C.S. Lewis writes about the famous “Trilemma.” He believes that Jesus was either a Liar (convincing millions to follow Him), a Lunatic (He really believed He was divine, but wasn’t) or He’s Lord (everything He claimed was true).
No matter how we want to look at it, Jesus was either the Son of God, or He wasn’t. You have to choose for yourself.
John the apostle was pretty clear on what He thought about Jesus. He writes,
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
If you keep reading, we see in verse 17 that the Word refers of Jesus. So, based on what John writes, who was Jesus?
- Jesus existed from the beginning
- Jesus was with God
- Jesus was God
- Jesus existed in the beginning with God
- Jesus is the being through which EVERYTHING was created
- Jesus gives life and light to everyone
John certainly wasn’t afraid to make a choice about who He believed Jesus was. John unashamedly wrote and preached that Jesus was the Son of God. That He was God come to Earth. No lunatic. No liar. No legend. Jesus is Lord. Let’s add an extra layer of intensity to John’s claim.
John was living in a Roman society that worshiped its government leaders. These leaders were often often referred to as the "Son of God." So for John to make such a claim is blasphemous against the state. But John couldn’t shut up about what he knew to be true. He had seen Jesus. He witnessed His miracles. He heard His teachings. He saw Him die. And then he saw Him walking around after that death. After everything he had seen, John knew that Jesus, the Son of God, had come to Earth in human form.
And if, like John, you decide this to be true then everything changes for you. Because you now believe that The Immaterial has become Material. The Divine has become Human. The Spiritual has become Flesh. There’s no ambivalence on this subject... Either Jesus was God coming into the world in bodily form, or He wasn’t. If it’s not true, then go about your business.
But if it is true... Then your life must change. Your loves must be reorganized. Your life must be restructured. Your world must be reordered. Because it’s no longer about you, but it’s about the true and core belief that God has come to Earth as a human to rescue humanity from a debt that we could never repay.
When you believe that Jesus, God in a Bod (I didn’t come up with that), has come to Earth, your mission in life shifts to letting your world know that God has come to Earth. And this is the starting point of the Gospel. It's the foundation upon which everything else stands. It’s the central tenant that claims the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God of the Cosmos has come to Earth in the person of Jesus. And the world has never been the same since.
Make sure to check back next week as we continue looking at the foundational beliefs of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
By Shan Wood
Have you ever been overwhelmed? Have you ever been exhausted? Have you ever looked around and asked, “God, where are you?”
In 1 Kings 19, the Prophet Elijah has been faithful and unrelenting in his service to God, proclaiming God’s message and doing what God had asked him to do. His reward for his effort?
He's running for his life from a wicked King and Queen -- Ahab and Jezebel (Give them a google search and see how bad they were!).
Discouraged, alone, and on the run, Elijah tells God, “I’ve done what You’ve asked, but the people have not only ignored me, now they have also torn down the places of worship and killed Your messengers. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
Elijah was overwhelmed. He had nothing left to give and believed nothing good would come of God’s plan. God sent him to a cave in the side of a mountain and told him to wait because He, the Lord, was going to pass by. Listen to what happens next…
“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind there was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake came a fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire came a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, ‘So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?’” 1 Kings 19:12-14 MSG
People tend to think that everything about God is big and powerful and loud and over-the-top. But God shows up when He isn’t expected and in ways people never expect. He also speaks through the most unlikely people in places that some might think are questionable.
It’s in those small, unexpected ways that God helps us to be closer to Him and re-energizes us for what lies ahead. If He were always showing Himself to be powerful and wonderful, we who are normal, and not wonderful, would feel like we don’t “measure up” and God would never want to have anything to do with us. But here is the good news... Not only does God want everything to do with us, He’s also always acting on our behalf in the most powerful ways.
He cares about the little things. He cares about the things we care about and understands the things that wear us out, worry us, and discourage us. Like the caring Father He is, He reminds us we’re not alone in the most unexpected ways. He’s in control and He’s never surprised by evil.
This past Sunday Trey said that people who know God need to “wear out the worn-out in prayer”. That means when we’re so tired and have nothing left, we can still pray. And while it may not seem like much, in those quiet moments of prayer is often where we hear from God. And it’s in prayer that our strength is restored and we find reasons to be grateful; even reasons to sing.
Psalm 42:1-5; 43:3-5
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’
My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God; singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!”