I am Not a Fan of Jesus

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Celebrity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fans.

Jesus had many fans.  People flocked to Him and hung on His every word. They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  I am not a fan of Jesus. Before you count me out as a heretic, let me tell you who I am.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Yes, I want to be near Him, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because He is peace.  He is hope.  He is wisdom and power.  And He is Life.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identified himself as a “bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1). The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus. He is my Teacher. He teaches me how to walk in righteousness.  He teaches me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends are there after the show.  I love just spending time with Him Monday – Saturday in His Word and through His Spirit.

I am a witness of Jesus.   Jesus saved me, redeemed my life, and gave me a place with Him in heaven. He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

I am a worshipper of Jesus. I will spend the rest of my life and all eternity giving Him the praise and honor He deserves. To be a fan of Jesus falls far short of what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Beloved, don’t just be a fan of Jesus. Be His follower and servant and disciple and friend and witness and worshipper. In other words, let Jesus be your everything.

Love One Another

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In this week building up to Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about love – not “Hollywood” love, but real love as the Bible defines it.

There is only one time in the four biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings that He utters “This is my command.” It wasn’t, “Thou must tithe.” It wasn’t, “Thou must be in church every time the doors are open.” It wasn’t even, “Thou must not cuss.” It was a simple but profound statement: “Love one another.” That’s not to say that we can ignore all the rest of what He said, but it means that this is a non-negotiable. We must love one another. John recorded four times Jesus said it. The epistles say it another eight times ( six of them in 1 John). God is serious about loving one another. Jesus specified how we are to love one another: “as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, 17). How did He love us? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (v. 13). He loved us by laying down His life for you and me giving Himself for us that we might be saved. It’s very unlikely you will be called upon to die for someone, although many a soldier has done it, but you may be called to lay down something else for another. Like your time, your privilege, your resources, your opinion, your dreams, even – gasp – your phone. When Jesus commanded us to love one another as He loved us He meant with no reservation or hesitation. Whether you think they deserve it or not.

Jesus is the perfect model of loving others. The cross is the ultimate expression of His love, but there are some practical ways we can love others. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love” by washing the disciples’ nasty feet. (John 13:1-17). When He was done He said, ”Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). Washing feet can take many forms – giving when there is a need, taking a meal, grocery shopping, taking care of kids, cutting the grass, repairing a leaky faucet, walking the dog, opening your home, sharing your resources.  They are practical ways to show you are a follower of Christ.

Here are a few other ways the Bible says we can “Love one another.”

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Rom 14:13).

“Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you,” (Rom. 15:7)

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

“Have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). Socially distanced, of course.

Did you notice that none of these are labor some or costly in terms of money? But they sure can be a challenge. Love one another Beloved, because Jesus loves you. And that’s reason enough.

The Enemy’s Not Who You Think

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Going a completely different direction this morning, all because of a . . . well, let me start at the beginning. I was working on a very passionate and theological post. But something wasn’t right. With the post, but also with my computer. I was waxing elephants with my words, but not making any real sense. Plus, I noticed a random period between two words where a period shouldn’t be. I backspaced to erase it and retyped the sentence. There’s that stupid period again. I thought I must be accidentally hitting the period key. Backspace and try again. It’s still there. What in the world? Then I wiped the screen and wiped away a tiny little black spot that was perfectly positioned to pretend to be a naughty period. And drive me crazy.

Oh, you bet there is a spiritual application here my friends. Things are not always what we think they are. You and I can be deceived and end up fighting the wrong battles. That’s why Paul said we must take a stand against the devil’s schemes because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11, 12). Just as I blamed that errant period for being in the wrong place, you and I often put the blame in the wrong place. Satan loves to stir up tension between you and your spouse, your child, your coworker, your parent, your sibling, or even – especially – a brother or sister in Christ. We have to remember that the enemy s not the other person – it is the evil one “behind the curtain,” using your loved one’s finger to push your buttons. It is the devil who loves to drive a wedge between us. And yes, I know, sometimes people do some pretty awful things to us. They’re still not the enemy. Satan and his evil minions are.

Who has “pushed your button” lately? Who has caused friction and tension in your life? Your real enemy wants you to be angry and hate them. Instead, Peter admonished, “All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, because to this {harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, humility] you were called” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Fight the real enemy, Beloved, and love one another.

The Gift of Praying Friends

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“Some men came, bringing a paralytic, carried by four of them” (Mark 2:3).

I just couldn’t pray. The pain ran deep and wild like muddy water rushing through a broken dam. I was an intercessor but I couldn’t find the words to say on my own behalf. My mind was numb, my heart was shattered. I was broken. And I had to keep it all to myself. I was the one others looked up to, the one with wise answers and a verse for every situation. If they saw me now, I would lose their friendship and respect. I became very good at wearing the mask and hiding my feelings.

But two friends looked past my disguise and saw the raw, open wounds of my heart. And because they loved me – the real me – they prayed the prayers I could not. They prayed over me on the phone. They prayed over me at my office. They prayed over me after Bible study (which I was still teaching), at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, and wherever we were. They carried me to the Father when I couldn’t carry myself.

In Mark’s Gospel, a group of friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing. Bearing his weight, they climbed onto the top of the house and tore away the roof to get their friend to the only one who could help him. Interestingly, Mark says “When Jesus saw their faith. . .” He healed him. Their faith. Not the paralytic’s faith. The faith of his friends. I wonder if, like me in my time of distress, the man had any faith of his own left.

Someone you know needs your prayers. Someone needs you to pick them up and carry them to Jesus. They have no strength of their own. They are paralyzed by life’s struggles and unable to go to Him by themselves. The Lord honored the faith of the man’s friends, just as He heard and honored the prayers of my friends. Healing came for the paralyzed man and for me; borne on the wings of others’ faithful intercession. Beloved, let’s look beneath the surface of our friendships. Let’s seek out the ones who bear the heavy burdens, and let’s bring them to Jesus. When my faith was almost gone, the faith of my friends carried me. Who needs your prayers – and your faith – today?

Heroes of the Faith

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The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?

Followers

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I love the way my granddaughter follows me around the house. I love to hear her behind me, those little feet slap, slap, slapping on the wood floor. My heart desires to be a person worthy of being followed. And I don’t mean social media “followers.” I mean followed in the same way Paul meant it when he told the church in Corinth, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). I want to be a model of Christ for others, therefore I need to always be conscious of who is watching me. I know all too well that I’m not always going to get it right, but I’m trying.

It is good to have Christ-like examples you can follow. Godly women, and a few men, have played a huge part in shaping who I am as a woman, a disciple, and a witness just by the way they lived their lives. They weren’t perfect, but they have been a wonderful grace gift on my Christian path. I want to be the same for my granddaughter.

Beloved, I want to offer you some challenges today. First, find someone who follows Christ, whose life is patterned after His, and get close to them. Learn from them. Listen to them. Pick up their holy habits. A word of caution: Don’t expect them to be perfect; learning to give others grace is an important part of the Christian life.  Second, be a person who follows Christ so closely that others can follow you. Live your faith out loud where others can see it and can see Jesus in you. Do your best to be conscious of who may be watching you. And third, grow up in your walk. There comes a point where we have to stop following people who follow Christ, as good and godly as we think they are, and follow Christ for ourselves. People will always falter, Jesus never will.

I pray that I can be a godly example for my granddaughter to follow. I pray that I can be a good example for others as they witness my life, even the slips and failures. I want to be the kind of believer that people, especially younger women can say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).

Be Perfect

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“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

I’m trying. But I’ll never pull it off. I’ll never be perfect. I am too human, too flawed, too me. That was made sharply and painfully apparent to me this weekend. My heart is still. I’ll never reach that impossible measure. I might as well give up. Why would Jesus demand such a thing of me? He knows I can’t do it.

Because He is not telling me to be without fault, He is telling me to be complete. The word “perfect” in Greek is teleios, and it means to bring to an end, to finish, to be mature. (Honestly, I’m not even sure I can pull off mature.) Jesus used that word when He told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor and follow Him (Matt. 19:21). Paul used it to say that we must put childishness behind us and be mature (1 Cor 14:20). James said that perfection comes from patience (sigh) (Jas 1:4). And John said that God’s love is perfect – complete and full.

Here in Matthew 5, it comes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – after the Beatitudes and do not murder or commit adultery. It comes in the passage where Jesus said “Love your enemies” Oh.

He said “Do not resist an evil person . . . turn the other cheek . . . go the extra mile . . . give with no conditions. (vs. 38-42). He said, “Pray for those who persecute you, who despitefully use you.” (vs. 43-48). Be kind and gracious to those who stand against you. That, He said is what sons (and daughters) of the Father do. That is what perfect people do. That is what the Father has done for me and for you.

There are two times that Jesus used a word – teleo – that shares the same root meaning as teleios – both of these words come from the base meaning of “an end result or goal.” Twice Jesus said, “It is finished” – at the cross when work of salvation was completed (John 19:30) , and in Revelation 21:6 when the work of creation was completed. Finished. Done. Perfect.

I do want to perfect. Jesus said that comes in loving those who are against me, just as He did on the cross. I can’t do that on my own. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Neither do you Beloved.

All in the Family

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In John 17 Jesus made a request of His Father: “My prayer is . . . that all of them would be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so the world will believe you have sent me” (vv. 20-21).  It made me think of the sweet season of ministry my family had with college students in Tallahassee. Through our church, we “adopted” a young man away from home as our “watch-care son,” who became our son. He had a key to our house so he could do laundry while we were at work. He was at our table several days a week. I sewed patches onto his National Guard uniforms. I took homemade chili to him when he was sick. We hosted birthday parties, bonfires, and Thanksgiving dinners and He and His Dad spent Christmas with us one year. It was not unusual for him to crash on my couch. I talked him through break-ups and prayed him through the loss of his grandmother. I made many airport runs. He called us Mom and Dad and my son called him brother. When he got married, we were in his family pictures. It was a sweet relationship that continued long after he graduated from FSU. He didn’t just hang out with our family, he was family.

And he brought other friends into our family. Many, many students had their feet under our table and we often sat together around the Word. It was not unusual to be in Wal-Mart and hear a thick Chinese accent call out “Mom Beth! Mom Beth!” We still stay in contact with many of those students who call us their “second family.”

I think that is a small picture of the relationship Jesus prayed for. That we would not just hang out with the Father, Son, and Spirit, but that we would be part of the Triune family, with our feet under God’s table, crashing on His couch, crying on His shoulder, and bringing our friends home with us.  I can’t wait for that family reunion! Beloved, will you be in the family portrait?

Needy People

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I was so tired. It had been a hectic morning in a busy week and I just wanted to eat my lunch in peace. I had chosen the farthest corner to get away from everyone else in the cafeteria. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her. I tried to make myself small and unnoticeable. But she noticed anyway and set down her tray on the other side of the table. “I’m so glad to see you! I need to talk to you.” And she launched into her latest drama. “Why couldn’t she see that I wanted to be alone?” I thought. I listened to her non-stop for thirty minutes and as she prepared to leave, the Spirit prompted me to pray with her. She hugged me tightly and said, “Oh thank you! You always know how to make me feel better.” As she walked away, I stared at my half-eaten lunch just as my phone chimed. I opened the daily devotional app to read Luke 9:10-11: “Jesus took them with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” He welcomed them. Not just tolerated them. He received them with delight. And He shared the kingdom with them. His time alone with His disciples had been hijacked. Or was it a divine interruption?

The truth is, I was once a needy sponge myself, searching out kind faces and willing (more like reluctant) ears to listen to me. No doubt I wore some folks out. But somebody cared enough about me to pour into my empty heart and lead me to God’s healing touch. Now I try to be the one who cares and listens. When a needy friend comes around I remind myself that Jesus welcomed people who interrupted His life. People like me.

Maybe, Beloved, God wants you to be His conduit of love and kindness – and patience – to lead someone into His healing arms. You could be the hinge on which their life turns around. Jesus welcomed needy people. He welcomed me. And He welcomed you. Somebody needs you today. Will you welcome them in Jesus’ name?

Caring for the Wounded Body (of Christ)

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“But God has combined the members of the body . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Have you ever noticed when one body part suffers, your whole body becomes invested in the healing process? When I had a severe infection in my leg a couple of years ago my whole body had to be committed to rest and elevation and medication for my leg to heal. My whole body was flat of my back for four weeks.  My arms didn’t grumble about it. My other leg didn’t resent it. My heart and lungs kept doing their job so that the wounded part could heal. No part of my body forgot about that leg for a second.
I think, in our modern “personal” and private religion, we’ve forgotten how to take care of one another. How to give attention to the wounded parts of our body – the wounded people in the Body of Christ. We throw a half-hearted “praying for ya!” in their direction and maybe even take them a meal if we have the time to spare, but I feel like we’ve lost something. Commitment to one another? One part of my ministry is listening to hurting people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “When my life became difficult, my church forgot about me . . .ignored me . . . overlooked me . . . gave up on me.” I know they’re telling the truth because it has happened to me too.  What would our Head think of all this?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26)
Am I rambling or is any of this resonating with anyone?