More Jesus, Less Me

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Jesus Was a Gift of Love

Posted by on 19 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

It’s often when we’re celebrating Christmas that I consider how content we have become with receiving God’s gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus. We should certainly celebrate the gift of God’s grace through Jesus, but if that’s as far as we understand it, then we certainly need to consider how to be more like Jesus and focus less on ourselves.

John 3:16 makes it clear that Jesus was a gift of love, but God’s gift was not meant solely to be received; it was meant to be shared. Jesus told his disciples in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Just as Jesus was a gift of God’s love for the world, so we must be gifts of God’s love to the world.

That must begin within the church, among our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s easy to love God, the one who gives us extravagant gifts, but that should lead us to love others: “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:21). Every Christian should have a deep sense of love and kinship with other Christians, knowing that God has done for others what he has done for each of us. It is because of God’s gift to every Christian that we should, as Paul writes in Philippians 2:3, “value others above yourselves.”

We should also be God’s gift of love to the world outside the church. Although we have claimed God’s gift through faith, God gave his gift to the world: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). If we have accepted God’s gift, then we are also expected to share that gift, and John tells us that in order for us to do that we must be more like Jesus: “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (1 John 4:17).

As God’s children who have received the gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus, we should celebrate the birth of Jesus. Let us also remember Jesus’ words that Paul tells us in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Celebrate God’s gift by sharing it with others.

Jesus Brought Grace and Truth

Posted by on 05 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

Did you survive “Black Friday”? The so-called start of the Christmas shopping season began as it has for the past few years, with breaking news stories about lines/mobs of anxious, if not angry, people who were willing to push, shove, kick, punch, gouge, trample, and even pepper spray anyone around them just so they can get the stuff they want–all in the name of celebrating Christmas (whether they recognize the birth of Jesus or not). Clearly someone has missed the point.

As he begins to explain the arrival of Jesus, the apostle John tells us in John 1:17 that “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If we are celebrating the birth of the one who brought grace and truth, surely we should not be having knock-down, drag-out fights over cheap TVs. While I didn’t see anyone I know on the news throwing punches in the aisles of the local big-box stores, I know that many of us struggle with the idea of “peace on earth” during this holiday season. So, how can we be more like Jesus while we’re shopping for gifts, preparing for guests, and traveling to see friends and relatives? We need to focus on the grace and truth that Jesus brought.

Generally, we understand the truth that all of us are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and that the only way we can receive that forgiveness is by God’s grace, as a gift from God; this is why we exchange gifts as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Perhaps we have forgotten some of the nuances of the word grace, the ideas of joy, beauty, pleasure, charm, and loveliness. The Greek word translated as grace in the New Testament carries these images with it; not only is God’s grace a gift, it is a gift that brings joy.

Do we, as God’s children who have received that gift, reflect the joy that comes with God’s grace? Are you generous in your giving? Are you pleasant as you interact with store clerks? Are you charming despite your disappointment when what you want isn’t in stock or while you are waiting in seemingly endless lines? Does our celebration of Christmas show others the grace and truth that Jesus brought? Our culture has taken God’s perfect gift and buried the joy that comes with it under flashing lights and ribbons and door-buster sales. We don’t have to let it stay that way. Let’s reclaim the joy of God’s grace and celebrate the birth of Jesus so that others may experience that joy as well.

Jesus Gave Thanks

Posted by on 21 Nov 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, most people begin to consider everything for which they are thankful: family, friends, jobs, homes, health, and more. This is certainly the right attitude, one that ought to permeate our daily lives.

This attitude of thankfulness is also found in the Jewish celebration of Passover, which commemorates God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. It is a celebration that helps Jews remember what God has done for his people, surely a time to be thankful. As a Jew, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, reminding them of God’s deliverance in the past.

It was in the context of this celebration and remembrance that Jesus instituted the Last Supper. Matthew 26:26-28 says that “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”

While the disciples remembered that God had freed his people from physical slavery, Jesus gave thanks. But I think that there’s an element of Jesus’ thankfulness that looks to the future. Jesus knew that he was about to be sacrificed in order to free his people spiritually, and despite the pain and suffering he would soon experience, he gave thanks.

If we continue to pray that God would make us more like Jesus, we should also give thanks the way Jesus did. We have the responsibility to remember what God has done for us, freeing us from our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus, and for that we must give thanks. We also have the privilege of giving thanks for what God will do for us in the future.

As we gather with our families and friends to give thanks for what God has given us, let us not forget to give thanks for what God has done for us through Jesus. Let us give thanks for what God continues to do through us, bringing others into God’s kingdom. Let us give thanks for what God will do in the future, gathering us to heaven to be with him forever.

Jesus Taught Others

Posted by on 31 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

I am thankful for the people among us who are teachers in our Bible school classes, our Adult Bible Fellowship groups, our elective classes, and smaller groups. I am thankful that so many of them take additional time out of their already hectic weeks to prepare and teach lessons so that our children, teens, and adults can learn from God’s Word. It’s a job that has high expectations (James 3:1 says teachers will be judged more strictly), and it often comes with little recognition. Although our teachers do not expect recognition, I am often remiss in my appreciation of their dedication and efforts. So, thanks to all of our teachers; I do appreciate you and your work!

It’s just that I’d like to add to the ranks of our teachers. While I know that not all of us are gifted to be teachers (Romans 12:7) and that not all of us are called to be teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28, 29), I believe that all of us are called to teach in one way or another. If we are to be more like Jesus, then we need to develop a habit of teaching others. In Mark 10:1, it says about Jesus that “crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” In addition to becoming more like Jesus, we must be obedient to Jesus, who said in Matthew 28:20 that making disciples involves “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

While I would love to have more people called to be teachers in our Bible study programs Sunday morning and throughout the week, I know that not all of us are called or gifted in that way. However, we can all teach others. Parents must teach their children (Deuteronomy 6). Older men and women must teach younger generations (Titus 2:2, 3). Leaders must teach within the body of believers (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24). In Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Regardless of your role, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to teach. Let’s do it together.

Jesus Lived Love

Posted by on 27 Sep 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

As I mentioned in my sermon on September 25, we are God’s children. Of all the things I said, I glossed over one key point that I took for granted: as God’s children, we must love each other. If we want to live as God’s children, we ought to focus very specifically on being more like Jesus, especially when it comes to the way he lived in love.

In Ephesians 5:1, 2 Paul wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Again, Paul reminds us that we are God’s children, and he encourages us to “live a life of love,” giving us Jesus as the example of how to do that.

Jesus’ example of love is a matter of self-sacrifice. Paul tells us that Jesus loved us, and because of that, he offered himself as a sacrifice to God. Obviously, Jesus’ love for us led him to the cross, where he became the ultimate sacrifice. But how did he live a life of sacrificial love?

Jesus interacted with the unlovable—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers—and that didn’t help his reputation with the religious leaders of his day. Jesus answered questions from people who were trying to undermine his ministry, which often led to further opposition. Jesus spoke the truth, even when people didn’t want to hear it. Everything Jesus said and did was for the benefit of other people, even though it eventually led him to his death.

As we try to be more like Jesus, let us live lives of sacrificial love. Our service to God doesn’t always have to be a matter of preaching or teaching the Bible; in fact, our opportunities outside of the church are likely going to be greater than inside the church. If we really want to reach the world and share the Good News about salvation through Jesus, we’re going to have to “advertise” Jesus’ love by living it out ourselves.

Jesus Was Persecuted

Posted by on 19 Sep 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

We American Christians seem to have a different perspective about persecution than many other Christians in the world. Many of us seem to think that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the widening cultural gaps between us and the rest of our country are examples of persecution; however, we are still free to gather openly and worship God, while many Christians throughout the world are not. While we may be uncomfortable on occasion because of our faith, we are not persecuted.

That troubles me. I certainly do not desire to face the choice of rejecting my faith in Christ or dying or watching my family be killed, which does happen throughout the world. What I do desire is to be more like Jesus, and it troubles me because I know that Jesus was persecuted, even to the point of death. In John 15:20 Jesus said, “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Paul made it clear that persecution is an identifying mark of being a Christian; in Romans 8:17 Paul wrote, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

It troubles me more knowing that in 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Does this mean that the reason we are not persecuted is because we are not living godly lives? I pray that it means our country’s Christian heritage is strong enough that we continue to enjoy living among Christians, if not merely among people who continue to hold fast to Judeo-Christian principles. However, that will not continue for much longer if Christians do not live the godly life in Christ Jesus to which Paul refers. As we continue to grow together in our faith and knowledge of Jesus, let us help each other live godly lives in Christ Jesus so that we will know for sure that we are persecuted for our faith.

Jesus’ Life Was Joyful

Posted by on 22 Aug 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

I don’t know where this perception began, but Christians don’t necessarily have a reputation for being happy people. Maybe it’s because too many Christians spend their time condemning everything the world says and does. Maybe it’s because so many Christians focus on the dos and don’ts of the Bible at the expense of the Good News of the freedom we have in Christ.

Regardless of the reasons why we don’t always seem to be happy, joyful people, the simple fact is that we have been given the power to be joyful despite the attacks of the world. We know that Jesus suffered, on our behalf, more than any of us will ever suffer, and yet Jesus still had joy in his life. If we want to be more like Jesus, we need to imitate Jesus’ joy.

We find a great expression of Jesus’ joy in Luke 10. Jesus had sent 72 followers ahead of himself to heal, and to preach the Good News of God’s Kingdom. He had warned that they would face opposition, but when the disciples returned, they were excited about the miracles they performed. Jesus had to warn them, in verse 20, not to be distracted by the miracles but to rejoice in their salvation. Still, it gave Jesus joy to see them perform their mission and revel in God’s power, and so he praised God. Luke 10:21 says, “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.’”

What brought Jesus joy? His followers accepted his message and took up his mission despite persecution. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus found joy in that mission. Paul commended the early church when they found joy in taking up that mission. Let us also be imitators of Jesus, his disciples, and the early church and take up his mission, despite persecution, and live joyful lives rejoicing in our own salvation and sharing the Good News of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus Was Unequivocal

Posted by on 25 Jul 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

I probably don’t have to tell you, but we live in a confused world. It’s pretty clear, considering how often we find people doing wrong when they ought to know better. For those who are making disciples, we understand that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for people to do what is right if they have not been told what is right. But what about those of us who have been told the Truth? Why does it seem that followers of Jesus seem to be just as confused about what is right as the rest of the world?

It might be a matter of our culture; this so-called “postmodern” culture does not believe in objective truth, that there is an indisputable difference between right and wrong. The world believes that “my truth may not be your truth and that’s OK.” However, that’s not Jesus’ position.

When it comes to Truth, Jesus was unequivocal; he was unambiguous; he was absolutely clear. While the world might wrestle with what they do not know, Jesus made it clear what he believed about many things. For example, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said this about money: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” In Matthew 24:36, Jesus said this about “the end times”: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Most importantly, in John 14:6 Jesus said this about God and salvation: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If we want to be more like Jesus and less of ourselves, we must be unequivocal in our understanding of who Jesus is and how He alone is the way to God. The world is confused enough, we must be absolutely clear that Jesus is the only way to God. We must show it in the way we live, the way we speak, the way we interact with other people. There should be no question about who we follow.

Jesus Prayed

Posted by on 20 Jun 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

In Luke 5:12-15 we read that Jesus healed a man who had leprosy. The man revealed his faith by telling Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said he was willing, touched the man, and said, “Be clean!” Immediately the man was healed. Jesus told him not to tell anyone what had happened but to go to the priests and offer the appropriate sacrifices “as a testimony to them.” Verse 15 makes it pretty clear that the man told people how he had been healed, because many others came to Jesus to be healed. And Jesus healed them.

Clearly Jesus had compassion for all people, since he healed so many and spent so much time ministering to them. However, Jesus’ purpose wasn’t simply to heal people; he was here to serve God. Luke 5:16 tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Despite all the amazing things Jesus did for people, from his preaching and teaching and healing to dying on the cross and rising from the dead, his primary focus in life was his relationship with his Father.

As we strive to be more like Jesus and focus less on ourselves, we have to be careful even how we serve God. That is, we must keep our relationship with God as our primary focus in life, making sure that even our service is secondary to our love for God. While I do think that more of us in this body of believers should be doing more to serve, I don’t want anyone to confuse their service with their relationship with God. Service is a spiritual discipline that comes from our dependence  upon God, and that can grow only as our relationship with God grows.

If I could encourage you in one way to build that relationship, I would recommend working on your prayer time. Take the time to get a weekly prayer list from the Welcome Center or sign up for the weekly prayer list email. Read through the Psalms or Proverbs and use the writers’ words of praise and thanksgiving and petition as your own. Begin a prayer journal, writing down your prayers completely or as lists of your praises and requests, noting when God answers your prayers. Take the time, like Jesus, to be alone with God. Then see how God blesses your life and service to him.

Jesus Was Obedient

Posted by on 16 May 2011 | Tagged as: More Jesus, Less Me

Through the course of the EACH (Everyone A Chance to Hear) the 2WordStory campaigns, I have encountered something I didn’t expect, Christians who have started doubting their relationship with God. I’m not talking about people giving up on their faith but people who are questioning how they came to faith. The doubts are more common among those who have grown up in the church and who had become Christians as children or teenagers.

These doubts seem to come up when Christians start thinking about their story, about how they came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Those who grew up in the church sometimes believe that they don’t have a story, at least not a dramatic story like some who became Christians later in life. That can’t be further from the truth. Growing up in a Christian family and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is an exciting story of faith and obedience.

It’s important to remember that Jesus was obedient from a young age (Luke 2:51, 52) and that he grew up in a home with parents whom God considered to be righteous (Matthew 1:19; Luke 1:30). It certainly wasn’t a given that growing up Jewish in Jesus’ day made anyone righteous, just as growing up in a Christian home today doesn’t guarantee that kids become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. However, it certainly does help, which should encourage us even more to make our homes and home life more focused on God and his Word.

Regardless of what kind of home you grew up in, remember Jesus’ words in John 15:10, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” But do not confuse hearing and studying God’s Word for obedience. Paul writes in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” If your story is one of faith and obedience passed down through generations, praise God and share your story!

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