Not a Fan

What comes to mind when you hear a person say, “I am not a fan of Jesus Christ.” In a recent book, written by Pastor Kyle Idleman, the author asks the question, “Are you a fan or a follower?”

A fan, according to my favorite online dictionary, is a person with a liking and enthusiasm for something. They may show their enthusiasm by being a member of a fan club, holding fan conventions, or by promoting the object of their interest and attention.

So a fan of Jesus Christ may join the church (fan club), attend church on Sunday (hold fan conventions), and talk to people about their love for Jesus (promote the object of their interest and attention). So what is wrong with being a fan of Jesus Christ?

Let’s consider. Wikipedia defines a follower as one who subscribes to the teachings or methods of another. They imitate or copy the one they follow. A fan walks out of church on Sunday and leaves Jesus sitting in the pew. A follower brings Jesus home with them, talks to him when making major, or not so major, decisions. They do what Jesus did, treat people as Jesus did, and love as Jesus loved.

“You may be just a fan who admires Jesus but isn’t ready to let him cramp your style. Then again, maybe you’re not into Jesus, period. In any case, don’t take the question, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” lightly. Some people don’t know what they’ve said yes to and other people don’t realize what they’ve said no to,” says Idleman.

Jesus said in Luke 9: verse 23-24, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Jesus is calling us to be followers, not just fans. He wants us to make Him the most significant part of our life, not just a stress reliever.

Do you walk out the door of your church on Sunday and live life just like your non-Christian neighbor? Do you keep your church attendance to yourself, afraid to discuss your faith in public? Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person…” It takes a follower to abide by the attitudes for life that Jesus laid down on the Sermon on the Mount. Are you a fan, or a follower?

For further study: Ex.13:6-9; Num.16:13-14; Deut.27:9-10; John 1:38; Mk.8:35

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Ask, Seek, and Knock

Some of the first words out of a young child’s mouth are “Why, What’s at, or How come.” Questions abound. They want to know everything about their world in one day. Sometimes it drives a parent nuts. You want to shut the door on any and all questions forever.

Jesus was not so inclined. In fact, in Matthew 7, verse 7, He says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus wants our persistence…our continued communication with Him.

He uses parents as an example. In verse 9, He adds, “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?”

The Lord wants our attention to be focused on Him, whatever the circumstances in our life. He wants us to know that God loves us more than a parent loves a child and will provide accordingly. All we need do is ask. We seek His face, His comfort, His provision. And when we knock on the door of our Lord’s heart, He will open it to us.

Do you keep a journal? Sometimes it might be important to keep track of all the times God has answered your prayers, so you can build trust that God means what He says. A journal allows us to look back, see where He visited us, and see what He has done. God does answer the prayer of a fervent heart, one that persists, and implores on a regular basis.

For further study: 1John 5:14-15; James 4:3

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Judging Others

Jesus Teaches Warnings and Admonitions

Have you ever walked through a crowd and formed an opinion about someone based on their activity, their appearance, or their language? Maybe you’ve heard something about someone and formed an opinion based on second hand information. Maybe you’ve watched two men friends walking down the street side by side, or two women, and decided that they were of a different sexual orientation than you.

Unfortunately, we judge others all the time. Sometimes the judgment is correct but most often, it isn’t. Our treatment of them is based on that judgment. We look at a person’s skin color and lump them in with everyone else who has the same skin color and judge accordingly. We make assumptions based on where a person lives and who they hang out with, the length of their hair, the number of body piercings, and the number of tattoos.

In Matthew 7, verses 1-5, Jesus says, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Judgment places a wall between you and the person you are judging. They recognize the censure whether you say anything to them or not. Your body language can be most telling, but your quick glance in another direction says a bunch. Jesus wants to be their only judge, but in order for Him to reach their heart, He uses you to reflect Him to that person. If all they see is criticism, they’ll turn their back on what you and the Lord have to offer.

As Jesus said, by whatever standard you judge another, you will also be judged. Consider the advantages we’ve had as a Christian, the teaching we’ve been privileged to hear and learn from, the great examples you walked with, and the Bible at your fingertips. You expect the same behavior from someone who’s never had those options, or at least has never taken advantage of the opportunities if he did have them.

Before God, the only person we are responsible for, the only person whose behavior we can control, is ourselves. We need to make sure we are walking as Jesus would have us walk, complying with His attitudes and beatitudes for our lives, and then love everyone else, unconditionally. Judgment places conditions on a relationship. And it closes doors.

Check your judgment eyes at the door. Leave them on the front seat of your vehicle and walk into a room planning to love anyone and everyone you meet. Make sure the log in your own eyes is taken care of before you expect a person to remove the speck in his. Jesus will trust you with more people for you to reflect His love to, if you are faithful with the few He’s already given you.

For further study: Isa. 11:3; Luke 6:37-42; John 8:7; Cor. 4:5; 1 Cor. 5:12-13; James 4:11

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Worry Gains Nothing

The free online dictionary defines worry in this way: to feel uneasy or concerned about something; be troubled; to pull or tear at something with or as if with the teeth; to proceed doggedly in the face of difficulty or hardship; struggle: worried along at the problem; persistent mental uneasiness;  or a source of nagging concern or uneasiness. Does that just about describe how you felt the last time you were faced with an unpleasant situation or a problem?

Worry does not seem to be very productive, does it? Not one of these definitions placed a positive light on worry. Jesus said it best when, in Matthew 6, verses 25 and 26 He says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are?”

Do you believe that? If you do, then worry adds nothing to your life. In fact Jesus went on to say just that in verse 27 and onward. “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.”

It’s a trust issue. Either we trust God and His Word or we don’t. If we trust, then worry is not part of our vocabulary. Oh, it may pop its head up once in a while, but if we remember how faithful God has been, how much He loves us above the lilies and the birds, then we can return to trusting Him with all the situations and problems that arise as part of life here on this planet.

 Jesus asks in verse 30, the latter part, “Why do you have so little faith?” Why do we have so little faith? Are we grounded daily in the Word, or do we let life take away the time we need to spend with Him, daily meditating on His goodness and His love for us?

Jesus points us in the right direction when He says in verses 31 – 34, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God* above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Meditate on God’s attributes when you are tempted to worry. Is He trustworthy, faithful, loving? Did He create you to harm you or to have a relationship with you? Are you able to stand on His Word? Meditate, reflect, and walk in the sure knowledge that He will take care of it. Trust…and Obey.

For further study: Matt 10:19-20; Luke 12:13-26; Phil 4:6-7

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Treasures in Heaven

Jesus Teaches about Practical Spiritual Practices

What do you consider a treasure? I have a photo album of pictures that my mother collected when my siblings and I were very small children. I regard that a treasure. When we go on a trip, I bring back mementos to remind me of the great vacation we had. Maybe it’s the photos I took when we discovered a new park or animal preserve. These are special and things that I would miss if my house burned down and I lost them all. They are treasures.

Some people amass property, buildings, cars, boats, and all manner of toys. They spend their time working hard to acquire their treasures, sometimes sacrificing time with the family. People have been known to collect gold or diamonds. They rent safety deposit boxes and pay for expensive insurance policies to protect all their treasures. When the economy took a downturn recently, many people lose their retirement income, or house, or other such treasure. Some committed suicide because of their loss.

Jesus had great insight into what treasure was and what we should do with it. He said, in Mathew 6 verses 19-21 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

What does that mean? How can we store treasures in heaven? Over the years, I’ve heard people joking about hitching a wagon to their coffin when they die so they can take their ‘stuff’ with them. Yet we all know that we leave the way we came…with nothing. So then, how do we store treasure in heaven? We certainly can’t send it ahead of us by FedEx.

What exactly does Jesus consider to be treasure? Could it be the people He died for? He loved us so much, that He actually gave is life up for us. He sacrificed all in order to take us to heaven with Him. All we have to do is believe and receive. That is His treasure so, then what can we do to build our treasure in heaven? We share our faith, our story, with others so that they will accept the pardon paid for on the cross. Then they will join us in heaven one day.

Our treasure is the people whom Jesus brings into our life. He points them in our direction and asks us to treat them as valuable, as He does. Do you care that your next door neighbor may spend eternity in hell? If he’s not in heaven, that’s where he’ll be, in eternal torment.

Jesus goes on in verse 24 to say, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” If we push and strive to build our material treasure trove, we won’t have time or the inclination to serve the Lord and build up our heavenly coffers. We either live for the toys, or we live for the Lord. Can’t have two masters.

Where are you today? Look around. What does your home…your life…reflect? Do you reflect Jesus or do you reflect worldly success? You can be successful but still reflect Jesus if your first priority is building treasure in heaven. But if you spend all your waking moments collecting more stuff, leave Jesus to one day a week, then you are serving something other than Christ.

For further study: Gen.14:12; Ex.20:17; Haggai 1:6; Matt.6:24; Mk.10:21

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Fasting

Fasting has become a popular attempt to cleanse the body, a ritual performed by many health food gurus. The Free Online Dictionary describes it as voluntarily not eating food for varying lengths of time. Fasting is used as a medical therapy for many conditions. It is also a spiritual practice in many religions.

It goes on to describe a purpose. Fasting can be used for nearly every chronic condition, including allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, high cholesterol, low blood sugar, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity. Fasting is an effective and safe weight loss method. It is frequently prescribed as a detoxification treatment for those with conditions that may be influenced by environmental factors, such as cancer and multiple chemical sensitivities. Fasting has been used successfully to help treat people who have been exposed to high levels of toxic materials due to accident or occupation. Fasting is thought to be beneficial as a preventative measure to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease. Fasting is also used as a method of mental and spiritual rejuvenation.

In the Bible, Fasting is used for another purpose altogether. Fasting is a way to impress upon God the seriousness of your prayer request so fasting is frequently spoken of alongside prayer. Jesus has instructions about this too. In Matthew 6, verses 16-18, He says, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Fasting, as prayer, was supposed to be done in private. This is not a hunger strike…an attempt to raise awareness about some issue or other. This is something between you and God. No one else need know about it.  Jesus tells us to comb our hair and wash our face. Don’t go around looking as if you’re making a big sacrifice and as if you’re suffering. In this society, many of us could go without food for several days before our bodies would be affected.

Consider the ramifications of fasting. Take into account your health issues, of course, but think about what it would mean to your prayer life. Walking closely with the Lord offers us a means to sit in personal communion with Him. Leaving the distractions of food behind can only enhance the experience.

For further study: Ezra 8:23; 2 Chron 20:3

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Prayer

Building a relationship with anyone takes two-way conversation. Most of us meet a friend face to face, although a lot of friendship interaction these days is done texting, at a distance. But it’s still a back and forth exchange of ideas. When Jesus walked the earth, He had this kind of relationship with His disciples. They’d walk down dusty roads, heading here or there, and converse, batting back and forth ideas about this or that.

Nothing has changed. If we want a relationship with Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit, we need to be talking to them and listening for their feedback. That’s called prayer. In Matthew 6, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines some guidelines for a fervent, effective prayer life. In verses 6-8, He instructs, “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”

The intimacy of our prayer life is described in these verses, don’t you think? Jesus wants us all to Himself, not distracted by others around us but closely involved with Him. He doesn’t want platitudes. He wants us to speak from our hearts for He already knows what is bothering us, or exciting us. He wants us to talk to Him about life, our worries, and our wonderings.

Then He goes on to teach us to recognize His Lordship. When we pray, we are to begin by verifying the fact that God is Holy. His will for our lives should be our first priority. Jesus said, in verses 9-10, “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” We must first recognize who is in control before we begin to present petitions.

Even though, we know that Jesus already knows what we need before we ask, He likes to be asked. So He further instructs us in verse 11: “Give us today the food we need.” By asking, we acknowledge that all good things come from God. He owns it all, and He is our provider.

Forgiveness has always been a large part of Jesus’ teaching. In prayer, we are instructed to seek God’s forgiveness but then we are reminded that we need to forgive others. Jesus’ words regarding forgiveness are recorded in Matthew 6 verse 12, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Verse 14 and 15 expands on this where He said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

God knows what kind of temptations we face daily. When He walked the earth, He was tempted but He did not give in. He wants us to seek His guidance and assistance in this area of our life so we will be victorious as He is victorious. Jesus adds, in this example of prayer from verse 13, that we should pray, “And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” God is our protector. We can walk victoriously in His strength.

Then we listen. We should sit quietly and reflect on His Word, as we wait for His voice to penetrate our understanding. But the words He already spoke and recorded in the Bible are His words directly to us as well. Listening means to adhere to those words. We’ve asked, now we need to reflect on the answers He’s already given and that still small voice that sometimes comes when we sit quietly and know that He is God. Two-Way conversation.

Bask in His love for you today as you reflect on His answers for your life. Walk confidently in His love, His provision, and His protection.

For further study: Study the Old Testament Prayer of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:5-12), of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1) and of Paul (Colossians 1:9-12), Jonah 2:1; Matt 6:7-13; Col 4:2; 1 Tim 2:8; 1 Tim 2:1-4

 

 

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Does Social Justice Love Your Neighbor?

I looked up the word social justice on the internet and found some interesting information. According to business directory.com, social justice is defined as the fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice. Then Wikipedia contends that social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.

The term “social justice” was adopted by a Jesuit in the 1840s, based on the work of St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote about both capitalist and socialist theories from a natural law viewpoint. Then under John Wesley’s direction, Protestants (in particular Methodists) became leaders in many social justice issues of the day, including the prison reform and abolitionist movements. Wesley himself was among the first to preach for slaves rights attracting significant opposition. Early Christians in North America established hospitals, universities, and many other social institutions based on their views about social justice.

The book of James is full of reasons why someone who professes to be Christian should “love your neighbor as yourself.” In chapter 2, verses 15 -16 (NLT), James says, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” He goes on to say in verses 17, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”

There are movements afoot today, who would take the idea of social justice out of the hands of believing Christians and make it a political issue. They pit Conservatives and Liberals against each other claiming that one party is better than the other because of their social conscience. In reality, it was never intended to reflect a political bias at all but to reflect a person’s heart. In order for one to be fully engaged in helping the poor, or loving their neighbor, they must first have a heart that emanates the love of Jesus.

But there are a lot of people, you say, who help the poor who are not professing Christians. True but then what are their motives? Some call it earning brownie points, trying to be good enough so that, when the time comes, God might allow them entrance into heaven. Some wish to rise in political circles, or be recognized for their community involvement. When the motive is selfish, how can that person truly love their neighbor?

True social justice gives all honor and glory to Jesus Christ, not the person giving or demonstrating that love. In fact anonymity is the best way to ensure that self is taken out of the equation. True social justice is the result of a person’s love and devotion to Jesus Christ, and has no bearing on politics, religious affiliation, skin color, or socio-economic status. It’s based on need, and nothing else. If a person needs, then the person who is demonstrating love, provides, not because of an obligation but because Jesus loved us enough to die for us. We did nothing to earn His love but our gratitude is displayed when we’re His arms and legs to the people around us.

For further study:  Ex.23:24-25; Deut.2:4-6

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Giving to the Needy

Jesus Teaches about True Spiritual Practices

This is a difficult devotion to write because no matter how hard society works toward eliminating the problem, it will always be there to one degree or another. The online free dictionary describes someone who is needy as poor, people without possessions or wealth (considered as a group); poor enough to need help from others or destitute, impoverished, indigent, necessitous, poverty-stricken. A poor person is someone who has little money or few possessions.

Needy as an adjective describes a person who is demanding or needing attention, affection, or reassurance to an excessive degree. They require more than usually expected or thought due; especially great patience and effort and skill. In this latter definition that could apply to a new mother or a person starting a new job. In either case, action is required.

Jesus spoke often of the needy and what we, as Christians, ought to do about it. We are to help them. He does not qualify the statement by saying “If they deserve it,” or “If they work hard,” or “If they dress nicely and are clean.” He just says we are to help them.

Jesus gives us some instructions on how we are to help. In Matthew 6 verses 1-4, He says,Be careful not to practice your righteousness (the help you provide) in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. We are to practice helping others in secret. No fanfare, no trumpets, no award ceremonies, not pat on the back of any kind, just random acts of kindness for its own reward, seeing the look on a child’s face who has a decent meal for a change, or the look of gratitude when a mother is given a reprieve from an otherwise hectic day.

When we look around, each in his/her own circumstances, we can always identify someone who is in need of assistance. We are to give freely, without condition or judgment, and only seek our reward from God Himself. Of course, being the generous giver that He is, that will be reward enough. Look around. You won’t have to look far. God has placed you just where you are so you can be Jesus to someone today. Don’t let Him down.

For further study: 1 John 3:16-18; 1 Cor. 8:1-7; 2 Cor. 8:3; 2 Cor. 8: 7

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Reflecting the Father

One of the definitions of reflecting taken from an online dictionary is ‘To give evidence of the characteristics or qualities of someone or something.’ As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, we are to reflect Jesus. We are called to be the body of Christ to those who come in contact with us, to be Jesus to them.

How are we doing that? Do we present a judgmental, autocratic, angry God or do we love as He loved when He walked among us? At one of the motorcycle rallies we’ve attended several years, we’ve heard it said that we’re everywhere. Yet there are 8000 of them and only about 35 members of Christian Motorcyclists Association members.

What does that mean? Like a match that’s lit in a dark closet, Christians who reflect Jesus Christ light up the world around them. They can’t help it. They reflect the glory of Christ Himself, if they are walking with the correct attitudes that reflect the Father.

Jesus said and it’s recorded in the book of Luke, Chapter 6, verses 35 and 36, Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

We are to be Jesus to those we come in contact with. We are to love as Jesus loved, unconditionally. Others will notice. The world does not know this kind of love. And yet, they crave it, are drawn to it, and don’t fully understand why. It’s attractive, addictive, and life-giving instead of life-taking.

Do you reflect Jesus to your neighbors, to your co-workers? How about your family members? Do you love those who would put you down? What about that nephew who disdains your beliefs? Jesus was clear. Love is paramount. Then the world will sit up and take notice and Jesus will be glorified.

For further study: Matt.5:14-16; Mk. 4:21; Mk.4:24-25; 1 John 1:5-6

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