The Simplicity of the Faith

If it is complicated – it is religion. If it is simple, it is Jesus! And, we do manage to complicate the Christian faith. Often, in fact, we make it into another religion. We take the basics of the faith and add things to it that take our focus off of Jesus and onto programs, buildings, budgets, bodies (number of people attending), and baptisms (number of people publicly confessing their faith).

In time, Jesus seems to get lost totally. Listen to the worship songs today; most are about us, not Jesus. Listen to sermons; most are about life principles, spiritual deeper life, the benefits we gain from salvation – healing, deliverance, prosperity. Jesus has gotten lost. Not His choice – we did it.

So, we end up with “another Jesus, another gospel, and another spirit” as Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians. And, often, we are totally unaware of it. May I add, “another church” (small ‘c’ because it is not the Church that Jesus is the Head of and that He is building). And, we end up in bondage to legalism or life lived without boundaries (license) and no longer experience the liberty and freedom Jesus spoke of and died to release.

It is time to refocus on Jesus. Maybe it is time to focus for the first time on Jesus. He is to be our focus – the King and His Kingdom. To focus or refocus will mean decluttering our spiritual life. It will mean purging religion out of our system (easier said than done). It will mean learning to travel light and experience life as it was meant to be lived.

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-Three

History shows us that individuals who participate in a revolution are radically changed by their immersion in the process. The ultimate success or failure of a revolution depends on how tightly its advocates align themselves with the cause – and how open they are to becoming the embodiment of what they profess to bring to life.

This is an important phenomenon: while change agents are probably drawn to a revolution to transform their world, their personal involvement in the process changes them in significant ways. They enter the fight for change holding a few compelling ideals, but they exit the process with a different view of themselves, as well as of the fundamental meaning and implications of the revolution. I would go as far as to say that sometimes their concern about recasting the world becomes not so much secondary as invisible. Their own journey has taken them to places they never imagined.

Typically, four highly significant changes appear to be produced by a revolutionary’s investment in a revolution. 

1> Realigning personal identity

Human behaviour is a series of complex negotiations among our self-image, character, values, sense of purpose, and cultural parameters. Each choice we make is our best attempt to somehow balance the competing interests of those dimensions to optimize the outcome. Who we believe ourselves to be is a major determinant in our ability to be competent  and effective in our revolutionary endeavours. 

Your capacity to connect with God intimately and, therefore, to follow through on the challenges posed by the cause of Christ is inextricably bound to your self-image. Simply accepting Christ as Saviour and having a respectful but casual relationship with Him does not give birth to a revolutionary life.

To be a revolutionary requires understanding the role of every human being within God’s plan. You realize that you are a special creature in His universe – created for the purpose of knowing and loving God, reproducing additional lovers of God, and living in ways that reflect being made in God’s image and for His pleasure. Amazingly, we have been invited to be partners in developing and advancing His Creation – minority partners, certainly; not so much peers as associates – and as such we can take heart in the fact that we matter to God.

We are valuable because God considers us to be so. We need not earn our stripes – in fact, He has made it clear that we cannot earn status in His eyes, expect through our relationship with His Son. Our worth stems from our commitment to loving and serving Him. Our relationship with God helps us comprehend the purpose of our life and defines the direction to pursue that will please Him and thus provide us with the greatest fulfillment.

Wrap your mind around this realization: You are a slave to Christ, an ambassador of God, a servant of the King, a soldier in the invisible battle of purity and evil. You will find inner peace only when you know who you truly are. Only at that point can you be authentic. Joy escapes many believers because they don’t fully grasp their identities as revolutionaries; they labour in vain as halfhearted disciples. The emotional and spiritual ecstasy that revolutionaries experience is linked to an awareness of their true role in the Kingdom of God. Until you become obsessed with imitating Christ and honouring God, your journey is moving in a dangerous direction. Devoting yourself to the revolutionary way is a big step toward experiencing God’s pleasure.

A major reason why most local churches have little influence on the world in that their members do not experience this transformation in identity. 

Research indicates that churchgoers are more likely to see themselves (self-identity) as nationals of their specific country (Canadian, Russian, Kazakhstan…), as consumers, professionals, parents, and unique individuals than zealous disciples of Jesus Christ. Until that self-image is reoriented, churches will not have the capacity to change their world. After all, a revolution is a dangerous and demanding undertaking; it is not for the minimally committed.

More next time …

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-Two

We are looking at the perspectives that helped Jesus be the Revolutionary that He was. Understanding the way He say things may help shape your view of what a revolutionary life is all about. Last time we saw…

1> Live the revolution

2> Victory through engagement

3> Motivated by love and obedience

4> Marching orders from God

Christians are used to controlling their own lives. What makes revolutionaries so bizarre is that they admit they do not have control of their lives and they are not seeking to attain control. Who else would you want controlling your life besides the God of Creation?

But admitting that we do not have control is only one step in the process of ‘successful’ living. The other crucial component is to listen carefully so we get our cues from God. He seeks to direct us every step of the way. However, we must be sensitive enough to receive His direction. He speaks to us in various ways – through the Bible, wise counsellors, direct revelation, signs – but all the communication in the world is meaningless if we are not attuned to His message and determined to obey His commands. 

A revolutionary knows who calls the shots, and he knows what the voice of His God sounds like. Success is not about proving our own ability by creating and implementing our own plans; it is all about our fervent desire to be used by God as He wills.

5> Leadership: doing what’s right

A revolution is about changing what exists. Change requires leaders who intentionally introduce new direction. Every revolutionary, whether positioned as a leader or not, fulfills a leadership role by virtue of affecting the lives of others who have ignored or resisted the truth of the Bible.

Whether you like it or not, being a revolutionary means that, at some point, you will provide leadership to someone else. That’s a privilege for which you must be ready.

One of the critical points of preparation is to make your choices based on what is right. Jesus criticized the leaders of His day for misleading people by making choices that were popular, easy, expected, personally profitable – but wrong. A godly leader – a true revolutionary – does whatever is right, according to God’s laws and principles. Even if the inevitable result will be resistance or persecution. Revolutionaries gladly bear any burden so long as their choices and actions honour God.

6> Internal politics are absent

Jockeying for position occurs in most organizations, whether they operate under peaceful or wartime conditions. All the perks are up for grabs – titles, physical location, compensation benefits, operational resources – and even the most committed players consciously grab for them.

Not so among revolutionaries. No office politics exist because there is no office to rule, no official positions to win, and no ‘stuff’ that matters. All that matters is pleasing the Boss. And that is accomplished by ignoring all of the usual goals in favour of being godly.

So, these are six of the many perspectives that determined how Jesus lived His life as The Revolutionary. It would be good to consider adopting them as part of our perspective on both the Christian faith and the life we live.

Being a revolutionary is all about living life as a paradox. You win before you experience your initial skirmish. Faith trumps over competence. Spiritual power overwhelms physical force. Humility generates attention and appreciation. Holiness defeats worldly cleverness. Those who surrender their lives defeat the enemy who seeks to destroy them. 

Participating in this revolution is not easy. Our enemy understands our objective and methods and will pull out the stops to counter our efforts. Just as victory comes through paradoxes, the performance of revolutionary tasks beings paradoxical results. Offering love will often inspire distrust and retribution. Serving those in need may trigger persecution by those being served. Living a simple life becomes exceedingly complex.

It does not matter. Focus. Be strong and courageous. Yo have already won. Now all you must do is persevere.

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-One

Jesus was the ultimate revolutionary. We can learn how to be agents of life transformation for the Kingdom of God (the goal of the revolution) by understanding how Jesus interpreted His role in life, how He established and pursued priorities, and the demeanour that facilitated His lifestyle and ministry. But we must also shed light on the philosophy or understanding that fueled His behaviour.

In the Church today, we tend to study Scripture and draw general lifestyle principles. We interpret God’s words to us through a particular analytic framework, one that is typically based on a synthesis or combination of biblical teaching, cultural values, and familial training. But what happens if we apply a completely different framework? What happens if we read the Bible without our religious and cultural glasses on? What is we read the Scriptures through the eyes of a revolutionary? What are the seminal perspectives that the Lord divulged and revealed for us to integrate in our pursuit of a revolutionary life?

Here are a few of His perspectives that may help shape your view of what a revolutionary life is all about.

1> Live the revolution

This revolution is not something you join; it is a way of life. Jesus made clear that the entrance fee for membership in this movement is repentance, obedience, love, and service. Most revolutions that the world has seen or is currently experiencing gained ground for their cause by following a strategic plan. God’s revolution, however, has no incremental plan. This war is won by the fanatics on God’s side living in concert with the revolutionary ideals that Jesus prescribed.

This is a war that is not won by force. It is won by the daily demonstration of courageous faith – the faith to be God’s person wherever He puts you, doing whatever He calls you to do. Don’t wait to sign up. Just live it!

2> Victory through engagement

Most wars are decided in terms of territory seized or the number of enemies killed. Not this one. It is unlike any war ever waged. For starters, we already know who wins. Further, the most effective weapons are those that promote peace and understanding: prayer, love, blessing, and so forth. And, of course, the war is ostensibly invisible, although it is wages in the material realm.

In fact, unlike all other wars, this one has no innocent bystanders. All are combatants who declare their side in the conflict through their words and actions. No gray area exists: you are either aligned with God, the champion of holiness and freedom, or Satan, the challenger promoting evil and enslavement.

Revolutionaries – the frontline warriors for the Kingdom – can claim victory simply by enlisting in the Lord’s army. Embracing the role of revolutionary and the persevering in the war does not guarantee victory – being a revolutionary is victory. All we have to do is show up every day to fight for what is right. The outcome has already been taken care of.

3> Motivated by love and obedience

But why, one might wonder, should we bother to engage? Why not sidestep the whole messy affair, and just lead a low-key, no-frills Christian life? Is it not enough to love Jesus, accept salvation by grace, and then live however we wish until we reach heaven?

Well, for starters, there’s that issue of bearing fruit. When Jesus told His followers, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20), He was intimating that all who receive the free gift of salvation ought to be so blown away by sheer gratitude that they cannot do anything other than seek ways to change themselves and the world. Even though you cannot earn your way into God’s eternal presence, your wise choices and good deeds become the evidence of your commitment and transformation.

And forget about fear as a motivator. Yes, we may harbour a healthy dose of fear due to the awesome power and unfathomable omniscience God possesses, but genuine revolutionary zeal must be attributable to an intense desire to worship, thank, and sever God for His goodness and greatness.

In the end, we surrender our lives to serve Him out of love and obedience. He is the only One who matters in life. His incredible sacrifice for us causes is to do no less than give everything we have back to Him as our own sacrifice of praise and appreciation.

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty

We are looking at how Jesus, the Saviour of the world, looked at Himself. Last time we examined His priorities in life – priorities that guided what He did and where He invested His time and effort. This time let’s look at His character and demeanour.

2> His character and demeanour

The best intentions in the world get nowhere unless you have the character and demeanour to carry out those dreams. Once again, the nature of Christ deepens our understanding of what type of person is capable of changing the world. In His humanity, Jesus was able to develop the qualities that allowed Him to behave in revolutionary ways.

Are these same qualities evident in your life today? Are you consciously refining these dimensions so that you will be entrusted with greater responsibility for the advancement of God’s Kingdom?

  • Merciful and grace-giving. “God blesses those who are merciful … Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”  (Matthew 5:7, 7:1)
  • Reconciliatory. “Go and be reconciled.”  (Matthew 5:24)
  • Diligent. “Keep on asking … Keep on seeking … keep on knocking.” (Mathew 7:7)
  • Teachable. “Anyone who listens to My teaching and follows it is wise.”  (Matthew 7:24)
  • Courageous. “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves … Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch our soul.”  (Matthew 10:16, 28)
  • Accepting. “Anyone who does the will of My Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 12:50)
  • Surrendered. “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.”  (Matthew 16:24)
  • Repentant. “I tell you the truth,, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)
  • Humble. “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:12)
  • Servant-minded. “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.”  (Matthew 20:26-27)

Many people are drawn to Jesus by His nature, without knowing much about what He stood for or His ultimate purpose. He wasn’t a revolutionary because He proposed a different philosophy. He was a revolutionary because He lived differently, teaching a groundbreaking world order through His demeanour and behaviour. His words simply magnified and clarified what He was demonstrating in the flesh. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Thirty-Nine

We are looking at the reason the Church, when it is healthy is meant to be revolutionary. It is because its Founder, Jesus, was a revolutionary. We are digging in to our understanding of Jesus as a revolutionary by looking at the record of His life and ministry recorded for us by Matthew, a disciple of Jesus who was appointed as one of the first apostles in the early Church.

One of the most intriguing insights into Jesus is His recognition that He was a person in process. He perceived the many trials and challenges He endured as means of demonstrating His obedience and shaping His character. As Jesus the divine Son, He was truly complete: but as Jesus the Deity made man, He underwent many of the same growth pains that we experience. Perhaps that refined sense of timing enabled Him to have greater patience with the daily battles He faced.

The most compelling aspect of His self-image, though, is that He understood His role to be a twofold mission: to love God and to love people. That perception is simple but not at all simplistic. As the embodiment of love, Jesus tangibly modeled various facets of love – compassionate love, tough love, enduring love, forgiving love – as well as the dramatic impact authentic love has on the world.

Our self-image creates the infrastructure through which we respond to the world. What are the lessons for you and me in how Jesus, the Saviour of the world, saw Himself?

1> HIs priorities in life:

You devote yourself to doing what you believe is the highest priority in life. Sometimes you may protest that you are a victim of circumstances or others’ expectations, but your choices reflect what you believe to be most important.

Jesus clarified His priorities by speaking about them and then supporting those words with action. If we are to follow in His footsteps, we must embrace and pursue the same priorities to which He was committed. His mind was locked into the Kingdom of God; He even taught His followers: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33).

What are the priorities that reflect our absolute sellout to the Kingdom of God?

  • Obedience to God. “But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:19b)
  • Love. “But I say, love your enemies! … If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” (Matthew 5:44, 46)
  • Justice. “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
  • Peace. “God blesses those who work for peace.” ( Matthew 5:9)
  • Holy Living. “… let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16)
  • Integrity. “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t’” (Matthew 5:37)
  • Generosity. “When you give to someone in need, … give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2, 4)
  • Spiritual connection. “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” (Matthew 4:10)
  • Spiritual wholeness. “Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
  • Biblical literacy. “Haven’t you read the Scriptures? … Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures.” (Matthew 19:4, 22:29)
  • Faith in God. “Because of your faith, it will happen … You don’t have enough faith … If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed … nothing would be impossible … But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 9:29, 17:20, 19:26)
  • Blessing people. Jesus not only regularly taught this, but His constant healing of, training, and praying for others, demonstrated how to bless them.
  • Disciple-making. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19).

Apparently, that’s a life agenda worth dying for…

Bible Reading – Hints and Ideas

As I speak with believers it is evident that many of them are not doing well spiritually. From young to old I hear about their spiritual lives being “stuck.” In other words, there is no life in their spiritual life. And, almost every time they comment that their Bible reading is adding nothing to their walk with God and, at best, is seriously boring.
As I spoke with them at length and thought about their comments I realized that there are a number of mistakes we make when reading the Bible. Often these mistakes are “life-threatening” and the result of people not being taught when first saved about how to read the Word of God and use it in their lives. Much could be said but let’s start with a few points…

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The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Thirty-Eight

We are looking at Jesus as a revolutionary. Let me remind you of the definition of a revolutionary: someone committed to the thorough replacement of an established system of government in the hope of seeing radical change in society and social structures.

We saw that Jesus reformed government – and took us out of the world’s governmental system and gave us the grace and empowerment for self-government. And, that because of this He could live in the world but not be of the world. He belonged to a different kingdom, God’s Kingdom, and so lived a life that was noticeably different and very attractive. As revolutionaries we are to live the same way as He did – being imitators of Christ, as Paul wrote.

No person ever practiced what he preached better than Jesus did. If His assignment for us is to be revolutionaries, we have an intimate knowledge of that that means largely through His earthly example. He was relentlessly self-disciplined. The consistency of His words and behaviour transformed every place and every person He encountered.

I really encourage you to take some time to read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life with the intention of discerning her attributes and actions that gave Him this power to transform. Too often we write off His influence, protesting that He was, after all, God, and therefore His ways are beyond our grasp. But that’s just an excuse we hide behind to avoid the challenge of revolutionary living. His life is our model. A true revolutionary accepts the challenge to be fully Christlike, as impossible as it may seem at the start of the quest. Remember, nobody starts out a champion; only those who are single-minded in their determination to reach lofty goals become unrivalled leaders.

As you study the Gospels for lessons and clues, notice that Jesus ignored customs, expectations, and even laws in order to be all that God intended. His focus shows us, in the flesh, what is possible and how to make the most of every opportunity provided by God. Let’s take a brief look at His life in the next few blogs, seen in the book of Matthew, to discover how you can transcend the moral and spiritual gravity of this world to enter a revolutionary orbit.

His identity….

Jesus had the right to have a chip on His shoulder. But from the moment we meet Him all we find is humility. Think about His choices and how He responded to various circumstances. He was baptized by someone whose very salvation was dependent upon being forgiven by Jesus. He refused to accept titles or even simple accolades. He did nothing to call attention to Himself; in fact, He generally shunned the spotlight and avoided situations that would bring notoriety and acclaim. He consistently exhorted people to demonstrate humility and to realize that their stature is determined by God, not by what they or others say.

Despite the human tendency to proclaim and prove one’s independence, Jesus recognized and freely acknowledged His total dependence upon God. In both His public ministry and His private life, He lived as a servant seeking to be used by God the Father. His self-worth was not based on His own performance; it was based on how faithfully He did the will of God and operated in the power of the Spirit.

Unlike many people who assume power our influence, Jesus was never under the delusion that His service to humankind would produce universal applause and adulation. Aware that He was a warrior in the invisible spiritual battle, the Man from Galilee went to great lengths to preach to His colleagues and prepare them to embrace their inevitable social standing: targets for misunderstanding, hatred, discrimination, and persecution. The picture He painted for fellow revolutionaries was appallingly unattractive – and it reflected His acute awareness of His place on earth.

More next time…

Prophetic Prayer

Around the world today there is a dawning of a new understanding of prayer

And, here on the home front we need a new understanding of prayer
For most believers, their prayer life lacks life
For some, their prayer time is seriously boring
For others, it is seen as a religious obligation to be fulfilled daily
For almost all, it takes up very little time on any given day
And, obviously it is mostly pathetic and not powerful

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The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Thirty-Seven

The Webster dictionary defines a revolutionary as someone committed to the thorough replacement of an established system of government in the hope of seeing radical change in society and social structures.

Various historians have argued that Jesus Christ was the most significant person in history, having the deepest and broadest influence of any person ever. Few profiles of world changers leave Him out of the mix. Whether He gets the top ranking or not, the fact that people around the world continue to recognize His lasting impact on humanity some two millennia after His departure from earth is evidence of a revolutionary life.

We also noted that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the life of every Christian who is a revolutionary today. It is His call to revolutionary living that beckons us and guides us on this path.

But what made Jesus a revolutionary? This is an important question to ponder as we are called to be imitators of Christ. So, we need to look at and learn from His example.

Two critical insights into the revolutionary lifestyle can be gleaned from how Jesus behaved on earth.

The first relates to the objective of replacing an established system of government. We know that Jesus was not a political reformer in the sense of seeking position or power in the public arena. But He did want to reform government – self-government. His message was clear: you cannot rely on public policies and the enforcement of laws to shape your character and lifestyle. It is not your title, fame, fortune, or network that gives you lasting influence; that comes from who you are, in light of your character, your values, and your core beliefs. It is those components that drive the decisions and activities of your life.

So, if you are a Christian revolutionary, it is because you have sensed and responded to God’s calling to be an imitator of Christ. It is not the Church’s responsibility to make you into this mold. It is not society’s job to push you in this direction. You are responsible for who you are. Your choice to become a revolutionary – and it is a choice – is a covenant you make with God alone. The commands and admonitions provided by Jesus to all who would listen were designed to facilitate self-governance that makes each disciple a revolution in progress.

The second insight relates to how an appropriately self-governed follower of Jesus is expected to live. In John 17, Jesus spoke to His followers regarding their responsibility, giving birth to the widely known but inadequately invoked calling to “be in, but not of, this world.” In other words, through consistent devotion to biblical principles manifested in a noticeably different mind-set and lifestyle, the disciple is called to influence the world rather than to be influenced by it. 

In a similar manner, then, you and I are called to  be revolutionaries by conforming to the will of God and letting that affect every life and decision within our reach. We are not revolutionaries because we join a community of like-minded people, although such ties are integral to our personal development and our spiritual identity. We become revolutionaries through our absolute commitment to think and behave like Jesus in order to show our love for God, and to love other people through our positive influence on their lives.

What does a revolutionary’s life look like? Jesus showed us that our strategy is evident through our priorities. His example teaches that the weapons we use are our demeanour, character, and the presence of the Holy Spirit of God working through us. And His Words instruct us that the mark of success is the identity and the commitment we bring to the role.