Monday, January 30, 2012

“I Want To Be Like Jesus!”

You may have heard someone say, “I just want to be like Jesus!”  You may even have said this yourself.  Oh, how noble and Christian this sounds.  We get visions that if we were to be like Jesus, we would go about our day extending unconditional love to the unlovely and we would spend our time helping the poor and down trodden.  We would be given supernatural powers that we could use to heal broken bodies and broken souls, while mesmerizing the masses.  Yes, being like Jesus sounds so fanciful and romantic. But is this actually true?  Is this actually all of what being like Jesus would entail?  Have you ever stopped and seriously contemplated or searched the scriptures to see what it would mean to actually “be like Jesus?”     

Yes, Jesus did go about demonstrating love and doing good, but his life was not near so romantic or fanciful as we may envision!  First of all, He did not live a nice structured life like most of us, having a family and a nice house to return to each night.  A man once came up to Jesus claiming he would follow him wherever he went, to which, “Jesus replied, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)   Jesus did not tell this guy he shouldn’t follow him, but did warn him that the cost of being like Jesus was no life of ease with fluffy down pillows and soft mattresses. 

It is easy to say we want to be like Jesus, but the price require to actually “be” like him, may be more than we are willing to pay.  Jesus was despised and hated by men.  “The Jews persecuted him.” (John 15:16)  “The chief priests and elders of the people assembled in the palace…and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.” (Matt. 26:3-4)  If we were to become like Jesus, we too would be hated and persecuted.  In fact Jesus promises us just this.  “All men will hate you because of me.” (Matt. 10:22)  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world… That is why the world hates you… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20)  A life lived being like Jesus, means a life lived being persecuted and having men hate you.  Not exactly typical alter call material.

Another stumbling block to us being like Jesus is that as independent Americans we are quite accustomed to doing and saying “whatever” we please, “whenever” we please.  God has given us free will and we exercise that free will, well, quite freely.  This is not the life Jesus lived, for although Jesus also had free will, he chose not to use it; but chose instead to “do” and “say” only what pleased and glorified the Father.  For Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…for I always do what pleases Him.” (John 8:28-29)  “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)  “But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)  To be like Jesus would mean to only “do and say” what the Father gives instruction for us to “do and say.”  A far cry from how most of us now live.  Surrendering our will to such a subservient lifestyle is not medicine that goes down well, but this is the price if we are to truly be like Jesus

The part of our will that we do surrender to the Father, most certainly does not include death.  We may say we want to be like Jesus, but we most certainly don’t want to go there, or do that!  Like every man, Jesus did not want to die and his flesh was in agony just thinking about what lay ahead of him on the cross.  The Word says that Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me, yet not my will, but as you will.”    He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”   “He went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.”  (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44)   Despite his total fleshly objection to the idea of a torturous death, Jesus surrendered his will to the Father’s, agreeing to drink the cup of God’s wrath about to be poured out upon him (because of “our” sin) in order to accomplish the Father’s will, and bring glory to his Name.  Surrendering our will to the point of giving our lives for the sake of the Kingdom is the ultimate sacrifice, and certainly not for the “casual Christian.”  Most of us spend our lives seeking peace and comfort, yet the life of being like Jesus is a call to persecution and death.  Jesus himself said, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord.” (Matt.10:24)   So why should we expect to sacrifice less than what Jesus did?

Our churches are full of “contributors” to the Kingdom, but nearly void of “true disciples” who sincerely want to be like Jesus with all that this requires.  I found the following story on a fellow blogger’s site, which perfectly illustrates the difference between “contributing” to God’s purposes, and being “all in’ surrendered to God’s will.

A chicken and a hog were walking past a church building one day when they noticed the Sunday morning sermon posted on the outside bulletin board, "Helping the Poor." They walked a ways when the chicken suddenly came across with a suggestion. "Say, Brother Hog, why don't we give all the poor people a nice breakfast of ham and eggs?" The hog thought a moment and replied, “That's all right for you to say, because for you it is only a contribution, but for me, it's a total commitment.” 

The chicken was willing to contribute to the poor that which cost her little more than minor inconvenience.  This is how most of us live our Christian life.  We spend our time and resources in pursuit of the “American dream,” chasing wealth and ease; while patting ourselves on the back for throwing a few crumbs and leftovers to the poor or into an offering plate to build bigger churches.  For the hog however, this sacrifice for the poor would cost him all that he had and all that he was.  Nothing would be held back.  No life of ease, and no retirement in the Hamptons for him.  If he were to choose to do this, it would be a total commitment.  This is how Jesus lived His life, and how we must live our lives too if we are to actually be like Jesus.  Jesus said to us in Matt. 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”   Jesus is not offering us an earthly life of fame, fortune and ease should we choose to follow him.  No, instead he asks us to “deny ourselves.”  Deny ourselves?!!  This is a dirty word in our American culture.  We deny ourselves of nothing.  That is why our waist lines as well as our credit cards are maxed out. This is why our government owes trillions of dollars in debt that not even our grand kids will be able to pay off.  We think we “need” and “deserve” the big house, the new car, and a vacation on the beach.   “Deny ourselves…?”  I think not!   This is why the rich young ruler from Mark 10:17-22 turned and went away sad when Jesus asked him to give all his riches to the poor and come follow him.  He understood he was being asked to “deny himself” and he just couldn’t do it.  We Christian often look down our noses at the rich young ruler, calling him greedy and self indulgent, choosing money and comfort over Jesus; but aren’t we doing the same thing every day?  The truth may be that “he” understood the call of Christ much better than we.  We want to hold on to the things of the world which includes all our comforts, and follow Jesus at the same time.  But Jesus didn’t give this rich young ruler that option.  He basically said, choose your stuff and “your” will; or choose “me” and my will!  The rich young ruler went away sad because the price was too high. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid believer in grace, for there is nothing we could ever do to earn our righteous standing before God.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)  Praise his Holy Name for grace, for without it you and I would have no hope!  But the question I still must ask myself is this, if Jesus were to give me the same ultimatum today that he gave the rich young ruler, would I choose to be like Jesus and submit to the His will no matter what the costs; or would I also walk away sad?  Will I, like Miss Chicken, continue to merely “contribute” to the Kingdom; or will I like Mr. Hog, choose to be “all in” and give a total “commitment” in order to truly be like Jesus?  .....  The question lingers!

“God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son.” (Romans 8:29 - The Message Bible)

Monday, January 9, 2012

“New Wine”

Inevitably as the calendar rolls over to a new year, we tend to reflect upon the old and contemplate what the new will bring.  We look forward with anticipation to the new; however the positive outlook for the new is often hindered by what is carried over from the old.  The following verse reflects that this fact is true in our spiritual lives as well as in our physical.  God impressed this verse upon me as a focus for my life in 2012.        

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.  No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine will be lost and the skin as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22)

According to scripture, being filled with “new wine” is reflective of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon God’s children.  One of the Biblical promises that I cling to and pray daily over myself and my family is found in Isaiah 44:3 where it states, “I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.”  I truly need the Spirit to be poured out upon myself and my family, and I desperately desire to be filled with this “new wine,” but according to the above scripture, if my “wineskins” can’t handle the “new wine” it will be of little value to me.  The “new wine” will be lost because the old container cannot adapt to the changing nature of the new.  Our old ways of thinking and doing things are not necessarily bad, but may not accommodate the processes associated with the “new wine.”  As in the parable above, be it putting a “new unshrunk patch” on an old garment, or “new wine” in old wineskins, the result is the same.   The old loses its usefulness altogether, and the new is wasted.   Old garments have fulfilled their purpose, and old wineskins obviously served their need well; but we have now entered a critical hour in history, and we can no longer settle for “old garments” or “old wineskins.”  “You know what (a critical) hour this is, how it is high time now for you to wake up out of your sleep (rouse to reality). (Rom. 13:11) AMP    We desperately need the “new wine,” therefore are in desperate need of a new wineskin to hold it.   We can no longer get by on rule keeping or law oriented religion.  We can no longer be content with traditions, or spiritual entertainment, orchestrated by man’s natural abilities.  All that will suffice is that which comes from the breath of the Father himself.  That which comes from man is no more than cheap amusement, while that which is poured out by the Spirit is no less than life itself.  Being filled with the Spirit is no longer an option.  Oh, how we settle for so much less than Jesus wants to give.  Not understanding the abundance of God’s grace or how it pleases God to extravagantly give to us; we settle for a few spiritual crumbs from the master’s table when we could be feasting “with Him” as an honored guest, “at” the table.  “For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

To make use of the “new wine” and assure that none is wasted, we must by grace receive a new mind and a new heart.  Our traditional way of thinking must be submitted to the Spirit, and some sacred cows may need to be slaughtered. If we are to be filled with the “new wine,” we must be able to stretch and change, move and flow, however and wherever the Spirit leads.  Our ridged order, well designed ideas and paradigms must be submitted to the flexibility of the Spirit.  Obviously none of this comes easily or without some mental anguish, but the reward is great.

New wine must be put into new wine bottles.” (Mark 2:22b) KJV

We cannot receive the new wineskin needed for holding the “new wine” by some religious activity or by holding our mouth just right while jumping backwards through some hoop.  We cannot receive a “new mind” by trying harder or by turning over a new leaf.  (Trying to receive in this manner is part of the “old wineskin” that needs to be replaced.)  The “new wine” as well as the “new wineskin” is received only as a gift of grace, appropriated by Jesus’ finished work.  It comes as we “hunger” after, and submit our hearts to that glorious grace

I urge you to pray to be filled with “new wine,” but pray also to be given a “new wineskin” in order to accommodate the “new wine!”

“God gives the Spirit without limit.” (John3:34b)