Posts tagged love
The One & Only Reason Why Anyone Should Follow Jesus

I have often wondered what in the world convinces a Muslim to follow Jesus. In many Muslim countries, the moment you convert to Christianity your wife will leave you, your husband will abandon you, and your friends will betray you. You can lose your job, your house, and everything you have ever worked for. Worst of all you can end up rotting away in a prison or killed for your faith. So what do you say to someone in these countries in order to convince them that they should follow Jesus? In the west we would go on and on about how wonderful Jesus can make your life. We would talk about how he can bless your finances and give you an abundant life and make you happy and fill you with blessings. We will tell you how much God loves us and wants us to have the best in life and we would invite you to the best church in town with an awesome worship band, comfortable seats, and a super cool preacher. The deacons would work hard to make sure the building is clean and the air conditioning is just right because we don’t want to give anyone an excuse for not accepting Jesus. 

Now, I'm not knocking any of this but do you realize that in Iraq there is no cool worship band and there is no trendy preacher or air conditioned, cushion chair, church? Do you realize that in many of these countries saying yes to Jesus means accepting the fact that you could lose everything including your family and your life? I ask again, what in the world convinces these people that they should follow Jesus? There’s nothing in it for them. And I look at my own life and I wonder, do I follow Jesus because I want to get something out of him? Or would I follow him even if I lost it all?

Well, I’m not the only person to ever have followed Jesus in order to gain something for myself. Peter struggled with this same exact concept. For many years Peter followed Jesus not out of love but because he wanted something out of Jesus. Have you ever met someone like that? They only call when they want something. They only come around when they need something. And when you have something they need or want they are all over you but when they get what they were looking for they are gone. I suppose we are all guilty of that and so was Peter.

In Matthew 16: 21-24 we read the following story:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 
Matthew begins this story with the words “from that time on” indicating that something significant had just happened. When we look back we see that Jesus was with his disciples and asked them who people said he was. The disciples gave all kinds of answers and then finally Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter stood up and confessed “You are the messiah.” And “from that time on” Matthew says, Jesus began to explain his destiny. 

Peter had finally come to the place where he knew Jesus was the messiah but he still didn’t know what that meant. You see, the Israelites had been under oppression for hundreds of years. First the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans. They were treated with cruelty, abused, exploited, and dictated by the governing power of Rome. The Jews wanted freedom and they wanted a messiah who would deliver them from Rome and establish them as the most powerful nation on the earth. And this is what Peter wanted. To Peter, Jesus was a ticket to success and not much more. So Jesus began explaining to them what his messiahship meant, that he would suffer and be killed. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”  Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

For Peter Jesus' messiahship was about the earthly kingdom. Peter wanted to be a part of that earthly kingdom. In many ways, Peter and the other disciples were following Jesus, not because of what they could give but what they could get. They followed Jesus mainly because they believed that through him they would get political power and prestige. And when Jesus said he would suffer and die Peter said, “This shall never happen to you!” but what he really meant to say was “this shall never happen to me.” And Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “You don’t have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” I like how the Voice Bible translates it. It says, “You are not thinking about Gods story.” 

To the limited eye it appears that Peter was trying to protect Jesus, but the reality is he was merely protecting his own ambitions. He didn’t want Jesus to die because if he did, what would become of his own story? Peter didn’t really care about Gods story. He only cared about his own story. And Jesus was the key to make his own story better. In modern terms, Jesus was nothing more than a product Peter could use to improve his quality of life. For Peter following Jesus was about “What’s in it for me?” And the church today is filled with people who show up asking “What’s in it for me?” And what is the end result of this self-centered Christianity? The life of Peter answers the question, for when Jesus was taken prisoner Peter denied ever having known him. 

Why are you following Jesus? Why are the Christians in Iraq following Jesus? What of those who have been hung, imprisoned, or shot? If someone points a gun at your face and tells you “deny him or die” what will you do?

The sad reality is that today myriads of people are following Jesus, not because of their love for Him, but because they see Him as a product that can improve their quality of life. Jesus has been objectified into a philosophical commodity that makes us “happy.” Christianity has denigrated into a “what’s-in-it-for-me” religion. And church has depreciated into a “what-can-I-get-out-of-it” performance. If that is our view of Christianity, I wonder, what will we do when we are asked to “deny him or die” with the cold barrel of a rifle pressed violently against our throats? Like Peter many of us are living a Christianity that does not have in mind Gods story, but merely our story—human concerns. And this is why Peter freaked out. His story was too important to him and the moment he heard the words suffering and death he was like, “Wait a minute! That’s not what I am here for! I want to be prime minister." And there was no room in Peters Christianity for suffering and death. 

Is there room in your Christianity for suffering and death?

Jesus doesn’t give us much of an option. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…” 

In Jesus’ day the cross was not jewelry or a t-shirt. It was an instrument of execution. To carry your cross means that you die to yourself and your own ambitions and live for him and his glory. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what it means to commit your life to him: Suffering and death.

As a church we have got to stop trying to sell Jesus. He is not for sale. We do not bring people to Christ by telling them that if they follow him they will get everything they want. We do not make Jesus more attractive by turning him into our personal genie. We do not lead anyone to Christ by offering them a shallow, cheesy, and easy faith. In his article “Are You Ready? (Thoughts on Iraq’s Christian Genocide)” Pastor Gabriel Johnson says,

“as I listen to the messages being preached by many of the world’s most renowned religious leaders I can’t help but wonder if we are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong I want the big house; nice car and enormous bank account just like the next guy. And I do believe that the promises of God can open amazing doors in every area of life. But when much of what I hear is how God wants to bless my business while children are losing their lives it causes me to question our religion. Will the belief in the promise of success sustain me when they’re trying to kill my family or take my wife? What are we being prepared for in our churches?”
It is not our responsibility to try and make Jesus attractive by presenting only the promises and the blessings while ignoring his radical teachings such as “if you want to follow me, it involves a cross.” Because following Jesus is wonderful. Because following Jesus is the most rewarding thing you will ever do. But it involves a cross. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends? When my wife became a Christian she lost many of her friends. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family? I have a friend in New Jersey who got kicked out of his house when he became an Adventist. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job? Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means you will miss out on all the wild things your friends are doing? Allow me to make this a little more painful for each of us. Are you willing to follow Jesus when people in church criticize you? Are you willing to follow Jesus when people in church judge you? To the youth: Are you willing to follow Jesus when the old folk in your church reject, criticize, and insult everything you are trying to do? To the elders: Are you willing to follow Jesus when your church is making changes you don’t like? We can’t choose to follow Jesus based on how pleasant it is. We must carry the cross. We must die to self. We must live for his story, not our own—even if it costs us our life.

You know, I am heart broken when I hear about people who became Christians and then they left the church because someone said something mean or did something wrong. Don’t get me wrong, as a church we need to bend over backwards to make sure our youth and new converts feel safe and welcome. But at the same time, who told you no one will ever insult you in church? Who told you there wouldn’t be hypocrites? Who told you there wouldn’t be hard times? Jesus sure didn’t say that. And when we are concerned with our own story we walk away when something unpleasant happens. But when we are concerned with Gods story we can’t walk away because we know it’s all about him.

Some of you are probably asking right now: This is all good and everything Marcos, but if following Jesus involves so much suffering then why follow him? I have enough problems in my life at the moment. Why should I commit myself to something that is going to bring more problems? First of all allow me to say that God does bless his children. I am not saying that he doesn’t. There are many benefits to following Jesus and I am not denying any of those. Jesus does bring peace and comfort and joy to our lives. He does heal the brokenness of our families and he does forgive our sin and transform our lives. But I find it interesting that of the 22 times that Jesus said “follow me” in the New Testament not once did he say "you should follow me because if you do you’ll get this." Twice he mentioned a benefit of following him such as, “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” But not once did he say, “I am Jesus. Follow Me and you will receive all of these benefits.”

For the most part, Jesus invitation of follow me is not preceded or followed by any sales pitch. He doesn’t market himself like a new refrigerator. He doesn’t promote all the benefits of having a Jesus-membership. 

To Peter and Andrew he said “follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew had no idea what he was talking about. But they followed him. Why? 

To an unknown man Jesus said, “follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.” To the rich young ruler Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich young ruler decided “you ask for too much.” 

And then we come back to our story. Peter didn’t want to suffer and die. So in the end he denied Christ. But that wasn’t the end. Jesus came back to life. He found Peter and their conversation is recorded in John 21. 

Look at what was said,

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me…”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

And look at what Jesus says next. Pay close attention. Here it is:

And to Peter he said, “when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
No benefit. No discounts or coupons. Death. "Peter, you will be killed because of me. Now, follow me." And years later Peter was indeed crucified upside down in Rome. What changed? Why did Peter choose to follow Jesus when the cost was so high? Because Peter now understood what it was all about. It wasn’t about his story. It was about Gods story. Peter got lost in Gods story and he discovered it is a romantic and breath taking love story. “Peter, do you love me?” Yes, I do Lord. I love you. And that love was so strong he was willing to carry any cross, suffer any loss, and give his very life so that God’s love story could be told. Peter experienced Jesus. Peter tasted the love of Jesus. And Peter loved Jesus. 

I have discovered that this love is the only reason why anyone should follow Jesus. This is the only reason why a Muslim who stands to lose it all would be willing to follow Jesus. Because they saw him. Because they tasted his love and like Paul they cry out, “everything is trash compared to him!” I don’t want what he has to offer as though he was some sort of philosophical commodity or some kind of product off of the shelves in a super market. I just want Him! Love for Jesus. Live for Jesus. Die for Jesus. No matter the cost. No matter the cross. Follow him.
For Those Who Don't "Measure Up"

Sometime ago I saw a video on YouTube that blew my mind. This guys was doing the craziest Calisthenic push-ups I had ever seen. One particular push-up consisted of him literally launching his body into the air from a prone lying position using only his arms. Being a guy that likes fitness I wrote him a comment and asked him how in the world he got to that level because I wanted to get there too. What do I have to do? I asked. I read his response with disappointment when he basically told me he didn’t really know what to say.

The way I felt when I saw him doing those push-ups is the way I feel when I read 1 John 3:9. Turn there with me. It reads:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

When I read this verse my question is, John, how in the world do you get to that level? Will John, like my YouTube friend give us the answer? Or will he leave us hanging? Let’s find out.

Go back with me to the beginning of the chapter. Verse one opens up with a very powerful concept. John says,

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

Everyone here knows that God loves them. Almost every person in the west has seen a billboard with the words “God loves you” on it. But notice, John does not say “listen.” He does not say, “study.” He doesn’t even say “read”. John says, “behold.” To behold means to see. Let me ask you a question. What was the last time you actually saw Gods love for you?

There is an old story about a woman who asked her husband, Why don’t you ever tell me that you love me? And the husband replied, “I told you I love you when I married you and if I ever change my mind I will let you know.” Funny as that story might be, do you realize it actually describes the relationship many of us have with God? Many of us have not heard God tell us how much he loves us since we got baptized. But John says God lavishes his love on us. You don’t lavish someone with something once. The idea of lavishing connotes a continual action. God is always lavishing his love on us and John is saying, “You have got to see this love God lavishes on you every day.”

Is it possible then that for John the first step to overcoming sin is in seeing how much God loves us on a daily basis despite the fact that we are far from where he wants us to be?
John goes on to say that God lavishes his love on us by calling us his children. But notice something interesting. In verse 2 he adds, “now we are children of God.” Notice, John did not say that you have to reach a certain level of holiness before God considers you his child. He did not say you had to grow spiritually first before you could be considered his child. He said “now” we are his children. Today. Not tomorrow. You see, I have two boys. One is a toddler and he is wild. But as wild as he is he is my son. I will not consider him a son when he grows up and learns to behave better. He is my son now even though he is far from being the man I hope he someday becomes. In other words, you are a part of Gods family today, right now, even if you are a spiritual toddler. You may be far from the person God wants you to be. You may still have things in your life you need to get right and yet even so you are Gods child right now.

Could John be telling us that the secret to being an over-comer is to recognize that we are Gods children right now despite our imperfections?

But john goes on in the rest of verse 2 and says something very challenging. Look at what he says:

it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

John is saying two things here. Number 1, there is something I don’t know. Number two, there is something I do know. It has not yet been revealed what we will be. I don’t know that. But this I do know. Jesus is coming and when he does we will be like him because we will see him as he is. In other words we will not be like him before we see him. We will be like him after we see him. But why does that even matter? Allow me to read a letter to you I received a few weeks ago:

I have been miserable for years being a SDA. I love the Death and Hell message and mostly… the fundamentals of the Church but If I have to be perfect before God in the Flesh, then What DID JESUS come and do for me? I find myself being in fear all the time because I don't measure up.

You see, this guy thinks in order for Jesus to come and take him to heaven he has to become absolutely perfect. But John says, even though we wont be like him until we see him, guess what! We are going to see him. He is coming and when he does we will be transformed into his image.

Perhaps the third secret to being an over-comer is in recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order to go to heaven.

So lets put this all together. John goes on and notice what he says in verse 3:

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Notice John does not say “all purify themselves.” John says, “whoever has this hope in him purifies himself.” Here is the answer to the question, “How can I be sinless?” There is only one way: All who have this hope in him. But what is the hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope that purifies the one who believes it.

Perhaps John is telling us that the fourth secret to overcoming lies in feeling safe in the arms of God (having the hope of salvation) despite your imperfections.

But what exactly does it mean to be sinless? Notice John says, “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Later on John tells us that God is love. Here he tells us that God is pure. So according to John God is pure love. If I pour salt into a glass of water is it pure? What about lemon? No. Pure water is H2O plus nothing else. According to John God is love plus nothing else. That’s not me. I have a bit of love mixed with selfishness, anger, and pride. But God is pure love. So to purify myself just as God is pure is to love like God loves. And while it is possible to correct behavior by focusing on behavior, you cannot love like God by trying harder.

But lets ask another question. What does John mean by love? Read verse 16 with me:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Being sinless is not about perfect behavior. It’s about perfect love. And perfect love is manifested in laying our lives down for one another the same way that Jesus laid his life down for us. But let me make this a little more practical. Perfect love is about laying down your time for someone else. Your wallet. Your reputation. Your comfort. John himself adds:
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

Perfect love. That is what John means by living without sin. And there is only one way for you and I to ever get to this level. And that is to have the hope of Jesus within. What is that hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope by which we purify ourselves from selfishness until we love like God loves. You cannot live with this hope within you and go on sinning (living a lifestyle of selfishness). Hence John could say:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

I don’t know about you but I want to love like Jesus loves. That would be awesome. It begins by daily seeing his love for me. Not just reading about it. Talking about it. Or hearing about it. But experiencing it in our hearts. It begins by believing that you are a child of God, a member of his family, despite your imperfections. It begins by recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order for Jesus to come and take you to heaven. When you have this hope in you, you can go forth to purify yourself just as God is pure. You can learn to love like Jesus. The search for sinlessness is ultimately a search - not for perfect behavior or flawless obedience to the letter of the law - but for the love of God to make its home within us more and more. And so long as you are anxious and worried about your behavior you will never discover this love. It is when you recognize that its not about you at all, it is when you let go of your supposed "qualifications" and trust entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus for your salvation that you can then, in hope and joy, go forward to grow in love.