We perceive our life through the lenses of our eyes. I see that thing and I want that thing. I see that game and I want to play that game.
The same is true of what we believe are limitations to what we want to do. Often people will be under the impression that God is simply trying to take away any fun we might have, when the opposite is actually true. His commands are a blessing to us and a blessing to other people, but the commands are not all there is. There is a life change and a new direction that takes place.
Be Overcomers Through Christ
Once again the theme is here that we need to love others because we love God. But this is not where it begins. It begins with Jesus Christ on the cross. This gift of salvation in Christ is available to all who believe in Jesus Christ. It is offered to everyone, but you must receive it. That means each person needs to choose to follow Christ for themselves and to trust that He has died for their sin. It is the only hope we have for a future after death and for a meaningful life now.
Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world. You know what is so awesome about that is that we get to receive that from him. In other words, we overcome the world because of Jesus. He died for us and we receive from Him a new life.
And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. – 1 John 5:4
This makes the challenges we face bearable knowing that Jesus suffered and died in more ways that we did and He overcame the problem of sin in this world, which is the reason we have suffering in the first place.
So, let me encourage you, if you have never given any thought to truly surrendering your life to Jesus, that you would do that. Jesus offers to all who would believe eternal life because he has paid the penalty for our sin.
Here is an example of how this looks in a song by Matthew West called “Strong Enough”
You are not strong enough. You need Jesus Christ.
You are to Love Other People in Christ
We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. – 1 John 5:2
A mark, or a tell tale sign that you are follower of Jesus Christ is how you treat God and how you treat other people. We are commanded to love God and love other people. What is confusing is how people often view God’s commands. But it says here also that his commands are not burdensome. His commands are actually a means to a blessing for you and for others.
Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:3
God is not taking your fun away, but giving you a new path that leads to far greater blessing. It is not about following the rules, it is about knowing Jesus Christ as your friend, as your Lord, as your Savior.
This love for other people matters too. It matters because people will often see God in you through the way you treat others. God’s love is made known through you to others. This involves looking outside of yourself.
There is a video from the Skit Guys that captures this pretty well. I am not able to embed it here. I would encourage you to go there via the link and watch it. I think you will find it to be challenging. — Dennis: An Original Masterpiece (opens in new window)
Who are you around that you could reach out to in love? It is not all about you. Jesus came to give of Himself, die for us so that we would go out and live for Him. This world needs to know the love of God and we are commanded as followers to reach others with that love.
1)Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Have you accepted His gift of eternal life and been reborn, despite all the struggles and sin?
2)Who can you show God’s love to here, at home, at school, at work? You have no idea what kind of difference you might make in someone’s life.
Most people go to great lengths not to stand out. There is something scary about being singled out or even feeling like you are being singled out. As a Christian you will stand out in some way because the world and Jesus are not on the same page. You will be opposed for following Jesus. You will not be popular for following Jesus. You will potentially lose friends for following Jesus. You stand out, as difficult as it is, because Jesus is alive and calls all of us to a new way of living. There we also invite others to know Him.
One key part of follow Jesus is love. Love goes hand in hand with one who follows God because God is love. He is not the originator of hatred, envy, or anger, but He is the originator of love. God’s love stands out in the world, and this is a good thing.
Love Starts With God
Unlike what we often see or hear about people being good to each other, that is not how it naturally is. In fact, man’s heart is inherently wicked. We don’t love naturally. Now, yes, non-Christian people do demonstrate love at some level, but not at the same level as God does and gives to us through Jesus.
In this way love is the mark of the Spirit’s work in your life because only a true transforming friendship with God actually produces this authentic love. It is only perfect in Him, not in us, and certainly not from us.
”Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7 (NLT)
Love is God’s very nature. Love captures all that God does. Even His judgment and wrath on people were filtered though His love. In fact, that is why He has demonstrated it so clearly to us in Jesus Christ. Here and now we have relationships with other people, we love our family, friends and spouse – all of those things are but a small piece of the love God has and is working out in our lives.
Love Shows God to Others
The movie version of love is about passion and getting fulfillment or companionship—all good things to a point. But, when people love people they are not close with, are not attracted to, or are enemies with, that is whole new scenario. In this way love shows God to other people.
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” – 1 John 4:12
God uses us to demonstrate His love to other people so that your life would point others to Him. We went for a walk last summer and a small dog followed us. It was a nice little dog and my kids were happy to have him along for the walk. The problem was that this was not our dog. So, back to the house we went to let them know that their dog was wandering around the neighborhood. We didn’t want it to get hit by a car. Knock, knock, knock—no answer. Well, maybe the dog will stay at home now that we are back at its home. We started moving again back to our house and the dog happily followed us home right into our yard.
Is this our problem? Not technically, no, but this is someone’s dog. People treat their dogs like they would children, although I don’t think they would have lost track of a child for this long. I looked at the tag again and there was a phone number. I called it, no answer. In the mean time we are watching the dog get closer to a busy road by our home. We were going to watch this dog get hit by a car.
What do we do? Go in the house and hope it goes home? I called the police and they put me on hold for 5 minutes. Finally, we saw a woman frantically running down the road obviously looking for her dog. They were reunited and she thanked us for our help.
Does that interaction demonstrate God love to someone? Sure it does. We didn’t have to care. We could have ignored it all together and said, “oh well, if it gets hit by a car it is their problem, not mine.” But that is not what God calls us to. These interactions are often the best ways we can show people who God is because it stands out from the fast paced, me centered world we live in.
People do not see God, but they see you. You are God’s representatives on earth who He choses to use to show His glory and grace to other people.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” – 1 John 4:10
We live forever in heaven with God because Jesus lives. It is Jesus who came in the flesh to condemn sin in the flesh. Remember the word condemn? It is like this: there was a crime committed, in our case we rebelled against God and offended Him; the verdict was passed, in this case guilty as charged; the punishment was declared – death and eternal separation from God.
But God, in his love, took on the punishment and condemned sin instead of us by dying on the cross and raising again to live forever. He wins and sin loses. We are called to accept this gift through faith—to believe and turn away from that sin, those things that separate us from God and accept forgiveness and eternal life that is made possible by His death and resurrection.
It is an exchange—He takes our sin, we take His new life. This is the one way to God for all who would receive it.
It is time to stand out in a good way! The world needs to know this love that we have in Christ. Stand out by living it out and watching how God uses you to reach other people for Himself.
In our lives, we have a clear choice. The Bible tells us we have a choice between the path of wisdom and godliness or the path of the fool or wickedness. Each step we take is a step in one of those directions. The question is, where do you want to be and what do you want to lead you? If you let the current of culture and the world lead you, you will get thrown around by what is popular without any real direction or thought. There is a better way. God has provided truth for us to follow.
Be Intentional About How You Think
What do you let direct your thoughts and opinions? Do you just take what everyone says as truth without any thought?
We live in a culture of “feel good” “be true to self” that pushes to take God out of every discussion. There is a new age mindset that makes us and what we feel like as God. The problem with that is there is no constant. People are constantly changing. New fads and ideas are constantly coming in. We don’t let a bunch of changing people to direct how we think, we let an unchanging God have His way in our lives.We need to be intentional about how we think because how we think leads to how we act.
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:1-2 (NLT)
As a follower of Jesus Christ, the most important test is how someone views Jesus Christ. Many people today believe that Jesus sinned or that He was not fully God and man. Many people will limit Jesus to “good teacher” or a “prophet” which does not line up with who He is. We accept only that which comes from people who acknowledge Jesus Christ. We cannot get lazy about this.
Know Who You Are
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. – 1 John 4:4
There are many outside forces that want to tell you who you are. But, even if the challenges seem overwhelming and hard, you are from God and have access to one who is greater than all of the challenges. Knowing who you are will give you confidence on how you live. God is with you and moving you along. He dwells in you and speaks truth over your life.
Choose to Prioritize God’s Word
People in the world, as a system in organized rebellion against God, will listen to their own message. We are from God and therefore need to listen to God first. The best way is through His Word.
The devil is always trying to destroy God’s truth. The message that God’s Word changes or is old is not from God, but from the devil. We need to look in the Bible for direction, answers, and right and wrong. In that way we also test what we hear. The Bible is the only trustworthy standard and we uphold it as that.
Over the years there has been fewer people reading and knowing God’s Word. When that happens, we get into dangerous places. God’s Word never fails, never changes and has stood the test of time. God is faithful—meaning he never breaks his promises.
But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception. – 1 John 4:6 (NLT)
The Christian life is not stagnant; it is alive! We are not called to sit still and bask in the sun. We are to live it out.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him; rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” - Colossians 2:6-7
I can hear the voice of my high school gym teacher yelling, “you people are lazy!” ”no rush, hurry up.” It is a strange dynamic to be told to relax and then be told to hurry. Yet, we need both.
I have to admit that I like to sit still. But when I look at things like a body of water, it is the movement that is noticed. It is the movement that keeps things from getting gross. It is the movement that brings life. In this picture of the flowers, it was the movement of the bees that caught my attention and made me appreciate the flowers.
We must never get lazy in our faith. Let’s live it so that we grow and overflow with something that the world so desperately needs!
There is nothing like Play-Doh, is there? Kids will take that stuff and shape, create and build things for hours. It is known for its flexible nature. I could give 2 people a different piece of Play Doh, tell them to create an object and get two unique interpretations of that object. Whereas if I were to give each person a cookie cutter and tell them to make hearts with it we would have virtually the same shape for each of them.
We live in a culture that tells us that we need to look or act a certain way based on our age. Wear these clothes, talk like this, behave this way and you will be just another cookie cutter teenager, college student, or adult, who will maybe turn out alright, but waste a lot of time getting there.
You have so much more potential than that. You are unique, not a cookie cutter. What if we lived out our lives in the context of the identity we have in Christ? In other words, what if we were happy being the unique people we are and less concerned about being a “normal” person. Normal people don’t impact the kingdom of God like unique people do. Normal people don’t make a lasting impression on the lives of people like unique people do.
“If you have ever spent time with “Where’s Waldo” books you understand this. The reason “where’s waldo” works is because they create a picture where a lot of things are the same and blend together. You would never take a picture of a single rose and ask, “Where’s the red rose?” When there is contrast, things are easy to spot.
Scripture gives us some very practical ways we can stand out from the culture around us. Here are a few from Proverbs 25.
Be Kind and Trustworthy
Now, I know this sounds overly simplistic, but consider what sort of drama you see among your people. Is it more common to take revenge on someone, or to be kind to them? Is it more common to tell secrets or to be trustworthy? It is so easy just to laugh and point with the crowd, but to show kindness to someone, now that takes some guts, especially when you are the only one.
Kindness is only one part of this, trustworthiness takes it to a whole new level.
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
“Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.” Proverbs 25:13
Have you ever been out on a hot day working in the sun? At some point you get thirsty and go to find that cool drink of water. Or you might compare this to running through the sprinkler on a hot day, or jumping into the pool or the ocean. These things refresh the body.
In other words, when you look at someone and know that you can trust them, that is refreshing. Why? It is refreshing because it is not normal.
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked.” Proverbs 25:26
If being trustworthy is like a drink of cold water, being untrustworthy and doing what is wrong, is like drinking a warm glass of mud.
The picture here, then, is a person who claims to follow Jesus Christ and then does things that are clearly not what a follower of Jesus Christ should be doing. These things muddy the water. Why does this matter for you?
Because we want to represent Jesus well. When people live two lives, it muddies the water and confuses people.
Demonstrate Self- Control
”Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28
How ridiculous would it be for you to build a city without some sort of defense? The wall to the city was critical to the safety of the city.
If you are not able to say no to sin and yes to God at some level, you are vulnerable to attack. Where does self-control come from? It comes from God. It is a fruit of the Spirit. You are not going to be able to do this on your own, but you can ask God to give you the ability to say no to sin and yes to him. You can ask Him to fortify your life with His Word and His Spirit.
The world has enough people who are just getting by, we need people willing to make a difference, willing to stand up and choose to follow God relentlessly.
If you are just an average person, no one will likely notice, but if you truly follow Jesus, you will be noticed and God will be glorified.
Love changes us because love comes from God. Because of Jesus Christ we are not only loved but we love others. He has shown perfect love to us and this has changed us on the inside and we are never the same!
Love affects everything it touches.
Love Affects Us – It speaks truth over us
Do you ever look at yourself and wish you were different? I wish I was like that person because they have their life together, or following God seems so easy for them. I wish I was able to obey better than I am. How could God continue to love me and be patient with me when I mess up so much? Is there something wrong with me?
Or how about this one: Do you really believe God said that? Do you really believe there is a loving God when you look at the world and see all the suffering? Do you really think that a loving God would allow a bomb to go off at the Boston Marathon? And on and on it goes. It is an assault on truth. It is taking the brokenness of humanity and lining it up to view of God that comes from experience and not from the Bible. It is no wonder people are confused.
We do not draw the power of our being and identity from our experiences. We draw our identity from the Truth. We appeal to God for all of the truth because we don’t see it all. We don’t understand it all. When it comes to our own lives where do we look? We look at what God said about us in Christ.
If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. – 1 John 3:20
When we trust Jesus Christ, the sin in us is condemned, not us. (see Romans 8:1-13) If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, have trusted Him, turning away from your way and turning to Christ, then love has changed you and is speaking a different word over you. You are loved. You are forgiven. This world is not your home and one day all that is wrong will be right.
Our emotions are not to be trusted. One moment we are happy, one moment we are sad, one moment we are tired. All of those emotions or the “I feel like this might be okay because this is 2013” needs to be put up against God’s Word because He never changes. Look to His Word. We are to take our identity from Him and to obey His Word for real joy in life.
Love Affects Others – We are to share that love with all.
In the wake of the Boston bombings, we have seen this type of thing take place. We are called to pray for our enemies, including people like this young terrorist. If we believe that Jesus is truly the hope of the world, then that includes this man also. As awful a thing that he has done, he needs to trust Jesus and be forgiven like the rest of us because his time on this earth is essentially over. He needs Jesus.
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. – 1 John 3:23
We all know people who don’t know Jesus as their Savior. There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ. That means that trying to earn your way to heaven by doing good things or those who don’t know Jesus because they have not been told will not make it. This means we need to do our part to tell others about Jesus so that they can make a decision to believe in Him and not die apart from Him. At that point it is too late.
I know it is not popular. It is not politically correct to talk about Jesus, but as A.W. Tozer said “The world seems to possess a real genius for being wrong, even an educated world.” We are called to share the Gospel with people, to tell them that Jesus loves them and pray that they respond to His calling. We can’t make anyone believe, but we have a job to tell the world.
Love affects all of us – Jesus Christ calls us to believe and obey
We were separated from God because of our sin. There was no way for us to be anywhere near God. So God made a way for that to be possible by taking all of the those rebellious things and placing them on Jesus Christ because the wages for sin is death. Jesus died, took the sin, and rose again from the dead to beat sin. We are now able to believe in Jesus. We turn away from our old way of sin and turn to a new way in Jesus.
This is what it is all about. It is about complete change, transformation, forgiveness and entering into God’s Kingdom.
That is what love has done for us. We need to receive His love. So many people reject it because they think they know better. But, God has demonstrated his love to us by Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth to show God to us and then His death and resurrection which allows us to be a part of it. Because of His love for us we are never the same and the world changes also.
There is section of Scripture that comes up often because it hits at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. There is a practicality to it that is challenging, probing and affirming at the same time. Last night at bedtime one of my boys was reading a new Bernstain Bears book that had Matthew 25:40 in the front of it.
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (NASB)
I read the verse to him and started to talk about what that actually was referring to. It is a verse that is in the context of kindness showed to people and how that translates to the same being done for Jesus. I told him that if we were to give someone water because they needed water it is just like giving that water to Jesus. At the same time, if we ignore a need like that when we can help, it is like we are ignoring Jesus.
“Dad, if you were at the grocery store around dinner time and I saw that you only bought milk, I would buy you more food. If you only had milk you would be hungry. I guess I need to bring my wallet along with me and give some dollars to people who need it, right?”
Once again my 6-year-old son has summed up Bible passage for all of us in a way that makes sense. He has maybe a dollar in his wallet, but he would give it away. This begs the question for all of us: Would I give away something I have, even if it is the last bit of something I had? Would you? Who are the people right in front of us that could use some help today? We might need to open our eyes a little bit more and ask God to bless others through us. One thing I know: When we bless others, we are also blessed and, more importantly, Jesus is honored.