"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Character of a Christian

Walk down a busy street in almost any of our country’s biggest cities and you’ll likely notice this: our country is becoming more and more diverse.  Ethnicity, religion, education, age, politics, income, philosophy, ideals, lifestyle, experience, history—differences surround us.  Even so, we may not experience the richness of this diversity…because generally, people tend to spend their time with others like them.   This is a learned trait.  In school, jocks hang out with jocks, the drama kids hang with the drama kids, skaters hang with skaters, gamers hang with gamers, etc.  The bigger and more diverse the school, the more pronounced this becomes.

There are some groups we naturally become a part of, and others we are naturally excluded from.  No matter how much I enjoy football—I will never be in the NFL (have you seen my body type?)  I may think it would be neat to be in Mensa but I do not have the IQ to join.   No matter how many posters of Justin Bieber I put on my wall, no matter how many times I watch the Twilight movies, or throw slumber parties…I, as an adult male, will never be a middle school girl.  This (thankfully) is a group I will always be excluded from!  

What are the characteristics that unite Christians as a group?

Unfortunately, some people may feel that they could never be a Christian—to them the thought is as ludicrous as an adult male living like a middle school girl.  They don’t look right, dress right, talk right, or act right.  Like an average guy with dreams of NFL, they may think that they don’t have the “skills” to be a Christian.  They might feel that both God and other Christians couldn't possibly accept them.

But the truth about Christianity is that it’s not defined that way.  Christianity is for anyone!  Income doesn't matter, talents don’t matter, gender doesn't matter, education doesn't matter, ethnicity and background don’t matter.  There is no earthly characteristic that sets apart Christians.

Jesus revealed the defining characteristic of the church in John 17.  This prayer to the father takes place right before he was arrested and executed.  If you knew your violent death approached, what would be on your mind?  This was what was on Jesus’ mind.  John 17:20-21,

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

On the last night before Jesus was murdered—he prayed for the future believers—for you and I.  He prayed that we would have something so other-worldly that it would distinguish us from all the rest of the world.  That was our unity—and that unity is built on our love for one another.

Living in a college dorm taught me this well.  I remember walking into the sub lounge one day and seeing a grown adult man making the Millennium Falcon out of Lego.  In the same dorm, there was a guy who continually led our school to the national championship in soccer.  We had artists, and sports geeks, video gamers, and sci fi nerds.  We had guys from all around the world.

 The only thing we had in common was that we loved Jesus—and we grew to love one another.

This Love is so important because it is this love and unity that convinces the world of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps some of you have seen the movie End of the Spear.  This movie recounts the story of Five missionary men who reach out to a tribal people in Ecuador called the Waodani People.  All five men were speared to death by this people group…and even still, their wives and a sister went and continued their ministry—leading many to Christ.  Warring tribes became united.  A culture of polygamy and violence was ended….all because of a love that pointed to Christ.

When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, this is how he responded.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.—Matthew 22:37-40

Why does Jesus say that the second is like it?  How is loving some broken, imperfect person anything like loving God? 

1 John 4:20-21 says,

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

And in Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that the primary way we express our love to Christ is by loving others. 

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’—Matthew 25:40

Our love for one another is what actually shows that we belong to Christ.  1 John 2:9-11 says,

If  anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. 

If we as Christian’s aren't characterized by our love…there is nothing that sets us apart from any other social group!  We are void of identity, and our testimony is empty and useless.  May our love for one another unify our hearts and point a hurting world to the love of Christ.  Amen.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Christ's resolution to make us new

Happy New Year!   I love this time of year—it’s a perfect time to do some soul searching and reflection—a time to look back and an exciting time to look forward.  New Years feels like a fresh start—it’s like the spring cleaning of my life; I get to hit the reset button.

Because of this I think New  Years is a great time to celebrate the new life we are given when we put our faith in Christ.

Many people make New Years’ resolutions, but our greatest joy comes in the truth that through the cross, Jesus resolved to make us new!

What does it look like to be made new by Christ, and what does that mean in how we live our daily lives?  2 Corinthians 5, starting with verse 14, says this,

“14…Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.”

Statistically, only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them.  I think part of that is because we are sorely incapable of transforming ourselves.  We need the author of our book to make the edits in our life.  God is the one who re-writes the story.  He’s the one who can transform lives.

If we are Christians, we are made completely new!  Our old self is dead, we don’t have to dwell on the brokenness and mess of our old lives, because in God’s eyes—we are spotless!

  Why is it that for a new year, we make resolutions?  I think we long for meaning, and we want to be more then we have been.  When Christ makes us new, he gives us that opportunity.  Christ gives us life direction. 

Rather than continue trying to live to please ourselves—to find that missing piece that will bring the satisfaction we crave—we are invited to live for Christ, because it is relationship with him that we crave…even when we don’t realize it.  2 Corinthians 5 goes on to say,

“ 16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Paul, the author of this passage, used to hate Jesus before he became a Christian.  He wanted to see all Christians dead or imprisoned.  Paul had a human point of view of who Jesus was, and who others were.  He hadn’t been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to see that Jesus is the son of God, and he didn’t look on other people with the love of Christ that says every person is valuable enough to die for.  Then Christ gave him a new life…and a new perspective.  Christ gives us new eyes.

                I had a classmate who was a drama geek like me.  He knew how to sweet talk the director…so he always got the best parts (it couldn’t have possibly been because he was a better actor than me).  He was selfish and self-centered—nearly as much as I was—and because I am a Christian and don’t use words like hate…I strongly disliked this guy.  Years later, when I’d hear his name, my blood would boil a little bit.  I realized this was not a good thing.  I wrote him and apologized for the way I acted towards him in High school.  It was time to make things right—time to see this person through the eyes of Christ, and not my mere human, hate-filled point of view.   

                2 Corinthians goes on to say,

“ 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” 

When God calls us to be his, he also gives us a purpose—drawing others to the hope we have found.  Our resolutions at New Years strive for—long for— purpose.  We make goals and commitments so that we can accomplish something…and then we feel lousy when the next week we’ve already failed. 

Maybe the reason I fail at my resolutions is because I am pushing after my own flimsy goals, rather than joining Christ in living out the purpose he has placed on me.

Christ gives us a task.  Love God, love people.  Reconcile others to him.

19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Christ has made us new to live for him—this year will you choose to live out the task he’s given, resolving to look on others with Christ’s eyes, and reconcile people to him?