9 Crucial Teachings of Jesus Christians Tend to Ignore

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Following Jesus is hard. Obeying Jesus is hard. Sometimes even hearing his teaching can be hard. When we hear these hard teachings we grimace, raise our eyebrows, open our eyes wide and say, “Surely, Jesus doesn’t really expect me to do THAT!” Here are some of the hardest, but most central and critical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and so many churches seem to ignore.

1. You cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13

We have probably all heard this one before and yet most of us have probably spent a good part of our lives living like it isn’t true. Jesus makes it very clear that it is not possible for us to fully love and serve God and money at the same time. We must choose. If we choose to love our money, our stuff, and our jobs that provide us with money more than we love serving God and doing gospel ministry – we might as well declare to the Lord that we don’t really worship and serve him because we’d rather serve our money.

2. Love and pray for your enemies – Luke 6:27-28,35

An enemy is a person who is actively opposed or hostile to something. As Christians, our “enemies” are therefore many. Jesus not only encourages, but commands that his followers both love and pray for those who are hostile and actively opposed to everything that they stand for. Are you regularly praying for and seeking to do good to those who are actively fighting against religious freedom in America? Those who seek to kill Christians worldwide? Those who post on Facebook about God’s “non-existence” and ridicule and condemn all who believe in such “nonsense”? In recent months it has become more clear to me than ever how many Christians in our country seem to think that evangelism means condemning the unbelieving world. Jesus doesn’t command us to sit on our computers and condemn those who disagree with our beliefs or are even hostile and actively opposed – instead he commands us to pray for them and do good to them.

3. Turn the other cheek – Luke 6:29

When was the last time someone hurt you or insulted you? I don’t mean called you a name, I mean really hurt you. How did you respond? For most people, our natural response is either to lash out and strike back or run away. But Jesus commands his disciples to fight the natural response and instead to simply take the beating, absorb the insult, and respond with kindness and love. Paul hints at this when he writes about Christians suing one another – he says, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” instead of striking back and suing a brother in Christ. Jesus also modeled this throughout his trial, torture, and crucifixion – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Christians are called to be hurt, wronged, defrauded, cheated, abused, and get hit on the cheek without retaliation.

4. Deny self, take up Christlike suffering – Luke 9:23

In a nutshell, Jesus explains what would-be disciples must do in order to become followers. They must 1) deny themselves, 2) take up their cross (meaning suffering for Jesus), and 3) follow Him. But if we’re being honest, many of us think we can jump straight to step 3 without denying ourselves or suffering. Paul writes extensively about Christian suffering in 2 Corinthians. He says, “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.” Paul is arguing that if we do not receive daily suffering for Christ we will not be able to receive daily life with Christ. Suffering brings life. Denying self brings life. Losing our life means finding it. If we are truly, honestly, authentically, sacrificially living a Christ-centered life focused on gospel ministry – there will be suffering. Do you suffer on a daily basis for Christ’s name and his mission in this world?

5. Following Jesus is more important even than family – Luke 9:57-62, 14:26, 21:16-17

This may be a difficult one to swallow and it is not always easy to explain even for someone who believes it to be true. Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than caring for elderly parents (Luke 9:60). Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than our relationships with our parents, our siblings, or even our spouses and children. Don’t believe me? In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” Loving my wife more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Loving my children more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Jesus demands such a strong and resilient love from his disciples that our love for our families must by compassion look like hate. Think about how much you love your closest friends and family. Multiply that significantly and you are only beginning to scratch the surface of how deep your love for Jesus should be.

*It may sound harsh initially, but I believe that loving Jesus first and foremost is the only way to truly love our families.

6. Hell is real and most people are headed there – Matthew 7:13, 13:50, 25:46

Many who identify as Christians either don’t believe hell is real or don’t believe that hell is eternal. Hell is both real and eternal and it will be far worse than even the most creatively sadistic mind could begin to imagine. Jesus spoke more bluntly about the realities of hell than most churches and pastors do today. Even those of us that do believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible rarely live our lives like we care about the many who are headed there. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” Many/most of the people around us – even the people that we love dearly and have strong relationships with – are on the highway to hell. But do we do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen? Do we pray every day for the unbelievers in our lives? Do we talk about God with them often and purposefully? Do we actually share the good news with them? You may believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible – but do you share the gospel with your friends who are headed there?

7. We cannot be loved & accepted by both Jesus AND the world – Luke 21:17

Jesus told his disciples just days before his death,”And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.” Paul understood this when he wrote, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Most of us spend our whole lives trying to find love and acceptance from other people. The way we dress, the hobbies we take up, and the things we spend our money can usually be traced back to us trying to find love and acceptance from the people in our lives. But Jesus warned his disciples against this. If we are living lives that are truly obedient to Christ – the world will hate us. Being Christ’s servant rarely pleases the masses. So many Christians spend their lives trying to have both – love and acceptance from both Jesus AND the world. And in the process, many have found acceptance in the world while sacrificing obedience to Christ.

8. Forgive others, or God won’t forgive you – Matthew 6:14-15

Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but for Christians, it is always required. We have been forgiven a greater debt than any debt anyone on earth could possibly owe to us. We wronged God more severely than anyone could possibly wrong us – and yet he forgave us. Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If we do not forgive those who wrong us even in the worst possible ways, God will not forgive our sins. 

9. Deny Jesus before men, get denied by him before God – Luke 12:8-9, Matthew 10:32

We must not be ashamed of Jesus. I always tell my youth group kids when no one will volunteer to pray, “Don’t make Jesus that person that you’re embarrassed to let everyone else know you’re friends with.” The point is that we cannot only identify with Christ quietly and internally. Part of following Christ is acknowledging him and identifying with him publicly to the world. Jesus says,I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.” Again, many of us might claim to know Jesus and be Christians, but do we tell the whole world that we are? Do we publicly identify with Jesus and associate ourselves with him in spite of the rejection from the world that it will bring? We should – because if we don’t, Luke 12:9 will apply to us. 


 

These are just a few of the radical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and churches have either chosen to ignore. What other major, crucial teachings of Christ would you say that many Christians fail to acknowledge regularly?

 

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9 Reasons People Aren’t Coming to Your Church

 

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If you go to a small or struggling church (or any church for that matter), you’ve probably asked yourself, perhaps frequently, why more people (or anyone at all) aren’t coming to your church. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear that about 90% of churches aren’t growing. Many churches are about to die because of self-inflicted wounds and we must do all that we can to prevent such demise. There are quite a few reasons for this but here are 9 specific reasons why many churches have stopped growing and why more people aren’t coming to your church – even if you have sound doctrine, loving members, and good intentions (unfortunately, these things aren’t enough in our culture to connect with people).

1. You aren’t inviting them

A survey conducted several years ago revealed that 82% of unchurched people were “at least somewhat likely” to go with a friend to church if they were invited. Another survey found that only 21% of church members invite someone to church in a given year, and only 2% (yes, that is a real statistic) invite an unchurched person to church. There is a very good chance of someone attending church with you if you would only ask. Train yourself and the people in your church to ACTUALLY invite people into your community of believers; to actually invite someone to church on a Sunday morning or to a small group or event of some kind. One of the main reasons, perhaps the reason more people don’t come is because your church isn’t inviting them.

2. You aren’t praying for them

Prayer must be the heart and soul of every church’s evangelism strategy. Maybe no one is showing up to the things your pour so much thought, time, and money into because you haven’t poured out any prayer. Never stop praying that God would bring people to your church and never stop living out those prayers by inviting people yourself.

3. Your members are embarrassed of your church

“My church? No way. People love our church!” Yeah…maybe they do. Maybe they love it for themselves and their family, but the reason they don’t invite people is because they are embarrassed and afraid that it might do more harm than good to invite an unchurched friend or family  member to your church. Some of your most committed and invested members might not be inviting anyone because they are embarrassed of some (or several) parts of your church. Some of the reasons they might be embarrassed are listed below. If your church members are embarrassed to invite someone, you’ve got a major problem that needs fixing.

4. They don’t know who you are

Some churches are simply not visible in any way, shape, or form. Their websites are 10 years outdated, they have no social media presence, their buildings are unseen, and there is no effort at “advertising” your church to the community. If people don’t know that you exist, where you are, and what you are like, then they will never visit your church. If your church building isn’t visible, find a way to make it stand out or ask the city about putting signs up guiding people to your building. If your website is outdated, FIX IT. My little church has about 15x more people look at our website every month than come through our doors – your website is your first impression. Make sure people know that you exist, where you meet, and what you’re all about – especially online.

5. It isn’t the culture anymore

People may not be coming to your church simply because less people are going to church than ever before. It used to be that Americans who didn’t go to church had a feeling that they should, but didn’t for some reason, and felt guilt later. That is not the case today. There isn’t much we can do about this one on a grand scale, but people may not be coming to your church at least partially because fewer people are going to church in general.

6. Your church is all for you, not them

Many small, struggling churches are the way that they are because they have ceased to become focused on (or even aware of) visitors and unchurched people. No one wants to come to a church where they feel like an outsider. If you want your church to reach people, especially non-believers, then you must shift the focus from your member’s wants, needs, and preferences to the needs of the unchurched. Ditch the church lingo, stop referring to locations as “next to Mike’s classroom” when a visitor asks for the bathroom, and make some changes in your Sunday morning services that show your focus is on reaching people and connecting with new visitors, not on maintaining status quo.

7. You’re stuck in the past

A side effect of being an internally focused church is often falling quickly behind the times. I don’t just mean music, though that is part of it. I mean music, technology, social media, outreach methods, preaching styles, small group efforts, etc. Spend some time evaluating and take a good, honest look at your church and decide if there might be aspects of your church that are stuck in the past. People want to be part of a church that demonstrates relevancy and modernity without sacrificing truths and core traditions. Be willing to make some updates to your church life if you want to connect with the people of today.

8. You offer little or nothing for kids & students

Whether you like it or not, many churches ride on their children and youth ministries. Young adults are looking for a community where they can start and raise a family. Young families are looking for places where their children’s needs will be met. Middle age families are looking for places where their teens can be part of a strong youth ministry. In other words, adults age 22-50 are usually looking for a church that can meet the needs of their future and current children. Churches without strong children and youth ministries will have a hard time drawing people, especially families.

9. Your worship service isn’t connecting with them

In some cases, this might be putting it gently. Everyone is different and everyone has their own preferences and ideas about how a worship service should be done. But the fact is that music should be modern, engaging, prepared, and as professionally done as possible. Preaching should be interesting, practical, theological, and interactive. Giving should be emphasized, but not beaten to death. Fellowship should be natural and enjoyable, not weird and forced. People are looking for a worship service that connects with them. They aren’t necessarily looking for a recording artist worship leader and a conference speaking caliber pastor – they are just looking for Sunday services that connect with them personally and build them up in their spiritual lives. I know it might not be pleasant if you are a pastor or church leader reading this, but you need to open your mind to the possibility that people are just not connecting with your music,  your preaching, or any other part of the service.

__________

There are many more reasons and churches/pastors should take a good hard look at themselves. Way too many churches are dying deaths that could have been prevented. Self-inflicted wounds are causing church after church to close their doors because they have completely failed to connect with people. We must do all that we can, including giving ourselves the courtesy of an honest evaluation, in order to prevent more churches from perishing unnecessarily.

What thoughts do you have? What else would you add to this list?

7 Questions Christians Should Ask Themselves Before Posting About Politics On Social Media

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Recent political events in our country have caused American Christians to become more politically vocal than ever before. The primary avenue for this vocalization has been through social media, as I’m sure you have noticed. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have become our primary voices – our primary way of communicating with one another – for better and for worse. As I watch approximately 98% of my Facebook friends (A rough, unscientific estimation) post, rant, complain about the political goings on of our nation, some questions came to mind. Here are just a few questions I think Christians should ask themselves before posting about politics (especially controversial issues) on social media:

1. Will this bring about unity or disunity in the body of Christ?

Every single person is entitled to their political beliefs. But when we become Christians, we submit our own preferences and ideas to Christ and we become part of a group of believers called the church. Individualism has no place in Christianity – which is communal in nature and practice. Because this is true, we should consider whether or not our bold statements on social media about politics will unify or divide us from our brothers and sisters in the seats next to us on Sunday morning. You may have a very strong stance on something like immigration – but if a brother in Christ sitting next to you in church is an immigrant – your vocalization of political views may cause disunity. Before you post political things on social media – ask yourself whether or not it will harm your relationship with anyone in your church. Church unity and healthy church relationships should be more important to you than your political preferences.

2. Do I view politics & government as savior and king, or Jesus?

I wrote something on this not too far back called “Well, Here We Are”. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican party, candidate, or platform belong to God. They are human political constructs – not saviors. Though Christians have the freedom and the right to partake in the political discussions in our nation and should be vocal about many things, it is downright wrong and incredibly dangerous to view either party or any political leader as God’s chosen agent in this world. Jesus alone is Savior and King and the church alone is God’s chosen embassy of hope. Before you post your political manifesto on Facebook, examine your heart and determine whom you truly honor as savior and king.

3. Will this help or harm my Christian witness to the world?

You may be right about your political beliefs. In fact, I’m sure you are! But even if you are, there are more important things than being right. I can hear my wife snickering as she reads this – but it is true. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 8 in a discussion about eating food sacrificed to idols. His point is this: that your relationship with other believers and your witness to unbelievers is more important than being right about something. Sometimes believers are called to tone things down, even if they are technically right about something, in order to maintain healthy relationship with other believers and a strong witness to the non-Christian world. Certainly we should not sacrifice truth for the sake of being “seeker friendly”, but, I hate break it to you, your political preferences most likely do not classify as truth. So ask yourself before you hit “Post” whether or not your post will help or harm your representation of Jesus and his church to the world.

4. Are my political beliefs really as Biblical as I think they are?

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. You may be totally convinced that they are. But guess what, odds are that there are other Christians who disagree with you and would also use the Bible as their reasoning. Because we don’t have a government built on Scripture, this will always be a reality. It is easy to climb up on our high horse and view ourselves and our political beliefs as more godly, more biblical, or more righteous than the people who disagree with us. If you haven’t, you should closely examine what God’s word really says (or doesn’t say) about something before mounting that horse.

5. Have I really listened to the other side?

I’m not talking about the kind of “listening” that means being quiet just long enough until there is an opening to tell the speaker that they’re wrong. I’m talking about really listening to the heart and beliefs of another person and giving them the utmost respect and kindness – even if they treat you like you are inferior, stupid, or ignorant. Sit quietly and patiently and listen to the thoughts, beliefs, and reasoning of someone who disagrees with you- whether Christian or non-Christian. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to be respectful and I would say that as a Christian, you are even required to pursue healthy relationship with that person regardless of political beliefs.

6. Do I care more about politics than Jesus and his mission?

Like I said a few months ago in a post called “The 2016 Presidential Election and Misplaced Passion”, Christians are certainly entitled to their beliefs and their political preferences just like anyone else. But should American politics be the thing we are most vocal and most passionate about? Definitely not. If our love and passion for politics is greater than our love for Jesus and our passion for his mission then we have a serious heart problem. Most of us are quick to share our political beliefs, but silent about who Jesus really is. We are eager to talk about government, but not about our church. Maybe you should delete the long political rant you are about to post on social media and post something about who God is or what the Bible says or invite someone to church instead.

7. Would Jesus be pleased with my engagement in the political discussion?

This sort of an overarching summary question, but it is worth asking all the same. “Would Jesus be pleased with my…” is a good question to ask about anything in our lives. Would Jesus be pleased with your heart? Your words? The way you treat those who disagree with you? The way you represent Him to the world? There is a healthy way and an unhealthy way for Christians to engage in political dialogue. The healthy way is one that God would be pleased with based on what he has spoken through the Bible. Examine your heart ask yourself if Jesus would be pleased with your engagement in the dialogue of American politics.

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What do you think? How should Christians engage in the political discussion? What would you add to or remove from this list?

26 Reflections on 2016

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In my own personal walk with God, I have found little more helpful than journaling and writing down some of my prayers. Doing this allows me to openly and honestly express my thoughts and my prayers and direct them toward God, but it also allows me to look back at them in the future. For the past several years, I have read back through my entire year of journaling and written prayers at the end of each calendar year and compiled some of the highlights of what God taught me and revealed to me throughout the year. As believers, we are called to remember our past and what God has done for us and give praise to Him for it. Some of the things that I agonized over in early 2016, had completely left my mind by September. Prayers from January were answered slowly but surely throughout the year – but I was only able to see that in retrospect. Here are just a few of my reflections on what God did for me and taught me in 2016:

  1. Never underestimate the value of getting away for a few days in order to spend time with friends/family & focusing on spiritual matters.
  2. In the race of the Christian life, some people are just trying to finish – but we should all be trying to win. In other words, we should be training ourselves, disciplining ourselves, and striving for holy, obedient living every minute of every day. No one stumbles into a life pleasing to God.
  3. When we return to sinful living after being saved, we are like pigs returning to the mire. In doing so, we re-crucify Christ, spurn his sacrifice, and forfeit the sacrifice for our sins. God takes sin seriously and we need to constantly remind ourselves of that.
  4. When it comes to making major decisions, God will always provide a path forward. It may not be clear and we may not be confident, but God always takes us the way he wants us to go.
  5. Practice and make it a habit to try to turn every conversation with a stranger into one that discusses God, church, or spiritual things.
  6. Sometimes remaining faithfully where God has you is harder than moving on.
  7. We must lay down relationships (even with friends and family) that are harmful to our walk with God. It isn’t easy, it causes pain, but it is always worth it in the end.
  8. Never stop praying – sometimes it takes months, years, even decades for us to understand how God answered our prayers.
  9. Humble confession of inability and weakness is God’s launching point for progress and growth.
  10. Churches have life cycles. Not every church is meant to last.
  11. God cares infinitely more about the holiness and love of a church than its numbers and programs.
  12. When God calls you to something, scout out the landscape and have enough trust to obey and follow Him.
  13. Sometimes God makes us wait for his timing in order to strengthen us and build up our faith in Him. This is way more valuable than getting what we want when we want it.
  14. Every believer is called to use 100% of their money and resources for God and His mission. We don’t just give 10% to God and get to keep the rest and spend it however we want to. Whatever we give to the church is simply the money we relinquish control of to God’s church for ministry use. The rest is to be used by us for the same general purpose – building God’s kingdom and doing ministry. Find ways to use your home, your car, your TV, and everything else in  your house for ministry.
  15. It is important to take stock and evaluate every area of our lives and of our churches on a regular basis. Not just the weak spots, but the strong spots as well.
  16. There is no where we can go where God is not. Even the most remote corners of the earth are filled God’s presence.
  17. The world is vast and there are billions of lost people in our world that desperately need to encounter God. We must never cease praying for nations and people around the world and seeking to share the good news of Jesus with them.
  18. God is calling every single one of his children to something specific – to serve him in a unique way that only they can. Seek God, find his desire for you and how he has designed you and then obey his calling.
  19. You cannot possibly have a healthy relationship with God without regular prayer and scripture reading.
  20. As Christians, we have submitted ourselves wholly to Christ. He has authority over our lives. Obedience is therefore not an option for us. OBEY him, even if it is hard, scary, or illogical.
  21. Would your church be healthy if everyone prayed, read the Bible, and evangelized like you did?
  22. Gut up and stop making excuses – talk to people about God. Sometimes all we lack is courage.
  23. The amount of time we spend in prayer and Scripture reading directly correlates with how often and how clearly we hear from God.
  24. 5,000 thoughts on engagement, marriage, and the spiritual truths surrounding them. Here are a few of them.
  25. Stop. Breathe. Pray out loud.
  26. Fight the good fight. God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of boldness and courage. Stand firm and be a strong and mature ambassador for Christ.

I would strongly encourage you to reflect on your 2016 and remember what God has done for you. What are some of your key reflections from the past year?

No One Is Perfect

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No one is perfect. Except Jesus.

He lived the perfect, sinless life that Israel couldn’t live and that we cannot live. Throughout Israel’s history, they proved over and over again that they could not possibly live the holy and sinless lives that was required to be in healthy relationship with a holy God. So God provided his written Law and established a sacrificial system so that his people could do what was needed to have their sins forgiven when they transgressed. But the Law wasn’t enough. Even Following the law and even performing sacrifices wasn’t enough to permanently maintain a holy and healthy relationship with God.

Then, God sent his Son, Jesus. He sent him to deliver humanity from sin and evil so that we could finally have a path to a permanent relationship with God. In order for this to happen, Jesus had to live the perfect life so that he could die the perfect death as the ultimate sacrifice – not just to cover sins, but to completely eliminate them.

And in order for Jesus to live the perfect life and take our place on the cross, he had to face the temptations that humanity faces and he had to resist them. We see this happen in Matthew 4:1-11.

It is worth noting that this account of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness occurs immediately after his baptism where the Spirit descends on him and God the Father proclaims Jesus to be his Son. Immediately, that same Spirit guides Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted. Jesus had to be tempted like we are so that he could succeed where we fail.

In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus “in every way” (Luke 4:13) – but three major temptations are recorded in the gospels. In order to understand how significant and how beautiful Matthew 4:1-11 really is, we must observe the parallels between Israel’s history and Jesus’ life. This table highlights just a few of these parallels:

Events in Jesus’ life in Matthew Israel’s History
Slaughter of newborn boys (2:16-18) Slaughter of newborn boys (Exodus 1:22)
Time in Egypt (2:13-15) Egyptian captivity (Exodus 1-13)
Baptism (3:13-17) Crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
40 days in the wilderness (4:1) 40 years in the wilderness (Numbers 14:34-35, Numbers 32:11-15, Joshua 5:6)
Temptations (4:3-11) Temptations (Exodus 17, Exodus 32, Numbers 11, Numbers 13, Numbers 14)

Through these parallels, we begin to understand that Jesus was in fact living the life that Israel was supposed to live – that we are supposed to live. He was obedient, trusting, and faithful where Israel was disobedient, rebellious, and unfaithful. Jesus’ life is about redeeming Israel’s disobedience – in essence, rewriting and redeeming Israel’s history on their behalf and in so doing, redeeming all of our histories.

Now, let’s look at the three temptations Jesus encountered. Satan temps Jesus with three of the things he would have wanted more than anything at this point in time. Sometimes we pass these off as things that were easy for Jesus to deny because he was God. But he was also human and these were very real temptations for Jesus.

1. Temptation #1 – Meet YOUR needs NOW

The reality of the temptation – Jesus hadn’t eaten for 40 days and he possessed the power to actually turn the stones into bread. This temptation was very real for Jesus – to utilize his power and authority to serve himself, rather than trust in God to provide it for him. Basically, Satan wanted Jesus to take for himself what he wanted, when he wanted it.

How Israel failed – They didn’t rely on God – they complained and craved the food they had in slavery, thinking it better (Numbers 14). The demanded bread to satisfy themselves right then. And even when God did provide food for them miraculously – they complained about it to the point of wishing God had never even saved them.

How we fail – We demand things of God like spoiled children – expecting God to give us what we want, when we want it and throwing a fit when we don’t. We seek to satisfy our own desires rather than deny ourselves and rely on God’s word to sustain us.

Jesus’ success – Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 and overcomes the temptation and relies fully on God and God’s word alone to meet his needs and provide for him. He has complete faith and trust in God to provide for him – not in himself. He chose to deny his own wants and trust in God’s provision.

2. Temptation #2 – Show the world who you really are

The reality of the temptation – “Prove to the world that you actually are God’s divine Son! Have him save you miraculously – that way everyone will know who you are – isn’t that what you want?” It would have been tempting for Jesus to do something drastic to prove the whole temple and nation that he really was God’s Son by doing what Satan said.

How Israel failed – In Exodus 17, the people demand provision in the desert from God. They basically say, “God, if you’re actually among us and you actually care about us, then give us what we want!” In verse 7 they say, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” In essence, they tested God and his love and provision for them by demanding he give them what they wanted.

How WE fail – We do the same thing. We put God to the test and demand he give us what we want to prove his love for us or make his presence known among us. We may not ever claim this to be true, but our lives tell a different story. When he doesn’t heal our sick loved ones or give us the job we want or provide for us how we want him to in some other way, we either stop or slow down our love for him. It isn’t real love if we throw a fit and stop loving him when he doesn’t give us what we want.

Jesus’ success – Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 and tells Satan that God is not to be tested – not even by the Son of God. If anyone had the right to do this, it was Jesus. But he does not test God by making demands to get what he wants for himself. To test God and demand proof of his power or love in our lives is sinful – and Jesus overcame that.

3. Temptation #3 – Skip the suffering, claim your throne NOW

The reality of the temptation – The Messiah’s reign over the kingdom was fact to the Jewish people. Satan is tempting Jesus to avoid the suffering, rejection, and the pain that he knew he would endure in order to more quickly receive his throne and authority. Jesus knew that the cross was waiting for him in Jerusalem. He even prayed in Gethsemane that this punishment might be taken away if at all possible.

How Israel failed – Israel worshipped false god after false god after false god. They perpetually worshipped these idols in an attempt to gain worldly wealth and authority. They thought they could worship God and receive his blessings while also reaping the worldly benefits of worshipping other gods as well.

How WE fail – We believe Satan’s lie – “You don’t have to suffer and be rejected”. We falsely believe that we can worship God and something else and avoid the suffering and rejection and pain that come from obeying God. We think we can be good Christians and love God while also loving other idols and serving them too.

Jesus’ success – Jesus’ responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. It is God alone who is to be worshipped and served. Jesus remained true and faithful to God alone, despite the difficult path that lay ahead because of this (his suffering and death on a cross). In essence, Jesus says, “I will remain faithful to God alone no matter what I must endure.”

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In this passage we see that Jesus was able to do what Israel wasn’t, and what we aren’t able to. If we were in Jesus’ shoes, we wouldn’t even have made it past temptation #1 – most of us would turn stones into bread in 40 minutes – let alone 40 days. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness so that he could face and conquer these temptations (and every other kind) for our sake out of great love for us.

This account is just a glimpse into how Jesus lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live. His whole life on earth was about being the perfect man in our place so that he could die the perfect death in our place. Matthew’s account shows us that Jesus was perfect for us because we couldn’t be. His death, therefore, is enough to bring us life. He did it for us. He was perfect for us. He overcame temptation for us. He lived for us and he died for us. He beat sin and death for us. This season – Christmas, the coming of Jesus – reminds us that without him, we are nothing and we are not capable of doing what needs to be done in order to receive eternal life and enter into healthy relationship with God. Adam and Eve failed, Israel failed, and we fail – but Jesus succeeded.

Christmas: The Perfect Answer to the Question “Who is God?”

 

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Christmas is about God revealing himself to the world. In John 14:9, Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. Jesus is God himself in the flesh being revealed to humanity.

Part of the reason Christians cling so closely to verses like, “We walk by faith, not by sight” is because we think we need to remind ourselves that we believe in and worship an unseen God – that we believe in and worship an invisible God. And to be fair – in many ways we do. We do not visibly see Jesus Christ walking down the street or hear his voice audibly in our lives every day. But we most certainly do not worship an abstract and impersonal God.

The word “Incarnation” is the fancy theological word for Christ’s birth and becoming human while remaining divine. In other words, Jesus Christ is literally God in the flesh. We use phrases today like, “Put some flesh and bones on it” to refer to the idea of making an abstract idea into something tangible. In the person of Jesus Christ, we see God “putting flesh and bones” on himself – to become tangible, real, and personal like never before. This is one of the major practical reasons that Christmas is so important – because Christmas is the time when we celebrate God’s revealing of himself to us.

Here are 5 key truths this morning about God’s revelation of himself through Jesus’ birth and what practical significance that has for our lives.

1. God wants to be known.  

The entire Bible is filled with hundreds of accounts and stories of God revealing himself to people and communicating with them. Many people wrongly believe that God is distant and inactive in the world or in our lives. They believe that he is real, maybe even that he created the world and set it in motion – but that he has been “hands off” ever since (Deism). This is false. Scripture teaches us that God is actively involved both in world affairs and in our personal lives. He is both transcendent and immanent. That is, he is above and beyond all that we can comprehend and imagine, and yet he has chosen to be active among us and communicate with us and seek relationship with us. God wants to be known. He wants humanity to know him and has proved himself willing to go to extreme lengths in order for that to happen.

2. Through Jesus, God reveals his identity

We know that God wants to be known because of the many ways that he revealed himself to his people throughout the Bible. God walked with Adam and Eve. He spoke to Noah. He called Abram to uproot his life and move to the place he had for him – and so on and so on throughout the Old Testament. He spoke through visions and dreams. He spoke to Judges and through prophets. He gave his written Law. He spoke in a still, small voice; and he spoke through thunder on Mt. Sinai. The Psalms declare that God can be known by the great things he has done in our lives and Romans even tells us that creation itself proclaims the identity of God to the world. And the list could go on for hours, but none of these, NONE of these – even if you added them all together, come even close to the fullness of God’s revealing his identity that exists in the person of Jesus Christ. God wants his identity to be known and Jesus’ is the ultimate proof of that.

3. Through Jesus, God reveals his character.

Throughout the Gospels, we see God’s character made vividly clear in the person of Jesus. The Old Testament gives us a taste of God’s character and heart – but Jesus is the perfect and complete picture of God’s character. Sometimes it can be difficult to read through books like Leviticus and Numbers that contain chapter upon chapter of laws. But even these laws, along with the entire rest of the Bible, give us a glimpse into the character and heart of God. But Jesus himself is the ultimate revealing of God’s character. In Jesus, we find the heart of God. We find him caring for people, loving people, rebuking the hypocritical religious people, healing the sick, setting the demon possessed free of spiritual oppression, letting children come to him, bringing people back from the dead, and much more. In each teaching of Jesus and in the life of Jesus; in every story and every parable; every healing and every exorcism; we see the character of God clearly made known. As we read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, we see the heart and character of God on display.

4. Through Jesus, God reveals his purpose.

There is perhaps no clearer description of Jesus own mission and purpose in this world than we find in Luke 4:16-21 – Jesus’ mission statement:

“When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” 

Though many of the people of Jesus’ day thought his purpose was to set them free from Roman oppression, Jesus actually came to set them free from something far more powerful and far more oppressive – sin, evil, and death – an oppressor that only God could conquer and overcome. Jesus came to set humanity free from enslavement to sin once and for all. He didn’t do this just to do it. He didn’t set us free for freedom’s sake – he set us free so that we might be in relationship with him and know him and love him. In short, Jesus’ purpose in coming was to do what was necessary to set us free from sin so that we could enter into a loving relationship with him. In Jesus, God made his purpose known, not only for the world at large, but also in our individual lives. His overarching purpose was to set each person AND all of humanity free from enslavement to sin and to provide a way for his people to be in healthy and holy relationship with him. Through Jesus’ teaching and his death and resurrection, we have the perfect revelation of God’s purpose.

5. Through Jesus, God reveals his love.  

The love that Jesus exudes throughout the Gospels is the perfect display of love. Jesus himself said that the greatest and purest form of love is to lay down one’s own life for the sake of others (John 15:13). In Jesus life and especially in his death, God’s deep and unfathomable love was perfectly revealed as he laid down his life, not just for his friends, but for his enemies – those who hated him (Romans 5:8) – and for all of humanity. Even though we were still sinners, Christ died for us so that we could be made right with him – so that we could know him and commune with him forever. He was willing to endure the punishment we deserved and die the death we should have died, simply so that we could know and love him. His birth, his life, and his death are the perfect revelation of God’s love to humanity.

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Christmas is an important time for believers to reflect on these truths and their importance for their faith. Christmas reminds us in ways that few other things can, about the true identity, character, purpose, and love of God. Only in the person of Jesus can we see all these things in their full and complete form. During this Advent season, as we approach Christmas Day, there will be nothing more spiritually meaningful than to reflect on and grow in our understanding of who our God is and what he has done for us.

How to Avoid Missing Christmas

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Advent (noun) – The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.

There have been years in my life where I wake up on December 26th and feel like I missed Christmas; like there was all kinds of build up to it and then suddenly it was gone; like there was a blur of seasonal lights, food, family time, decorations, and music – and before I knew it, it was January. I believe observing the season of advent can help eliminate the possibility of feeling this way on December 26th. Here are 4 simple reasons that I believe observing advent can help make every Christmas an incredibly rich and spiritually meaningful time for believers.

1. Advent helps combat loneliness, depression, materialism, and distractions.

Christmas should be one of the most joyful parts of a Christian’s life, but it isn’t always easy. For some, Christmas is clouded by sadness, darkness, burdens, and distractions. Reflecting on advent helps us combat the clouds of darkness and distractions that our culture and our bad experiences have created. Advent combats loneliness by reminding us that God became flesh so that he could be with us and us with him (John 1:14). Advent combats depression by reminding us that God humbled himself by coming to die for us because we have such immense value, and because of that, we can have hope (Ephesians 2:4-7). Advent combats consumerism and materialism by drawing us back to focus on what really matters, Christ and his love for his people (Hebrews 13:5). Advent combats busyness by calling us to rest and reflect on Christ’s coming and what it means for our lives. It calls us to pause, to slow down, and to remember what he has done and look forward to what he will do. There is no replacement for sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42).

2. Advent deepens the significance of Christmas Day.

Eagerly awaiting the arrival of King Jesus helps give us a greater appreciation and love for Him when he actually arrives. Eager anticipation deepens the significance of what has been anticipated. In other words, longing for and waiting for something, and reflecting on the significance of that notable person, thing, or event, will make its arrival or manifestation infinitely more meaningful. As Christians, if we don’t spend an appropriate amount of time and energy waiting with excitement for the coming of Christ and reflecting on its significance for our lives, then Christmas will be just another day. If we are to truly grasp the significance of Jesus’ arrival among us, there must be a period of eager anticipation.

3. Advent reminds us that our entire lives are about waiting for Jesus to come.

 This eager anticipation is something that the prophets and the Old Testament faithful understood all too well. For hundreds of years, Israel longed for the coming of the Messiah, their deliverer. Just like the prophets longed for Christ’s first arrival, we the church now long for his second arrival. The church now is like Israel was – in exile, under oppression, longing for the return of our King, who will bring deliverance. Christmas is about reflecting on the past coming of Christ and anticipating the future coming of Christ. It reminds us that our entire lives are spent reflecting on the first coming of Jesus and preparing for the second. Our King will come again and our entire lives should be spent eagerly waiting for the day when we step into eternity with him.

4. Advent brings us back to the gospel.

Advent reminds us that there was only one way and there is only one way. It involved sacrifice, pain, suffering, and eventually death. Christmas, like all else in the Christian life, is a powerful reminder that there is only one way to salvation, hope, and eternal life – Jesus Christ, the Messiah – who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Most people spend their whole lives looking for meaning and purpose in places that never provide those things. And most people, including many Christians, spend the whole Christmas season worshipping Christmas. But Christmas and advent are a means to an end. They are both completely and entirely about Christ and what he has done for his people. Advent reminds us of the truth of the gospel and helps us worship God more fully as we reflect on what the gospel means for us.

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If you have never observed advent before, I would encourage you to do so. Spend every day and every week leading up to Christmas reflecting on Jesus’ birth and what it means for believers. Don’t allow darkness or distractions to dominate your heart this Christmas. Choose the good portion, like Mary did in Luke 10, and put all the serving, distractions, and worry aside and simply sit at the feet of Jesus this Christmas season. Reflect, praise, pray, and worship the King who came to be our God so that we could be his people.