Living to Love

We’re here on this planet for the simplest of reasons: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When we love our neighbors, we’re happy! Loving your neighbor as yourself is so fulfilling!

When you approach your life the mentality of discipleship, you taste that fulfillment, and you are hooked. Salvation is awesome. When you realize what Jesus did for you, filling your with grace and bringing you into God’s kingdom, the joy will spill out of you. You’ll long to chase after Christ. You’ll long to hang out with him. You’ll read about all the things His disciples did, and you’ll want to do the same. You’ll want to do more!

Making the confession that Jesus died for you is just the start. What comes next?  Your life transformed by the Spirit! Just wait until you experience what it’s like to live your salvation. Living your salvation is living the lifestyle of Jesus. It’s having the discipleship mentality.

I truly, truly, truly, believe this. Salvation is not the whole story. It is fundamental, sure. It’s the key. It’s the beginning. You have to be saved. You have to recognize what Jesus Christ did. You have to know that He died on that cross. He took your sins. He took the blame. He took it all.

But He also taught us to pray for God’s kingdom on earth. He discipled us. He called us to live the life that He lived. He called us to bring the kingdom.

And that’s simple! All you have to do is keep His commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. Whether you’re rich or poor or in between, your joy will come from the way you use the gifts you’ve been given to live the lifestyle of Jesus.

This is what I teach my children. Life isn’t about how much money you make. It’s not about fame, either.

Life is not about what you can get. Life is about what you can do. What can you do? You can love your neighbor as yourself! It’s really that simple!

Loving my neighbor as myself is the concept that I’ve built my life around. When I use my gifts to love my neighbor, I feel like I’m fulfilling my life’s goal. It’s fulfilling to do something good for somebody else, with no thought of a return.

Try it. Do something good, and do it simply to love. It feels great!

Do you believe in Jesus? If so, then how do you use your gifts? Do you use them to love others? Then congratulations! You’re on the course of discipleship. You are living the lifestyle of Jesus.

See you Tuesday.

I Will Show You My Faith

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:14-18

What is the goal of life, the thing most worth striving for? I strive to sit before the throne of God and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Well done. This doesn’t mean that I have a works mentality. I truly don’t believe my works will get me to heaven. My faith will get me to heaven. That’s it. I’m justified by my faith.

But I will show you my faith, in the things that I do. The works I perform are the result of the faithful life I try to live, every single day. You can boil my whole theology down to one concept: discipleship. I try to live the lifestyle of Jesus.

We don’t have to resolve the works/faith “issue,” because there is no issue. When we live the lifestyle of Jesus, the relationship between faith and works takes care of itself. You see it in the letter of James. He said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Some people say that James and Paul were having a disagreement, but they weren’t. They were talking about two different things. When Paul said that you aren’t saved by works, he meant that works alone will not get you into heaven. Paul said, “Look, you can’t work your way into heaven.” In my belief, that’s true.

James is talking about a whole different idea. James is talking about the believers, the ones that have already given up their souls to God. When James said, “I will show you my faith by my works,” he was talking about the lifestyle that you live when you’re a believer.

Once you confess that Jesus died for your sins, you are saved. But then what? Nothing? Do you say, “Oh, now I can just sit around and do whatever. My salvation is all about faith and I can just live my life however I want to live it.”

To that, James and the other disciples said an emphatic, “No!” They said, “Live like Jesus!”

They didn’t say, “Check me out. I’ve hung out with Jesus. Now I can just sit around and do whatever.”

The apostles did not just sit around. If they did, we’d have no Acts of the Apostles to read, would we?

Nor did the apostles go around doing whatever they wanted to do. Want proof? Look at the persecution they endured. They certainly weren’t persecuted because they were living for themselves. They were persecuted because they were living for Jesus. Discipleship was not easy!

Discipleship got them in trouble. It got them crucified upside down. It got them thrown into prison. It got them stoned to death. The apostles were living a lifestyle that shook people up! They walked into pagan Greece and pagan Rome and challenged people’s worldview. They walked into the temples of a ton of different Gods. They walked into places where people were having orgies. They walked into all these places and said, “Your life is unfulfilling! We have a new message for you. Come, and follow Jesus. Live like Jesus. Be filled with all good things, and become heirs to the kingdom of God!”

The disciples showed us how to live. And that’s what James is saying. Show me a believer that lives the lifestyle of Jesus. That’s Christianity. But what if you show me a lifestyle that is without works, a lifestyle where you don’t do anything? What is that?

You say you have faith. Let’s see it!

New Life

Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Galatians 3:2-4

Tuesday, I wrote about the self-righteousness of the Sadducees. The Sadducees believed that it was their own actions that made them holy and righteous. But they were wrong. No one can save themselves.

We are holy and righteous children of God, yes! But we get no credit for it. We can’t make ourselves holy and righteous. It’s impossible! We live in flesh! We’re imperfect. We make mistakes. We’re human. So it’s only through the blood of Jesus that we are adopted into God’s family and God’s kingdom.

The Bible says you must make a confession with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). Good people aren’t saved in the absence of this confession. They may do good things, but the key to salvation is the acknowledgment and confession of who Jesus is.

I know this can make people uncomfortable. Am I saying that all you have to do is accept Jesus as your savior, and you’re done? Just say the prayer, and go on with your life?

Are we dangerously leading false converts with this message?

I do believe a confession needs to be made. I truly believe that Jesus died for you. You must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved. There has to be an admission there, and it has to be real. But it needs to be a heart commitment, not just a verbal acknowledgement.

That has to happen, but like the Bible says, when we respond to God’s message, a new life begins. In the wake of salvation, you’ll see a lifestyle change. Saved by the Spirit, you will live by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)

Imagine a guy who goes to a big conference, and while he is there, someone hits on something in a message that really touches him. It hits him hard. Maybe he’s been having a difficult time, or maybe the conference is allowing him to experience an emotional high. And then someone says, “Do you want to believe in Jesus? Do you want to be saved? Then come forward!” He goes forward. He says the prayers. And he is saved!

Imagine someone who goes through a really emotional time in her life. She meets a Christian who says something that touches her. She makes the confession. Jesus is Lord! She is saved!

What happens then? What if they go home, and nothing changes? What if their struggles continue? They’ve come from a time of high emotion, and they’ve said the words, but now, disappointment sets in.

Why? Because they need to do things differently. They need to live out their newly-found salvation.

A new life must begin.

If you really want to understand Jesus in your life, live in the mentality of discipleship. You won’t understand it if you don’t live it. You won’t understand it if you just say some words. Words don’t substitute for infinite passion. They can’t substitute for a relationship with your Creator and Savior. It has to be a relationship, and it has to be heartfelt.

Salvation is not just words. If you’ve been saved but you feel unfulfilled, try a little discipleship mentality.

And I’ll tell you about that next week!

To Live is Christ

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

I believe that there is something after I die. While I live on this earth, I live because of Christ. When I die, I gain the Kingdom. I gain heaven. I gain a new relationship with God, one that I don’t have here on earth.

But until that happens? I truly believe what Jesus said when He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re supposed to bring the Kingdom to earth. I live under that understanding. While I’m here, I’m an ambassador who is supposed to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. And I believe that I can help do that. I believe that the Spirit of God helps lead me into areas where I can help.

The Spirit will lead you, if you’re living the lifestyle of Jesus.

That’s what the disciples did. They lived the lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus foretold it. He told the disciples, “Greater things will you do after I leave, because you will be empowered by the Spirit.” And after Jesus was gone, they were! And they did!

The proof is in the persecution they suffered. I mean, no one dies for a decision. There’s no way you can tell me the disciples were martyred, jailed, stoned, and beaten, simply because they were trying to get people to say they accepted Christ. They were hung upside down on crosses! Somehow, they were a serious threat. The reason is that for the disciples, conversion wasn’t just a matter of saying that Jesus is Lord. If that’s all we had to do, there’s no way anyone would have to die for it.

No, it’s the way they lived that was so dangerous. That’s why they were persecuted. They not only accepted Jesus as Lord, they lived like He lived. They taught, healed, and worked miracles. They served.

You see, then as now, servant leaders challenge people to become who they truly are — image-bearers of the God who created them. That’s what the disciples did. When they accepted Christ as Lord and believed that He was the Savior, they did not stop there. That was their starting point! After that, servant leadership was their way of life.They walked the walk — and then they died for it. They died for the lifestyle of Jesus. True life!

What was that life? It was life lived in relationship with God and neighbor, using the “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. The disciples wanted to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. That’s why they wanted to live like Jesus lived. That’s why they wanted to love like Jesus loved. And that’s what they died for. They died for the lifestyle that they knew was right.

It makes sense to me. If I’m going to die for something, it will be something that I know is right.

I think the disciples knew true life. Paul said, “Take joy in trials and tribulations.” Take joy? How? How are we supposed to take joy in trials and tribulations? Who does that? The disciples did, because they didn’t find their joy in the physical aspects of life. Life for the disciples wasn’t hunky dory on the outside. It wasn’t that they were joyful because they never had anything bad happen to them. In fact, they always had something bad happening to them! Not a moment of life was free of turmoil for them. Read what happened! A lot of stuff went down.

Why did they do it, when it brought turmoil and tribulation, and finished in painful death? Why would they challenge people to live a life of Jesus, when they knew they would die for it? They did it because it was fulfilling. They had true joy. They had true happiness. They said, “Things may go wrong around me, but I know where my joy is. It’s in my Savior! I’m filled with joy, because I know what it’s like to love people!”

Now that’s the way to live! See you Thursday.

Servant Leadership

I think the Bible tells us to live and love like Jesus, and the scriptures tell us a lot about how He lived and loved. Last time, I offered some thoughts about what I think that means. Keep reading your Bible! You can see for yourself what it says about Jesus, and how we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I’ll tell you what living like Jesus is not about. It’s not about health, wealth, and prosperity. These are things that God chooses to bless us with as He sees fit. Whether you are blessed with them or not, you can still be fulfilled through discipleship.

Living like Jesus is also not about your best life now. Not all the time. I know sometimes Christians say that once you’re saved, everything’s going to be hunky dory. But that’s a tactic they use to get you saved. And it works! People hear that, and they get saved. They think they’re going to become rich!

And when they don’t become rich, they say there is no God.

We get into this salvation mentality. We think we just have to get people saved, and we’re done. I truly don’t believe that’s where it ends. I truly, truly, truly believe that salvation is just the beginning of a lifestyle of discipleship that we begin to live. It’s living out an understanding of what the Gospel means.

What is the Good News? I mean, what is the Jesus Gospel? That you have to accept Christ or rot in hell? I’m sorry, but you’re seriously telling me that sounds like good news? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

The lifestyle of Jesus, the one He lived and taught us to live, is good news. The discipleship lifestyle is the Gospel. Salvation and justification are part of it. They are our beginning. But we’re called to live it.

You hear people ask, “Did Jesus speak the Gospel?” And some people will say He didn’t. They’ll say He couldn’t have. They’ll say the Gospel didn’t come until after Jesus died.

That’s a little mind-boggling to me! I mean, Jesus is the Gospel! Jesus is the good news! Whatever Jesus did was good news. He was IT! Of course He preached the Gospel, because He did the Gospel! But people don’t think like that.

That just shows me where we’re at. We’re stuck in this salvation mentality. We focus everything on Jesus’ death. We think we’re done being Christian when we acknowledge His death for our sins. But what about His life? How can we ignore that, when the Bible contains a detailed account of all the things He did, and all the things He said, and all the instructions He gave to everyone who wanted to be His disciple?

Sometimes I ask myself why I live the way I live. That’s the question! That nails what I’m saying here. Why do I live the way I live? I don’t ask myself why I am the way I am. I know the answer. I’m saved. I’m justified by Christ. But I don’t assume that means I’m good. I’m not necessarily good. I’m not necessarily right. I’m not necessarily on the right path.

Do I mess up? Yes. Am I always good? No. Am I always on the right path? No. But when I get off on the wrong path, I ask the Spirit to lead me back. And I believe that the Spirit does, because I want to live as a disciple of Jesus. I want to be deeper, I want to go further, I want to be on His path.

How do I know when I’m on His path? I’m fulfilled, I’m happy, and I’m full of joy.

I have more to tell you about this! See you Monday.

Living Abundantly

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Abundant life! What does that mean? Well, abundant life is a life that is not in need. You don’t need to find food, you have it. You don’t need to find water, you have it. You don’t need to find a place to live, you live somewhere. You don’t need to find a job, you have a job.

It doesn’t mean you have millions of dollars. I think abundance is having enough, plus some for somebody else. And if you have enough, and you have extra, then you live in abundance.

An abundant life involves so much more than having a lot of consumer goods. You can get caught up in buying more stuff for yourself — stuff you don’t even need — while there are people who will die if they don’t get your help.  That’s the situation we’re in. Consumerism can actually kill people! Living like Jesus is the answer to the problem. Jesus came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.

I know people are going to tell me, “Well, Jeremy, you have stuff.” It’s true! I have an iPad, an iPhone, and a laptop. I’ve got three things that get on the internet all at once. Maybe that’s excessive! But I also give, because saving lives is so important.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have anything. But what if you never even have a mindset to help someone in need? That’s shallow. I’m not saying that you should never buy anything for yourself. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that if our drive, our heart, our focus, is simply to make sure that we have what we need, then we have the wrong heart. If we’re always saying, “I want this and I want that, and I know I could live without it but I’m going to get it and I’m going to get that too,” and we don’t have a thought for anybody else, then we have the wrong mindset.

We think “abundance” and we see dollar signs. I think that’s our habit here in the US. But abundance can mean something really different, depending on where you are. There are so many places in the world where someone might say, “Abundance? That’s when I’ve got a home. I don’t care if it’s a 600 square foot home. It’s a home. Now my family doesn’t have to live on the street. I’ve got a home, I’ve got a job, we’ve got food on the table, I’ve got a well to get clean water from, and my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. In fact, they’re going to school. That’s abundance. I know what it’s like to not have these things. Now that I have them? And my family’s safe? That’s abundance.”

We need to help make that happen. We’re ambassadors for Christ! He said He came so that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. He gave us the message. He gave us the example. And He gave us that quality of life when He was with us on earth. These things didn’t leave when He did. He gave them to us, so that we’d live by them. If we are to represent Him, we need to follow His example. We need to spread His message. And we need to give that quality of life to others. Let’s bring abundant life to others!

See you Thursday.

Salvation Is Only the Beginning

I’ve never been in the back of the room at a church meeting, but I can almost see how some go. “Hey,” they say, “How are we going to get people saved? We’ve got to figure out how to get them to say the prayers.”

I think we’re used to thinking in terms of numbers. It’s only human to play the numbers game. I mean, think about it. In the baseball world, or anywhere in sports, the concept is, “How many fans can we get in the seats?” After all, that’s where the business is. And so we see it in some churches. “How many butts can we get in the pews?” After all, there’s our tithe.

And you see that a lot, man! You see churches saying, “Fifty people got saved today!” Or, “One hundred people got saved today!” But being a Christian is a lifestyle that we live, not a decision that we make. It doesn’t end with being saved. That’s where it starts. We should be asking, “How are we going to get people to live a life of Jesus?” That’s the concept, because that is joy. That is true joy.

Too often someone will say they’re a Christian because at some point in their life they said, “Oh, I believe Jesus is Lord.” They made that decision at some moment in time. But how does it affect their lifestyle throughout the next 30, 50, or 70 years of life? A lot of times it doesn’t. I think that’s why you see Christian marriages failing at the same rate that you see non-Christian marriages failing. Using this type of salvation theology, Christianity is not a lifestyle that people live. It’s just a decision they made.

When you admitted that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, and rose again three days later, you were saved. And that is awesome! You were saved! Now the resurrection empowers you. It gives you the salvation that you’re looking for. You’re in the family of God. You’re justified!

But justification by faith is only the beginning of your fulfillment. Confessing that Jesus is Lord is not what makes you a Christian. Life in Jesus, the life of a Christian, is a life of discipleship. A Christian lives this life by living as Jesus lived. Scot McKnight expands on these exact same concepts in his book, The King Jesus Gospel, where he shows that if you stop after confessing that Jesus is Lord, then you’re not going to feel fulfilled in this life.

If the life of a Christian began and ended with confessing that Jesus is Lord, then love and mercy and grace would be lived out through all Christians everywhere. Salvation alone would make us God’s instruments of love and of mercy and of grace. That decision we made to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior would be enough. We wouldn’t have to do anything else.

But we don’t love very easily. We don’t do that. We don’t show much mercy. In fact, McKnight talked to a number of non-Christians and found that they’ll tell you sometimes Christians are the meanest people they’ve ever met!

So it can’t just be justification and salvation that makes us different. I believe it is a Spirit-led lifestyle. If you feel empty, like you can’t accomplish something in life, it could be because you don’t understand why you’re here. I believe I understand why you’re here, and why we’re all here. Living the lifestyle of Jesus helps us understand.

See you Monday.