Christ-Likeness

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My Musings – It seems almost contradictory that the Creator of the universe, exhibiting the fullness of God, with everything under His power, would choose the role of a servant. Knowing that everything was under His power He could have exercised that power. Instead He set the example of a servant. If He, the Master, prefers to serve, how can we, the servant, choose anything else? Christ desires that we should do as He did. That we be transformed into His likeness – Christ-likeness. It begins with attitude, a Christ-like attitude, a “Be” attitude.

Attitude. It is the way a person thinks or feels about someone or something that all too often affects not only their disposition but their behavior as well. We have heard it said many times – “boy does he (she) have an attitude.” Usually this comment is not meant as a compliment. Negative attitudes come in a variety of shapes and sizes – arrogance, haughtiness, superiority, self-centeredness, anger, bitterness, to name just a few. If left unchecked negative attitudes can affect careers, relationships, character, health, and in the context of discipleship our witness.

Charles Swindoll, Chancellor or Dallas Theological Seminary, author, and senior pastor of Stonebriar Community church in Frisco, Texas puts it this way – “the longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace that day. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our attitudes.”

The question is: how do we gain control of our attitude? How can we transform what might otherwise be a negative reaction (attitude) towards the people and circumstances we encounter in our daily walk into a positive one? How can we change an arrogant, self-centered and negative “I will” attitude into His other-centered, humble and positive “Be” attitude? How do we make sure that “the old has gone” and that “the new has come”? How do we become Christ-like? We do it by learning from Him, by studying His words (talk) and by choosing to follow His example (walk).

Jesus said and did many things during His earthly ministry. But in a sense, His sermon on the mount was His manifesto – His public declaration of His views on how His creatures should live their lives. During this sermon Jesus repeatedly used the phrase:

“you have heard that it was said…but I tell you…,”

to challenge people to go beyond the mere outward observance of the law and tradition, and to be transformed by inward motivations that “hunger and thirst” for true heartfelt righteousness. While there is a wealth of wisdom in the entire sermon, this attitude of righteousness is summed up beautifully in its opening lines, commonly known as the beatitudes (meaning supreme blessedness or happiness).

In these few opening lines of the sermon, Jesus not only defines some of the things that are blessed, but also what it takes to achieve the blessedness. On the surface they do not appear to be so blessed or happy (poor, mourn, meek, persecuted). But this is consistent with Jesus’ message throughout the sermon. “You have heard that it was said” this is what it takes to be blessed or happy (by the world’s standards). “But I tell you” to be different if you are seeking true blessedness or happiness. “Learn from me” how to develop a Christ-like attitude – a “Be” attitude.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority [but I tell you], and not as their teachers of the law [you have heard that it was said].” (Matthew 7:28-29, NIV 1978),

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be A Self-Sufficient Spirit – Proud. Self-seeking “spirituality” that fails to recognize our pitiful state before a righteous God. Feeling that we can be good apart from God’s grace. Full of self at God’s expense.  “You say, ‘I am rich and do not need a thing.’ But you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17, NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be Poor In Spirit Humble. Conscious of spiritual bankruptcy, recognition of unworthiness before God and inability to achieve “spirituality” by ourselves. Empty of self, full of God.  “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2, NIV 1978)

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be Arrogant And Unrepentant – Failure to recognize or acknowledge our sins and shortcomings. Make excuses, rationalize, but don’t be sorry.  “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector.’” (Luke 18:11, NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be A Mourner – Recognition of spiritual bankruptcy. An intense, sincere and Godly sorrow for our shortcomings that leads to repentance.  “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”  (2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV 1978).

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be Rebellious – Aggressiveness out of control. Reactionary in the midst of pressure. Resist the Spirit’s working in your life. “This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature.” [They are] bold and arrogant.” (2 Peter 2:10, NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be Meek – Strength under control. Calm, gentle and disciplined in the midst of a pressurized atmosphere. Quiet submission to God.  “Insulted, he did not retaliate, suffering, he made no threats. He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23, NIV 1978).

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be Apathetic Regarding Righteousness – Accept injustice as inevitable. Moral compromise. What’s the use in pursuing Holiness, it’s unattainable.  “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11,NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be Hungry For Righteousness – Insatiable appetite for what is right. Passionate drive for justice. Eager relentless pursuit of God. “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1, NIV 1978).

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be Cold-Hearted – Uncaring about the hurts and needs of others. Passive, don’t get involved, it’s not your problem, eye for eye mentality.  “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matthew 25:42,43, NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be Merciful – Compassion for the needy. Active empathy and involved in helping. Showing same mercy we have received from God.  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35, 36, NIV 1978).

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be A Hypocrite – Spirituality only on the outside. Legalism. Sunday saint, weekday sinner.  “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.‘” (Mark 7:6).

“But I Say To You” Be Pure In Heart – Internally clean, not just outward appearance. Don’t just do what is right, do it for the right reasons.  “What does the LORD your God ask… fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12, NIV 1978).

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be A Trouble Maker – Delights in division and strife. Unforgiving. Stirs up trouble or keeps it stirred up. Satisfied with estrangement.  “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16, NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be Peacemakers – Catalysts of forgiveness. Agents of reconciliation. Doesn’t mean avoiding conflict, compromise or appeasement.  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV 1978).

“You Have Heard It Said” I Will Be Safe From Persecution – Avoid affliction. Not persecuted because of compromising on God’s standards. Not a threat to the devil.  “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” (Hebrews 11:25, NIV 1978).

“But I Say To You” Be Persecuted For Righteousness – Undeserved affliction. Persecuted solely because you uphold God’s standards of righteousness, justice and purity.  “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV 1978).

There is a touch of irony to this pursuit of a Christ-like attitude. In the beginning it may be that we pursue it because we should, and because of the rewards we will receive. But as we grow in Christ-likeness a strange thing begins to happen. We continue in the pursuit because we want to, not because we ought to. The prospects for the rewards (which we will still get) become less and less of a motivating factor. Rather, we are motivated by a stronger and stronger desire to simply please Him, and that is reward enough.

In a way it is like our life here with our earthly parents. When we were young, we followed their direction (obeyed them) because we were afraid of the consequences if we did not, or because of the promised rewards if we did a good job. As we grew older and became adults we no longer had to follow their directions. We were our own “masters.” Strangely enough we often find that we still follow the directions they gave us when we were young. Not because we have to, but because we want to. We came to realize how right they were most of the time. Finally, we want to please them and honor them in our conduct as adults for the valuable lessons they taught us as children.

My Advice – Of course there are children who do the least they can get by with as children and go their own way as adults. The same is true with God’s children. But their works (or lack of works) will be tested with fire. They will not cease to be children (he himself will be saved), but they will lose so much of what they could have had if they had been more diligent in pursuing a Christ-like attitude.   Be diligent.  Have a “Be” attitude, not and “I will” attitude.

 

 

 

 

What Are You Hanging On To?

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My Musings – He was seeking eternal life.  He had meticulously kept the commandments that Jesus mentioned.  He could almost reach it.  But there was one thing he lacked.  Something he could not let go.  There’s a scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that provides a great illustration.  After finding the elusive “Holy Grail” supernatural events intervene.  A massive earthquake opens up threatening to swallow the grail causing it to be lost forever.  Suspended over the gaping crevasse, hanging onto his father (Professor Henry Jones) with one hand, Indiana Jones (Junior) desperately reaches for the grail, just inches from his other outstretched hand:

Professor Henry Jones: [in an urgent voice] “Junior, give me your other hand! I can’t hold on!”
Indiana Jones: [straining to reach the Grail] “I can get it. I can almost reach it, Dad…”
Professor Henry Jones: [in a quiet voice] “Indiana.”
[surprised, Indy looks back at his father].
Professor Henry Jones: [firmly, but still quietly] “Indiana… let it go.”

Of course, we all know what happens.  Indiana grabs onto his father with both hands and is saved.  Letting go of the prize he had long sought to find.

The application?  We cannot hold onto our Heavenly Father with one hand while clinging onto our prized sins – sinful habits, sinful relationships, sinful pursuits, etc…  We cannot serve two masters.

My Advice – What are you reaching for or hanging onto that is keeping you from fully committing to a relationship with Jesus Christ?  Let it go.

Adding To Your Faith

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My Musings – Yesterday’s musings, referencing the Apostle Paul, stood for the doctrine that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Any effort (on our part) to add to this would be futile.  In today’s text, the Apostle Peter is saying that we should make every effort (work) to add to our faith the listed qualities.  That these efforts (on our part) would be effective and productive.

Surely this is a huge contradiction between these two giants of Christianity?  Not at all.  Paul was speaking about what results in salvation (grace).  Peter was speaking about what results from salvation (good works/qualities).  Grace is the cause of salvation, good works/qualities are the effect of salvation.  Salvation is an event, developing these qualities is a process (in increasing measure).  One can have good works/qualities without being saved, but no one can be saved without developing good works/qualities.  There is no effort of our own that can gain us salvation.  But once we have gained it, we should make every effort to add to it. And yet, here’s the deal.  Even though you are putting effort into it to grow your faith, it is the work of the Holy Spirit transforming you into Christ-likeness that gives the increase.

My Advice – You cannot grow it, if you don’t got it.  Get it today.  It’s free.  By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Called Out Of Darkness

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My Musings – “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  (Yogi Berra).  It certainly isn’t.  Hopelessly lost and separated from our Creator, with no hope for reconciliation by our own efforts.  Facing an eternity apart from God in Hell.  No Exit. His righteousness demanded it.  That was our future.

Where there was no hope, God provided hope.  Where there was no way, God provided a way.  The possibility of being reunited with our Creator because He made it possible for us to be a new creation through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  His grace satisfied His righteousness.  The opportunity to spend eternity reunited with God in Heaven.  This can be our future.

My Advice – Which future do we want?  This should be an obvious choice.  Yet so many stumble over it.  Yes, Jesus is the only way, because His sacrifice was the only possible way to satisfy God’s righteousness.  But whoever calls on His name will be saved.  He’s calling us out of darkness.  Will we respond?

Keep In Mind

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My Musings – Jesus passes the love that the Father has for Him on to us.  In the same way, we must pass this love on to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In this way the world will know that we are His disciples.  If, in seeing this the world hates us, it is because the world hates Christ (and by extension, the Father as well).  Why? Because although “light has come into the world, men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”  (John 3:19-21,NIV 1984).  As followers of Christ, we are to reflect the light.  So if they hate the light, they will hate us to.

My Advice – Walk in the light as He is in the light.  We can bear the hate of the world as long as we have the love of the Father.  Evenso, keep proclaiming the truth.  In so doing, some may ultimately come into the light.

 

Nor Could The Scroll Contain The Whole

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My Musings – If the cross is not enough to convince you of God’s love, and it should be, these verses should blow you away.  Friends may abandon you when you times are difficult and you are in need (trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword – the list is not exhaustive).  But God won’t.

It’s not that these things won’t happen. They will.  But, He loved us before, He will love us “in,” and He will love us through them.  For “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Sounds pretty all-inclusive to me!  No room for, “but what about this.”  There is no “this” that the above does not cover.  The only “fine print” is “anything else in all creation.”  That leaves only the Godhead (not in creation) as a possible exception.  But even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV 1984).

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Even that screams the incomprehensibility of God’s love for His children.  Not just conquerors (one who is victorious), more than conquerors.  How can one be more than a conqueror?  They cannot.  It merely underscores the fact that no love can be more than the love God has for us. Love does indeed conquer all, if it’s the love of God.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;  To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.” (The Love of God ~ Frederick M. Lehman 1917).

My Advice – Don’t pass up this love.  No better deal will come around.  Now is the day of salvation.

 

 

 

If Only For This Life…

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My Musings – “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NIV 1984).  What if there was no “but?”

Our Faith Is Futile – Incapable of producing any useful result; pointless.

We Are Lost – Beyond recovery or redemption.

We Are Hopeless – Having no hope or chance of changing or improving.

We Are To Be Pitied – To feel sadness or sympathy for someone’s unhappiness or bad situation.

The all-seeing eye of God beheld our deplorable state; infinite pity touched the heart of the Father of mercies; and infinite wisdom laid the plan of our recovery. – David Brainerd.

We are not to be pitied, because God took pity on us.  The death of His Son on the cross gave us a chance at improving our hopeless situation.  He recovered the unrecoverable.  He redeemed the unredeemable.  What we were incapable of, He was more than capable.

My Advice – If you live “only for this life,” “you are still in yours sins,” and “are to be pitied,” for your life is “futile.”  This need not be.  Turn to Christ.  Live for the life to come.  Your faith will not be in vain.