Are you Jealous of Jesus?

iStock_000003913257SmallFor many the question will sound ludicrous or perhaps even blasphemous. But for some of you I’ve just touched on an unspoken gnawing in your soul.

You couldn’t put words to what was going on in your heart, but jealous of Jesus seems to fit. You may wonder, “How can I be jealous of Jesus? I’ve known him since I was a kid. I’ve spent my whole life in church. I’ve served Him in every way imaginable: Sunday school teacher, missions committee, choir, kid’s ministry, nursery ministry, visitation.”

Yes, like the Jews before you, you might have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Romans when he shares his ongoing prayer and desire that his fellow Jews be saved. (10:1) He laments that “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (10:2)

This was his own testimony as he described who he once was to the saints in Philippi: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4b-6)

Paul, like many of his countrymen, pursued the law as if it were based on works and not by faith. Unfortunately, we can do that, too, and it leads us to the same end: stumbling over Jesus.

Coming to Jesus is terrible for our pride. For we need to see ourselves as “unclean, and all our righteous deeds… like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) I was challenged anew when my husband recently prayed, “There is no righteousness in me apart from Jesus.”

That is a hard thing to recognize, especially when you’ve been in church since your first memory: memorizing scripture, singing about Jesus, avoiding a list of sins, and generally seeing yourself as “a good person.”

Even believers in Christ can be tempted to desert the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and turn to another “gospel.” God provided Paul’s letter to the Galatians in His Scripture to warn us of this type of turning from justification by faith to justification by works.

Paul declares, “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (2:16) And he asked the Galatians a pointed question, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (3:2) The answer, according to the Word, is that we receive the Spirit by hearing through faith, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

When we submit to this truth, we will be grateful to, not jealous of, Jesus and His righteousness.

The Wrong Enemy

by Guest Blogger, Pastor Bryan Craddock

enemiesThere was a time in history when warfare seems to have been relatively simple and straightforward. Your enemies were those lined up on the opposite side of a field wearing a different colored uniform. But modern combat situations are not so simple. Soldiers can easily find themselves targeting the wrong person.

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul identifies a similar problem that all Christians face. He says, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

Christians have always been tempted to regard non-Christians as enemies. When someone contradicts biblical teaching or disregards biblical moral standards, we may perceive it as a personal affront.

To make matters worse, both pundits and the press play up this conflict to grab our attention. Nothing draws a crowd like a fight. The result is catastrophic. Christians either isolate themselves in fear or lash out with brash, angry words provoking the very people we are supposed to reach.

We end up fighting the wrong battle against the wrong enemy using the wrong methods, all to our true enemy’s delight.

We have to remember that from the standpoint of the gospel non-Christians are not enemy targets but captives who need to be rescued. Paul says, And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26). 

We can only rise to such behavior as the Holy Spirit enables us to put on the mind of Christ. Matthew 9:36 tells us, When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

May God fill us with the grace and love to look beyond offensive words and deeds to the spiritual struggle of the heart, so that we can humbly proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ.

Finishing Well

The first time I heard of Demas was twenty years ago as a college student on a missions project. Chuck, the director of our eighty-student team, had been teaching us from the book of 2 Timothy all summer.

As he came to the small verse in chapter four about Demas, who was in love with this present world, he cautioned us that statistically half of us would not be walking with Jesus in twenty years.

His statistic shocked me. I couldn’t imagine any of us not walking with the Lord in 2013. I was sobered by the thought as I learned more about Demas, the man mentioned three times in the pages of Scripture. First when Paul calls him his fellow worker in Philemon 1:24. Second, as he sends his greetings to the believers in Colossi (Colossians 4:14), and finally, as he deserts Paul in 2 Timothy 4:10 because he loved this present world.

Unfortunately, his story isn’t unfamiliar. Nearly every one knows an unfaithful pastor or someone who has turned from the faith they once professed.

Paul, in his final letter to Timothy, encourages him to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1) while leaving the young pastor some examples to ponder: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer.

The soldier, having separated himself from the entanglement of civilian pursuits, aims to please the one who enlisted him. Paul understood that he was “set apart for for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1) and aimed to live a life that pleased his Savior, Jesus Christ. Knowing he was near death, Paul confidently asserts, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). He was a good soldier; Demas was not.

iStock_000010543520SmallConsider an athlete. He is “not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). Many accomplished athletes in our day have had their medals confiscated and their wins stripped when the truth that they have cheated comes to light. But Paul assures Timothy, “I have finished the race.” By remaining “steadfast under trial,” (James 1:12) and firm until the end, Paul demonstrated the authenticity of his faith. Demas did not.

Jesus, the author and finisher of true faith, taught in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) that those who had a root in themselves would fall away. Paul was not one who fell away, because his faith was rooted in Jesus.

“The hard-working farmer…ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). A good farmer is both hard-working and full of faith. For unless God provides the growth, the farmer’s hard work would be fruitless. At each harvest the faith and diligence of the farmer is rewarded. “Farmer Paul” was fruitful—he kept the faith.

May it never be said of us, as it was said of Demas, that we loved this present world. May we, like Paul, be rooted in Christ and finish well.

Authentic Rest

As a Bible teacher, I meet a number  of worn-out women wanting to know why they aren’t experiencing rest. These women know the promise in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” but they look at their lives and think God hasn’t delivered.

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Perhaps you’ve had the same thought. You’ve read the passage in Matthew and expect life to be easy. But life is hard. You find yourself expecting God to fix your problems, but you’re up to your neck in problems.

The same Jesus who promised rest also promised difficulties. “In this world you will have tribulation.” Rest and problems going together, how can that be? Worn-out Christians everywhere want to know, “Where is the rest?”

When we think of rest, we tend to  picture a week with no pressures or responsibilities, often on the beach or at some remote cabin. But is that the rest Christ promised.

When Jesus invited, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…” He wasn’t talking to Christians; He was talking to Jews—Jews who were laboring under the law to be righteous, heavy laden under the traditions of the Pharisees who taught their rules as if they came from God Himself.

Jesus is inviting these Jewish people to Him for the rest we call salvation, not the rest we call vacation. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

Authentic rest for our souls is given at salvation, when our sins are forgiven and we are given Christ’s righteousness.

Has Jesus Christ delivered on His promise of rest? Absolutely! Has He also delivered on His promise of tribulation? Absolutely!

What a joy it is to see former worn-out women, once embittered with God, develop grateful hearts. They now have a right understanding of Christ’s promised rest along with realistic expectations about earthly tribulations.

Accurately knowing and sharing the promised rest of the gospel is essential. Sadly, there are many in our churches who are weary and heavy laden because they, like the Jews before them, are struggling to be righteous under the law. The law can’t make us righteous; only faith in Christ can justify us.

Let’s invite the weary, worn-out people around us to come to Jesus, to find authentic rest for their souls.

A New Resolution

iStock_000022127868SmallWe are verb people. We get up, we drive, we work, we talk, we call, we eat, we read, we watch, we sleep, and at the end of each year, we make resolutions to do our verbs better.

But one thing we can never “do better enough” is righteousness.  Like first century Jews, many in our day are trying to earn righteousness, rather than receive righteousness (Romans 10). Unfortunately, some are being taught to do so inside the walls of church.

But Christ’s call to them is His call to us now, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden (under the law) and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)

We just celebrated God sending His son. So as we make our 2013 resolutions, we must remember Jesus was sent so that we may be saved, be given His righteousness, and know His rest.  Therefore, a new kind of resolution is in order. May we resolve to rest, knowing it’s God’s grace—not trying harder—that trains us to renounce ungodliness and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. (Titus 2:11-12)