Confessions of A Sour Face, Part One.

“You are hard to read;” “You aren’t the most expressive person;””I thought you were mean the first time I met you;””Does he ever talk?”

These are quotes that have been said about me over the span of my life, some within the last week. On a regular basis, I hear from people about my “look.” Apparently, my face does not provide a very comforting, welcoming, or friendly sense in others. And because first impressions are so hard to move away from, it takes a lot of work on my part to guide people towards a truer sense of who I am.

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I have asked myself what is wrong with me? I have tried to even change the position of my mouth to a more smiling posture but that can’t be sustained over long periods of time and seems so fake.

I mentioned this aspect of my existence to some of my friends at the Apprentice Experience. One friend said that these reactions to me was a form of persecution. He said that I was being persecuted for righteousness sake. I guess he meant that because I care more about who I truly am in Christ rather than how I look to others, I wasn’t playing an image management game that seems to be so important to most of the world and I was paying the price for it. He may have overstated things a bit but it got me thinking. Should I work to make sure I am projecting an image that appeases the world’s need for me to look and behave a certain way at all times or should I focus on the inside and Christ’s transformation in me and let people’s perception take care of itself?

The ironic thing is that I am more friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic than I used to be. Honestly, I consider this a minor miracle and a sign of Christ’s transformation in my life. Still, it bothers me when I hear the comments like those above and I wonder what am I supposed to do?

In my next post, I will tell what happened in Kansas and shortly thereafter that gave me my answer to my dilemma.

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Practicing The Commands Of Jesus Can Be A Natural Thing To Do

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being two thousand years removed from the time that Jesus spoke these words and having never been to Galilee, I have little as far as context to work with. Still, I try my best to place myself in the audience the day Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus’ words may appear in black and white (maybe red) but they were not delivered in a vacuum. He was speaking to an audience that represented many walks of life and were reacting to his words either favorably or negatively. So, he says the words above because this was what many people in the crowd were thinking. He even says, “do not think” because he knew what they were thinking.

The law was the most important thing to the Jewish people and there must have been a rumor going around that Jesus was out to do away with them. He had to address this thought because it was out there and he addresses it with very pointed language. He assures his listeners that the law is not going away but is to be fulfilled to the letter but then he astonishes the crowd with this statement, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Everything that Jesus teaches beyond this point hinges on this statement.  Jesus describes something that is beyond even the most devout among them. The Pharisees were all about trying to fulfill the law through their effort, Jesus is all about fulfilling the law through himself. Only with a heart inhabited by Jesus and transformed from the inside out can truly fulfill the law. Our efforts only lead to legalism. Legalism was the practice of the Pharisees and it was destructive, damaging, and disruptive.

Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, creates a new heart within us so that fulfilling the commandments of scripture is the most natural thing for us to do and is a life giving and transformative experience. We have work to do for sure but it is work that helps Jesus do his work (prayer, study, silence, fasting, and other disciplines,) we are not earning anything.

Quit trying so hard to become a better person. You can’t do it. Only Christ can change you. With this approach, the next set of commands will seem more like a promise rather than a drudgery.

Power Outage – Why Relying On Will Power Is Not Working

Aside

According to researchers, will power is not so powerful and those that possess the ability to avoid temptation are not mentally stronger than everyone else, they just know how to redirect their attention away from the temptation so that their weak will power will not be tested.

Thankfully, Christians are not left with just the limited nature of their will power. Jesus’ emphasis in his teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, was on the heart. He says to first, “clean the inside of the cup, so the outside will become clean also.” The problem with change that relies so heavily on will power is that it is focused on the surface of the person and not the inner character.

If I am going to become a kinder person, I have to first become the type of person who would naturally be kind. If I am going to be of service to others, I have to first become the type of person who would serve naturally. Gritting teeth and tapping into will power will fail 80% of the time and always has its limits.

Real power comes from taking Jesus into our hearts and letting him start to change us from the inside out. The change has to come in the heart before it will manifest itself into action. This is a much better strategy for change than will power. Easier too.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

What can you do today to change from the inside out?

  • Acknowledge that your will power is weak and not very helpful.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 13 with the knowledge that it is not asking you to do anything but become something
  • Ask Christ to change your heart
  • Focus on Christ’s work inside you and not on the outside results, those will come.
  • Tell others that you are no longer trusting your own strength but in the power of Christ inside you

The Focus of Christians Should Be The Heart

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

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If you are a pastor and you want to get your name and face on TV just start criticizing everything around you in culture. You will get carted out in front of the cameras and show up on TV talk shows. Unfortunately, the minute you do this will be the minute that you cease to be a proclaimer of the gospel and instead become a political figure.

Jesus, for all of his countercultural sensibilities, was not a political figure and never even appeared to be one. He said that he came into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).

His people, the Israelites, during his lifetime, were ruled by the tyrannical Caesars of Rome. The Israelites were the chosen people of God and yet they had the unclean Roman Gentiles occupying their land, taxing their finances and ruling in their holy city. The Jewish people in Jesus’ day could not have been more opposed to anything as they were the Romans and their power over them yet Jesus says nothing about the issue and even shrugs off a question about what belongs to Ceasar so he could make another point about the spiritual life. Jesus’ harshest criticism was not for governments or cultural evils but for hypocrisy and limited faith.

Jesus was much more concerned about transforming hearts than transforming political establishments. Perhaps it is time that Christians take a step back and quit placing the microscope on politicians, Hollywood, and Homosexuals and instead place it on their own hearts. It is in the heart where Christ does his best work.

Let Him Hear: Reading Revelation For Spiritual Growth #17

“Is your name written in the book of life?”

Questions such as this have been used as evangelism tools for decades. But what is the book of life? The common assumption is that if we have a place in heaven then our name will be listed in the book of life? We assume that life is talking about eternal life and the book of life is like a guest list at a concert that if our name is found there then we get in without any trouble.

When I read Revelation 20, I had an idea that maybe this book of life is something else entirely. Revelation 20, verses 11 and 12 state:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

According to this, there are books used to judge besides the book of life. And, according to verse 12, these books contain our deeds. Could it be that the book of life is a recording of the things that we did that were life giving and the other books contain the things that we did that were death giving? Any time we worked on God’s behalf by fulfilling his purposes in our own life and in others; anytime we reflected Christ’s love, mercy, and compassion; anytime we lost our life to gain it and took up our cross. Could it be that the book of life is not a guest list into heaven but a recording of the times our actions matched the life of the Christ who is with us?

15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The bottom line is, if our actions in this life are more about the things that kill -quest for power, sexual immorality, love of money, sensual pursuits, hurting others, and destruction then we certainly will not show up in the book of life. But, if our lives are more about the fruits of the spirit and sacrifice then that will not be overlooked and will be recorded in the greatest of all books.