Starving for Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. — Jesus

“Ack!” you say. “A guilt-trip post about how I don’t love Jesus enough because I’m not hungry enough for Him!”

No, that’s not what this is about. In fact, that’s not what Jesus was talking about at all.

Now, make no mistake: Jesus wants you to be righteous. That much is clear from one end of the Bible to the other. But let me assure you: this is not about whether you beat yourself up enough.

The question is: where does this righteousness come from?

Do not overlook this point, because it is one upon which the Christian life is based. Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will then walk in righteousness.” No, He said, “…they willed be filled.” By who? Themselves?

Of course not! Here is the important thing to always remember: righteousness comes from God. God really wants you to be righteous, but not by your own strength.

As we have already seen in previous posts from the Beatitudes, the underlying emphasis seems to be that Jesus wants us to trust and rely upon God. This is no different. Those who hunger after righteousness do so because they are looking for righteousness from God. Those who set up their own system of righteousness or try to live a righteous life on their own power do not truly hunger and thirst after righteousness. Sure, they want to be righteous and they work hard to be righteous. But such people are not seeking to be filled with righteousness. They are trying to achieve righteousness.

Jesus tells us that when we realize that we lack God’s righteousness, we need to deeply desire to be filled with His righteousness, as deeply as we desire our physical food and drink. It needs to be our heartfelt desire–one that comes from a heart turned toward God and seeking Him. And then He gives us the wonderful promise that, if we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will be filled.

What does it look like to be filled with righteousness? Does God just barely give us enough to get by? I don’t think so. Not when we desire it as deeply as we desire physical food. Here’s what He tells us:

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will not be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Yet listen now, Jacob my servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord who made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you says: “Don’t be afraid, Jacob my servant; and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring: and they will spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses.” (Isaiah 44:1-4)

God said that He would not just satisfy the thirst of the thirsty; He said that He would pour water on them.

And that is what Jesus promises us in the verse we are studying: to fill us with righteousness. To satisfy our hunger and thirst, not merely to give us enough to stagger along on the road to Heaven. And please don’t miss the importance of that last sentence. Jesus did not say that a Godly person will always be hungry for more righteousness. Because when God makes us righteous, we are righteous!

A few verses later, Jesus says that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. What’s important to realize is that He had already indicated that righteousness did not come by obeying the Law, but rather by hungering and thirsting after righteousness and being filled by God.

The Pharisees did not hunger and thirst after righteousness. They developed their own system of righteousness and rejected God. They did not seek to be filled with His righteousness. Instead, they sought to fill themselves with their own righteousness of good works. God wasn’t impressed.

So let’s learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees and the words of Jesus, and be filled with the righteousness of God.

Lift Your Glad Voices!

Today, we celebrate the most wonderful part of Christianity: that Jesus rose from the dead! God tells us that if this were not so, we would be the most miserable people around:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now Christ has risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruit of those who slept. (1 Corinthians 15:19-20, MKJV)

I would like to share with you our family’s new recording of “Lift Your Glad Voices”, praising the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Download MP3

Lift your glad voices in triumph on high,
For Jesus hath risen, and man cannot die!
Vain were the terrors that gathered around Him,
And short the dominion of death and the grave.

He burst from the fetters of darkness that bound Him,
Resplendent in glory to live and to save!
Loud was the chorus of angels on high,
The Savior hath risen, and man shall not die!

Glory to God, in full anthems of joy!
The being He gave us death cannot destroy:
Sad were the life we may part with tomorrow,
If tears were our birthright, and death were our end.

But Jesus hath cheered the dark valley of sorrow,
And bade us, immortal, to Heaven ascend.
Lift then your voices in triumph on high,
For Jesus hath risen, and man shall not die!

 

Happy Easter!

For more Easter music, check out the song my brothers and I recorded last year: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

The Backwards Secret to a Big Inheritance

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. — Jesus

Hey, I don’t know about you, but inheriting the Earth would be pretty cool. But what’s up with this meekness stuff? What does it mean to be meek, anyway? Spineless? Wimpy? Weak?

Nope! The Greek words translated “meek” and “meekness” in the NT mean “to be mild and gentle”; not rude, obnoxious, overbearing, unkind. A meek person is not a wimp or a pushover. We can kindly say no, and we can stand our ground without being angry or overbearing.

The Greek words for “meek” and “meekness” are often translated as “gentle” in modern translations. This probably is a better term to use in our modern language than “meek”, which can have a negative connotation. However, for the purposes of this article, I want to use the term “meek” because it means not just “gentle”, but also having a mild spirit. In addition, “gentle” can also wrongly give the impression of a person who is a pushover.

A meek person is one who relies on God, not one who trusts in their own power, might, and charisma. They are strong on the inside instead of the outside. Just because someone looks strong on the outside does not mean that they are strong on the inside. It can simply be a front to hide their true inner weakness.

Throughout the Bible, God shows us that meekness is a characteristic of Godly people.

But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Against such things there is not a law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
(Note how many things in this verse have the implication of calmness, mildness and kindness: love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, meekness, temperance. That’s about ¾.)

Then I, the prisoner in the Lord, exhort you to walk worthily of the calling in which you were called, with all humility and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Therefore, as elect ones of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassions, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, bearing with one another and forgiving yourselves, if anyone has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also you should forgive. And above all these, love, which is the bond of perfectness. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

The world wants you to believe that a meek person is wimpy and weak. Remove that picture from your mind and replace it with these ideas:

  • Gentle
  • Kind
  • Mild
  • Peaceable
  • Loving
  • Even-tempered
  • Humble
  • Bold
  • Strong
  • Courageous
  • Full of faith and conviction

Those last four are very important. Remember, they are what God has called His people to be: bold, strong, courageous–the same people that He calls to be meek. Meekness and boldness are not opposite. Instead, they are both the characteristics of a good leader.

Anybody who knows the life of Jesus knows that He was no wimp. He openly confronted the top religious leaders and called them “hypocrites”, “serpents”, “children of Hell”, and other strong terms. He even went into the Temple–twice!–and drove out those who bought and sold in it.

But this same Jesus said:

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

Jesus, the king of all creation, said that He was meek and humble. If He is meek, then surely we should be as well.

The kingdom of God is not built by those who make a lot of noise and create a great following of their dynamic personality. That is how carnality happens. The kingdom of God is built by the meek, who point others to God.

As God prophesied of His Son:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit on him. He will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not strive, nor shout; neither will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a smoking flax, until he leads justice to victory. In his name, the nations will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21)

God Wants You to Grieve

Sometimes, life hurts.  Bad things happen, even to the most Godly people. Loved ones die; houses burn; vehicles get wrecked; other people say hurtful things. Sometimes, we even bring pain upon ourselves by behaving foolishly—or at least feel like we brought the pain upon ourselves.

And it really does hurt, and we want to grieve and mourn. And then, along comes someone with a big, cheesy smile. “Jesus wants to give you joy!” Or they briefly sympathize with you, and then try to cheer you up, and encourage you not to “wallow” in “self-pity”.

Make no mistake, joy is definitely one of the fruits of the Spirit, and the joy of the Lord is our strength. But in the Beatitudes, Jesus also gives us the permission to mourn—in fact, He encourages us to mourn.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

As I studied this verse, God showed me a powerful concept: God blesses those who mourn, not those who paste on a smiling face and pretend that everything is okay. God wants us to process grief and not be afraid to mourn.

God wants us to feel our feelings. It is not wrong to be sad and unhappy, to mourn and grieve. God does not expect us to immediately bounce back from tragedy with smiles on our faces.

When we pretend that everything is okay and refuse to mourn or otherwise acknowledge our true emotions, can God truly bring healing? Does He fix something that we are trying to deny even exists? Actually, He is probably working behind the scenes to help fix our problems. However, until we acknowledge and express our pain and suffering, God cannot comfort us.

And pain does not go away when we ignore it. It sits below the surface, driving us to act and think in unhealthy ways. No, denial is not the cure for pain. Pain needs to be healed.

As I look over the Beatitudes, one thing that I find interesting is that all the blessings on this list come from God. They are all things that God does, not that we do. We are the ones who are poor in spirit, meek, hungry, pure, etc, but God is the one who gives the rewards or benefits. It fits in with what we saw in the last post: that God wants us to rely on Him and not look to our own strength.

In this particular verse, we see that God wants us to rely on Him for comfort. Generally, it is in the hard times of our lives that we grow closer to God. He comforts us according to our specific need, and in the process draws us closer and teaches us more about Himself.

Hope and joy in the Christian life do not come by ignoring problems, stuffing our feelings, or putting on a happy face. True hope and joy only come by God putting them into our hearts. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

You and I can no more create the joy of God in our hearts than we can save ourselves. Can we act happy? Sure. Can we try to look on the positive side of life? Sure. But if something is a fruit of the Spirit, we cannot create it on our own strength. It’s something that God has to give us through the Holy Spirit.

God tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) When others are hurting and grieving, it is not only callous and unkind to tell them to get over it or imply that they should, it is disobedience to God who has told us to weep with those who weep. Throughout our lives, we will meet many people who have much to mourn. We must allow them to do so. It is a necessary thing.

So don’t be afraid to feel what you feel. Don’t be afraid to express your true emotions. And don’t be afraid to seek your Heavenly Father’s comfort.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend the book Suffering and the Heart of God by Diane Langberg.

Results That Last

I don’t know about you, but I want my life work to succeed and to last. I want it to remain long after I’m gone, continuing to bear good fruit. I would hate to discover that, shortly after I get to Heaven, my life’s impact on the world fizzles and dies.

Worse yet, I would really hate to get to the end of life and find that I’ve had a negative impact on the world–that it would be better off if I had never been born.

My friend Jesus also has the same desire. Back a couple thousand years ago, He said, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)

But how is that going to happen?

One thing is for certain: our fruit will only remain if it’s Jesus’ fruit.

Not Even Hell Can Prevail

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”

And they said, “Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I also say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
(Matthew 16:13-18)

Jesus is the One who builds the church that Hell cannot destroy. Not me. Not my ideas and plans.

In addition, He is the One who reveals the truth to others. I find it very interesting that He did not say that Peter believed that Jesus was the Christ because he had seen all the miracles Jesus had done. He says that Peter believed because God had revealed it to him.

In other words, all church-building and all truth-revealing must come from God in order to be effective.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Jesus started the Beatitudes by saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus says that in order to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to be poor in spirit. We need to realize that we are weak, helpless, and poor, and need Jesus’ riches and filling. We have to realize that, on our own strength, we can do nothing.

The Laodicean church was just the opposite:

“…you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…” (Revelation 3:17)

When we think that we don’t need God and can depend on ourselves, that is when we are the poorest. In order to be truly rich, we have to be poor in spirit and realize that, however smart, rich, wise, or accredited we may be, we will never accomplish God’s will on our own. It is when we allow God to fill us that we become rich–not in money and stuff, but in the things that truly matter: love, joy, peace, righteousness, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And when God is working through us, then He is the One building His church, not us.

You Can’t Win Today On Yesterday’s Victories

Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you.
(Philippians 3:12-15)

Paul first says that it is not as though he was already perfect (verse 12). Then he says, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect…”, classifying himself with the perfect. God is telling us that, however mature or complete we may think that we are, we must never rest on our laurels and feel like we’ve come far enough. Even more importantly, we must never stop relying on Him.

Part of not looking backwards is that we do not rely on our past accomplishments, but rather on God. We must not look to see how much we’ve already done, but how much God still calls us to do—“the high calling of God”. This keeps us humble.

Conclusion

Coming back to where we started at the beginning, God is the One who reveals the truth to people. God is the One who makes the changes. God is the One who brings conviction. God is the One who builds the church that the gates of Hell cannot overcome.

Because of these things, God needs people who are poor in spirit and rely on Him rather than themselves. People who, however much training and skill they have, realize that they can never accomplish God’s work without His power. That they will never achieve that prize that God offers them, unless they totally rely on His power instead of their own.

It is God Who equips us for the work that He gives us. All that we have, we have received from Him. Let’s totally rely on Him and seek His power to accomplish His will!

Don’t Be a Radical

I don’t want you to be a radical.

Now, that may sound like a strange statement on a blog called “A Radical for Jesus”. Especially when I have no plans of changing the blog name anytime soon.

But I still don’t want you to be a radical, because it’s spiritually dangerous.

Radicalized Islam Christianity

At age 20, Jonathan Hollingsworth boarded a plane for Africa.

He had already given away his possessions, started sleeping on the floor, begun reaching out to the homeless, and taken a mission trip to Honduras. Jonathan had taken a path of radical Christianity. And now he was headed to be a missionary.

But six months later, he was back home, crushed, disillusioned, and questioning his faith. The mission agency had turned out to be a disreputable organization, and they had prevented Jonathan from ministering as he had desired to do. They controlled every aspect of his life, even what he wrote on his blog.

And then, when Jonathan came home, his church didn’t want him to share his story, and they forced him and his parents into silence.

That only made matters a lot worse.

In retrospect, Jonathan realized that his desire to be radical and do radical things had set him up for being used and abused. As he told Boz Tchividjian:

…the unfortunate paradox of spiritual abuse, I think, is that the more devout you are, the more susceptible you are to it. My church leaders knew me inside and out. They knew I would do anything to please God, help the church, support missions, etc. So when I made the incredibly difficult decision to end my mission in Africa, they knew exactly what to say to keep me quiet and ashamed. They used my own spiritual values to beat me into submission…

There are a lot of people out there willing to exploit those who give up their whole lives for a cause. For every radical who gets on a plane, there’s a con artist waiting for him on the other side. And sadly, sometimes that con artist is a church or a mission agency. Before I left for Africa, everyone told me to watch out for kidnappers and hustlers and pickpockets, when in reality, it was the people I least expected who posed the biggest threat.

The danger of being radical

I read about Jonathan’s story a few months ago, and it resonated with me. Fortunately, I never went as radical as he did, but I had certainly adopted some of the same “be a radical” mentality.

I was struck by his point that those who desire to be radical are more likely to be used and abused. Such people believe that obedience to Jesus means doing something radical, and they are willing to do crazy things because they think Jesus is leading them to do it. Or because someone put a guilt trip on them to do it.

So often, I think, we “radicals” have been driven by fear. We’re afraid that we’re uncaring, unloving, too rich, too happy, too fun-loving, whatever. We’re afraid that we aren’t making God happy enough. We’re afraid that, unless we act more radically, we don’t love God enough.

Or that God won’t love us enough.

And when we turn to the Bible, we find plenty of verses to back up our fears. “Take up your cross and deny yourself.” “Be not conformed to this world.” “Forsake everything you have.”

But as time has gone along, I’ve discovered that I didn’t really know God during those “radical” days. I have come to realize that, while God may call us to do radical things, He has not called us to be radicals.

Jesus calls us to follow Him

We need to look at the rest of the passage where Jesus said to take up our crosses:

He said to all, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus doesn’t just call us to take up our crosses. He calls us to follow Him.

We do have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses (in other words, present our bodies as living sacrifices [see Romans 12:2]) in order to follow Him. But that is the means to the end, not the end itself.

We can deny ourselves and take up our crosses all we want, and yet never follow Jesus. Unless we actually follow Him, we gain nothing from denying ourselves.

Led by the Spirit

More and more, I am convinced that what we lack the most in the church today is the working of the Holy Spirit.

We each need to be filled with the Spirit and be led by Him, because the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

And not only that, He is the antidote to our toxic, radicalizing fears.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15)

The Christian life is not merely a life of “not-doing”: not doing what we want to do. The Christian life is a life of doing: doing what God wants us to do.

But how do we know what God wants us to do? That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:11-12)

A true radical for Jesus–the kind that God is looking for–is filled by the Holy Spirit and led by Him.

To those of you who are trying to be radical to please God and be good enough to make Him happy with you, I have a simple word for you:

Relax.

Get to know your Father and His great love for you.

Be filled by the Holy Spirit and ask God to teach you to know when he is leading. Because, in my experience, Satan loves to hijack our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, and any other means by which we think we can hear God. And when we have been “radicalized”, we come to expect a different message from God than what He actually wants to give us.

Be radically devoted to Jesus.

But don’t be a radical.

The Most Important Thing for the Christian Life [Video]

Do you know what is most important in the Christian life?

Most people have their pet doctrine. They teach about divorce and remarriage; they stand up against human trafficking; they strongly oppose homosexuality; they picket abortion clinics and hold pro-life rallies.

But are those things the most important things to talk about?

You can read the transcript here.