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.

Happy New Year!

Greetings from A Radical for Jesus! It’s a brand new year, a great time for reflection, new beginnings, and changes.

As I think about this blog in the new year, I feel that it’s time I make a small change in my focus and content. On my “About” page (the most-viewed post last year, incidentally), I’ve had the following quote:

The purpose of this blog is not to amuse you, to update you on the mundane things of my life or to flap my jaws about whatever I’m thinking about. My purpose is to challenge you to a deeper walk with Christ, obeying Him and giving Him your all. I desire to help those who really want to serve Christ.

I feel that it’s time to change that a bit. You see, when I wrote those words, seven years ago, I felt that, if something was fun, with no other purpose, then it wasn’t really worth doing. In other words, if there was no obvious eternal value to an activity, then you should probably find something better to do. Obviously, working a job to make money to support yourself was a necessary evil to keep you from entering eternity prematurely.

But that philosophy is a recipe for burnout and depression. We need some downtime, some fun times, to rest, relax, and recharge. If you want to add some spiritual reasoning behind it, we have to rest, relax, and recharge sometimes so that we have the mental and emotional capacity to carry out God’s purpose for us.

I realize that there are many people who seem to have lots of time for fun, but little time for God. I don’t want to endorse that behavior at all. I’m not speaking to them.

So, in the future, I am going to give myself the freedom to be normal. A normal radical for Jesus. 🙂

In other words, while I will still focus on the spiritual side of life, I may post some things that are not necessarily overtly spiritual.

Joel HorstBecause, in the end, when we follow Jesus, we cannot neatly divide our lives into little boxes of “spiritual” and “secular”. He lives in us, whatever we do. Whether we’re preaching or working, praying or playing, Jesus is present. He touches everything that we do–or at least, He should.

Happy New Year!

(And, yes, I took the picture of the chicken!)

The Significance of Christmas

It’s Christmas Day. We’re celebrating the coming of Jesus. The King of Kings who, though He was equal with God, and was God, laid aside His Heavenly splendor—even His very maturity—and came to earth, not even as a man, but as a helpless baby.

Imagine that for a moment. Imagine being a king who owned the entire world and everything in it, and then imagine shrinking down to almost nothingness again, to be implanted in the womb of a young woman.

But not only that. For all your prior existence, you have been served like no one else. You have been waited on by millions of angels. And now, you have to serve. You become a small child who must submit to his parents. Few people do anything for you.

And not only that. You have come with a mission. You are going to love these people. Teach them the truth. Heal their sicknesses and diseases. Gain a huge following. And then be condemned and killed in one of the most barbaric methods possible.

And in that death, you will carry something that no one can imagine: the sins of the whole world. Your loving Father will forsake you. You will die an agonizing death under the weight of your cruel burden—a burden so great that you will agonize for hours beforehand at the prospect, and die of a literal broken heart.

But you will not only carry the sins of the world to that cross. You will also carry something else: their pain. Their hurts. Their griefs. Their sorrows. And you will nail it to that cross and kill that pain, that grief—on your shoulders.

This, of course, after you suffer your own share of woe and sorrow. You will start your ministry and your own family won’t believe. You will be led by your father to the wilderness to be tempted by your worst enemy for over a month, surrounded by wild beasts. You will heal many people and attract great crowds—only to have them leave you when you say some things that they don’t like. You’ll be betrayed by someone who you hand-picked to be part of your ministry, denied by one of your staunchest disciples, and forsaken by the rest in your darkest hour.

But then, when you return to your heavenly palace, yet in an indescribable way remain with those you love, you can say: “I know exactly how you feel. I have been there too.”

“I, too, suffered the pain of being forsaken by all who I loved.”

“I, too, experienced the hurt of being rejected by my own family.”

“I, too, was homeless and hungry.”

“I, too, was strongly tempted to sin by the Devil himself.”

“I, too, was misunderstood and reacted against by those who should have understood.”

“I, too, was stripped of my clothes, and I was hung up for everyone to gawk at.”

“I, too, was beaten and suffered abuse.”

“I, too, was a human, exactly like you. I can totally identify with how you feel.”

And that, brothers and sisters, is the significance of Christmas. It’s the story of a loving God who came, not merely as a human, but as a human baby, that He might experience everything that a human experiences. That He could be, not only like us, but one of us. Sinless, yes. Divine, yes. But still one of us.

And not only one of us, but one with us, that when He judges the world, He can say:

“What you did to this person, who is my brother or sister—you did it to Me.”

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will declare thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise to thee.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I, and the children which God hath given me.”

Since, then, the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them, who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Therefore in all things it behooved him to be made like his brethren; that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to help them that are tempted.

(Hebrews 2:9-18)

Merry Christmas!

 

The Living Neighbor of the Zombie Church

As I pulled out of the zombie church and onto the main road a few weeks ago, grieving over what I had seen, I looked over and saw the neighboring church, Emmanuel Alliance Church, right next door. “That church is different,” God told me. “I want you to go there next, in two weeks.”

So accordingly, this past Sunday, I got in the car and headed for Emmanuel. When I checked their website before going, I saw that the pastor was preaching a series called “Miracle Grow” on the fruits of the Spirit. I groaned inwardly. It sounded so cheesy, especially after hearing most people teach the fruit of the Spirit as something that we work within ourselves—like ideals for a Christian to strive for.

I arrived at the church and was greeted warmly by various people. I sat down and began counting chairs to try to get an idea of the capacity of the sanctuary (I’m really horrible at estimating the size of a group). I never did finish the math. Please don’t ask me how many seats there are. I would say attendance ended up at 50-60 people.

The worship team—two vocalists, piano, and guitar—started in with “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, followed by some contemporary songs.

Friends, I grew up believing that contemporary Christian music was full of Satanic influences, and I never listened to it. Even today, when I flip on a Christian radio station, the music grates on my nerves and sensibilities. And contemporary praise-and-worship? My experience has been that it is a bunch of religious fluff, repeated ad nauseum.

But Sunday, from the first moment, I felt the Holy Spirit moving in the music. It was alive! Even the contemporary songs were pretty good. They had some substance!

Announcements came next. This probably ended up being the cheesiest part of the service, as the pastor and the worship leader engaged in some canned back-and-forth about upcoming events. Oh, well. Then they had a commissioning for a man who is leaving to take a pastoral position in Alberta, in the Fort McMurray area.

The pastor opened his sermon with prayer, asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit and give him the words to speak. Great! We were starting out better than the zombie church. And then he said something I wasn’t expecting:

“If you are listening to these messages on the fruits of the Spirit, and you think it’s something that you’re going to make happen in your life, you’ve missed the point. The fruit of the Spirit is something God does in you. If you lack these characteristics, you need to ask God for them.” (I’m probably horribly paraphrasing.)

Wow. He got it! He wasn’t going to give me some fluff-and-nonsense sermon about working to try to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit! This was definitely a good start.

The fruit discussed this particular Sunday was gentleness. I think that God knew that I needed to hear about this fruit of the Spirit to help me develop it in my life.

The pastor shared, from Isaiah 42:1-4, three characteristic of gentleness as seen in the life of Christ:

  1. Gentleness in word. “He will not shout, nor raise his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2)
  2. Gentleness to those who are hurting and broken, instead of attacking and condemning them. “He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a dimly burning wick.” (Isaiah 42:3a)
  3. Bringing justice on earth. ““Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights— I have put my Spirit on him. He will bring justice to the nations… He will faithfully bring justice. He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he has set justice in the earth, and the islands will wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42:1, 3b-4)

I left the church, greatly encouraged in my walk with Christ, and also encouraged to find some spiritual life. As I headed home, I started thinking, “What if every sermon there is that good? That would be too good to be true!” I mean, most of the time, when I go somewhere for church, the sermon ranges somewhere from “zombie” to decent–like having a couple challenging points. This time, I really felt like I had been spiritually fed.

Will God lead me to continue going to Emmanuel Alliance Church? I don’t know. Would I even agree with them doctrinally? I don’t know. But this much I know: God was there.

The posts on the “zombie churches” painted a pretty bleak picture. Without retracting anything I said there, I do want to say that there is hope. God is not dead! And the church has not died out either. It is still alive.

Friends, let’s pray for revival.

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Rdguez/flickr

Learning to Know Our Father, Part 5: Responding to God’s Love

In our study of God’s love so far, we’ve seen that God is love, and that He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him. We’ve seen that we need to understand His nature, including His love, in order to not be afraid of Him. We also need to glorify Him and seek His help, so that He has the opportunity to demonstrate His love for us. And when we don’t understand His love, we need to ask Him to show us what His love is really like.

As we learn to know our Father better, and His love fills our hearts and lives, how do we respond to that love? And how can we find others who truly love Him?

Since God is love, part of the evidence of His love in our lives is when we have love for each other.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:10-12)

You would think, perhaps, that God would say, “Since I have loved you this much, you ought to love Me in return.” But instead He says, “Love one another.”

Jesus says, “Because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) When God adopts us into His family, we become brothers of Jesus. In fact, Jesus dwells with each of God’s children, and so, when we show love to one of God’s children, we are showing love to God!

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is loving God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)

I used to read these verses and believe that it was my job to keep God’s commands on my own, with His help. I thought that anyone who was saved got as much help from God to keep His commands as any other Christian. In other words, I believed that all Christians, including myself, were receiving God’s help to obey Him, and if I had trouble following Him, I needed to try harder.

Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t work that way, for two reasons. One is that some of us need more help than others, and some of us need help in different areas than others—for example, overcoming an addiction. The second reason is that God doesn’t help us unless we allow Him to do so.

God is not a control freak. He does not force us to do what He wants us to do. Nor does He force us to accept His help. He definitely gives us guidance, changes circumstances, and works all things together for good. But He knows that, if He were to control us into doing the right thing, it would not lead us to truly love Him. We would just be robots.

Forcing people to do the right thing can actually be detrimental. When a person has a personal drive to do something, they will work with a will and try to accomplish the task. However, if someone forces them to do it, or bribes them to do it with some sort of reward/punishment system, it kills the person’s inward drive. This, I believe, is one reason why some homeschool families have fallen apart, despite looking so good when the children were young. Because the well-meaning parents tried to control their teenagers into doing the right thing, it actually turned their children against the parents and against the “right thing”.

Spiritually abusive systems, which stress human effort to achieve a man-made standard, prevent us from receiving God’s love and help, while loading us down with guilt and shame over our inability to follow God (and the pile of human commands the system gives us). This is one reason why you may have to change your beliefs about God and His nature in order to receive His love. If you’re always trying to live the Christian life on your own, God never has a chance to demonstrate His love to you!

The truth is that, when we put our faith in God, realizing that on our own strength we will never measure up to His standards, He gives us the victory to overcome the world and keep His commandments.

Jesus said, “One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21) In other words, when we love God, we will naturally want to keep His commands. I used to think this was run in reverse: you keep God’s commands, and then He loves you.

The truth is that we love God because He first loved us. If we don’t know the love of God, we will not love Him in return. If we think He is just a hard taskmaster who is burdening us down with a grievous load, we will never love Him, and we will despise the very commands we are endeavoring to keep.

What Jesus is saying is that, when we know God, receive His love in our hearts, and love Him in return, we will also love His words and keep them. This is not a “if you really loved me, you would do…” guilt trip.

God is love. Therefore, without God, we will never have true love. Moreover, since we cannot manufacture God, we also cannot manufacture love. If you find yourself unable to love others properly, don’t just “try harder” to love them. That will never work. Ask God to fill you with His love and give you love for others!

So what does that look like? What are loving actions, anyway? We already saw part of the answer to that question earlier: God’s commands explain what loving actions are. They were written in love, and they are our guidelines for walking in love. Someone who claims to love Jesus, yet fails to obey Him, does not love both Jesus and his fellow men.

Not only that, though, God shows us from day to day how to love one another:

But concerning brotherly love, you have no need that one write to you. For you yourselves are taught by God to love one another… (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

With God’s love ruling in our hearts, He will teach us how to love one another. He will guide us how to help one another in the most beneficial way. He will show us areas where we lack love for one another or are treating one another unlovingly.

Remember, love for one another is the result of God’s love first dwelling within our hearts, and then overflowing in love for others. It is not something that you can create on your own!

If you would like to study God’s love some more, I recommend the free e-book He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen. I do not endorse this book completely; I believe that Jacobsen downplays the fear of God too much. God does tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), and unless we recognize that He is also holy, just, righteous, and all-powerful, as well as loving, we will not serve Him or even love Him as we ought. However, I recommend this e-book for those who have heard much about the fear of God, yet do not understand the love of God. It will help to shift your thinking in the proper direction.

God’s blessings to you as you learn to know Him!

Photo © Can Stock Photo Inc. / grace1221