Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What are we searching for the most?

I think most of us find ourselves searching for something better at different times throughout our lives. We might be seeking a better job…more money…a bigger house…a newer car… a vacation…more friends…a better marriage…better-behaved children. Or we might be actively seeking something less tangible like peace… strength… courage… significance… affirmation. God knows what we need. Are these the things we should be spending the majority of our time and energy seeking? Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find” (Matt 7:7a NLT), but what is it He is telling us to seek? All the things we tend to chase?  

In John 6, Jesus chastises the crowds who pursued Him only for the physical blessings He was able to provide. He said, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you” (John 6:26-27 NLT). He then tells them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me” (John 6:35-36 NLT). Like the crowds He addressed, we should be seeking Him rather than a few pieces of bread and fish.

Our God is not in hiding; we will find Him if we look for Him. Moses reminded the Israelites that “you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 4:29 NIV). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you” (Jer 29:13-14a NIV).  David reminded his son Solomon to serve the Lord “with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chron 28:9 NIV).

Not only does the Lord reveal Himself to those who seek after Him, but He rewards them as well! The writer of Hebrews says that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6 NIV), that is, those who seek Him with all their heart. If we “earnestly seek” things and possessions, we may or may not get what we were seeking. If we “earnestly seek” God, we will always find what we were seeking. We will have a relationship with, and experience the presence of, the King and Creator of everything, who chooses to reward those who seek Him with all kinds of blessings.

What would our lives look like if we sought after God earnestly…diligently…with all our heart and with all our soul? What if we all strove to live out the psalmist’s words, “Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him” (Psalm 105:4 NLT). What would our churches look like if we all did this? What would the world look like if all our churches did this? Let us all cry out to the Lord, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (Ps 27:8 NIV).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Who Do We Really Follow?

Many of us call ourselves Christians, Christ-Followers, disciples and/or followers of Jesus, but what does that really mean and what does it look like? Does it just mean we “go to church” every Sunday, try to watch our language around others, and oppose things like abortion and gay marriage? Being a Christ-Follower should mean that we strive to emulate Jesus' character and adhere to His teachings and practices, but how well do we really do this? If we read through the gospels, can we say that our behavior and our attitudes truly reflect Jesus, or do we more accurately reflect those who openly opposed him?

A recent Newsweek article cited a 2012 Barna study stating that many “evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees –religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message – more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.” The writer of the article says the Bible “has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others.” In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancy asks, “How did Jesus, the only perfect person in history, manage to attract the notoriously imperfect? And what keeps us from following in his steps today?” (pg. 148). I think it’s worth a look to determine whom it is that we look more like and whom we are actually following.

Jesus Himself said the Pharisees were extremely righteous (Matt 5:20), but He also warned His followers not to imitate them and their practices (Matt 23:3). The  Pharisees:

  •      …did not practice what they taught (Matt 23:3).
  •      …were very focused on external works, and criticized others who did not do things the same way they did  (Matt 9:14; Acts 15:5).
  •      …held tightly to their traditions, even elevating them above the commands of God (Matt 15:1-3).
  •      …were highly offended rather than repentant when Jesus told them the contents of their hearts made them unclean (Matt 15:12; 21:45).
  •      …were critical of true followers of Jesus, and they fought and argued with other factions and sects (Matt 12:2; Acts 23:7).
  •      …asked Jesus questions, not for information or to better themselves, but to test Him and try to trip Him up (Matt 22:41-45).
  •      …did not acknowledge that God’s way was right, and they rejected God’s purpose for themselves (Luke 7:29-30).
  •      …were considered by Jesus to be a dangerous influence to be avoided (Matt 16:6, 11-12).
  •      …criticized Jesus for reaching out to and associating with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 5:30).
  •      …pray only to be seen and heard by others (Matt 6:5).

This is a very frightening list. How often to we exhibit these attitudes and actions rather than those of Jesus? It is so much easier to follow the Pharisees than it is to “deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross daily and follow [Jesus]” (Luke 9:23 NIV). To follow Jesus, we should ask ourselves: Do we have compassion on people? Are we willing to associate with the undesirables of society and known sinners? Are we willing to love others and elevate the opportunity to serve and to do good above our rules and traditions? Are we willing forgive rather than condemn and point others to Jesus and help them to follow Him?

May we all do a better job of following Jesus’ attitudes of love, compassion, and forgiveness rather than the Pharisees’ attitudes of condescension, condemnation, and criticism.