What Did Jesus Do?

Move from asking “What Would Jesus Do?” to asking “What Did Jesus Do?”

What did Jesus do?The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was popularized in the 1990s. Often epitomized by colorful bracelets that bore the acronym WWJD, the concept was intended to serve as a constant reminder for followers of Jesus to act as he would act. Therefore, in any given circumstance the goal of WWJD is for us to ask ourselves, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Then we should act accordingly.

I like WWJD as an ongoing nudge to always strive to behave in a manner consistent with Jesus. However, this requires that we presume to know how Jesus would act today. This necessitates interpreting his actions from two thousand years ago and projecting them into our modern culture, which we invariably do through the lens of our personal experience. Some call this contextualizing. The problem in doing so is that we make assumptions and might be in error.

Instead of presuming to know what Jesus would do, it might be better to look at the Bible to see what he actually did.

In reading the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the biographies of Jesus—here are some of the things that Jesus consistently does:

Jesus Loves Everyone: The Bible shows Jesus loving everyone, especially those on the fringes of society, the people who “good” folks avoid. Jesus does the opposite, going out of his way to love those who few people love.

Jesus Questions Spiritual Conventions: A paraphrase of a reoccurring teaching of Jesus is “You have heard it said ____, but I say ____.” It seems Jesus consistently challenges the beliefs people have and the way they act. His teaching delights the common people and frustrates the people who think they have everything figured out about God and what he expects.

Jesus Heals People: Jesus goes around healing people of their physical infirmities, from removing fevers to raising people from the dead. In this spectrum of need are people with odd afflictions that the Bible calls evil spirits. It matters not if these people are really possessed by demons or if their struggle is actually mental illness. The reality is that Jesus heals them; he solves their problems.

And for those who claim that miraculous healing doesn’t apply today, check out Jesus’s future-focused statement in John 14:12: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”

Jesus Feeds People: On two occasions Jesus feeds hungry people, miraculously multiplying a measly amount of food to feed a multitude. Before you assume you can’t do that, go back to read the above verse in John. Of course we don’t always need a miracle to feed people. We can just do it the normal way and feed hungry people from the resources we have.

Jesus Opposes Religiosity: Jesus opposes the religious status quo. Though Jesus clearly loves everyone, one group consistently earns his criticism: the spiritual leaders who follow regimented religious rules. They adhere to a spirit of religiosity. Though they are devote in their righteousness and adherence to their traditions and interpretations of the Bible, Jesus consistently has to correct their errant thinking.

These are the things that Jesus does. May we go out and do the same, to do what Jesus did.

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

A Christian Response to Criticism

Jesus provides a simple solution for us to follow when we face opposition  

A Christian Response to CriticismRecently a friend asked for some assistance at a writers conference, for help in modeling a writer critique process. I and several others were happy to volunteer. We arrived at the session and disbursed ourselves throughout the room, each sitting at a different table, ready to lead our group when the time came.

God drew me to a table at the perimeter, specifically to one man at that table whose body language screamed a warning. When I asked if I could join them he scowled, though his female tablemates welcomed me.

As we waited for the session to begin, my efforts to connect with him met with failure. And each time I interacted with others at the table, he hijacked the conversation and made it about him. He craved attention and wanted to be in charge. In small group lingo we’d call him an EGR person (“extra grace required”). I wished I’d picked a different table.

My friend leading the session called the attendees to order and explained the procedure: how it worked, what we should do, and what not to do. Each table had a leader familiar with the practice, she explained, who would guide the attendees in following the process.

I’ve done this for several years and successfully guided many groups through this critiquing process. The man at our table objected to the prescribed process and wanted to do things a different way. Words were exchanged; heated barbs were thrown at me. He called me a dictator. I hope I responded in a way that would honor Jesus, but I’m not sure – only God knows.

Eventually the man calmed down, but the tension he caused remained, palpable and unrelenting. Though we went through the motions of the critique process, I doubt anyone gained from our efforts. We completed the assignment, and I left as soon as I could.

Hurt by the affliction of his words, I stewed about this for a couple of days. His emotional wounds had inflamed mine. Then God prompted me to consider why this man acted as he did. Writers call this the backstory. A different view of him surfaced; a bit of compassion emerged.

Instead of harboring ill will for this man, God told me to pray. I thought this was a once-and-done deal. But no, it is ongoing. Each time I think of this situation and the actions of this man, I am to pray for him. He has received many of my prayers in the past few days.

Yes, he has issues, but I have issues, too. We all have issues. God loves us despite our issues. We all need Jesus to save us – sometimes from ourselves.

Though this man is not my enemy (not really) and has not wronged me (not really), Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, Matthew 5:44. This, I realize, is how we need to respond to opposition.

Prayer for those who opposed us is Jesus’s solution to deal with conflict.

Are You a Friend of Sinners?

It’s hard to embrace those who are different from us but we should

Jesus is a Friend of Sinners, by Peter DeHaanThe word sin is an unpopular one in today’s culture. Postmodern thinking rejects moral absolutes and advocates that anything goes. Under an ideal of tolerance, society claims that to label an action as sinful is judgmental, closeminded, and unacceptable. Ironically they become intolerant of people who talk about sin.

In reality, everyone sins (Romans 3:23).

It’s just that we downplay or even ignore our own sins, while we recoil from the sins of others, which we deem as more objectionable or even abhorrent.

The Bible says Jesus is a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). This slur comes from his detractors, and he repeats it. They intend it as criticism, but we see it as a badge of honor. We admire Jesus for hanging out with the people that the righteous religious society rejects: prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors, lepers, the sick and unclean, other races and mixed races, and so forth.

It seems Jesus accepts everyone the religious leaders discard. In fact he makes a point to do so, often going out of his way to welcome them. He embraces them; he loves them.

We respect Jesus for doing so. Shouldn’t we do the same?

Shouldn’t we make a point to behave more like Jesus and reach out to those the organized church reviles? Who might this be? The other political party? Muslims? The LGBT community? Pornographers? Those with a criminal record? The list goes on. There is no end.

Hosea writes that God desires mercy not sacrifice, that is, offering mercy trumps following a bunch of rules (Hosea 6:6). Jesus confirms this and adds that these folks are the reason he came (Matthew 9:12-13).

Let’s be more like Jesus and befriend those who the church rejects.

Save

The Art of Giving to God

By giving to God we demonstrate our love to him

The Art of Giving to GodJesus says to give “to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” Luke 20:25, NIV. While the context of this relates to paying taxes, the ramifications go beyond money. The Roman government, in general, and its ruler (Caesar), specifically, have an array of expectations that go beyond tax revenue. Caesar proclaims himself as god, and we see the far-reaching implications. Caesar wants for himself what the Jewish people reserve for God.

Many critics of today’s church claim “the church is only after your money,” and in doing so they imply God only values us for our bank account. While this is sadly true at too many church institutions, it’s not what Jesus intends for us and is far from God’s heart.

Yes, God wants us to give ourselves to him. As we seek to put this into practice, however, giving to God becomes more art than rule. Here are some considerations:

  • Money: When most people think of giving to God, they only think of money. Yet, we can’t actually write a check and hand it to God – and what would he do with it anyway? We give our money to God by using it to bless others and support causes that align with God’s heart, according to his Holy Spirit direction in our hearts. This may or may not be the local church. It could be a parachurch organization, to address a pressing social issue, or to help our neighbor in need. Regardless, when we give cheerfully as God directs us, we in effect give to God.
  • Time: We spend time with people we value: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and so forth. The people we ignore must not be important to us. The same applies with God. Again, this may or may not happen at church. We spend time with God when we fast, pray, study the Bible, and practice silence and solitude. We also spend time with him when we sing to him and talk with others about him. And when we invite him to join in our gatherings, we spend time with him, because he is there.
  • Worship: In singing songs at church about God and to God, we give to him. We can worship him in other ways, too, such as prayers of praise, sharing with others our stories of his goodness, and enjoying his creation. I often worship him when I write.
  • Love: Perhaps the most misused, most misunderstood word in English is love: I love my wife, and I love to watch movies. I love nature, and I love the color blue. I love spring, and I love to write. And I love God. If our love of God means anything, we show it by how we use the money he blesses us with, how we invest our time, and how we worship him. Our love for him is a fitting response to his love for us (see 1 John 4:19).
  • Devotion: The act of devotion encompasses the first four items, but our zeal for God also goes beyond them. We set aside other pursuits to focus on God; we put him first, not in word but by our deeds. Devotion involves sacrifice and focused attention, as though nothing else matters, because nothing else truly does.

Giving to God is a lifelong, fulltime pursuit. As our maker, liberator, and friend, he deserves nothing less.

How do you give to God? What other ways are there?

Are You Spiritually Selfish?

We must concern ourselves with the physical and spiritual wellbeing of others and not focus on ourselves

Are You Spiritually Selfish?In Isaiah 39 we read a prophecy given to King Hezekiah by Isaiah.

This occurs after Hezekiah does something foolish. He graciously receives envoys from the powerful behemoth, Babylon. Not only does he show off his nation’s wealth, he also provides his enemies one more reason to invade his country. God is not pleased.

Though Hezekiah’s actions cause this prophecy, he will not suffer personally; his family will. When Babylon attacks, some of his descendants will be castrated and carted off to serve the king of Babylon.

While the predictions are horrific, Hezekiah’s reaction is pathetic.

Realizing he personally will not suffer, he accepts God’s decree. Hezekiah will enjoy peace; he will encounter no pain. True, others will not experience peace. Other people will undergo the consequences, including his own family. But the king doesn’t care. He thinks only of himself; he will be fine, and that’s all that matters.

Hezekiah is self-absorbed.

While peace and security are physical issues, there is a spiritual component at play here as well. Hezekiah does not confess his wrong actions. He does not ask God to change his mind. He does not intercede for his descendants and the turmoil they will endure because of his folly. He is spiritually selfish.

It’s easy to be spiritually self-centered. We are content with our standing in God and lose sight of the struggles others face, both physically and spiritually. We fail to pray for them; we don’t seek ways to help. Our life is good – or at least good enough – and we dismiss the suffering of others. And, like Hezekiah, we do this to our discredit and to their demise.

Following Jesus is not about our comfort; it’s about loving others in his name and pointing people to him.

Anything less is selfish spirituality.

What do you do to help people with their physical needs? What do you do to help people with their spiritual situation?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 39-41, and today’s post is on Isaiah 39:7-8.]

How Much Do We Love Others?

The depth of love is revealed by how much we are willing to give up

How Much Do We Love Others?It is easy to say we love others. It is harder to show it, to prove our words through action. Despite what I may profess, I fear I may be more selfish than I care to admit. I may not love those closest to me as fully as I think I do. And to be honest, I may not love those who are not so close that much at all.

However Jesus shows his love for us by dying in our place. We mess up; we deserve punishment. In fact our mistakes are so many, that our sentence is death. Out of his deep love for us Jesus volunteers to take our place and receive our punishment. He dies so we don’t have to. This is the ultimate expression of true love.

Yes, there are some I would die for. But not everyone. My love has limits. God’s love does not. Jesus proves that.

Yet as incredible as it seems, Paul offers to take love one step farther. His love for his people is so deep, his compassion so strong, that he is willing to be forever separated from Jesus if it will save them, the Jewish people. Not some of them, but all of them, even those who are trying to kill him and want him dead.

Paul claims he is willing to spend eternity in hell, forever separated from Jesus, so that his people can spend eternity in heaven, forever in community with Jesus. He offers to give up so much. Frankly I wonder if he really means it or maybe it’s just hyperbole, an exaggeration to make his point.

Of course he can’t actually carry out such a grand offer, an extravagant show of love. Yet this certainly gives me something to consider, professing love deeply like Paul and showing it profoundly like Jesus.

Are we willing to die for others? Would we go to hell so others can go to heaven? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 8-10, and today’s post is on Romans 9:3.]

Should We Separate From or Include Those Who Are Different?

Leviticus warns against everything unclean, but Jesus has a different response

Should We Separate From or Include Those Who Are Different?I’ve never met anyone who likes the book of Leviticus, and many admit to skimming it when it comes up in their Bible reading plan, yet a thoughtful read of this often-tedious book reveals startling insights.

Today’s section talks about the unclean: unclean people, unclean actions, and unclean things. God gives instructions for dealing with the unclean (Leviticus 13:4); he wants to keep his people away from such things so they remain both healthy and pure.

Leprosy, an often-fatal condition, is a grave consideration in that day. If carries both a threat to others and a stigma in society. Physical separation is the only solution in confirmed cases. No one would touch a leper, who would live the rest of his or her life without the comforting pat of another human being.

Jesus, who comes to fulfill the Old Testament Law (Matthew 5:17), has a different idea. When encountering a leper he does the unthinkable; he reaches out and touches the man (Matthew 8:3). Then he helps the inflicted person by healing him.

Jesus, not the book of Leviticus, provides our example for dealing with those who society won’t touch, the unclean in our world. We accept them. We help them. They are not unclean. They are part of God’s creation, just like us. We love them just like Jesus.

How do we effectively treat others that society views as unclean? What can we do to touch those who others ignore? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Leviticus 13-15, and today’s post is on Leviticus 13:4.]

Love is the Answer – And the Question Doesn’t Matter

We need to love people who are different from us, just like Jesus did

Love is the Answer – And the Question Doesn’t Matter

Last night I had a dream, the kind you remember when you wake, the unsettling sort that you can’t shake. Even as I sit down to write an hour later it remains lodged in my gut and won’t go away. I feel God prompting me to share it, but I don’t want to because it addresses a polarizing subject I’d rather not confront.

I dream I’m at a county fair. The sun shines, warmth surrounds, bliss permeates. I watch those around me, something writers often do to muse out ideas and discover dialogue. Two women walk by, smiling. They enjoy the setting, the moment, and each other. They hold hands and share familiar, knowing glances.

A young girl approaches them. Dressed in flowing white – as can only happen in a dream – she holds something cupped in her hands. She smiles. I think she’s going to give them a gift.

But instead of sharing a present, she drops her hands. Her smile fades. She shares words. Mean words about their sexual orientation, words to attack and to hurt. Her flowing white morphs to dingy gray. Her eyes glare disgust; she snorts animosity. Not so pretty anymore, she inflicts damage as her cruel invective spews forth. I recall not the words she speaks but only the turmoil they churn in my soul. It lingers still.

After too much time passes I get up and stand between them.

I try to use my body to shield the couple from the onslaught of malicious words. The diatribe of the girl’s hate-filled salvo hits me and falls harmlessly to the ground. When her loathing exhausts, she disappears into the crowd.

I want to console the couple, to give them a loving hug and somehow help them. I turn to face them, but they are gone. I groan a prayer for them and trust God will understand the angst I cannot voice.

Nearby a group of strangers watch the entire ordeal. They beckon me. I drag myself over to join them. They give me space to process what happened. “Am I the only one confused by the issue of homosexuality?” I shake my head, and they urge me to continue. “Neither side understands the other; they wonder how the opposing view can be so wrong. But I see each perspective, both the left and the right. I can argue an answer from different angles: compassion, privacy, biology, logic, theology, human rights, procreation, family. By themselves each of my arguments makes sense, but together they contradict one another and leave me stuck not knowing how to respond.”

“But you did respond,” one says.

“Yes, but it was too little, too late,” I counter. “I could have done more; I should have done more.”

“You acted when no one else did, even though you’re not sure why.”

“I think it’s what Jesus would do,” I deliberate aloud. “The Bible shows that Jesus had compassion for everyone. He loves all who come to him, especially those on the fringes of society, the ones most people reject. And he doesn’t judge or criticize, either – except for the religious elite who don’t understand him and lead people astray.” I pause as I corral more thoughts.

“If I’m going to error, let me error on the side of love.”

Several in the group nod with me, as I continue.

“All I know for sure is that love is the answer.”

What is your reaction to this dream? How do you view those on the other side of this divisive issue? How can you love those with the opposite point of view? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

I Heart Jesus

Saying Happy Valentine’s Day to God is a great way to spend this Sunday

When I read the New Testament I see a God of love. God sends Jesus to earth out of his love for us. Jesus dies for us because he loves us. In fact the only reason we even know what love is and how to love others is because Jesus shows us how to do it (1 John 4:19).

I Heart JesusThis post is my Valentine card to God. I love you God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are so amazing; you are so awesome.

The word love occurs hundreds of times in the Bible, disproportionally more so in the New Testament. Many of these occurrences reference God’s love to us. His love for me overwhelms me: flooding me with joy, giving me security, and providing contentment. Centered in God’s love is the best place to be.

Another common context for love in the Bible is loving others. In fact, Jesus gives us a “new command” to “love one another” and says it is an act of witness (John 13:34-35 (NIV). Later Paul writes to the church in Rome simply saying that when we love others, we effectively complete the Old Testament Law (Romans 13:8). Imagine that. One short word and one simple action fulfills the 613 confusing and complex commands found in the Law of Moses. Love makes the Law easy-peasy.

Saying Happy Valentine’s Day to God is a great way to spend this Sunday, but not just this Sunday – every Sunday. Better yet we can love every day. And we don’t just love God. He is easy to love, but we also should love other people, too, even the ones who aren’t so lovable.

As we love God we are better prepared to love others in his name. And if we all did this, the world would surely take notice.

Happy Valentine’s Day, God. I love you.

How does God’s immense love affect you? How can you show his love to others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.