NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

What’s Holding You Back?

“Why do people get uncomfortable talking about stewardship?” This was a question we talked about last week.

Last week we started a 3-week series on stewardship. We talked about not worrying about what we don’t have, or controlling our resources because everything we have is because of God and really is God’s anyway.

Here is a video that sums this concept up: 

Make sense?

We are all being challenged to look at where and how we utilize the resources (time, talents, gifts, money) God has given us. The topic of tithing was brought up. I know this is a topic most people do not like to hear about, but tithing really is important for our spiritual life. I mentioned that I believe people are more generous, for the most part, with the money given and time/talents used. It is easy to say, “10% is too much to give away,” but I bet if we really looked, we would see we are giving away 20% or more (especially if we count cash given). Now, the challenge is to look at where we are giving the money. We should always be asking, “is this going to help the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will this only be here for a very short time?”

This past week, I asked a group of people online, why don’t people give to the church? What was interesting is how most of the responses were about the people not liking the ministry or mission being done, so they withheld their money and said the church was not using the money wisely even though the church was being the church.

Our giving really does reflect how much we allow Christ to have control over our lives. As we pay attention to and assess our giving (in all areas of our life), let’s see where we are holding on to control.

Our passage today shows an interaction with a rich man and Jesus. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, but on his terms. His life was what was holding him back.

So, now we ask, “what holds us back from fully following Christ?”

READ SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31 NIV

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There are a few things we have to pay attention to here:

First, the rich man called Jesus “Good Teacher” this means he already has respect for Jesus and his teachings.

How many of us have respect for Jesus’ teachings? If we think about it, Jesus never said, “Respect my teachings and live your life.” No, Jesus said the simple words, “Follow me.” This is the calling each of us has on our lives.

Sunday mornings are easy to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and respect what the pastor says in the sermons and during worship. But are our lives truly changed by the message of Jesus we hear on Sunday mornings? Is this reflected in the way we live our lives Monday morning?

We have to keep asking the question:

WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?

In other words, how do we align our lives to reflect what we profess Sunday mornings? I know there are people who would hear these words and say, “I live my life for Jesus each and every day.” Still, others would say, “I live my life how I choose. This is why I don’t like ‘organized religion’. It’s just people trying to tell you how to live.” Have you heard or thought either of those responses?

When we profess Jesus Christ as our Savior, it is so much more than only respecting the words we hear and say each Sunday. It is about having all parts of who we are completely being transformed by the message, person, and Spirit of the Living Christ in the world and in our lives.

When we profess Jesus as our Lord, we make sure that, in everything, we give him the glory and recognition he deserves. We take the time to live our lives as Jesus lived, loving, serving and giving to the exact people who are different than us and whom we do not agree with.

Did you notice the rich man was looking for Jesus to tell him that he was a nice guy and was doing everything “right.” Notice, Jesus did not answer him the way desired. Instead, Jesus did was Jesus does best and asks him a question in return,

“Why do you call me good?”

Now if I were to ask you, what is “good?” I bet we would all hear many different things and the reasons behind them.

Why would we call Jesus “good”? Take a moment and write down, a thought, of why you would call Jesus “good”.

I often wonder if the rich man was trying to butter Jesus up by giving him a compliment, hoping a compliment would be given in return. Do we do this with Jesus? Do we do this with other people?

As we go through and hear the conversation between Jesus and the rich man, we notice the man’s inflated sense of himself and his character traits. What’s holding him back? His pride, in one respect. How many of us have been caught in the trap of not letting our pride get hurt?

Pride can do so much harm to our lives if not properly checked. He was trying to be told he was “good enough” just because he did not break a few of the commandments. Jesus took him deeper than the rich man was willing to go. He challenged the rich man to look at what he was lacking.

I am one of those people who continually reminds us not to focus on what we perceive to be lacking; but, instead, focus on what God is providing.

But this is a perfect example of how we should look at what it is we are lacking. Do we lack the desire to give up the control of our possessions and finances have on us to truly follow Jesus? This is an area I struggle with because the stuff I have makes my life easier in many ways. But dig into the question further.

Jesus is not only asking the rich man to sell everything he has, but he is challenging him to realize that “an unrestrained appetite for wealth or clinging too tightly to what we possess can hold us back and cause us paralysis in our following of Christ.”[1]

Just as the saying goes “you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse;” we understand that Jesus teaches we cannot be weighed down by what we have in order to follow him. We cannot be worried about our stuff so much that we do not fully and faithfully follow Jesus in our day to day lives.

Another way of putting it, “we do not work for the stuff we have, we work to make sure what we have is utilized for the Kingdom of God.”

Following Jesus is not as easy as we would want to make it out to be. It is more than just saying a simple prayer and leaving it at that. Following Jesus means we listen to what he says and follow him with nothing holding us back.

Throughout this entire exchange, we see Jesus speaking in extremes. Do you really think Jesus was asking the man to really sell everything he had? I don’t think so. Jesus was doing a heart assessment and the rich man did not like what Jesus said, so the man went away sad.

So, what is holding you back from fully following Jesus? How can we have the same excitement for a new TV, football game, clothes, etc. as we have for following Christ? What is something you possess (object, a feeling of pride, knowledge, etc) that is grabbing your attention more than Jesus is grabbing your attention?

I would be a big liar if I told you I had all of this together and nothing was holding me back. In many people’s eyes, pastors are supposed to be perfect people and have no issues. But the truth is, we are all human, all in need of grace, all in need of healthy relationships. We are all in this together.

This life is not easy. In fact, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”[2]He meant it.

But always remember and believe:

JESUS MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE

We cannot try to get our way into God’s graces by “trying our best” or “being better than other people.” We can only get into heaven because of Jesus Christ.

It really is impossible to get into heaven by pleasing God because when we project something (action or person) as good, we are bringing God down to our own level. But instead, we should continually seek the Kingdom of God because God is the only One who can call something good and get it right.

We cannot do enough to get into God’s good graces on our own. But Jesus tells us, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”[3]

When we give, we are demonstrating the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We are showing to the world, truthfully ourselves, that we are willing to do everything necessary to follow Jesus. We are showing that the only thing that has our complete devotion is, not our stuff or talents or anything like that, but that we only seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.

When we give to the church, we have the opportunity to be part of the work of the collective Body of Christ in our community and around the world. Yes, the Gospel message is free to give; but the transmission and spreading of the Gospel message takes resources. There is a whole world looking to see churches fail. Many people are constantly trying to prove God is not real.

Do we ever wonder how we can show people that God is real? One big way is to give. Give away financial resources. Give away our time. Give away the talents and gifts God has given us. Give everything away possible because God is continually providing and pouring out his blessings and his presence on all of creation, especially his most valuable creations: you and me.

Bishop Robert Schnase puts it this way:

“Giving makes following God real. We can live a God-related life, or we can live without attention to God’s presence and will. The God-related life means our relationship with God influences all we do. When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ. Our material good, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”[4]

Tom Chapman, in his book, Make All You Can Give All You Can, writes, “When God calls you to a major task, you will always have other options, and His plan is usually the most difficult one. Many times, it’s also the one that makes the least logical sense.”

We all have things that are holding us back from completely and fearlessly following Jesus every day and in every way of our lives. So, what is holding you back? For me, it really depends on the day and what I have going on and how much sleep I got the night before.

Last week we ended with a piece of Psalm 51. Today, let’s read verses 6-12 together as a form of prayer and praise to God for all the ways he is working in and through our life:

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

As we go through this week, let nothing hold you back from following Jesus every day. Let your love for him be evident through your actions, words, and giving.

Seek Christ for the life he offers and pay attention to the people he loves and how he spends his time, energy, and resources. Praise God for how he is continually working in and through our lives for the transformation of the world!

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 61

[2]Mark 10:25 NIV

[3]Mark 10:27b NIV

[4]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 62

Keep Moving Forward

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 8:1-4.

The cards seem to be stacked against you. It seems like everyone is against you or making your life more difficult. We have all had those days, or even those weeks, where it seems nothing we do will improve the situation. A co-worker could have betrayed you, a spouse could have been unfaithful, people we trusted could have been found out to be frauds. Whatever the situation, or your personal experience, God is still present and active.

Right after the stoning of Stephen, the church scattered. They were nervous and scared because of the threats and harassment they were subjected to. Now, this was not harassment by governmental leaders like the Romans. This was done by the people they used to call family, by those in the same faith they grew up in.

But since the followers of Jesus said he was the Messiah and began to follow his teachings and worship him. This infuriated the religious leaders because they were losing the control over the people because of Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting how people react when the power and control they had is beginning to dissolve. They will panic. They will act in ways of anger. Remember anger is a secondary emotion, meaning something else is triggering the anger. Whenever someone loses the control they enjoyed for so long, they begin to feel scared and insecure because now what are they going to do? From this place of fear and insecurity, people lash out in anger.

Jesus came and showed people a new way of life. Well, actually, the original way of life God designed people to live. When the people heard this truth and experienced the life of Christ, they were different and had a new source of joy and peace. But in the situations of being persecuted (threatened, harassed, tortured) fear begins to creep in. So the people scattered and got away from the place so they could try to live in peace and safety.

Was God in this? Absolutely! Remember what Jesus said in Acts 1:8 “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.” Because of the harassment and persecution they were facing, they spread out. When they spread out, they began to tell the people around them about Jesus Christ. God’s Word was continuing to spread and expand!

Here in America, we Christians do not face persecution like what is seen and experienced in other countries around the world. I invite you to take some time and pray for Christians around the world. Pray for the message of Christ to be known and shown. A good resource to help remember to pray, and pray for a country or area each day is Operation World. Click here to begin to learn about other countries and to pray for the world.

No matter what is going on in the world, the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ continues to move forward. So should we.

I Believe This Involves Me

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 5

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

Romans 12:5

In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.

 

 

This is the final post in our series on the Apostle’s Creed. We have explored how this ancient creed still has great meaning to our lives even today. The topics we have covered include: believing in God, the Messiah, the victory of God, God’s presence in our lives, and today we look at believing all of this involves me and you.

Read the final sentence of this incredible creed:

I believe…the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen

Since our faith has been built upon the people before us, we have the opportunity and privilege of joining Jesus Christ, along with the saints of the past to live in the presence of God here and now AND in life everlasting. We are part of something much bigger than anything we can see or imagine right now.

We belong to a catholic (universal) church that is the body of Christ on this earth. If we take time to think about this, the body is in constant motion. We get to be part of making disciples, being on mission whether at work, in your community, or somewhere else in the world. This is not something we do on our own. It’s a good thing Christianity is not an individual faith because we could and do easily slip up or even become so disappointed we can’t fix everything. By the grace of God, we are all connected. We learn from each other, grow in our faith together, reach out into our communities, work, country, world together because we all have a part to play.

We are part of the saints. Saints in this sense are not the people cannonized to pray to; but rather people of the faith. The Apostle Paul writes his letters to the “saints” of the churches. These people were still alive on earth when he wrote. Every Christian is part of the sainthood. Jesus Christ comes into our lives and changes the core of who we are. No longer are we defined as a worthless sinner; but we are now saints, saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Living our lives in a manner we should involves accepting the forgiveness Jesus has offered to all people on the cross. Because Jesus Christ has defeated death and rose from the dead, we too will be able to experience resurrection and life beyond this life and live in life everlasting with him. This is a great hope we have because of our faith.

What a wonderful hope for us, to be part of the redemption story of God through Jesus Christ to bring healing and wholeness, reconciliation and redemption to a hurting and broken world that will one day be restored to God’s perfection. Heaven on earth will not just be a hope; but a physical reality. The Kingdom of God is here and now; but there will be a time when everyone will see it and believe it without question.

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

Proclaiming God’s Forgiviness

We have several topics of conversation during the Christmas holidays. We’ll talk of love, family, weather (good or rough), relationships, parties, gifts, etc. Our conversations are around the goodness of the season. Yet, this is one of the most stressful times of the year.

During this season, it seems we are more likely to be harsh with another person because they say the wrong thing. We see through the media doing anything they can to get the “perfect” gift. We are more likely to give this time of year; but we get frustrated with how many people are asking for donations.

This time of year, we say “Jesus is born” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Before Jesus preached his first sermon, John the Baptist was on the scene telling people to repent and receive God’s forgiveness.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Repent. God’s forgiveness. These are topics of conversation that we really only hear in the church. It is so easy to get caught up in the to-do’s and all the festivities that we can forget to proclaim the forgiveness and grace of God to people. This is the real gift that comes at Christ’s birth.

His life, His death AND His resurrection were all done so we can be reconciled to God. No longer to we have to live in fear. No longer do we have to live separate from God.

The question we all have to answer is “will you accept this gift?” Gifts that are held on to don’t really live out their full potential. It is when we share that the gift brings extra joy. This is how it is with Jesus Christ.

So, instead of simply saying “Merry Christmas,” how about taking time to give someone the gift (out of love for God and them) of Jesus Christ by telling how He changed your life and how their life might be different.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.