The Celtic’s Boston Garden. The Bull’s Madhouse on Madison Street. The Laker’s Forum. These are a few of the most famous arenas in NBA history. The reason those arenas are so famous has nothing to do with the types of materials used to make them. There were no magic powers infused in the structures. The reason these arenas are so famous has to do with the fact that they were the places where the NBA’s greatest competition was put on display. Whether it was Bird’s Celtics, Jordan’s Bulls, or Magic’s Lakers, these arenas put on display some of the most incredible basketball games known to humankind. The NBA plays all their games in arenas, but only a few arenas standout for the competition that they’ve housed.
Our lives are a little bit like this. Although every “arena” in our lives should display our love for Jesus—whether we are eating, drinking, or whatever we do—there are a few key arenas that stand out above the rest (1 Cor 10:31). There are a few key arenas where our love for Jesus faces its greatest competition. So as you make your way through 2015, I’d like to offer 3 arenas to focus on showing your love for Jesus.
Show Your Love for Jesus Through Personal Bible Consumption and Prayer
It doesn’t matter if you have a “date night” every week, if there isn’t genuine, focused listening and talking, your marriage relationship won’t grow. Checking things off a list won’t grow a relationship, real communication will. And this isn’t unique to marriage. If you want to grow any relationship there has to be talking and listening.
The same is true with Jesus. If you say you love Jesus but you don’t consistently spend time listening to him through his word and speaking to him in prayer, you don’t love Jesus. Your relationship with Jesus won’t grow. This doesn’t mean you have to read the whole Bible through. There isn’t a verse in the Bible that says you need to read the Bible through in a year. I’d rather see people read Ephesians over and over all year than read 30 chapters of Genesis and never read the Bible again. Your personal Bible consumption and prayer life are a key arena to display your love for Jesus in 2015.
Show Your Love for Jesus Through Your Work
I knew Tom was a spy. At least, I thought I knew. Tom is the husband of Elizabeth Keen, one of the central characters on the show Blacklist—a show filled with spies. But it was difficult to know if Tom was a spy for sure. After all, he acted like a normal husband in a lot of ways. He had a job and a wife and friends.
But over time, we began to see actions that let us know that he was indeed a spy—he was controlled by someone outside of his immediate situation that impacted the way he acted. His devotion to another controlled his work.
Christians are called to work like that. Only, instead of being controlled by evil direct reports outside of our context, we should manifest the righteousness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and excellence that our real direct report—Jesus—values. Sure, most of the time there won’t be any difference between us and our co-workers, but over time our love for Jesus should become clear. The way you approach your work—whether paid or unpaid—is a great arena to display your love for Jesus in 2015.
Show Your Love for Jesus Through Your Money Management
One of the main ways private investigators help spouses catch their spouse cheating is through the finances. The reason why this is such a consistent part of a PI’s work is because it is such an accurate indicator of what our heart loves. Sure, many of us spend our money on similar expenses—housing, gas, food, fun. But amongst these cheating spouses there is usually a strange pattern of giving that gives their true heart’s affection away.
Similarly, the Christian’s spending habits should indicate a heart affection that seems strange—not because of some love affair with another person, but because of our love for Jesus. A Christian’s spending patterns should reveal obvious indicators of their love for Jesus and his ways in the world. Whether that is 10% of your pre-tax income or more, we’d be hardpressed to look at the New Testament (Acts 2, 4, Heb 10, 2 Cor 8-9) and come to the conclusion that we should give less than 10% of your income toward the advancement of the mission of Christ. The way you handle your money is a great arena for showing your love for Jesus in 2015.
How are you doing in these key arenas for love of Jesus? Are you making a strong performance? Is there evidence that you love Jesus more than acclaim, security, power, control, and your reputation? If you’ve failed at these, don’t walk in shame and condemnation. Confess your shortcomings and sins to Jesus, experience his forgiveness, and walk in the freedom he has purchased for you on the cross in 2015 (1 Jn 1:9; Rom. 8:1).
Oxford University is concerned about pork. They wrote that writers should avoid mentioning “anything else which could be perceived as pork.” And while it is certainly good and loving to try to avoid unnecessarily offending each other, the timing of this adjustment is a bit curious. Why after hundreds of years of publishing did Oxford University press decide this was the time to make that specific adjustment? Coming in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy by a violent group of Muslims, it isn’t hard to see why Oxford might make this move for Muslims, while forgetting a wide range of other religions’ preferences. Violent Muslims are striking fear in the hearts of their neighbors.
But violence isn’t the only action that produces fear. A fire chief in Atlanta was fired for his views on sexuality, even though he was said to have never discriminated against anyone. Bakers and florists are being forced to provide services for weddings that they believe are wrong. College student ministries are being removed from campuses because of their views on sexuality. Even here in Nashville I’ve heard stories of employers asking their employees their views on sexuality.
It would be easy for Christians and people of good will to act out of a fear of their neighbor—whether it’s a violent Muslim, a religious liberty hating American, or anyone else that might seek to do them harm. It would be easy to live a life in a constant state of fear that there might be some misstep that could cost you your reputation, your job, or your life.
But does anyone want to live in that kind of world? Does anyone want to live in a world where that kind of fear is the norm? I don’t. A world where fear reigns is a world were creativity, beauty, truth, and goodness disappear. It’s a world where the unique gifts and skills that each person has to offer are missing. It’s a world that doesn’t achieve greatness. It’s North Korea.
But a life motivated and controlled by a fear of our neighbors isn’t the only way to live. There’s an alternative. We can choose to love our neighbors, opening ourselves up to whatever may come. We can choose to create a world where love reigns. Because when love reigns, creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth flourish. But in order to love in this way—to create this world—we’ll have to access the unique resources offered in Christianity’s gospel.
In short, a fear of neighbor can only be overcome when our fear of death is overcome. As Christians, we uniquely believe that our Savior defeated death through his substitutionary death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. We believe that he now freely offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to a world that can receive this gift by faith. When we receive this eternal life we don’t have to fear our neighbor—even if death makes it to our front door—because we believe our Savior will undo any terrible act done to us. In Christ, death becomes a comma, not a period. Our best life is on the other side of the grave and it’s eternal.
Christians are uniquely equipped to create the kind of world we all want to live in because we are able to deal with this ultimate fear—the fear of death. In Christ, the fear of death is overcome which enables us to overcome fear of neighbor. This frees us up to love our enemies, to give our lives to creating a world where this kind of love reigns supreme, and to create the conditions needed for creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth to flourish.
If there’s no Christian God, then there should be great fear. After all, in this view your life is only in your own hands or the neighbor that intends to surprise you with great harm. Those that would intimidate your life control your life because there’s no God big enough to control them or undo their horrible acts. So fear is the rational response of those that don’t have a God powerful enough to raise them from the dead.
Let’s not live that way. Let’s not create that world. The world needs love, not fear. Only Christianity has the resources not to fear even the most fearful situations—the possibility of death. Why? We believe in a God who promises to raise us from the dead. Let’s not flinch, and let’s not hate in the face of intimidation. Let our fearlessness in Christ drive us to love our neighbors, whether they take our jobs or kill us for cartoons.
Baptist21 is excited to once again host a lunch panel at this year’s SBC in Columbus, Ohio. Our panelists will be discussing the most pressing issues facing the church and cooperative missions.
Registration will start soon
The Babylonians and the Romans made annual promises to their gods. Apparently, some Medieval knights took an annual “peacock vow” to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. And each year around this time we do our 21st century version of this old practice.
So as you consider all the weight you want to lose, the debt you want to pay down, and the bible reading plans you want to dominate in 2015, I’d like to point your attention to three keys to a great 2015.
I went to my first Nashville Predators game the other day. And as much as I’d like to say otherwise, it was awesome. While you still couldn’t pay me to watch it at home, I’d pay to go to another game. Unlike football games, the action is non-stop. But like football games—and just about every other sport—the goal of hockey is immediately obvious to anyone in the building.
And as nice as it would be if this were the case in life, it’s not. The goal of life isn’t immediately obvious. The main goal that should direct all our tertiary goals in 2015 isn’t immediately evident.
Should fame be our goal? Happiness? Power? Family? Health? A lot of money? Companies in our culture spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to shape the answer you give to this question. The right goal of life isn’t clear.
That’s why the answer that Jesus gave to a group of Middle Eastern Bible scholars in the 1st century was so stunning. When Jesus was asked which biblical command out of the hundreds of commands was the greatest, without blinking, he said that it was loving the Lord with all of your being (Matt 22:36-37).
This means that all of those biblical commands to “do this,” “feel that,” “don’t do that,” and “believe this” should be motivated by a love for the Lord. The main goal of your life is to love Jesus as Lord.
Is that your goal? Are you focused on this goal? Your answer to this question isn’t some irrelevant “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin needle” type of answer. Everything’s at stake. Because if you miss the goal of your life, you’ll lose at the game of life. And that’s a loss column you don’t want to be in.
This past Fall, my daughter played what can loosely be defined as soccer. And every once and a while a girl would score on the wrong goal. Each time this happened, the cute kid was so proud, so confident, walked to their parents with such a sense of accomplishment. The kid felt so right, but was sooo wrong. But we all couldn’t help but smile with her.
It’s cute when this kind of thing happens to kids at soccer games. It’s gut-wrenching to see someone focus on the wrong goal with their life. Don’t miss the goal of your life that was given to you by the Creator of your life. Growing and expressing your love of Jesus is the right goal to focus on in 2015.
But you can’t just pursue the right goal of your life. You need to understand the greatest challenge to your goal. Godly intentions don’t equal godly results. If you try to pursue the right goal of your life without understanding the greatest challenge, you’ll miss it. And if you want to understand your greatest challenge, look no further than the Pharisees.
Do you think that Pharisees set out to be the bad guys of Scripture? Do you think that Pharisees memorized tons of Scripture so they could better oppose its Author? I don’t. But that’s what happened (Matt. 22:34-35). Their godly intentions didn’t equal godly results. Why? There is a subtle, deep sickness that marks humanity—sin—that derails the best of intentions.
This past Christmas we were so looking forward to time on my in-law’s farm. They have about a 100 acres on which to hunt, 4-wheel, feed chickens, and more. Plus, all of the cousins would be there. We were pumped.
And then one of the kids got the flu and derailed all the plans. By the time my sick kid and I got home from the doctor, everybody’s vans were packed and ready to go. I’ve never seen that group of people move that fast. Certain types of sickness can derail the best of plans.
That’s what happened to the Pharisees. And that’s the story of every person’s life. We aspire for noble things, but our best plans get derailed by a nasty sickness. Far worse than any mutating flu virus, sin infects all of our being—ruining our best intended plans.
Even if your final result is better than the Pharisees and your able to “move mountains” with your faith, if you don’t have love, you have nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). Understand your greatest challenge—your subtle, sin sickness.
3. CLING TO THE GOSPEL
When you set your sights on the right goal and you understand your greatest challenge, you’ll inevitably experience great despair—unless you believe the gospel. The good news of the gospel isn’t that Jesus came to command loving people to love more the next year. It’s not that Jesus came to command unloving people to love. It’s that Jesus loved us by living the perfectly loving life we wish we could live in 2015, and died the sinner’s death we should have died for our 2014, and was raised from the dead, defeating sin, death, and the devil. We receive the benefits of his loving work by repenting of our unloving, sinful ways, and trusting him as our Savior, Treasure, and Lord. And when we receive Him in this way, we receive His Spirit who empowers us to love in 2015 and beyond (Gal 5). The Spirit of God determines the right goal of the people of God. And when this happens, the love of the Lord becomes our goal with all of life for all of life in 2015.
Have you ever thought it would be better to have lived during the time of Jesus? To have walked with him? To have seen him heal many people or feed the 5,000? As our hearts may long to have walked with Jesus many years ago, J. D. Greear reminds us that Jesus has a different, better plan for us. In his newest book, Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You, Greear argues from the Scripture that it is better to have the Holy Spirit in us rather than Jesus beside us. He challenges his readers to know the Holy Spirit personally and to participate in mission in this world.
In Part One, Greear exposes the lie that it would be better to have Jesus beside us now. Really. Yes, the Christian faith unquestionably relies on the person and work of Jesus. Yet, Jesus himself told us that it is better for the Holy Spirit to come. Greear reminds us, “Jesus claimed that having the Holy Spirit in [his disciples] would be better than having him beside them” (25). Tracing this instruction from Jesus, Greear emphasizes our responsibility as believers to walk in the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit is to know the Word because we cannot know the Holy Spirit apart from the Word. The Spirit speaks through the Word, and we know the Spirit by the Word. He rightly claims, “While pursuing one without the other leads to spiritual ruin, pursuing one in the other leads to power and life” (29). In the remainder of Part One, Greear shows how God’s Word and the Spirit work together. To do so, he explores such themes as mystery in the Holy Spirit and clarity in the Word, the power of the Holy Spirit in carrying out the mission of God, and the promise of greater works in the power of the Spirit. Yet, he also calls to our mind a sobering truth: God doesn’t need us. He can accomplish his purposes without us. Yet, in his grace, he chooses to use us to be fishers of men. This grace serves as our motivation to proclaim the gospel to all peoples.
In Part Two, Greear explores what it means to experience the Holy Spirit, providing six defining characteristics. First, knowing and experiencing the Holy Spirit begins with the Gospel. As one grows deeper into the truth of the gospel, a glorious result is receiving further direction and understanding from the Holy Spirit in living for the glory of God. Second, knowing and experiencing the Holy Spirit continues in the Word of God. The Scripture is our most reliable guide for knowing the will of God, and we are guided by the Spirit to rightly understand his Word. Third, knowing and experiencing the Holy Spirit continues in our giftings. Greear argues that you cannot fully walk in the Spirit unless you are familiar with and are using the gifts he has given you. The Spirit has empowered us in specific ways for his mission. Fourth, knowing and experiencing the Holy Spirit continues in the church. This comes primarily through preaching and words of wisdom and knowledge. Fifth, knowing and experiencing the Holy Spirit continues in our spirit. God works in our affections, convictions, desires, and minds to move us to obedience and to actively participate in his mission. Sixth, knowing and experiencing the Holy Spirit continues in our circumstances. Our experiences can lead us into all kinds of conclusions, but we must use the other means of knowing the Spirit to rightly understand our experiences.
In Part Three, Greear offers direction in pursuing the Holy Spirit. At times, we may feel as if God is silent. This doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Greear encourages us to look to the Scripture and remember that silence is a way in which God works in our lives. We must remember to walk in faith! This is key to pursuing revival from God. Revival is not found in some innovative technique. Rather, it is grounded in the proclamation of the gospel, prayer, repentance, and yearning for the Spirit. Greear calls for us to pray. We have been given the Holy Spirit. Now, we need to ask him to move mightily among us. This only happens through “persistent, faith-filled prayer” (206). In concluding the book, he offers another reflection on the gospel. He points to the overwhelming theme in the Scripture: the Spirit is given to us for purposes of the gospel. As such, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to accomplish his mission through us!
Overall, Jesus, Continued promises to be a fruitful tool in the life of the church. The pages are filled with Scripture, and his instruction is much like his sermons and other books—challenging, humorous, encouraging, corrective, and motivating. As a pastor-theologian, Greear does not simply offer a “twelve-steps” solution to experiencing the Holy Spirit. It is theologically driven and biblically grounded. In a time when the Christians need great wisdom and instruction from the Lord due to the changing circumstances in America and across the world, this book will serve the church well in understanding and knowing the Holy Spirit.
About the Author:
J.D. Greear serves as pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is the author of Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim (Harvest House 2010), Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (B&H 2011), and Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (B&H 2013).