Why Christians Should Not Focus On Being Like Jesus.

photo-1421809313281-48f03fa45e9fI’ve always wondered what the phrase “be like Jesus” meant.

Does it mean to copy His appearance? If so, does that mean I had to grow a beard, sow my own clothes, and chuck my shoes for some sandals?

Does it mean to imitate His personality? Then does that mean I have to swap my hyena laugh for a sanctified snicker? Sing softer in the shower? Or replace my srilankanamerican accent for a more middle-eastern one?

Or does it mean to mimic his character?  Be more loving? Caring? Inclusive?

However way you look at it, there were people in history who made it their life’s aim to be like Jesus.
One such individual was the apostle Paul who appeals to his readers to “imitate him as he imitates Christ.” In another letter, he encourages some church folk to fix their eyes on Jesus as they run the race of faith.

As a matter of fact, both scripture and history are replete with individuals who proclaimed that the strongest argument for Christianity were Christians who acted like Jesus.

This even resonated with the famous Indian liberationist Mahatma Gandhi, who made the following statement:

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.”

Ouch.

Here’s the bottom line:  Christ-like behavior is the acid-test of true Christianity.

But here’s the thing..

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus.

“Wait a minute, Kev. How can you be like Jesus without focusing on being like him??”

Buckle up.

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. The word that needs to be sharpied and spotlighted in that sentence is focus.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that focusing on being like Jesus was the way to do this Christianity thing. I thought I was supposed to focus on walking, talking, and acting like Jesus to display his character.

And I tried. I tried my best to be more loving, be more caring, and be more inclusive.  I tried my utmost to be Jesus-y with others, especially towards my non-Christian friends to be “salt” and “light.” I tried my best to have the right thoughts, the right actions, and the right behaviors.
But instead of becoming more like Jesus, I found myself becoming more disappointed.

Because the more I focused on being like Jesus, the less I focused on Jesus and more on my works.

Check out how Dallas Willard puts it in his book Renovations of the Heart:

“The external manifestation of Christlikeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual formation. When outward forms or behaviors are made the main emphasis, the process will be defeated, falling into deadening legalisms…”

Mercy.

Now let’s just say that my trying to be like Jesus actually made me more like Jesus. If that was true ( and I wish it was sometimes! ) the object of glory will then be my works instead the grace of Christ!

Inevitably, my spirituality will become my savior while my Savior will be used for my spirituality.

Christians should not focus their efforts on being like Jesus. In theological jargon, that’s called “righteousness by works” and that’s not how the game’s played.

“So Kevin, if I am to be like Jesus, and focusing on being like him is not going to get me there, what else am I supposed to do??”

Glad you asked. Here’s my answer and the seminal point of this post:

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. Christians should focus on being with Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus preaches a sermon where he likens himself to a grape vine and his followers to attached branches. Then he makes a remarkable statement:

“If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice. The branches were not asked to focus on producing fruit ( good works) to produce fruit. They were asked to remain with the vine so they can bear fruit.

Christians are not called to produce fruit. They are called to bear fruit.
Christians are not called to focus on producing Christ-like behavior. Christians are called to bear the characteristics of Christ by remaining with Jesus. This is confirmed by Paul when he says that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

So when you are with Jesus, spending time alone with him, talking with him, meditating on his love for you, and receiving his grace, He will transform you from the inside out. The more we admit we are powerless to beat sin and inculcate Christ-like behavior by ourselves, the more we open our souls to the work of God to change us into the likeness of Christ.

But isn’t that works? Yes it is. A lot of works.
But the most important work of a Christian is to focus all the efforts in being with Jesus in word, thought, and deed.
This requires you to forgo your need to prove your worth to God so that Jesus guide and transform you.
That’s probably why Oswald Chambers says

“all I do ought to be founded on a perfect oneness with Him, not on a self-willed determination to be holy.”

Don’t focus on being like Jesus. Focus on being with Jesus. And He will make you more like Him.

What are your thoughts? What are some ways you can start being with Jesus instead of trying to be like him?
Leave a comment below!

 

Three Things Ministry Leaders Can Learn From the Pope.

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Is there anything worth learning from those who don’t share your beliefs?

If your answer is no, then read no longer. You will not like this post.

But if you are like me, you’ll probably be open enough to observe and evaluate what others are saying yet not too open that your brains fall off.

“Papa Francis” has been making some serious headlines over the past few weeks. This is not new for the charismatic leader who has been on the spotlight since his induction as the Shepherd of the universal Church more than two years ago.

Pope Francis is known by many people for many things. But over the last two weeks, he was known by the people of the Philippines and Sri Lanka as a leader who was worth listening to. His pastoral spirit, atypical of most Popes, was clearly evident in his dealings with those who were weathered by years of climatic and political storms.

Once I heard that the Pope went to Sri Lanka earlier this month – the place of my heritage – I was all ears.

After some reflection and evaluation, these are just three things I think current ministry leaders can learn from the Pontiff’s recent dealings.

 1) HIS MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION 

The theme of Pope Francis’ homilies to the south-Asians was the need for reconciliation. To a crowd of over half a million Sri Lankans, including over an estimated 1000 men and women disabled from the civil wars which ravaged the country, Pope Francis’ wish was for “all people to find…inspiration and strength to build a future of reconciliation, justice and peace for all..”

I’m reminded of the apostle Paul who had a similar thrust to his message in the second letter to the Corinthians.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.. –
2 Corinthians 5

Paul makes it clear that our message is one of reconciliation. Even though the impetus for the Pontiff’s message was more sociopolitical than theological, leaders may do well to recognize that reconciliation is to be the theme of their Christian ministry.

As ministry leaders, are we seeking to reconcile people to themselves and their Savior?
Are we striving to break walls of strife and prejudice to facilitate that?
The world needs to hear this message and the Pope seems to be doing a decent job at letting ‘em know.

2) HIS MINISTRY OF PRESENCE.

When the Filipinos dealt with the aftermath of typhoon Hagupit and needed a voice of comfort and cheer, the Pope was there. When the people of Sri Lanka needed encouragement to move toward a future of peace and solidarity, the Pope was there. When the Koreans mourned the loss of the victims of the MV Sewol ferry disaster and were struggling with socio-political strife, the Pope was there.

During this year alone, the Pontiff has scheduled visits to 7 countries spanning 4 different continents and unscheduled visits to 3 more countries.

He doesn’t have to do that. But he does.

Regardless of his motives and intentions, the incontrovertible truth is that the Pope was on location when no one else was. The ministry of presence, exemplified by this Pope, is arguably one the most underrated, under-utilized aspects of ministry. The saying still rings true: people don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care. If the Pope himself can put it on his agenda to travel half-way across world to visit my country, which has a Catholic population of a mere 7%, you and I can do well to visit the members of my our church or ministry groups.

3) HIS ABILITY TO DIALOGUE WITH THE ‘OTHER.’

On one occasion during his apostolic visit to Sri Lanka, the Pontiff spoke to an auditorium filled with Buddhist, Hindu, Evangelical, as well as Catholic leaders of the country. His message, predictably, was one of reconciliation and solidarity. Yet what fascinated me about this event wasn’t so much the content of his sermon as it was the candor in which he spoke.

The Pope was honest and uncompromising in his faith, yet tactful and considerate in his approach.

The more I follow his conversations with those who are not part of his flock, the more I am irked at myself.

As a ministry leader on a college campus, I wonder why I, at times, hesitate to interact with those who don’t believe what I believe. I also wonder why I don’t display tact when I do interact with them.
I’ll get off my soap-box and admit that, if you’re like me, there’s a thing or two we can learn from the Pope about interacting with our brothers and sisters from other tribes.
Are there common points that we can share and celebrate?
Can we engage in loving dialogue and live out our theology?
Do we have a message to share and ears to listen?
I think so.

While I may not endorse everything that the Pontiff is saying or doing, I have to admit:
I like this guy.
His message of reconciliation, ministry of presence, and ability to dialogue with those who don’t share his beliefs are some traits that I want to inculcate in my own ministry.

 What about you? What resonates with you? Anything you want to add?
Fire away below!

Why I Stopped Doing My Devotions.

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I am tired of doing my devotions.

I used to be so good at it too. Getting up every morning, opening up my devotional book, reading a chapter, praying to God, Amen-ing. I got it down.

I would do it in record time. Psh, you couldn’t beat me even if you tried.

But I’m not going to do it. Not anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving up on God. In fact, since I’ve stopped doing my devotions, I have actually grown in my relationship with Him. Bet you will too!

Let me explain myself before I get stoned.

If you grew up in a good Christian household with good Christian parents, chances are that your parents would have educated you on the importance of doing your devotions. You also may have heard it from the pulpit of your pastor, the lectern of your religion teacher, or the felt-board of your Sabbath/Sunday school teacher.

“Do your devotions, Kevin” they said. “you need to do it” they said.

As a boy growing up in Sri Lanka, my view of God was influenced by the religiosity of Buddhists and Hindus that permeated my society. This religiosity was underpinned by their ardent devotion to their respective deities. Both Hindus and Buddhists had to do their devotions in order to receive blessings. One’s capacity to receive blessings was directly related to one’s devotional life.

So when I was encouraged to “do my devotions”, I understood it as a necessary prerequisite to receiving blessings. Driven by a need to prove God that I was indeed worthy of his blessings, methodically and systematically I went through the step-by-step process of getting up, opening the book, reading from it, and praying the prayer. It was the same process every day with the same amount of reading, the same amount of time, and the same prayer.

And I was faithful.

I was faithful to the process because I thought I had to do my devotions in order to feel validated about my spirituality.
I was faithful because I thought it was something I had to do to merit the attention of God.
I was so faithful because if I didn’t do it, I would not be accepted by God.

I was so faithful in doing my devotions because of my misplaced, misinformed view that I had to prove something to God in order to be qualified to receive His grace.

Doing my devotions was my bartering for the salvation of God.

I came to this realization last year after studying theology for four years and being a Christian for twenty three. So I stopped doing my devotions and chose to do something else instead.

I stopped doing my devotions…and started to spend time with Jesus.

The Lord progressively changed my mindset about doing devotions. I came to a realization that there is nothing I can do make God love me more or less. I understand now that God’s love for me is not dependent on my love for God. This revelation of His character frees me from pleasing God through my insipid devotions, while at the same time, freeing me to spend that time enjoying His presence.

I didn’t have to do devotions anymore. I just wanted to spend time with Jesus.

With the exception of reflective bible reading and prayer journaling, my routines have not changed much. But every time I wake up and open my devotional book and Bible, I have a different experience now than in years past.

Because the focus has been on the relationship rather than a ritual.

Maybe you are struggling with doing your devotions. If you are, may I suggest that you begin to think differently about it. Ask God to recalibrate your mind and retune your heart. As your thoughts begin to influence your words and your words begin to inform your actions, you will begin to enjoy your time with God.

Don’t do your devotions. Spend time with Jesus instead.

Besides, Jesus never asked you to do devotions for Him. He just asks you to be devoted to him.

What about you? What have you done or are doing currently to enjoy your time with God? Leave a comment below!

The Single Most Important Choice You Can Make RIGHT NOW to Grow in Your Relationship with God.

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What’s the most important choice you can make right now to grow spiritually?

If I were to tell you, you probably wouldn’t even believe it.

It is so simple, so unsophisticated, so candid that you might even kick yourself for not realizing it.

At least that’s what I did when I first realized it.

If you’re reading this, you are probably one of those people who have vowed to spend more time with God in 2015. Maybe you are sick and tired of being sick and tired of your relationship with Him. Maybe it worries you that your relationship with God has been relegated to a prayer meeting, one worship service, and one church service per week.

If you are not, that’s ok. I’m going to let you know this anyway.

Here it is:

The single most important choice you make RIGHT NOW to grow in your relationship with God this year is to be aware.

Did you catch that?

The one thing needed to start, improve, or deepen your relationship with God this year is awareness.

The sound of those wheels and cogs turning in your head is almost deafening, so allow me to unpack this concept.

If there is a resounding refrain God has been trying to sing toward mankind throughout history, it would be the following stanza:

“I am with you.”

The story of God as mentioned in the Bible starts with God “in the beginning” with the first humans at the Garden of Eden. It ends with God promising that He will be with them in the earth made new. The story of Jesus in the New Testament starts with God declaring that He is now physically and spiritually with man. The last thing Jesus mentioned before ascending to heaven was a promise to always be with his disciples, even to the every end of the age. Time and time again, God has revealed Himself in various ways to various people and has reminded them that He is and will be with them.

It’s also evident that whenever God is with people, they change.

God revealed Himself to Moses through a burning bush and Moses was never the same. God displayed himself through the elements of nature to Elijah and he was never the same. God interrupted Saul’s trip to Damascus and when he regained back his sight, he was never the same. The disciples of Jesus, when they experienced God through the Holy Spirit, were never the same. These are some of the many exemplars throughout the story of God where people are changed and transformed because of the presence of God.

But here’s a question:

As disciples of Christ, if God’s presence is with us all the time, why aren’t we experiencing change? Why don’t we seem to be growing in our relationship with Him? Why are we not experiencing spiritual growth as much as we hoped we would?

Here’s the answer: it’s because we are not aware of His presence most of the time.

We live in a world of distractions; a world that is vying for our attention while sapping our attention spans. According to the results of a survey, if this blogpost didn’t get your attention within the first 3 seconds of you clicking it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this sentence. Ads, posts, and tweets have gotten shorter yet flashier to accommodate to our ever changing media interests. Our attention is their currency.

If attention is currency, God is broke.

God is not getting all the attention He deserves from His professed people, and if you’re anything like me, you may still be struggling with paying attention to God. But the sooner we realize it, the better off you and I would be. Giving God attention is being aware of His presence and that makes all the difference to our spiritual lives.

Moses was aware of God’s presence and he was changed.

Elijah was aware that it was God who was speaking and he was changed.

Saul was aware that God was with him and he was changed.

The disciples were aware of God’s presence and they were changed.

One of my professors summed it up this way.

The presence of God + awareness = growth

The disciple of Christ, Paul, towards the end of his life wrote that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.
God is with us and in us working. All the time. But spiritual growth is cooperative act! God does the growing when we are aware of Him and is work in our lives. It’s only when we are aware of His presence, through prayer, reflection, study of His word, or in service to others, that we take the most crucial step in growing towards a deeper relationship with Him.

More awareness, more growth. Less awareness, less growth.

Do you want to grow deeper in your relationship with God?

Leave this page, close your eyes, and be aware.

 What about you? What are you going to do this year to become more aware of God’s presence in your life? Leave a comment below!