Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Ray Lewis Closer to Jesus Than You?

Please welcome guest author Dan Miller! Dan works on staff for DiscipleMakers, has a beautiful wife Becky, and a darling little girl. He loves creating films, ministering to college students, and watching football. But above all he loves Jesus. 
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Photo credit to raylewis52.com

On Sunday, February 3rd, the Baltimore Ravens will return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001.  No matter how the game ends, they're losing a really good linebacker...and an even better example of God's grace.

Ray Lewis is a man who helped the Ravens become Super Bowl champions in 2001 and a defensive juggernaut for the last decade.  He is retiring at the end of this season, partially due to spending 15 years tackling people like this.  But in the midst of this success, he's also been one of the most polarizing figures in sports.  Why?

His on-field resume:  Twelve-time Pro Bowl player. Seven-time All-Pro. Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Super Bowl MVP.  ESPN called him the best defensive player of all time.
His off-field resume: Guilty of obstruction of justice in the January 2000 stabbing deaths of two men.  Father of six children born to four different women.

Ray Lewis is going to the Hall of Fame.  Would you let him in your house?

What if he was a professing Christian?  Because he is.

For a moment, don't roll your eyes when you hear that he thanks God publicly, prays during games, and wears Christian t-shirts.  Don't mock when he says that the real reason he's retiring is that God is calling him to spend more time with his kids and become a public speaker

Still...37 years old.  I'll still be paying off my school loans then.  You and I might be working thirty years longer than Ray Lewis, and our children might have to help us financially when we get old. Ray Lewis probably won't have to worry about money anymore.   

If your blood pressure is still rising, consider the meatiest portion: if Ray Lewis actually trusts in Jesus, he will get to to hang out with Jesus for eternity.  He'll take his place alongside guys like David and Moses.  And if you go to heaven, you might be his neighbor. That's not fair.  And it shouldn't be, because grace isn't fair.  David and Moses were murderers.

And I've heard lines like that a thousand times and said them just as many...but when I think about how OPEN the gates of heaven really are, I get mad.

Still, I fight to believe in grace, and sometimes I literally choke down phrases like this: "If I don't believe ANYONE can go to heaven, I have laughed at the blood of Jesus and attempted to hijack the cross."

Photo credit to LA Times
Why is it so easy for me to be a sinner saved by grace, but so hard for me to accept that reality in the life of another person?  

Because I still think I'm the main point. But the truth is found right in Psalm 91, on the t-shirt worn by Ray Lewis, pictured right. The first verse says, "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

Whoever.  

Because it really is still all about God's mercy sheltering me from Hell.  I spend so much time focusing on my sin, and the sin of others.  I spend so little time focusing on the relentless grace of Jesus and even less time proclaiming it.  

God be merciful to me, a sinner.

Thanks for the reminder Ray,
Dan Miller

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Are a New Creation in Christ

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

One of the biggest challenges of life as a Christian is when we still find ourselves struggling with the same sins year after year. There begins to set in this gnawing question: "If I'm STILL struggling like this... am I even a Christian?"

Our gut reaction is to freak, and renew our commitment to fight harder. "Okay, I need to STOP ______. Why do I keep failing? I need to repent and grow in this area. More accountability, more Scripture, more books, more fighting." The problem is that this approach..... doesn't work. We've got things backwards! We've been duped into believing that our new actions are what give us a new identity. But the gospel says that it's our new identity that causes us to have new actions.

Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that those who are in Christ are new creatures. "The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." This teaching is all over the Bible! Jesus, speaking with Nicodemus, explains in John 3 how those who are in Christ are born AGAIN. They are new people! And God prophecies hundreds of years before Christ through Ezekiel in chapter 36 that He will give His people a NEW heart made of flesh and not of stubborn stone. New hearts! New affections and motivations and loves. A new identity. Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians that they had new identities. After listing off a laundry list of sins they used to do, he boldly proclaims "...And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11) YES!! Such WERE some of you. But not anymore! You were washed, sanctified, justified. You have a new identity in Christ.

Here's the challenge: Believe that you are a new creation in Christ. Here are three practical applications for what that looks like in your life:
  1. You Have a New Identity: You are no longer the porn addict, the arguing jerk, the girl obsessed with her body image, the depressed cutter, the outcast loser. You have a new God-given label! Beloved. Precious. Redeemed. Adopted. Justified. Accepted. Approved in Christ. So be defiant! Laugh at your feelings. This new identity is true NO MATTER WHAT YOU FEEL. Shout it to yourself. Tattoo it on your body. Write it in your Facebook profile. Use it to introduce yourself. 
  2. You Have a New Power: The best the world can offer for life-change is to work really hard at behaviors, and THEN you might be able to remake a new identity. But God gives us a new identity by GRACE, and that makes our behavior change. So what's our power? The gospel, not will-power. So walk in that power, walk with swagger and confidence in the Holy Spirit at work in you. You have been set free by the VERY power that raised Christ from the dead. You now walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Rejoice!
  3. You Have New Actions: Because of your new heart, new identity, and new desires, you will have new actions. How can you not? You've been completely remade in Christ! Start studying the Word to see what kind of new actions those in Christ have. Colossians 3 is a great place to start. Start using your body and mind and emotions for righteousness (Romans 6). It's almost like being given a superpower like flying or telekinesis or shooting flames out of your eyes. Wouldn't you be excited to start doing those fun new actions? In Christ, we have the Holy Spirit, and He is infinitely more useful and powerful than all the superpowers in the world. 
The old sinful person is dead. The new person in Christ has been reborn. Your sin is nailed to the cross, and is breathing out its last. A new day has dawned, and you have been raised to new life in Christ. Walk in it, Christian.

New in Christ,
The Relentless Fight

PS: The Relentless Fight just launched a monthly email digest today! Details and sign up here.

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Redeeming email for God's glory,
The Relentless Fight

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The #JesusResolution for 2013

"One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple." - Psalm 27:4

It's a good tradition to make resolutions when a new year arrives. We look at this fresh start, and desire to have the future be better than the past.

However, it's tempting to make these resolutions very me-focused, saying things like: "I'm gonna get better at ____, I'm going to try harder at ____, I'm never going to do _____ again. I wanna read more Bible, I wanna be more healthy, I wanna serve others more." These are all good things, and making resolutions about ourselves makes sense (we're not making resolutions for OTHER people, right?). The problem isn't so much DESIRING these changes; rather, the problem is when we try to DO these changes. It's not going to work to just create ANOTHER list of rules and expectations and "try-harders"... that's exhausting! Did it work in 2012? See, we can't BE the solution, because most of the time, WE are the problem. As Paul David Tripp said in a recent tweet, we are in need of rescue from ourselves.

Here's the challenge: Get the focus off of yourself, and take "The Jesus Resolution for 2013":
  • Jesus is the Goal: The goal of "become a better you" sounds attractive to our culture's ears, but it's at best a low-bar selfish goal, and at worst an assault against the glory of God in a similar way that Adam and Eve were duped. Rather, set your goal to line up with the goal of God: glorifying Jesus. Others have done the hard work of arguing from Scripture that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. So what would it look like to become more satisfied, delighted, and ravished in JESUS in 2013? How can you run hard after Him? How can you make much of Him? How will Jesus be the Goal in 2013?
  • Jesus is the Power: Far too often we believe the power to change rests in ourselves. But God repeatedly says in Scripture that we can't do anything apart from Him. That's the whole point of the Cross! You CAN'T do it, and yet Jesus has complete DONE all of it. So now, His Holy Spirit is in you, making war against the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26) and causing you to grow (Philippians 2:12-13). So don't look at yourself for encouragement, look to HIM and His cross! As you do this, you will be radically refreshed and set free. The reality is that you can't do it, but He already has. Rest in his finished work. Be encouraged by it. Let it motivate you and speak comfort to you. Jesus is the power that you need for real change. How will Jesus be the Power in 2013?
  • Jesus is the Method: After Jesus sets us free through the Cross, He provides rich wisdom and insight in His Word for methods to fight against our sin. For instance, in Luke 4 Jesus responds with Scripture to Satan's temptations. Consider also how you can satisfy your desires with superior satisfaction in Jesus, rather than believing the lie of your favorite sins. Consider asking some trusted brother or sisters for valuable resources for your fight like God-exalting, gospel-centered books, articles, or websites. How can Jesus and His Word be at the center of your strategies? How will Jesus be the Method in 2013? 
What ideas do you have? What is your #JesusResolution for 2013? Share your comments on Facebook, Google+, or reply on Twitter. May God bless your new year, and give you joy in His glorified Son!

Resolved for Jesus,
The Relentless Fight

PS: Have you ever considered how New Year's Resolutions point to our longing for the newness and perfection of heaven? For insight into this, read this post from the blog Escaping Escapism.