If you’ve ever stood in the line at Starbucks you know what it’s like to be labeled. The coffee giant labels each one of its white and green cups with the specific order of each coffee consumer. Some are as simple as, “coffee, black” others can be as complicated as, “grande, iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk.” Both are essentially coffee drinks, but both are very different in their taste, appearance, and label. My Starbucks order is pretty simple, “grande, cafe latte, with soy or almond milk.” You can read more about my Starbucks experiences and orders in a previous blog post here. When it comes to coffee labels things can get complicated and in the same way when you mention the term Christian, things can get as easily complicated. Between denominations—baptist, lutheran, pentecostal, methodist, church of Christ, Catholic, worship styles—hymns, contemporary, hands raised, hands down, choir, live band, and Bible translations—King James Version, New Living, The Message, New International, Amplified, and my personal favorite New King James Version—things can get pretty sticky when it comes to being a Christian. But what does it really mean to be a Christian? When you dig down to the foundation of all Christianity, what holds the church together and what does a person who calls themself a Christian actually look like? This post is not about church attire, worship styles, or even your preferred Bible version, but more about what the core of Christianity is.
When I was 9 years old I gave my life to Jesus. I remember the little church we attended and being asked one straightforward question, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of GOD and that He died for your sins?” With my simple “yes” I was welcomed into the world of Christianity and all its different traditions, denominations, and unfortunately arguments. But through all the noise of doctrinal disputes, hermeneutical interpretations, and theological examinations, what being a Christian actually means is having a real intimate relationship with Jesus. That is the only label that truly matters and its the only label that we should allow to stick. Jesus is the reason we came to be a Christian. Romans 5:8 says, “But GOD demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is why we are Christians and that is why we want to have an intimate relationship with the One who gave everything for us. One of the most famous scriptures in all the world sums it up like this, “For GOD so loved the world (thats me and you!) that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16. For GOD so loved you, before you cleaned yourself up, before you had your act together, before you knew you needed a Savior He loved you in the before. And He gave everything for you. Can you imagine sacrificing one of your children for someone else? How about your only child? I know I couldn't! But that is what GOD did and that is why today, more than 2.2 billion people around the globe declare that they are Christian. But here is another reality check for you: our planets population is 7.53 billion individuals. That means that more than 5 billion people are destined for an eternity separated from GOD if we don’t do something about it. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There is no other way to GOD except through Jesus and as Christians we have the answer that the world is looking for. Since the beginning of time, people have been looking for the secret to everlasting life. During the time of the conquistadors, they searched for “The Fountain of Youth.” Today, researchers look for it in medical advances and artificial technology. Why such interest among people who don’t know GOD? Because deep down they fear what happens after death, but that is why Jesus came. The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, “That He, by the grace of GOD, might taste death for everyone.” Jesus has already experienced, tasted, and defeated death for all 7.53 billion people living on the planet today and the billions more to come. With one simple answer, each one of those individuals, no matter what they have done in the past, or where they were born, or how they grew up, or even how old they are now, can make that decision to give their life to Jesus Christ. The question is, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of GOD and that He died for your sins?”
If you’d like to make Jesus the Lord of your life, click here to learn how to do that and pray a simple prayer with Drew. If you made that decision today or recently and would like us to pray for you, click here to connect with Valerie and Drew.
Over the next several weeks and months, Anchor Movement is going to focus on a series called “Back to the Basics” where we answer and define what it actually means to be a Christian. We want to answer some of the questions that new and old believers have in their walk of faith. Some examples include, “How to study the Bible,” and “Why should I go to church.” If you have a question you’d like us to answer or explore on the blog, go to our connect page and leave your response or visit our Instagram page here and leave your response in the comments.
This week I had a few spare moments so I turned on ESPN to catch up on the daily sports news. For me, it’s a slow time of the year when it comes to sports. College football starts in 1 month and college basketball doesn’t start until November, so most the sports news right now is who is signing where and who got injured in practice, but on this day what I saw was something very different. Sitting for an interview on live TV was 10 time NBA All Star, Olympic Gold Medal winner, and 2003 Final Four MVP Carmelo Anthony. As a college basketball fanatic and all around basketball fan, getting to watch Carmelo from his National Championship at Syracuse in 2003 all the way through his NBA career has been amazing, but this interview was different. It didn’t take long to realize that instead of promoting the many accomplishments of Carmelo Anthony, the real reason for the interview was to answer all the questions surrounding his last few years on the court. As the discussion dived deeper into the misses and mistakes, you could almost see and feel Carmelo replaying those missteps on live TV. As a fan you never get to see the human side of the athletes we watch on TV, but in this moment I could see the vulnerability and humility of a man who has defined himself by the game in which he plays. At one particular moment, Stephen A Smith who is interviewing Carmelo, begins questioning the contracts Carmelo has signed and the teams that he has played for. As the camera focuses on Carmelo you can see him second guessing some of the directions that he had taken along his journey in the NBA, but sitting here now, 15 years later, there was nothing he could do to change the past. As I sat and watched, my mind went to a discussion Jesus was having with his disciples in John 16:13:
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. John 16:13 NKJV
I know it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has had the opportunity to play professional basketball for 15 years and make over 150 million dollars doing it, but I did feel sympathy for Carmelo in this moment. You could hear the regret in his voice with some of his answers and see the desperation in his eyes for just wanting to play one more season. The “what could have beens” for him in this interview were championships, wins, and contracts but for me watching the TV I thought of all the memories I wish I could go back and change. Many decisions that I made were not harmful decisions, but could have been easier. For many of you reading this, you might never step foot on a basketball court, but you will step into a specific career or direction for your life. Wouldn’t you like to know that GOD is guiding you in all your decisions? I kept thinking about John 16:13 as the interview went on and I just couldn’t shake the thought that “what if we allowed ourselves to be led completely by the Holy Spirit?” Would we have these moments where we second guessed many of the decisions we made over the last 15 years? Would we look back on decades of our life and wish we could have done something different?
If you read the rest of John 16, Jesus is basically saying goodbye to his disciples and giving them guidance for when he is gone. In just a few short hours, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilot and his crucifixion would be at hand. Jesus knew that His time on Earth was winding down and in the short amount of time He had left, He gave the disciples a game changer when it came to living the rest of their lives. Of course, we now know Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit and the guidance that comes from being led by Him. As Christians, we have a huge advantage in this life because the GOD who created the entire universe lives on the inside of us and wants to lead us into all truth. We don’t have to wonder what direction we should go or decision we should make. The scripture says that “He will guide you into all truth” and “He will tell you things to come.” If He is telling us and guiding us, that means we need to ask and listen to what He is saying. Too often in our lives, we feel pressured to make an immediate decision and that ends up costing us in the future. Instead, let’s slow down and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirt. Let’s take some time to be still and listen to our Creator and really come to know where He wants to guide our life. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” GOD’s thoughts toward you are for peace, blessing, and hope, but we have to be listening. GOD wants to guide you and tell you the future of your life, the only question is, “Are you listening?”
This past week I was rebuilding part of the website for Anchor Movement and looking at ways to continue bringing quality content to our readers when my past suddenly flashed before my eyes. I sat there in silence reliving some of the worst mistakes that I had made over the last 33 years of my life and then there was a single comment that broke the silence, “You aren’t qualified to tell others about Jesus.” At that moment, a feeling of shame and overwhelming grief covered me like a cold wet blanket. I couldn’t shake it. I thought about giving up. The voice was right. I’m not qualified. I have made some huge mistakes in my life and I ran from GOD for a long time. I drank more alcohol than I care to remember. I partied at places that are unmentionable. On top of all that I don’t have the education to share the gospel. No seminary degree. No doctorate in Greek or Hebrew. No learned skill set in the hermeneutical, philosophical, or theological interpretation of the Bible. The voice was right. I am not at all qualified. As I sat there mediating and sulking over my past a story came to my mind. It was about another man who made some huge mistakes in his life, but GOD chose to use him anyway. This man was chosen by GOD before he was ever born to establish the nation in which GOD’s people would come from and ultimately the Messiah. He was a liar, a cheat, lacking in character, and mischievous, but GOD chose him anyway and used his unique skill set to continue the Blessing of GOD and to establish the twelve tribes of Israel. This man was Jacob and he wasn’t qualified either.
If you read the story of Jacob, many church people believe that Jacob stole the blessing from his brother Esau. In my Bible, the title heading for chapter 27 says, “Jacob’s stolen blessing.” Now keep in mind, that title was not put there by GOD, but by the people who interpreted the scriptures into various languages and organized the Bible so we can accurately find scriptures today. What that title should say is, “Jacob given the Blessing.” If you turn back a few pages in Genesis to the birth of Jacob and Esau, you’ll see what I mean. In Genesis 25, Rebekah is pregnant and in her womb the two babies are wrestling with each other. As a concerned mother, Rebekah goes to The Lord and ask what is going on. His response is key to understanding the rest of Jacob’s life:
“And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.” Genesis 25:23-26 NLT
Did you catch that? The older son will serve the younger son. Who was older? Esau. Who was younger? Jacob. Jacob was the son GOD chose to be the next in line for the Blessing not Esau. God chose Jacob before either child was ever born. During that time period, the older son was always the son of the family blessing. That usually meant his inheritance was double that of any of the other siblings, but in this case, GOD chose the youngest son, the second born, the least likely, to be the continuation of GOD’s great plan. His parents even named him Jacob which means: supplanter, schemer, and treachery. Wow! Talk about a promising start, but how many of us know that GOD is not concerned with what people say, but only what He says. For most of Jacob’s early life he lived up to what his parents had originally called him by blackmailing his brother for his birthright and “stealing” the blessing Isaac meant to give Esau. Jacob defined himself by what others called him and let his actions mirror those expectations, but GOD used these past experience to put Jacob on the road to becoming the father of the twelve original tribes of Israel. Jacob ran from his brother and family and fled to another land to a farm owned by his uncle Laban. There he married Laban’s two daughters and they had children. When it came time for Jacob to leave his uncle Laban and travel back to his home country, he was still the same man as before until he had an encounter with GOD. In what is one of the most interesting stories in all the Bible, Jacob physically wrestled with GOD all night. When morning came, in order to stop the wrestling, GOD dislocated Jacob’s hip and called him by another name:
“Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel; you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Genesis 32:28 MSG
God looked at Jacob and said you are no longer who you think you are. You are now who I say you are. You are Israel. You are no longer defined by what others have said or what you think, but you are now defined by the future that I have for you. In the New Testament, Paul describes this transaction for us in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV
Just like Jacob, GOD doesn’t define us by our past mistakes or sins. He looks at our future and says, “You are the righteousness of GOD. You are made perfect in Me.” Before Jacob was ever born, GOD called him Israel and before you were ever born GOD called you by your distinct name. You were destined for greatness before you were ever formed in the womb. Satan always wants to remind us of our past, but your true past was destined before you ever took a breathe. When Satan tried to remind me of my past and how unqualified I am to be sharing the gospel through Anchor Movement, I just remind him of Jacob. When you read the genealogy of Jesus you see Jacob mentioned third from the top after his Grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, but what you don’t see is anything mentioned about his past. GOD doesn’t record Jacob’s past when describes his future. GOD only remembers his future and that is the only thing he remembers in your life. GOD doesn’t look at your past and define you by your mistakes or sins, but he looks at your future and says, “you are chosen, loved, and intended for greatness.” The next time Satan tries to remind you of your past, just tell him, "My name is Jacob!"
It’s that time of the year when NBA basketball teams are drafting their best talent for the future. All the hard work has paid off for those that shined during their college years and now they have the chance to be the best pick! Watching the NBA draft reminded me of when we went blueberry picking this past April. Our oldest daughter is now a great age for this kind of activity. She was so excited to get her bucket and head out to the blueberry bushes and gather her bushel. My husband and I were a bit more strategic about which ones we picked. We wanted the plump, ripe berries that didn’t have any spots or blemishes. Some hadn’t ripened yet and some had been exposed to the elements a little too long and had started to get mushy. Our daughter had a different strategy- she wanted ALL the berries! She had a plan and she was going for it! She plucked and plucked and we tried to show her the ones that would be more suitable but still her basket had some that didn’t look edible in it. As we headed back to the checkout where they weigh your buckets, she was so proud! She showed us her berries and we tossed out some of the bad ones but overall she had accomplished her goal, gathering as many berries as she could! When I got home we washed the berries and I noticed some of ours that looked great on the outside had some bugs on the inside that we couldn’t see from just glancing at them.
Sometimes we can be like blueberries (who would have thought)...outwardly looking pretty beat up & maybe even feeling that way, then ultimately tossed aside by others because of what we “look or act” like. Or maybe we are all put together on the outside but on the inside we are looking like the hot mess express- maybe having unforgiveness, shame, regret, fear, grief, bitterness, addiction etc.. and feeling unqualified or unloved.
Crazy as it sounds, just like Brooklyn picked her berries without discrimination, God looks at us and chooses us despite our flaws as well. He doesn’t want to throw us out, He’s willing to take us in, wash off our dirt, and adopt us into His family. We are still his “number one pick.” To others, you may be flawed but to God you’re fearfully and wonderfully made.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14 NIV.
This doesn’t negate that we should be progressive in our push towards being Christlike, but it means that God still wants us even at our worst-He can still see our potential even when we or others don’t. Because even on our best day, we are still far from perfect.
“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 NLT
Thankfully our Heavenly Father looks at our hearts. He sees us in all our mess and imperfection and looks beyond that to see our inner man.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT
Even when you feel like you’re last in line, bottom of the totem pole, the last man standing - God in all of His goodness would still choose you. He see’s the real you, and still calls you by name. He’s proud of His children. You are His number one pick!
“But now, this is what the LORD, your Creator says, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you [from captivity]; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” Isaiah 43:1 AMP
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My wife and I are very different when it comes to our personalities. She is extremely patient, I am not. She will face confrontation if need be, I am passive aggressive. She is very systematic and organized, my methods can sometimes be inefficient and messy. What makes us different makes our marriage work, but what I see in my daughter Brooklyn is a mix of both our personalities. Brooklyn is very passive aggressive when she plays with other children, but she likes her toys and books organized and in a certain order. When she smiles I see her mom and her love for music evokes memories of my own childhood growing up and listening to music. Brooklyn has the very nature of her mom and dad. You can easily see it when you spend time with her. GOD’s desire for His children is to emulate His nature in every area of life. Sometimes that’s the hardest when we have been hurt. Jesus knew we would face many different hurts and pains, but through them all He taught that our nature should match that of the children of GOD. In Luke 6:27-35, Jesus is teaching what we now call “The Sermon on the Mount:”
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise."
“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful."
Did you see what Jesus said at the very end? He said your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. Check out how The Passion Translation puts it:
"You will receive a rich reward and you will be known as true children of the Most High God, having his same nature. For your Father is famous for his kindness to heal even the thankless and cruel. Show mercy and compassion for others, just as your heavenly Father overflows with mercy and compassion for all.”
The Greek word for reward is misthos and the literal definition is “pay for service or wages.” Jesus is saying if you take care of those who curse you, if you are generous without looking for anything in return, GOD will reward you. GOD will make sure that you are taken care of. I know it sounds counterintuitive to how we are feeling in the moment: In the moment we want to lash out, scream, punch, or tell someone how we really feel, but that is not what Jesus is calling us to do. When someone is mistreating us, or hurting us, our first thought is how can I get payback or justice, but Jesus blows those thoughts up. He says, “You go be generous to them. You find a way to bless them.” Maybe it’s a parent or a spouse who has caused deep pain and the thought of doing something nice can’t make it past the unforgiveness still locked in your heart. Maybe its a friend or sibling who left you when you needed them most and now they need a friend. Its your chance to reach out and be there for them when they weren’t there for you, but the memory and hurt is too fresh. We can either let that pain and hurt keep us locked in or we can step out and show others what true children of GOD look like. The characteristic of GOD is unconditional love and forgiveness and that same nature lives in each one of us. We have the ability to show others that even through our pain, disappointment, and grief we can still display the awesome love of GOD. The same hands that reached down to comfort us can now reach out to those who hurt us and comfort them. Our prayer is that GOD’s children will be so full of the goodness, love, and the favor of GOD that others around us will not be able to deny that we are the true children of GOD.
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