Imagine what Stranger Things would be like without the techno music pulsating in the background. Or Full House without “Everywhere You Look”. Or SpongeBob without “Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea”!? Or Jaws without “duuuun dunnn…”! Or Rocky without the “Eye of the Tiger”!?!
Whether you realize it or not, music is one of the most powerful forces in the world. The right music can pump up an athlete for a hardcore workout while a lullaby can calm a child into a peaceful sleep. Music can feed a person’s rage or help them focus on their studies.
When I was a young teenager I went to my very first concert. Several hundred people, mostly teenagers and young adults, were jammed in a small venue. The neon colors so prevalent in the 80’s were muted by the haze from the fog machines. The energy level went through the roof as Mylon Lefevre and Broken Heart came out on the stage. These guys were some of the first to bridge the gap between rock music and Christianity.
Partway through the concert one of the band members went off on a nasty guitar solo (I mean that in a good way). The room went nuts. Then, an acoustic guitar began playing a song I had never heard before. I listened as Mylon began to sing what was really a prayer put to music:
Break my heart and change my mind
Cut me loose from ties that bind
Lead me as I follow You
Give me strength to follow through
Oh, more, more, I want to be more like Jesus
Suddenly, amidst the haze and the lights and the crowd, I felt the presence of God. He became very real to me. Tears welled up in my eyes. I raised my hands to the heavens and cried out to God. I wanted to be more like Jesus. (Listen to More, by Mylon LeFevre.)
That song became a sort of anthem for me. I remember being in my bedroom on many occasions, burdened by the hypocrisy in my life, dropping to my knees, hands in the air, tears streaming, while I sang “more of Jesus, less of me.” God met me in those moments.
Today begins a long-standing church tradition called Lent. The 40 days leading up to Resurrection Sunday are a time for reflection, repentance, soul-searching, and preparation leading up to the celebration of the most significant event in history – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many believers choose to fast some type of food or deny themselves in some way in order to give focused attention to Jesus. While I don’t think the observation of Lent is mandated by Scripture, I have found it to be valuable.
What would it look like if you, for the next 40 days, devoted yourself to listen only to music that makes you more like Jesus? Imagine the benefits on your mind, your emotions, your attitude, and your relationships.
Sometimes “more of Jesus” requires “less of me.”
Today you will be tempted. I will, too. If we choose that which is forbidden, the repercussions of our decisions can range from “no big deal” to “long-term destruction.”
Where is the line? What, exactly, makes something a sin? Clearly, cheating on my diet is not the same thing as cheating on my taxes or cheating on my wife. How then should I view temptation, and, more importantly, how can I overcome it when I face it?
A deeply significant account of temptation is told of Jesus Himself, who, after fasting for 40 days, was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan (see Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4).
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
The New King James Version. (1982). (Mt 4:1–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
If temptation is merely defined as an allurement toward sin, we are only viewing one side of the coin. Properly understood, temptation involves not merely a turning toward sin, but a turning from God. In other words, the actual temptation is to distrust God to be all-sufficient in our lives. Temptation, then, is not so much about what we are drawn to, but who we are drawn away from.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent and ate that which was forbidden. But why? Because they, in that moment, trusted their own judgment more than trusted God.
When faced with temptations, our consciences often alert us that something is not right, but we often override the warnings and justify our actions. In essence, we choose to be god, defining good and evil for ourselves. This is, in fact, the ultimate sin of humanity, it is the iniquity that resides in us – to define good and evil for ourselves and to be our own gods.
Today you will be tempted to be god. You will want to justify an action, an attitude, or a thought. Ask yourself, why am I not trusting God right now? Why am I listening to the voice of the enemy? Why am I entertaining the idea of being my own god?
The enemy overpromises and underdelivers.
- Satan promised provision (if Jesus would turn rocks into bread).
- Satan promised protection (if Jesus would jump from the pinnacle of the Temple).
- Satan promised power (if Jesus would bow and worship him, Satan would give Him the kingdoms of the world).
Jesus, however, knew the limitations and manipulations of Satan’s offers.
- Only God can truly provide for our deepest needs.
- Only God can truly protect us from the enemy of our souls.
- Only God can truly empower us with eternal glory and authority.
Temptation, once properly analyzed, begins to lose its luster and loosen its grip. Why would I trust the enemy of my soul, who is a master deceiver? Why would I trust my own human judgment, enthroning myself as the god of my life, defining good and evil for myself? Why would I follow the ways and wisdom of the world, which leads to utter destruction?
Why wouldn’t I trust God? Has He ever been unfaithful to His Word, or to me?
I met Tommy at a local coffee shop. He was playing solitaire – like, with an actual deck of cards. I sat down at a table next to him. He asked me what time it was. Then he asked what day it was.
At one point he leaned over and asked if I had a calculator. I pulled out my phone and asked him what equation he needed to be solved. He said, “I want to know the exact amount of B25.” I thought to myself, “I’m gonna need to turn my calculator sideways for this one.” I asked him what number B represented, but he wasn’t sure.
Tommy told me he slept in the bushes last night. The temperature dropped close to the freezing point. I can’t imagine how cold he must have been.
I asked Tommy if he was hungry, then walked with him to the counter and let him order whatever he wanted. I paid for his meal and then gave him some cash so he could have a few more meals. He thanked me and then he gave me a hug.
When you meet someone’s immediate needs, you are that much closer to meeting their deepest need.
I didn’t meet Tommy’s deepest need today, but I met an immediate need. The truth is, only Jesus can meet a person’s deepest need, but one thing I can do is give people Hope.
In his famous “sermon on the mount” Jesus revealed the kind of conversation that will one day occur between Him and His faithful followers.
The King will say, “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Mt. 25:35-40, NKJV).
Do you want to give somebody Hope today?
- Engage your hands. Look for opportunities to minister to people in practical ways.
- Engage your heart. Live an authentic life for Jesus.
- Engage your head. Learn how to answer life’s questions by studying God’s word and compassionately applying it to real life.
You are most fulfilled when you give yourself to others. Today is a good day to give somebody Hope!
I follow Jesus.
I don’t follow Him perfectly, but I follow Him sincerely.
I do not follow Christianity. I do not follow Christians. I follow Christ.
Those are important distinctions.
There are some who assume that believers follow Christianity itself- that is, the systems, structures, beliefs, traditions, and teachings of the church throughout history.
Although we should learn from and appreciate those things, there are recognizable and regretful imperfections and failures within “Christianity” – things that were done in the name of Christ but did/do not accurately reflect His character or His heart toward people. So, while I place value in Christianity, I do not follow a set of systems, traditions, or practices, per se.
Others may mistakenly think that believers simply follow other Christians. This caricaturization often views believers either as peons following pied pipers, who themselves are either deceivers or deceived, or as unenlightened simpletons whose insecurities make them vulnerable to misguided truths propagated by equally blinded leaders.
True believers value leadership and honor people in authority, but not without careful consideration and personal responsibility. So, while I recognize the significance of other Christians in my life, they are not who I ultimately follow.
I do not follow Christianity. I do not follow Christians. I follow Christ.
Christianity is imperfect. Christians are imperfect. But Jesus… just look at the historical evidence of His life and ministry. He loved people, no matter their sin. He healed people. He forgave people. He spoke truth. No imperfection was ever found in Him. He was truly good.
Neither the flaws of Christianity nor the failures of Christians disprove or devalue the reality of Jesus Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, or victorious resurrection. You may have issues with Christianity and with particular Christians, but what issue do you have with Christ Himself?
Why do I follow Jesus?
Of the myriad of reasons I follow Jesus, there is one that stands out today: He is a Good Shepherd. A careful reading of John 10 and Psalm 23 reveals these characteristics of the Shepherd of my soul:
- He knows me.
- He walks with me.
- He gives me rest.
- He restores my soul.
- He leads me.
- He protects me.
- He comforts me.
- He provides for me.
- He anoints me.
- He pursues me.
- He never leaves me.
Perhaps Christianity has disappointed you. Perhaps Christians have failed you. I encourage you to consider Jesus Himself – the Person. Don’t allow the imperfections of Christianity or Christians to cause you to disqualify the Christ.
Look to Jesus. He is the author and the finisher of faith, and He is Someone worth following.
Photo by Timothy O’Toole, Galway, Ireland
For 38 years he was unable to walk. As a last resort, desperate for a miracle, he arranged to be taken to the Pool of Bethesda, where it was believed that angels occasionally stirred the waters, bring healing to the infirmed. But it never happened for him.
Waiting can be wearisome. Our high hopes can be eroded by daily disappointments.
But then the man came face to face with Jesus, who looked at the man with compassion and said, “Get up.” Inherent in the command was the capacity. His miracle had come, and the man got up. With one encounter, waiting turned to walking.
Jesus makes all the difference.
Photo: The partially excavated Pool of Bethesda is located beside the Church of Saint Anne (mother of Mary).