P.S. God Loves You

Being a Christian is an extraordinary privilege. It is not the result of our own doing nor is it a reward for the elite of humanity. It is merely the freely given gift of the Father to a broken creation that He loves very much. I think that if we really experience God for who He truly is, we would tell everyone about the gift that He offers. The beauty of the gift is not wealth, it’s not pleasure nor is it status or fame; it is God Himself. As a Father, God loves us so much and wants to give us only the best and the best He can give us is Himself; nothing is more than God. If God didn’t love us that much He would give us money, earthly pleasure and maybe a few thousand followers on Instagram to boost our self-esteem, but because He loves us so, so much He wants to give us that which won’t temporarily fill us and leave us empty afterwards. He loves us too much to offer us a gift that won’t sustain us and fill us with significance and purpose.

That is why the Bible tells us to not pursue sexual pleasure, or fame or money or alcohol or anything other than Jesus. It’s not to keep us from living a good life; it’s to help us realize that pursuing these things will only frustrate us, because it’s not the real deal. We get distracted and follow what seems to be fulfilling in this world, but we end up disappointed and full of shame and guilt. So many people think the Christian life is full of rules that just exhaust all the joy out of life, but I don’t think they understand. Being a Christian is a declaration that you finally realize that what God offers is better than all. It fills all the voids and gives reason for life, it fills us with purpose.

Reading the Bible is like God’s way of saying I am what you have been looking for; I am the best you can ever experience or find in your entire existence. So don’t pursue earthly things, because it‘s going to promise what only I can give you, but will never be able to deliver on that promise. It might sound arrogant, but it’s the purest form of love. It’s God looking at you and saying I love you so much, that I only want to give you the best, and since nothing can be better or more than Me, because I am God, I am offering myself to you. Pursue Me, follow Me, put your trust in Me and I won’t let go of you, I will never let you down, but you have to follow Me with your entire heart, because following Me while simultaneously following something else will only hinder your sight and you won’t realize who I truly am.

See God loves you, and I know it’s been said all over the place, everyone has probably heard or seen the words “God loves you”, but allow it to sink in, to really see the words you are looking at. Realizing that GOD… LOVES…YOU. Even though the mistakes, even though the shameful acts you never thought you’d do, even though the disappointment you might think you are, God sent His Son, Jesus, to take that all away. He only wants you to realize that He is what you have been looking for.

My prayer truly is that you understand the desire God has for you to accept the fact that He already chose you and that He wants you to choose Him in response. I am writing this not because I am victorious in all of my struggles in life and have a blueprint to successful Christianity, but because I am now able to see that it’s not because of reaching a certain level of purity that fills me and makes sense of this thing we call life, it’s only because I realized it’s only God and the pursuit of Him that can possibly add value to such a broken person and He can add value to you too.

Change of Heart

Part 1 of 3

It is very difficult today to know where Christianity is going and whether or not it is going in the direction God intended it to go. Around every corner there is a different opinion on what is true and what isn’t. A common one is the whole debate around Joel Osteen and the preaching of prosperity Gospel. Another one is Hillsong church which is often criticized to be more of a business than a church. On the other hand you have all these different church denominations, each having their own doctrine and as a Christian I am confused to why there are so many. After all God only gave us one Bible.

That said I have come to know that if you really want to, you can manipulate the Biblical message to say whatever you want it to say. As a theology student a significant part of my studies is about philosophers and theologians and their opinions on certain topics, on a lot of topics actually, and through this I have to decipher what the right or most accurate answer is. Based on the theology of ten others I have to form my own theology and then when I graduate I share my theology with others. So I understand where all these different perspectives and opinions come from. My concern though is that what if we all go out and share our own view on Christianity, but fail to share the truth.

I would want nothing more than to have you reading this blog, study the Bible and decide for yourself whether or not what you are reading is Biblical or not. Don’t just take my word for it. I honestly believe in my heart that I am writing that which God wants me to write. I started this blog because God told me to start this blog, but it would be very naive of anyone to read my blog and just declare it to be truth. I pray that you would study the Bible, pursue Jesus and decide for yourself whether or not it is beneficial for you to read this blog.

Today we become hooked on the latest update on what Christianity is and establish that to be the truth. Every opinion we hear, every article we read and every sermon we listen to form our image of Christianity, but we don’t even bother to read the Bible ourselves. For almost a decade I have been a Christian and for the majority of it I followed the latest, most persuasive view on Christianity that had fallen on my ears. So many times I felt disheartened because I did that which the church said I should do in order to be a Christian, but internally I never experienced it having a real transformation in my life. I missed the whole point of deciding to be a Christian, because I never pursued understanding Christianity for myself.


Part 2 of 3

At the age of about 10 or 11 years old I decided to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Till this day I have no idea what the date or time of that decision was, but I know I did it. Often I would get these thoughts that maybe I didn’t really commit to Jesus and that it is just a created memory. Even though I knew this were all lies I was led to think that I needed a day, a date, that I can recall on which I decided to follow Jesus. As a result of this I felt I needed to answer an altar call and physically in that manner accept Jesus. So on the evening of the 20th of October 2013, in a Hillsong Somerset West service I raised my hand and stood up at the altar call and physically proved that I accept Jesus in my life even though I was a Christian for about 8 years at that point. For the following week I felt really close to God and was determined to change my habits and prioritize my life even more around Jesus. I was motivated to study the Bible and actually live my life according to it. Unfortunately though this only lasted for about a week and then everything slowly faded back to how they were before I stood up in church. Yes I was still a Christian by faith, but just without the passion and devotion to God, saying I follow Him but not necessarily proving it with my entire life.

The following year God started to say to me that I should get baptized. I grew up in a church where you can only get baptized as a baby and even though I was baptized as a baby God would often remind me that He still wanted me to get baptized; and so in 2014, on the 16th of August I got baptized. Even though I knew that baptism doesn’t determine whether or not a person goes to heaven, I still viewed baptism as a requirement. Something God requires us to do before He enable us to live a life that pleases Him, but two days after being baptized my life was back to normal. I thought I was going to experience something amazing inside of me, something that will make me follow Jesus with a great passion for the rest of my life, but that wasn’t the case. I still had the same desires to do wrong, the same meek desire to read the Bible and to do what it says.

My Christian life was constantly up and down and I would often attend church and afterwards go home, declare to God that from now on I will seek Him above all else, but then after a day or two it would fade away. It’s like going to a Christian conference and afterwards being fired up and ready to change the world, but then after a few days the passion fades away. It is like having terrible tooth pain. When you experience the pain you tell yourself that you will brush your teeth every day, floss and do a daily mouth wash, but when the tooth pain goes away, suddenly you forget about the pain and lose your discipline to care for your teeth.

As a Christian my desire is to be fully committed to Christ. I don’t want to be a hypocrite that speaks a life different to that which I live. God says in Revelation 3:16 that He spits the lukewarm out of His mouth. I don’t want to be lukewarm and for the majority of the last 10 years that is exactly what I was. I pursued a moment where everything would instantly change. I thought I would have a burning bush moment and that everything will change forever. That I will never have bad desires or sinful thoughts ever again, but I had it so wrong. I misunderstood baptism for what it is intended for. I misunderstood what the altar call is all about.

Christianity is actually very simple and it can be described in one sentence. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). It is really all about this. God wants us to love Him with our entire being, with everything that we are. This is what Jesus wants from us, a heart that desires after Him every second of every day, but to get baptized and hope to receive such a heart is being naïve. To raise your hand at an altar call and expect to have such a change of heart is being naïve. Baptism should be a reflection of the change of heart that has occurred within you and the same with responding to an altar call. Raising your hand is a physical sign of the change of heart that has taken place inside of you. Anyone can get baptized and anyone can raise their hand in church, but not everyone has a heart that is consumed with pursuing Christ.

I have heard it been said that a lot of times people make emotional decisions in church. Some of the pastors today are amazing speakers and with the keys playing in the background you are most certainly going to feel inspired and motivated. The thing is that if you have a change of heart then these moments, whether emotional or not, can only add to your relationship with Jesus. Even though after a few days that specific inspiration may fade away it doesn’t reflect the state your heart is in. Our hearts should already be for Jesus and this will only help us to be more committed. What one shouldn’t do is to pursue a cycle of inspiring moments.

Let’s say for example that your tooth hurts every Tuesday. So every Tuesday you feel pain and are determined to from now on brush your teeth every day, but by Friday you’re not motivated anymore so you stop brushing your teeth as often as you said you would. What this only indicates is that you aren’t really committed to having healthy teeth. The same goes for our Christian life. If we get inspired to live a Christian life every time we hear a good sermon, after a few days our inspiration will fade and then what? But if our hearts are already for Christ then the sermons we hear can only give us a greater love for Him. It’s like already brushing your teeth every day and then when Tuesday comes you realize you need to brush it even more. By Friday you won’t stop brushing your teeth, because you already have a desire to brush it. So the tooth pain on Tuesday functions as an extra inspiration to help you excel in that which you are already doing.

It is a frustrating thing though if we expect that a moment will give us a change of heart, a complete devotion to following Jesus. Of course there are moments in our lives that change us, for example I think about Paul on the road to Damascus. When he encountered and spoke with Jesus it all changed for him, it was a moment that determined his entire life forward. Was it an inspiring moment? Certainly, he spoke with Jesus after all, but Paul didn’t lose interest in Jesus after a few days when he got his sight back. What happened on that road was a change occurred in Paul’s heart. He wasn’t the same person anymore. Sure he looked the same, but internally he was a different person. Did Paul get baptized shortly after he got his sight back? Yes, but his baptism was a declaration of what had already occurred inside of him.

What I for almost a decade pursued was a moment like this, a moment where everything would automatically just change, but I now realize that what I needed to pursue was a change of heart. I realize now that this is how Christianity works, well for me anyway. To say that all Christians have and need the same process to get to Jesus is totally wrong.


Part 3 of 3

Now what I want to talk about is that change of heart. What is it really and how does one have one’s heart changed? In Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23 we read about how Jesus said to His disciples that if any of them wants to be His follower, he must turn from his selfish ways, take up his cross and follow Him. The part that we often don’t realize is that this actually includes carrying our cross as we follow Him. Jesus isn’t describing a dead lift here. Jesus didn’t say pick up your cross, then put it down again, and now follow me. It is one action, one movement. On a different occasion Jesus spoke to a large crowd that followed Him, and told them that if they wanted to be His disciples, they should first calculate if they have what it takes. He used a story of a builder among others and said the following in Luke 14:28-29:

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.”

Jesus said that in the same way you would calculate what it costs to build a house before you build it, you should think and calculate whether or not you are truly committed to see your walk with Him through till the end. Now what does this have to do with a change of heart? Well actually everything. See no one builds a house before drawing up some plans and checking their balance to see if they have enough money for the project. Now Jesus only addressed this part, the planning and calculating part, but what good is it to have the plan, to have the finance, to have the equipment, but not have the house? My point is that even though Jesus said we must calculate, I believe He also wants us to think further, He wants us to go and actually build that house.

See having a change of heart is calculating and deciding that you are willing and committed to following Jesus as He says we should in His word, but proving the change of heart is in the life that follows after that calculation. You calculate and then you build the house until it is finished. That is how you know you actually have what it takes. Anyone can say that they have enough to build a house, but not all of them can actually prove it. In the same manner we calculate, declare and go out and prove it. We love, we forgive, we help, we inspire, we encourage and we share the Gospel. After we commit to Jesus we prove our commitment by pursuing Him, we read His word, we pray and we stay obedient to His voice. We feed the poor, we love our enemies and we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We study His word and live it out even though we don’t want to, even though we don’t feel like it and even though it doesn’t seem to change anything.

Being a Christian takes great dedication and endurance. There is a ridiculous amount of distractions and attractive things in this world that greatly want to stop us from proving we have a change of heart. Building that house to prove you have enough isn’t easy, but only with God’s help and grace is it possible. And as we prove that we have what it takes, as we endure and persevere we claim our change of heart. We don’t have a change of heart and then go out and live according to it. We declare that we have a change of heart that desires Jesus above anything else and then we pursue it with whatever we have and we prove that we actually do have a change of heart.

My prayer is that as Christians we shouldn’t depend and hang on to moments of inspiration, but that we will claim our change of heart. My prayer is that we kneel before Jesus with a realization of how much He loves us and say to Him that our hearts are for Him; and then with faith in Him and dependence on Him we live our lives proving it and seeing it to be true.

Paul said it himself at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me–the crown of righteousness.” Paul declared that he had a change of heart on the road to Damascus and lived a life that proved it. He had enough to build his house and his house is pleasing to God.

So the question is… do you have a change of heart?

Why I believe in God

As a young boy I grew up knowing Jesus. I was brought up in a Christian home and going to church, reading the Bible and praying were things I experienced as normal. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was very young, probably at the age of 10 or 11 and I have walked the Christian path ever since. I never doubted the existence of God, I never needed to. There were obviously times when things were tough, I mean life happens. I often ran to God for comfort, guidance and security, but it wasn’t to such an extent that I started to doubt whether this God I’m running to actually did exist. And I always did find comfort, guidance and security in Him.

Christianity was never something I questioned. I wasn’t interested in what the scientists had to say about creation or how humans evolved from the ape. I was content with the bible and the Christian beliefs. Just over a year ago I started to mentor a young person who at that time considered himself to be an atheist. For the first time I encountered someone who didn’t believe in Jesus and had no problem confirming it. I was offered Christianity on a plate by my parents and I decided to accept it and make it my life. He on the other hand didn’t receive the same offer. Growing up with an alcoholic father and having to see his parents separate because of it was definitely not my life. I realized then that what I believe in and see as the only and obvious path to take, others simply don’t. Where is God in divorce? In an alcoholic parent? I never had to weigh my faith up against such painful realities of life. How can I tell an atheist that Jesus is real and that He makes all things well? I don’t have any scientific knowledge that could prove what I believe and even if I did would it be enough? There is no experiment for proving God exists.

Even though I was raised to believe in God, that is not why I believe. I have had too many moments where I have seen God in my life, both in the little things, but also in the big, life-changing things.

In 2012 I finished high school and went off to Stellenbosch University to study mechatronic engineering. I was excited and thought I was going to be able to maintain my high school marks throughout my further studies. At that point I have never failed or even came close to failing a test or module so I probably had reason to feel confident. First semester came and gone. We had 5 modules from which I passed 4 and failed 1, but that’s not too bad right. Second semester came and gone. Again we had 5 modules, but this time I failed 4 and passed 1. I never expected to get these results. I studied hard, I wrote the exams okay, but I still failed by quite a margin. Being certain that engineering was the career for me I was devastated when this happened. I failed to such an extent that I couldn’t continue to study engineering and switching universities wasn’t an offer on the table. I was broken. The only other study directions I could pursue were basic economics, education and a few other degrees I also weren’t interested in. I really disliked them all and definitely wouldn’t study any one of them. I was sold out for engineering and having received a 4-year free bursary I thought that it was definitely a sign that God wanted me to study it, but then this happened.

For about 30 days after I received my results back I was lost. I isolated myself from friends and spent hours in my room every day asking God what I should do. I wasn’t good company, I was embarrassed, confused and sad. I cried. I got angry at myself for not having studied harder and all I could think about was “what am I going to study?”, “Am I going to study?” Above all I didn’t just want to study anything, I wanted to do what God wanted me to do, otherwise I will just end up here again. So for 30 days every day I prayed, felt discouraged, didn’t smile a lot and kept on waiting for God to show me an answer. I asked God for clarity and to show me what He wanted me to do, but in return all I got was silence.

Time was running out and soon I had to return to the university to let them know what degree I wanted to change to. I later realized I had the option to study forestry for a year, which had almost identical first year modules as engineering, and then afterwards just continue with my engineering degree, but I knew God didn’t want me studying engineering. As the days remaining got less I started to hear God’s voice. It wasn’t an audible voice, but I started to think of studying theology. Even though I was a Christian almost my entire life I have never thought of studying theology and being someone preaching the message of Jesus like that. I didn’t think I could, I was terrified of speaking in front of people, but the desire started to grow in me to study theology and to confirm that it was truly God’s will and not just my own feelings, God gave me three signs.

  1. In the first few months of studying engineering God told me to start a Facebook page through which He can use me to share His word and help others on their Christian journey. One evening I made a post on purpose and felt unsure about how to spell the word ‘purpose’. So that evening, while waiting in KFC for my order, I Googled ‘purpose’ and after seeing the correct spelling I thought why not scroll down. I came across an article written by Melissa Evans that talked about soul purpose and how we should follow our hearts in our decisions and not just take the option that best accommodates our friends and family. When I read this I felt a sensation rush through me and I knew it was God telling me to study theology.
  1. The second sign I got was also near the end of that 30 day period when I felt so lost and discouraged. While lying on my bed, and not knowing what to think I felt something tell me to read a book, which is definitely not normal. So I got up, went to my bookshelf and took a book I had bought over a year ago and probably read over 8 months ago at that time. It was the book “Life Without Limits” by Nick Vujicic. Amazingly enough the page I had stopped at all those months ago started with Nick Vujicic writing about how he had to decide between either pursuing accounting, because he is good in numbers, or pursuing a life of public speaking and sharing the love of God through that. Accounting would have been the safe, logical option and it would’ve best satisfied his parents also. But Nick decided to pursue Jesus full time instead and be a beacon of hope for this world by traveling and encouraging people through his story all over the world. When I read about how he chose Jesus, I realized again that Jesus was telling me to pursue Him by studying theology.

 Nick Vujicic

  1. The last sign I got was a photo I saw on Facebook. Now usually I see a lot of photos and just scroll by, but when I saw this particular photo I immediately stopped. It described my situation so well, because for a long time I was actually contemplating theology, but only as a thought and I always ignored it, because I felt the possibility of it happening was just nonexistent.

IMG_9827426483618

On the 30th December 2013, 01:51 to be exact, I thought about all these signs and how everything has worked out and so I prayed to God and made the decision to study theology and pursue not my own will but that of God’s. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure if I was making the right decision. I knew what I felt in those three moments and I could see looking back over the past few years that God had caused everything to work out for the best, but there was still doubt in me. Shouldn’t I rather study forestry for a year and then just continue with engineering? But I chose to ignore the doubt and uncertainty, and trust what God had shown me. I decided to lean not on my own understanding, but to place my life in God’s hands and just trust Him and that has been the greatest decision I have ever made. This has led me to start this blog, to mentor 15 people, to be a youth leader and to speak confidently in front of people. God has used me to help my once atheist friend become a Christian. I am in awe of what has happened only from that one decision. I shudder to think at where I would’ve been if I hadn’t made that decision and even more so, if I hadn’t been a Christian. Definitely not writing this post and maybe studying basic economics and hating what I do.

If it hadn’t been for God’s grace and direction I don’t know what I would’ve done. He has shown me so many times that He is real. I cannot doubt anymore. Sometimes God is silent, but He is there and He will never leave us. He has given us His spirit, we are never alone.

Like saying I am in love, I cannot prove it. I may buy flowers and chocolates for that special person as a sign of my love, but it’s not proof that I am in love. Having affection and caring for someone are signs of love, but it’s not proof of love. I can say the sweetest words and show the greatest attention to the small things, but it’s not proof of love. It can easily be false, pretended and insincere. Only I will truly know if I am in love or not and I will never be able to prove it, but I know what I feel and I know it is true. In the same way I cannot prove that God is real, but I know what I feel and I know what I have seen and I know it is true. I know how God has worked and helped me in my life and I cannot imagine how lost I would’ve been without Him, and if you ask Him, He will show you He is real too.

Love is Real. God is Love. God is Real.

God’s Gift

When I think about the cross and the death of Jesus I am silenced, in awe, grateful, but also bewildered. I read through the Gospels and I see how Jesus suffered persecution and ultimately died on the cross in the most horrific way. It’s the greatest love story ever; God the Father sending His Son to take away the sin of the world. Today we celebrate this and give praise to God for what He had done, for what Jesus had done and for the Holy Spirit who lives within us and helps us realize what this actually means for those who believe.

Because of the cross and Jesus’ resurrection we can smile. We can live with this freedom and authority over sin. We know that eternity now has a home and we can spend it in the presence of God. Even though we often struggle with sin and turn from God we know that it’s not about our good deeds or the lack thereof, but about what Christ had already done and declared finished. I love the initial words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus, saying “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s amazing the impact of Jesus’ life. We find purpose and joy in Him. We get to laugh with Him and cry with Him. We can place our hope in Him and know that He won’t disappoint us, but best of all we get to experience the unconditional love of God that just breaks our mental capacity to understand.

Everything is so good for us, we receive the benefits of an act we didn’t do, couldn’t do and don’t deserve. In the Bible we read that Jesus prayed, asking His Father if there isn’t any possibility that His suffering might be different, asking if there isn’t any other way, yet still He wants His Father’s will to be done and not His own. Jesus said that His soul was crushed with grief to the point of death. He was in such agony that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Isaiah 53 says that Jesus’ face was tortured and disfigured to such an extent that He didn’t seem human. From His appearance one couldn’t really see that He was a man. Apart from Jesus’ physical suffering, His greatest suffering was spiritually; for He had the entire world’s sin on His shoulders. 1 Peter 2:24 says that He carried our sins in His body on the cross.

This is for me just incredible and it adds to why I am bewildered when I think of the cross. I can’t fathom why Jesus endured such pain and agony just to save me and you. We will never be able to say that Jesus’s death made sense, because we are remarkable human beings, because we are not. Even though God made us in a remarkable way, we sin every day. Our lives aren’t remarkable and we fall so far short of God’s standard. We are not to die for, yet for us Jesus did die for. It just shows that the love God has for us is too great for us to understand. It requires no standard, it demands no return and it gives with no intention to receive.

Even though in this piece I ponder on the question why Jesus died for us, I think that we shouldn’t be on a mission to understand God’s love, because we won’t. Rather we should embrace it, experience it and let it change us, but most importantly we must love with it and share Jesus’ story to the whole world for everyone must know that they are loved more than they could ever understand.

“…And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”  ~ Frederick Buechner

 

Real Christianity isn’t easy

As a Christian it is a special thing to see someone give their heart to Jesus. Experiencing the moment when they decide to follow God and believe in all that He has done. It is the ultimate reward. For we were told by Jesus to go out and make disciples of all nations. It is the best decision anyone can make. It doesn’t necessarily change your life instantaneously, but your whole life now has a different route it follows. A route of hope, love, purpose and joy. A route where Jesus walks with you and will never abandon you.

Although the Bible says that every time a person decides to repent and follow Jesus that Heaven rejoices, it also says that the path suddenly became a lot narrower. Suddenly we have to say no to things we used to gladly say yes to; and we have to say yes to certain things we used to say no to. When I recall some of the Scriptures I have read I think of how in Hebrews 12:1 the author says that we must run with endurance the race God has set before us. Why would he put the word endurance in there? Because as a Christian that is what you need in order to survive. Without endurance we won’t be able to resist temptations. We will continually be dragged into sinful things if we don’t have the endurance to go against our own desires and stand on the word of God.

In Ephesians 6 from verse 10 we read about the armor of God. Nothing easy requires an armor. Especially not one with 6 individual parts each serving a significant purpose, but Paul recommends that we put it on so that we can stand firm against the devil’s strategies. That moment when we decide to follow Christ, we enter into a spiritual war and we need this armor or else we stand little chance of winning. It describes how we are fighting not against humans, but against evil authorities in the heavenly realms. 1 Peter 5:8 describes the devil as a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. John 10:10 says that the devil comes only to steal, kill and destroy. It is very clear that as Christians we certainly have opposition.

I like the way the Message translation puts it:

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. (Ephesians 6:10-12 MSG)

For me the greatest indication that the Christian life is a struggle is the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Being a Christian is essentially a two-movement process. We have to run from certain things, but at the same time we run towards certain things. Most of the time the things we must run from are things our bodies desire. Whether it’s lust, jealousy, anger, forgiveness, pride or any other thing we need to decide that we are not going to be acquainted with these things, but that we will pursue righteousness. 1 Timothy 6:11 and 2 Timothy 2:22 speak about this pursuit of righteousness. Note that righteous living is not a destination. It is something you strive towards and run after every day in every decision you make.

To get back to Matthew 16:24, I want you to picture Jesus picking up His cross and carrying it. The Bible tells us that Jesus was too weak to carry it beyond the city walls and so Simon of Cyrene carried it to the place of His crucifixion on Golgotha (Latin equivalent is Calvary). I can’t see this cross to be anything light weight, nor do I imagine Jesus carrying it over tough terrain with little effort. Now Jesus says that if we decide to follow Him we must take up our own cross, and follow Him. This isn’t an easy carry your backpack moment. This is difficult and tiring and sometimes you’ll fall and sometimes you’ll carry it with great passion, but to assume that it is going to be an easy, blessing filled, prosperous journey from start to finish is just being naive.

Galatians 5 speaks about the fruits of the Spirit and also the fruits of the flesh. As human beings we are merely soul, spirit and flesh, to be very basic now. The Holy Spirit living within us, as Christians, produces good fruits in us such as love, joy, peace etc, but our flesh produces evil fruits in us such as jealousy, envy, sexual immorality etc. As Christians we have the responsibility to choose which fruits will form part of our identity. We will have to resist the flesh’s fruits and accommodate the fruits of the Spirit.

I believe that there is wisdom in knowing the tough terrain ahead and preparing yourself so that you can still be standing when the terrain evens out. Jesus even said it Himself, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 NIV). Further on in Luke 14 Jesus speaks about how we must calculate the cost required to be a Christian before we claim to be one and then live a life that contradicts it.

My purpose with this piece is neither to instigate fear into people nor to make Christianity look intimidating for non-Christians. My purpose is to stir up a fight in God’s people that causes them to deny themselves and seek the will of God. Being a Christian for almost a decade now, for the vast majority of this decade I thought that I was going to have a burning bush moment and then everything will change. I thought I was going to watch the best sermon on YouTube or attend a Passion conference and then everything will just be easy and smooth sailing. No more temptations, no more struggles. Just beautiful conflict-free days leading one after the other, but that’s not how it works. Although conferences and sermons guide you and feed you spiritually (and I love both of them), God has still given us the freedom to choose. Either we choose to please ourselves, which leads to nothing, or we choose to please God and gain everything.

The Christian path isn’t always the easiest journey, but it is the best journey you can ever go on. It fills you with significance, purpose, joy, love and being able to have a relationship with Jesus is just amazing beyond comprehension. The Christian life might not always be easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

Real Christianity changes lives

While I grew up I saw all these different perspectives and definitions of what Christianity is. I saw people declaring with their words that Jesus is their savior, but then turned around and lived these lives that went against it on so many levels. I went to churches that stood more for their doctrine and tradition than for the life of Jesus and what it means for those who believe in Him.

When I started my theology studies in 2014, during the first week everyone had to stand up and share something about themselves and say from which denomination they were. I honestly never knew there were so many denominations. I didn’t even know what the denomination of the church I went to was. I didn’t even know what this word “denomination” meant, but who I did know was Jesus and I thought that was all that mattered. I believe that Christianity is not defined by what church you attend, but by the life of Jesus Christ that changes lives.

I’ve approached people on the street sharing the Gospel with them, but afterwards I felt in my heart that I would’ve been more effective if I just showed interest in their lives, asking them how they were and actually meaning it, and telling them how much God loves them. I have realized that the reality of heaven and hell isn’t enough to make people follow Christ. Knowing that hell awaits us if we don’t believe in Jesus is not enough to make us believe in Jesus. I have chosen to sin so many times with the thought of Jesus on the cross in my head and I felt so bad about it afterwards, but as humans we make really stupid decisions sometimes.  The real part of Christianity that I believe actually causes people to turn from their ways is not knowing that if you don’t believe in Christ you will go to hell, but rather that even if you never choose to follow Christ, His love for you will never change, even if you consciously sin, even if your past is full of shame and even if you can’t guarantee a pure future. His love for you is constant and unconditional.

I don’t ever think we’ll be able to really understand this love of God for us, but I am sure that if we seek Him we will start to get just a glimpse of the big picture and we will have no choice than to throw down all our stuff, all our excuses and all our reasons why He could never love us and just accept the fact that He actually accepts us just as we are and follow Him. For love covers a multitude of sins.

If I could isolate one aspect of Jesus’ life that I really love, except everything else, it would be the way in which He ignored all social, cultural, religious, racial and gender barriers. He disregarded all norms of society just to talk to the outcast. Just to influence their hearts and to show them that He cares about them. Even though Jesus knew how perfect He was, without a hint of sin, He still went out to those living in shame. Sometimes we feel so righteous that we cannot seem to see the need in others. All we see are the mistakes people have made. Real Christianity breaks every barrier just to touch the heart of another, just to show interest in someone else for who they are and not the choices they have made. I think that nothing gives us a greater heart to help others than having a good understanding of the scandalous grace of God for us.

We will never be able to show people the love of God if we highlight their mistakes, even if it’s just as a thought in our heads. One thing we can be certain of is that everyone has sin, everyone makes mistakes and everyone has fallen short of God’s standard. So why do we feel better than other people just because they sin differently than us? But everyone is offered the love of God, His forgiveness and His grace. The same price paid to save me was paid to save someone else. We are all equally bad and so we must go out and focus on how equally loved we are by the Father and not how different our sins are through the eyes of the world.

For real Christianity focuses on loving others, and when they don’t love back, even if they will never love back, we keep on loving others. For that is what Christ did for us. Real Christianity changes lives, just like Jesus changed ours.

Seeking Jesus with the purpose of finding Jesus.

Are you following Jesus for Jesus… Or are you following Him for the benefits of following Him?

While sitting with a few of my friends in a group we were asked this question when we attended a small Christian event at our high school. At the time I probably didn’t think too much of it, but it stuck with me till this day, and I have to say, I cannot honestly say that I truly seek Jesus solely for Jesus. If all I get was Jesus would I really be content and satisfied with Him? Or is my heart’s desire for something else?

It might be easy to say that we desire Jesus more than money or fame, but do we seek Him more than we run from other things? You might struggle with an addiction and thus seek Jesus because you heard He breaks internal bondage and chains. Maybe you want to achieve a self-righteous life and you seek Jesus in the hopes of attaining that. Or you believe that only Jesus can make you the person your soul mate requires you to be and thus seeks Him with an ulterior motive. Imagine you were offered all the dreams and desires of your heart on the one hand and on the other Jesus stood there with a smile waiting on you to follow Him. Which option would you choose? Now look at your life and think about what decision your life truly reflect? Do you really live a life that reflects a person with a heart fully satisfied with Jesus and who He is?

Personally I am often guilty of this. I have experienced in my life that if I don’t on a constant basis seek Jesus, whether it is through prayer, studying the Bible, going to church or just having a normal daily conversation with Him, then I feel tempted and more vulnerable to seek for purpose in worldly things. If I had to stop praying, stop attending church and stop reading the Bible for a month  I would be in such a bad place and so off track. My personality would not resemble that of Christ and the fruits I would bear would be tasteless. Sometimes the fear of ending up like that is the main motivation why I go to church or pray or read my Bible. So how can I say that I truly seek Jesus for Jesus when I’m seeking Him only to obtain a socially more acceptable life as a Christian?

One of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” 

At times I feel that I seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness only to get to the “all things shall be added unto you” part. But it doesn’t make sense. It’s like marrying someone only to inherit their possessions when they eventually pass away, and then realizing that the person self was better than anything he or she could possibly have to offer. My point being that Jesus is the great treasure, not the blessings He can give you.

Jesus said it Himself in John 4:13-14, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 

Jesus has always been the answer. We should learn how to focus only on Him. Not to seek Him so that we can obtain the perfect life only He can give us. The Bible says that the plans God has for us are more than what the human mind can comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes this looks so attractive that we forget to add up, realizing that if the plans God has for us are so great, then how much greater mustn’t God be, the source of all these amazing plans!

Having a perfect job, perfect family and perfect life is great, but is that our goal? We are created to make a big deal of Jesus and His glory. And we should be content with that, for it’s only when we find rest, joy and purpose in Jesus for who He is, that we are able to fully enjoy the amazing plans and blessings that will follow. Seeking a righteous life by using Jesus as means to get there is almost impossible, but seeking Jesus only to find Him, will surely give you a righteous life.

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” (‭John‬ ‭6‬:‭35-40‬ NLT)