Characteristics of Christ | RESPONSIVENESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 27: Responsiveness (Mark 5:30)

One indicator of good leadership, in my opinion, is the ability to respond rather than react. It’s something I’m trying to get better at, honestly.

Too many leaders today are reactive. There always has to be a hot-take, an opinion, a “heated discussion” about whatever is happening in the world. And our “leaders” are reacting with harsh words, thoughtless actions, and all kinds of negative emotions.

But there’s a reason EMTs are more respected and highly thought of than our politicians and newscasters. First responders are trained to do exactly that – respond. They have to know what to do in any given situation, no matter how intense, dangerous, or life-threatening. The last thing you want from a first responder is panic.

Just as Jesus was never rushed or hurried, he also never panicked. Storm threatening to sink the boat? No worries. A demon-possessed man running out to you screaming? Calm, cool, and collected. Crowd wanting to arrest and kill him? Ope, just gonna slip right past ya.

We want leaders who keep their composure, not panic. Who respond with a plan, not react in fear or anger. Who remain confidently in charge of the situation, not abandoning ship.

But there’s one story in particular where maybe Jesus should have been a bit more rushed, maybe even panicked. He was on the way to heal a little girl who was sick to the point of death. The crowds were pressing in against him as they tried to make their way to the house. But then Jesus stopped. He was so in tune with God’s power at work within him that he felt someone get healed by touching his clothes.

He stopped. Time is of the essence, and he stopped in the middle of the road and wouldn’t proceed until he figured out what happened. Finally a woman came forward, and Jesus commended her faith.

Jesus was responsive to the needs of others. She needed not just healing but restoration into the community. Jesus knew her story needed to be told.

But what about the girl? Oh, she died. But she got better.

Like Jesus, let’s be more responsive and less reactive.

Characteristics of Christ | COMFORT

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 26: Comfort (Matthew 11:28-30)

We all like to be comfortable. Sometimes we take that to the extreme. How many of us stocked up on comfy pants during COVID lockdowns? You probably have a comfortable chair you always sit in. You develop routines because going through the same routines is comfortable.

There are definitely times when Jesus challenges this kind of comfort – take up your cross and follow me, and so on. But Jesus also offered comfort, too. The crowds were like sheep without a shepherd. They were living under an oppressive governmental system, made worse by an oppressive religious system, too. Life seemed bleak and hopeless for many.

The prevailing idea was that if they just tried hard enough and followed the religious laws closely enough, then God would act on their behalf to drive out the oppressors and reestablish Israel as an independent nation once again. It was a pipe dream. No one could live up to that level of religious perfection.

It was like a heavy yoke strapped around your shoulders weighing you down. You couldn’t win! There were no good options for the average Jew.

And then Jesus came along. He empowered people to break free from the yokes of bondage, whether political or religious. He offered a new way, a way that was difficult, yes, but it ultimately brought freedom and comfort.

If you’re weary, stressed out, riddled with anxiety, struggling under the weight of life – come to Jesus. No yelling. No judgment. No “you should…” No “if I were you…” No “I told you so.”

Just rest and peace and comfort. His yoke is easy – there is still work to do but he is no slave driver. His burden is light – take the weight off your shoulders and let him carry it for a bit. He’s humble and gentle, no drill sergeant. You’ll find rest for the deep part of you that’s always tired. Real rest.

Characteristics of Christ | POWER

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 25: Power (Mark 4:41)

I don’t think most of us know what real power is.

We can get close. Maybe you’ve been to an Indy Car race as the drivers barrel down the track at breakneck speeds, engines roaring. Maybe you’ve been to a monster truck rally, as the vehicular behemoths fly through the air over a pile of crushed cars. Maybe you’ve seen a feat of athletic performance that left you stunned and speechless.

But what is real power? What would we even do if we encountered it?

We have the technology to predict a storm, but we are nowhere near powerful enough to stop a storm dead in its tracks. We can treat mental illness, but we are nowhere near powerful enough to cure someone outright. We can provide medical treatment, but we can’t bring the dead back to life.

Jesus could. He could do all those things. Mark 4:35 through the end of ch 5 contains the most prominent displays of Christ’s power while here on earth. He calmed a storm, drove out demons, healed an incurable disease, and raised a girl from the dead.

And how did people react? They were terrified!

Which is more terrifying: the storm or someone who can control the weather? the demons or the one who can command the demons? death or the one who can bend it to his own will?

When we come face to face with real power we can’t help but be dreadfully aware of our own powerlessness – and that’s horrifying. God’s power is something to be feared, revered, and respected. But God is good. Jesus is good. The Spirit is good.

Let’s reflect in awe and wonder on the one whose power is on full display around us and in us and through us.

Characteristics of Christ | COMPASSION

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 24: Compassion (Matthew 9:36)

When was the last time you felt compassion for someone? I would venture to guess it’s not a feeling we experience very often. Maybe we should bring it back.

The word literally means “to suffer with/together” (com = with/together; passion = suffering). It’s closely related to pity, sympathy, or empathy. But it’s more than just pity.

Our word for compassion is translated from a really fun Greek word. Are you ready? It’s “splagchnizomai.” That’s the verb form, i.e. “to have pity/sympathy/compassion for.” The noun is “splagchnon.” This is the really interesting one because it literally means “intestines/entrails” – the inward parts of one’s body.

Have you ever been so emotionally moved you feel it in your gut? Have you ever had a sinking feeling in your stomach when you see injustice, poverty, or broken relationships? Have you ever felt love so deeply from someone that you feel a fire in your chest or butterflies in your stomach?

That’s the idea.

We’re told “The LORD is a gracious and compassionate God.” Jesus embodied that in his ministry. He felt compassion for the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He felt love for the rich young ruler because he knows what it’s like to give up everything. We’re told several times he was “moved with compassion.” Jesus felt these emotions deeply within himself.

But those deep feelings always moved him to action. We cannot truly experience compassion without acting on it. John says this very thing in 1 John 3:16-18. If we see someone in need, we shouldn’t withhold compassion (lit. close off our splangchnon). Love shouldn’t just be in words or speech, but in action.

God is gracious and compassionate. Jesus was moved with compassion. What stirs up feelings of compassion within you? How can you act on those feelings today or this week?

Characteristics of Christ | FRUIT-BEARING

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 24: Fruit-Bearing (John 15:5)

We’ve already seen how Jesus exemplified all the “Fruit of the Spirit” that Paul mentions in Galatians 5. But the idea of bearing fruit goes further than that.

How do we know if someone is a good person or not? How do we discern whether or not to trust them? or to confide in them? or if they would make a good leader? or a good spouse?

We look at the fruit of their lives.

This isn’t the same as being judgmental. Just a few sentences after telling us not to judge others, Jesus warns us about certain types of people to avoid – “You will know them by their fruit,” he says. This isn’t judging. It’s observing.

There are some people who bear the fruit of broken relationships in their lives. Some bear the fruit of burnt bridges, traumatic conflicts, or a line of bodies they’ve thrown under the bus.

But they aren’t able to see their own fruit. They can’t confidently say, “It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.”

The fruit Jesus bears is a 2000 year legacy of world-change. During his ministry he left healing and transformation in his wake. He welcomed the outcast, fed the hungry, preached to the poor, healed the sick, and spoke truth to power.

Now he calls his followers to do the same. He’s the Vine, we’re the branches. If we remain in him we’ll bear all this good fruit in our lives, too.

Take a moment and reflect on the fruit of your life. Or on the fruit of your church. Or your marriage. Or your business. What kind of fruit (if any) are you bearing? How do people see you and recognize you as a follower of Christ?

Characteristics of Christ | GIVING

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 23: Giving (Matthew 6:3-4)

What’s the point in having all this stuff? What good is money anyway? Everything you own will ultimately end up in a landfill one day. So focus on what really matters.

That’s pretty much a summary of Ecclesiastes.

Our God is a giving and gracious God. The Father loves to bless his children with good gifts. BUT (and this is a huge but!) there is a caveat. It all comes back to his initial covenant with Abram in Genesis 12. God tells Abram, “I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others…All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

Did you catch that? God would bless Abram so that he could then be a blessing to others. Why would he expect any less from us? God never blesses us with anything – wealth, possessions, talents, abilities, etc. – without expecting us to use those blessings to bless others. God doesn’t give us “every good and perfect gift” just for us to hoard it all.

Jesus was as straightforward as he could be with the parable of “The Rich Fool.” This guy had an amazing harvest, so much that his barns couldn’t hold it all. So he decided to tear down his current barns and build bigger ones to hold all his stuff that he himself had earned. God called him a fool and demanded his life from him.

It’s a terrifying story.

Jesus talked a lot about money and possessions. We can’t serve God and wealth. Giving should become second nature (“don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” implies habitual patterns of behavior that don’t take conscious thought or effort anymore). He commended the poor widow for giving out of her poverty rather than those who gave out of their surplus. He said it’s better to give than to receive (which science has proven true!).

Jesus would ultimately model this kind of giving by laying down his own life for our sake. He never held onto possessions, never hoarded wealth, never turned away anyone in need. His giving was second nature.

May it be so with us. God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others.

Characteristics of Christ | PRAYERFUL

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 22: Prayerful (Mark 1:35)

The Gospel of Mark is fast-paced and action-packed. It’s just the sort of story telling to keep readers and listeners hooked. Jesus was busy, and one of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately.” There is a sense of urgency. Not that Jesus was rushed or hurried or stressed. But there was much to do and not much time to do it in.

The key, I think, to the balance Jesus maintains in his ministry comes down to prayer. In the first chapter of Mark and elsewhere throughout the gospels, we read about Jesus taking time to go off by himself to pray.

Prayer isn’t one important thing to do in a list of other important things to do. Prayer is the thing by which all other tasks get done. Without that personal connection with the Father, the Son could do nothing. Simply stated, Jesus couldn’t not pray.

Some people have understood this about themselves, too. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “I’m so busy now that if I did not spend three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day.”

Prayer permeated Jesus’ ministry. Not only did he find times to pray, but he taught about prayer and taught us how to pray. He modeled a prayerful life for his disciples, and he encouraged us to develop the same kind of relationship with the Father as he himself enjoyed.

Again, prayer isn’t just something we do. It’s the very thing through which everything else gets done. That’s why Paul could tell us to “pray without ceasing.”

Maybe some of us need to take a cue from the disciples and ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And then follow Jesus’ lead.

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Characteristics of Christ | DETERMINATION

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 20: Determination (Luke 9:51)

How many times have you been determined to do something only to have your plans completely derailed? Maybe you’re determined to get all the laundry done, or to finish that book on your nightstand, or to complete that project around the house, or to start a new diet. It probably happens more times than we’d like to admit.

We’re good at setting goals, but lousy at following through. Eventually life just ends up happening to us without much input for our end.

Not so with Jesus. In case there was any doubt what Jesus’ mission was, Luke sets the record straight. Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” There was no turning back. He knew why he came, what he was put on this earth to do, and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him. He was determined to make it to Jerusalem in order to surrender his life for all of us.

Kinda puts that pile of laundry in perspective, doesn’t it?

But that’s not the only thing he was determined to do. He had a lot to accomplish within about three short years. He had disciples to train, crowds to teach, sick to heal, lame to raise up, blind and deaf to restore, a Temple to cleanse, religious leaders to confront, and unconditional love to introduce to the world.

The Devils temptations couldn’t derail him. And when Peter tried to “rebuke” Jesus, saying he would never be killed by the authorities, Jesus called that out for what it was – a temptation from Satan. Jesus wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stand in the way of accomplishing God’s mission, whether it was his best friend or his worst enemy.

He also wasn’t going to let himself stand in the way, either. The night before he went to the cross, he cried out to God to figure out some other way if possible. “But,” Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.”

He could have called the whole thing off. “He could have called ten thousand angels” as the song goes. He could have come down off that cross and saved himself. But he was driven by the need to fulfill God’s will. He was determined to rescue the world through his own sacrifice.

Characteristics of Christ | HOLINESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 19: Holiness (John 17:17-19)

Do you have special plates that only get used on the rarest of occasions, maybe once or twice a year? Yeah, we do, too. There are just some moments when you want to use the special plates. They’re fancier, shinier, more decorative, and more easily broken. They are set aside in a cabinet to remain undisturbed until the next special occasion.

Or maybe you’ve had to get a very specialized tool for a project. It amazes me how many tools are out there that are made for one specific task. There’s an entire Subreddit devoted to Specialized Tools. It’s both crazy and genius what people come up with.

To be holy is to be set apart, or categorically different/other. God is holy, for there is no one or nothing like him. Jesus is holy because there was not and never will be anyone like him – the perfect Son of God, full of grace and truth.

The Jews had two categories for people and things – holy/sacred and common/profane. The Sabbath was a holy/sacred day. Monday was common. A priest was holy. A baker was common. The Temple was holy. A blacksmith shop was common. And that which was holy could easily be corrupted by something common or “unclean.” You can read all about that in Leviticus.

There was a process by which things could be made clean again, but almost never do you read about someone or something unclean being made holy by that which is holy. A white cloth may be stained, but a white cloth cannot remove stains from something else without becoming stained itself. Right?

But then Jesus comes along. He touches a man with leprosy and makes him whole and clean again. He is touched by a woman with a bleeding issue and heals her infirmity. He takes a dead girl by the hand and brings her to life.

Jesus is holy, but his holiness is not corrupted. His holiness spills out over all that is common/profane/unclean and makes everything it touches holy once again. That includes people. His disciples were a bunch of rough and tumble guys – fishermen, fighters, tax collectors, and more. These most common of dudes become completely uncommon, dare I say holy, by being with Jesus. His final prayer for them is that they may be sanctified (made holy/sacred) by God’s word.

Paul calls us “saints” – holy ones – and that is what we are if we have been washed in Jesus’ blood, made clean by the waters of baptism, and raised to a new, holy, sanctified life.

Characteristics of Christ | IMPARTIAL

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 18: Impartial (Matthew 7:1-2)

Money. Power. Fame. Success. Authority.

Jesus is unimpressed.

I would hate to be a celebrity. I remember growing up near Nashville it wasn’t uncommon to be in the same area or the same event as a country music singer. You could tell they were a celebrity because people were swarming them.

Celebrity sightings are kinda funny to me. I don’t know what I would do if I met one of my favorite musicians, authors, or athletes, but I’d probably freak out a little, too.

But Jesus wasn’t like that at all. He called King Herod a “fox.” He belittled Pilate’s authority, telling a Roman governor that he had no real power. When approached by a “rich, young ruler,” Jesus looked on him with compassion and pity but was otherwise unimpressed. The rich and powerful guys are almost always the baddies in his parables.

I’m amazed at Jesus’ ability to bounce between social circles like it’s nothing. He went to parties with “sinners and tax collectors” and also sat down to dinner with Pharisees. Whether they were the synagogue leader or an outcast woman, Jesus had time for people.

Jesus didn’t judge. In fact, we’re specifically told he didn’t come into this world to judge/condemn the world but to save it. If Jesus was impartial and nonjudgmental, we should be, too. He commands us not to judge others, because we’ll be judged by the same standards. He shows us what it looks like to treat all men and women as sons and daughters of God, as our own brothers and sisters, as people worthy of honor and respect.

Jesus was impressed by faith, generosity, hospitality, and love – not wealth and power and influence. May the same be said for us.