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Characteristics of Christ | LEADER

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 17: Leader (John 13:12-15)

The model of leadership that best encapsulates Jesus is the model of a Shepherd. We don’t tend to have a lot of shepherds around here in the Midwestern United States. But here’s what we know.

Sheep are dumb. They are not cut out for survival on their own in the wild. Sheep need a flock, and the flock needs a shepherd. But sheep are really good at a couple of things: 1) Recognizing their shepherds voice, and 2) following. But the shepherd will often lead from behind, calling out commands to the flock as they walk along. The shepherd knows what his sheep need more than the sheep know what they need. A good shepherd will be with his sheep night and day, laying himself down in the entry way to the sheep pin so that no one wanders off and nothing gets in to cause harm.

We are God’s sheep (Psalm 100). And we are dumb. We need a community, and a community need a leader. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, leads us where we need to be, never forcing us to go. He watches over us so we don’t wander off. He protects, serves, and even lays his own life on the line for the sake of his people.

The greatest example of this is John 13, when he stoops down to wash his disciples’ filthy, crusty feet. But then he calls us to do the same. Maybe not literally, but to humble ourselves and become each others’ servants.

The term “servant leadership” is never mentioned in the Bible, but the assumption is that leaders are meant to serve. That’s the literal definition of a minister – someone who serves others. Jesus was never bossy or authoritarian. He never forced his will on anyone. While having literally all the authority in the world, he never “lorded it over” anyone. Jesus only ever leads us where he himself has already been. He only calls us to do what he has already done. His call is not “serve me” or “work for me.” It’s “follow me.”

And he is a leader worth following.

Characteristics of Christ | WISDOM

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 16: Wisdom (Matthew 7:24-25)

When we’re watching renovation shows on HGTV, everyone wants to skip right to the finishes – the paint color, the furniture, the light fixtures, the flooring – everything that makes a house feel like a home. But none of those things matter if the foundation is crumbling and the floor joists are rotting.

Home inspectors on TikTok are really unveiling the ugly truth of most flipped homes. Short cuts, shoddy craftsmanship, neglect for following codes, and even support and foundation issues. These houses may look bright and new and stylish on the outside, but their insides are crumbling.

That’s what it’s like, Jesus says, if you only listen to what he has to say without putting it into practice.

Strong houses start with the foundation. Strong lives are built from the ground up.

Jesus’ teachings fall well in line with Jewish Wisdom Tradition. The Sermon on the Mount is a masterclass in wisdom literature. It’s not just about knowing all the right things, its about putting that knowledge into practice to gain life experience.

I truly believe the way of Jesus is the best way to live my life, and yours. He is so full of wisdom into the human condition – our modus operandi, our idiosyncrasies, our cognitive distortions, our logical fallacies – that he knew precisely how to interact with any given person on any given day.

But it isn’t just what he says or even what he does. Wisdom is who he is. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. When he says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” that’s wisdom language. When John describes Jesus as “The Word,” that’s wisdom language.

The earliest Christ-followers were known as The Way before they were known as the church or called Christians. They knew The Way of Jesus was the best way, the wise way, the way that leads to a strong foundation and a sturdy frame on which to build your life.

Characteristics of Christ | FORGIVENESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 15: Forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15)

Mercy and forgiveness go hand in hand. Here’s the difference: mercy is something you extend toward someone else. Forgiveness is what you do for your own sake.

Peter asked a question of Jesus. “How many times should I forgive my brother who sins against me. Seven times?” But Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” In other words, forgiveness is not a finite resource. And forgiveness has more to do with you than with the other person.

The actually Greek word for Forgiveness literally means “to release” or “to exhale.” It’s like finally letting out that deep breath you’ve been holding in. Withholding forgiveness is like holding your breath and hoping the other person will suffocate. Forgiveness means you are no longer holding onto that pain and hurt. You are absorbing it and moving on.

It doesn’t mean you “forget.” We can’t forget. We can’t pretend like it never happened. Sometimes we need to set strong boundaries and strict expectations after we’ve been wronged or harmed. That’s ok.

But Jesus is clear on the need to forgive. If we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. It’s the same lesson from the story of the unmerciful servant.

As C.S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” It may take time. It may take a lot of work and effort. But we don’t have to hold onto those grudges. We don’t have to let those people live rent free in our heads, dragging up all the negative feelings and emotions all the time. We can let go. We can release it.

Let’s not forget that even on the cross Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Whatever it is, give it over to God.

Characteristics of Christ | MERCY

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 15: Mercy (Matthew 5:7)

It’s a common trope in movies. The good guy sees the bad guy in a dire predicament. The good guy is moved to show mercy to the bad guy. The bad guy takes advantage of that mercy to strike out agains the good guy again. And, because this is Hollywood, the actions of the bad guy lead to his own destruction.

You’ve seen that movie, right?

Mercy is mocked as weakness. Unfortunately it’s not just in movies anymore. We see it in sports, in our workplaces, and in politics. We’ve got to be strong and do anything to get ahead, no matter who you have to step on to reach the top. How dare we have a moment of mercy or compassion toward our opponent.

That is, until we mess up and want mercy for ourselves.

One of the most startling stories Jesus told was “the unforgiving servant.” One servant owed his master many lifetimes of debt that he could never repay. He asked for mercy and was given it by his master. The debt was erased. But then this servant goes and finds another servant who owed him like $50. When that servant couldn’t pay him back, the first had the second arrested. Word got back to the master who took matters into his own hands. It did not end well for that first servant.

Jesus has shown us immense mercy, far beyond measure. He wiped away the debt we had racked up because of our sin. He does not condemn us or judge us even though we deserve it.

Our calling is to be as merciful towards others as God has been toward us. The merciful will be shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. The world has enough critics and judges. Be merciful instead.

Characteristics of Christ | RIGHTEOUSNESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 14: Righteousness (Matthew 5:6)

We all know the world is busted. We know governments and politicians are corrupt. We know our justice system can be anything but just. We know “the rich and guilty are better off than the poor and innocent.” We know things are not as they should be.

So we have two choices. Either we long for justice and do the work to bring it about, or we become jaded and cynical. Which of the two is blessed by God?

Righteousness and Justice are the same word in Greek. The word describes the state in which all is as it should be. The guilty are punished. The innocent are vindicated. The good prosper. The wicked fall to ruin. Systems of oppression are dismantled, and the poor are empowered.

This is exactly what Mary sang about when she was pregnant with Jesus: God has brought rulers down from their thrones and sent the rich away empty, but he has filled the poor with all the good things.

Righteousness is not just about fulfilling our religious and moral obligations. That’s where the Pharisees got it all wrong. Thus, Jesus would tell us our righteousness needed to exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Jesus didn’t just come to teach us how to do religion well or even how to live a moral life.

Jesus came to set everything right. And he calls on his followers to do the same.

Before Jesus went to the cross and left his disciples, he told them they would do even greater things than they saw him do. The early church took that seriously. They started public hospitals, brought education to the masses, welcomed strangers and immigrants, took in babies to raise as their own, refused to kill in service to the Roman military, and provided for widows and orphans.

For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be filled. May we follow their example as they followed the example of Christ.

Characteristics of Christ | SELF-DENIAL

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 13: Self-Denial (Mark 8:34-37)

Jesus was not surprised by the cross. Think about that. In every Gospel account we read about Jesus predicting his own death, knowing full well what would take place. He knew his path led to the cross, and he invites us on the journey.

Wait, what?

Yeah, take up your cross – like the enemy of the state that you are – and follow me as we walk towards our crucifixion site.

Um, are you sure about this, Jesus? What about all those blessings we’ve been promised by God if we just keep all his commands? Good people aren’t supposed to suffer like that. You want me to give up my beloved possessions? Sure. Coffee? Maybe. Leave my country behind? That’s a big ask, but I’ll go wherever you send me.

But here’s the thing. Jesus didn’t say, “Let him deny himself ____________.” It isn’t any thing we are denying, but it’s our very self. Our identity. Our individuality. Our ego. There is nothing in this world worth clinging to so tightly that we miss the greater life God has planned for us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who would ultimately be executed for speaking out against the Nazis, said it simply: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

In Revelation we see a group of saints who were victorious and overcame “by the blood off the lamb and the word of their testimony.” I love what it says next: “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

Jesus doesn’t call us to go anywhere he hasn’t already been. That includes the cross. If we surrender our lives to him, we will find a more abundant, satisfying, glory-filled life than we could ever imagine.

Characteristics of Christ | PUTTING OTHERS FIRST

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 12: Putting Others First (Mark 10:45)

Jesus put others first, focusing on their needs above his own, without becoming a doormat for people to walk all over. We never read of someone taking advantage of Jesus. He never serves out of guilt or compulsion. He never asks for anything in return. He doesn’t get irritate when people don’t say Thank You.


I want to be thanked when I do something nice for someone. I love being needed and feeling useful. I’ll serve because I’m a people-pleaser at the core. I want others to like me, and I get validation from service.

Jesus wasn’t that way at all. He wasn’t a people-pleaser, he was a God-pleaser. His primary concern was giving the glory to God rather than seeking human approval. His service to others was the natural overflow of his devotion to doing the Father’s will.

He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If we’re all about that as our primary lens for seeing the world, then we’ll seek to bring about God’s will wherever we are.

And what is God’s will? What is the greatest command? To love God with your entire being, and to love our neighbor as yourself. That’s why service is such a high value in the kingdom. That’s why we aren’t supposed to “lord it over” other people when we are in positions of authority. Loving my neighbor as myself makes them my equal. No one is beneath me. Everyone is worthy of honor and respect.

If I’m confident enough in my status as a child of God, and if I view others as my equal and treat them as such, then I shouldn’t need appreciation or validation from others. I shouldn’t have to be concerned about pleasing people when I know what I’m doing is pleasing to God.

So go ahead and let someone in front of you in traffic or standing in line at the restaurant. Clean up someone else’s mess around the house. Do something nice without recognition or payback. Because whatever you do, you’re doing it for the Lord.

Characteristics of Christ | SELF-CONTROL

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 11: Self-Control (Luke 4:1-4)

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going? Have you kept up with your new diet? Have you been going to the gym regularly? Have you continued to cut out those unnecessary purchases and save more money?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Everyone has self-control until Oreo releases a new flavor, or until there are donuts in the break room.

But let’s up the stakes a bit more. If you had the unlimited power of the Creator of the universe at your disposal…what would you do? What if you had been fasting for over a month? What if you were near the limits of what the human body can survive without proper sustenance?

Would you turn desert stone into dessert scones?

Whether it’s Satan jabbing at us in our “Achilles’ heal” or our own fickle human nature, self-control is one of the hardest virtues to master. It seems like willpower alone isn’t enough most days, and there is science to back that up. Some studies suggest we have a limited supply of willpower that diminishes throughout the day, a phenomenon called “ego depletion.” Slowly over time we give up and let the monkey drive the bus. Self-control takes a back seat.

How crazy is it that we don’t even have control of ourselves?

It’s just like what Paul described in Romans 7 – the good I want to do, I don’t do; and the bad things I don’t want to do, I end up doing. Paul’s solution? Radical reliance on the indwelling Holy Spirit, the extreme grace of Christ Jesus, and the assurance that with God on our side nothing can stand against us.

Ultimately, each one of us has to answer for the way we lived our lives – and there are much worse things than cheating on your diet. Willpower alone isn’t enough to live the kind of life God has called us to. We can’t “rise and grind” our way to heaven. We have no choice but to rely on the transforming power of Christ Jesus.

Maybe instead of trying to control everything ourselves, we should turn over control to the one who actually got self-control right.

Characteristics of Christ | GENTLENESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 10: Gentleness (Matthew 19:14)

We have three big dogs. They aren’t Great Dane size or anything, but they’re all “large breeds.” The biggest of our dogs is an 80+ pound black Lab mix. He’s all black (with more white now that he’s older), and he has a bark that could stop a grown man dead in his tracks. But he’s just a big teddy bear. He loves to cuddle and give his doggy hugs by leaning his full weight into you. Could he rip your throat out? Definitely. But will he? No.

I love how gentle big dogs can be. Small yappy dogs are the ones you have to look out for. They have something to prove. Our big dogs, though, are just gentle giants.

One thing I love about Jesus is he never had to prove himself to anyone. He never had that tough-guy persona. You know the guys who always act as if they’re overcompensating for something? That wasn’t Jesus.

Dude could drive out demons, control the weather, walk on water, go 40 days without food, and cure diseases from across long distances. Plus he grew up as a construction worker. People were terrified of his power.

But then he bent down to bless the children. Kids wanted to be with him. Women trusted him and opened up emotionally to him. Men from all walks of life – soldiers, assassins, accountants, fishermen – all wanted to hang out with him and felt validated by him.

No matter who it was, Jesus was gentle. He never forced his will on anyone. He never threw his weight around (except for maybe in the Temple that one time). He was never manipulative or abusive. He was a gentle giant, the supreme example of power under control.

One of the gospel writers, reflecting on how Jesus treated others in his ministry, quoted Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

Do you find yourself being harsh? manipulative? critical? overcompensating for your own insecurities? lashing out? short tempered? Let’s learn gentleness from the one with all the real power.

Characteristics of Christ | FAITHFULNESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 9: Faithfulness (John 6:38-39)

I think we have a problem with loyalty in our current society. Maybe not a problem, per se, but it does seem like we value loyalty as a virtue less today than in times past. We’re less loyal to our families, our jobs, our towns or states, our churches, brands, civic organizations, etc. Friendships seem harder to keep going strong these days.

We have a faithfulness crisis.

I see a lot of people “deconstructing” their faith. We’ve seen the breakdown in institutional trust over the last few decades, and with that also goes trust in religion and trust in God. It’s heartbreaking, but I understand. Believe me, I’ve had every reason to walk away from it all, too.

Here’s why I haven’t left. Because it’s not just about being faithful TO God. Scripture often speaks about the faithfulness OF God, too.  God is faithful to us even if/when we aren’t faithful to him! God never walks away, never gives up, never turns his back.

Jesus spoke often about how faithful he was being to God and his mission. Jesus went where God sent him, did what God told him, and spoke the words God gave him. There was a oneness between the Son and the Father. But it didn’t stop there. Jesus’ faithfulness extended to his followers, too. He was committed to his disciples, not wanting to lose any of them to the schemes of the enemy.

We speak often of the disciples’ inability to remain faithful to Jesus when the threat of death was on the line. But Jesus never ceased being faithful to his disciples, even when they deserted him.

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful…” (2 Timothy 2:13)

Thank God for never giving up on you. Devote yourself to being faithful to God AND to showing faithfulness to others in all your relationships.