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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.

Characteristics of Christ | GOODNESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 8: Goodness (Luke 6:35)

Are people generally good? Like, on average is the typical person you come across on any given day a good person? How would you know?

I think we all have our moments. Sometimes we go above and beyond to be good and to do good. Other times, we’re calling down curses on the bad drivers with our kids listening to us in the back seat.

Are you a good person? It depends, doesn’t it?

One of the funniest exchanges in the gospels is when the rich guy comes up to Jesus and greets him as “Good teacher.” Jesus quips back, “Why do you call me good. There is only one who is good, and that’s God.” Jesus saw through this guy’s flattery. Because even though Jesus was God in the flesh, this random rich guy didn’t know that. Jesus takes his flattery and throws it back in his face.

Because I think deep down we realize how not-good we are. Maybe we aren’t “evil” or “wicked” all the time. But we’re definitely not good people all the time either. In fact, Scripture calls us all out. There is no one who is good, not even one! Our “good deeds” are like “filthy rags” (literally, used menstrual pads).

But Jesus calls us to a higher standard. The litmus test for goodness is imitating God who is good and gracious even to those who deserve it the least. Jesus calls us to do good to our enemies, not just those who are good back to us. And this isn’t a fake goodness, either. People can spot fake goodness a mile away.

When we are filled with the Spirit of the One who is good, then we will do good and be good as part of our very nature, too. In other words, we will most fully become the men and women God created us to be. Because he is good, we will be good to others – yes, even those frustrating drivers.

Characteristics of Christ | KINDNESS

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 7: Kindness (Matthew 7:12)

Many of us grew up learning “The Golden Rule.” It comes from Matthew 7 in the Sermon on the Mount. But this concept was not unique to Jesus. Before his time there was a similar ethic, “Whatever you don’t want someone to do to you, don’t do it to them.” In other words, live and let live.

But Jesus’ instruction flips that on its head. It’s not just live and let live. It’s about actively showing love, respect, and kindness to people. It forces us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. If we were in their situation, how would we want people to treat us?

How would you want customers to treat you if you were their server? How would you want a coworker to talk to you if they disagreed? It gets us to think outside ourselves and empathize with the situations of others.

Jesus was always kind to those the world had discarded. His conversation in John 4 with the Samaritan woman was unbelievably kind and empathetic. When he touched the leper, he was extending a kindness to the man who hadn’t had human contact in forever. When he turned water into wine, he did so extravagantly – 120+ gallons of the best wine. What a wedding gift!

But there’s a difference between being Kind and being Nice. Being nice is all about social manners and being polite. Anyone can fake being nice, because it doesn’t really come from a place of genuine compassion or empathy. There are no feelings behind niceness. There really is a difference between someone just being nice to you and someone showing kindness.

Jesus wasn’t always nice, especially to the religious leaders. But he always showed kindness to those on the fringes of society. Let’s follow his lead. Be intentionally kind to people you interact with today.

Characteristics of Christ | PATIENCE

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 6: Patience (Matthew 6:34)

The great author and teacher Dallas Willard was once asked to describe Jesus in one word. Many of us would say Lord or Loving or Powerful or Compassionate. Dallas Willard’s one word: “Relaxed.”

Along similar lines, John Ortberg, another pastor and author, asked Willard for spiritual advice or guidance. His simple admonishment was, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”

We are addicted to immediacy and convenience. We have more technological advancements than ever before, yet our schedules are more loaded than ever, too. We don’t have patience for distractions and interruptions. This reality, counterintuitively, is leading to more stress, worry, and anxiety – not less.

Yet Jesus, the most sought after Teacher in history, basically told his followers to chill. Stop worrying so much about the future, each day has enough trouble of its own. It amazes me how often Jesus makes room for the interruptions. He takes time for the woman at the well, the leper who wants human contact, the children who need a blessing, the woman with the bleeding issue, the random tax collector up in the tree.

And then there is the incredible patience he shows toward his own disciples, as boneheaded as they could be. Time and time again, they don’t get it. They don’t understand. They make fools of themselves, argue about stupid things, and even want to call a heavenly airstrike against some towns. Jesus just shakes his head, lets out a sigh, and keeps working with them.

May we learn patience from our Teacher. May we make room for the interruptions. May we make allowance for others’ mistakes. May we learn to live an unhurried life as we walk with Christ.

Characteristics of Christ | PEACE

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 5: Peace (John 14:27)

Don’t we all want more peace in our lives? Peace of mind, a peaceful home, world peace. Sounds pretty good, huh?

We all want peace, but few people are willing to do the things that make for peace. The way the world makes peace is at the edge of a sword (or with the barrel of a gun). We “keep the peace” under threat of violence or swift punishment for those who disrupt the peace. And by “peace” we mean absence of conflict because everyone is forced to act and think the same way.

This is the way of Rome. The Pax Romana was the highest law in the Empire. Anyone who threatened the peace of Rome would end up being crushed by the might of Rome. One of their own poets even critiqued, “You make a desert and call it peace.”

Not so with Jesus. The angels announced “Peace on Earth” as he was born, but the world was far from peaceful. Jesus brought a peace that could stop the storms, drive out demons, feed the masses, and bring the dead to life again. The peace of Jesus was truly the Shalom, or wholeness, of God. It’s the kind of peace that eliminates conflict by turning enemies into brothers.

Jesus came to set the world right, not by conquering thrones and empires at the edge of a sword, but by conquering the forces of sin and death by giving his life on the cross. It’s a counterintuitive peace that defies understanding and logic. Yet there are those who may be called “peacemakers,” those who work for the things that lead to peace in this world.

May you come to know this Peace today. Rest in the knowledge that God is in control, and he cares for you.

Characteristics of Christ | JOY

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 4: Joy (John 15:11)

I like to imagine Jesus laughing. Some of his teachings are genuinely funny, witty, even sarcastic. Jesus partied. He went to weddings and celebrations and festivals and feasts. He hung out with all the wrong people – and those people usually have the best time.

I love the story of Jesus inviting the little children to come to him. He took time out of his day to bless the kids. He even told us that we should become like little children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

You know what children have an abundance of? Joy.

They laugh and play and goof off for no reason and with no spurring them on. Fun and joy and excitement and laughter – these are all things that define childhood.

So what happened?

Somewhere along the way we lost our child-like wonder and joy. When we come across an adult who is genuinely joyful, we remember them, we want to be around them, we’re confused by them. But joy is the fruit of the Spirit living in us! Jesus wants all of us to be joyful as we follow him.

What steals our joy? Worry. Obligation. Fatigue. Stress. Fear.

Are any of those things prescribed by Jesus? Are any of those the result of a Spirit-filled life? Of course not! Let’s be intentional about living joyfully.

Smile more. Laugh more. Get on the floor and play with your kids. Rejoice in the Lord, for you are his child. We have every spiritual blessing and eternal life awaiting us.

So let’s party.

Characteristics of Christ | LOVE

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 3: Love (John 13:34-35)

The first Fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer is Love. If we don’t love, then we’re nothing, says Paul. But love as a concept has gotten so watered down over the centuries. Everyone desires to love and be loved, but we can hardly define it. The literal dictionary definition of love is, “an intense feeling of deep affection.” But that hardly suffices to describe the connection between a husband and a wife or a parent and a child. Love is definitely “more than a feeling” – thank you, Boston.

Paul describes aspects of love – it’s patient, kind, not rude, not self-seeking, etc. John takes it a step further and flat out says, “God is love.” The reverse of that statement is not true, however. Love is not God. But God’s very nature is summed up in the word “Love.”

“The Lord–the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining love to a thousand generations…” (Exodus 34:6-7).

God’s ultimate demonstration of his own love is Jesus. It was love that lead Jesus to touch the leper, to defend the adulteress, to bless the children, to wash feet. It was love that lead him to the cross and held him there.

Our standard of love is no longer “whatever feels right in the moment.” Jesus is our standard for love. We are called to love one another as Christ has loved us. There is no greater love than laying down one’s life for one’s friends–Jesus even laid down his life for his enemies.

May we be so filled with the love of God through Christ that we can’t help but let it overflow to others. Because without that love, nothing else matters.

Characteristics of Christ | HUMILITY

A 40 Day Journey to Becoming Like the One We Follow

Day 2: Humility (Mark 10:31)

One verse in the Bible that I find hilarious is Numbers 12:3. It says, “Moses was a very humble man, more so than anyone on the face of the earth.” I doubt Moses was the original author of that line, but it’s still ironic to brag about someone’s humility. It’s like when Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy, vol 2) says, “I, too, and extraordinarily humble.”

In all seriousness, though, humility is something I find incredibly lacking in much of today’s world. We live in what we call an attention economy, where everyone is vying for your eyeballs, your ears, your clicks and likes and reposts, your wallet. Anyone with a smartphone can become an “influencer.” Politicians are no better than pro athletes and rappers in trying to hype up their own brand.

To quote a Kat Stratford clap-back (10 Things I Hate About You) it’s like these people are born on planet “Look at Me, Look at Me.” From the time we’re born we’ve been told how amazing and smart and beautiful and funny and talented and athletic we are. Some of us even begin to believe it. Humility is not a revered virtue, and now all we’re left with are entitled people trying to get “internet famous” for a hot minute.

C.S. Lewis reminds us, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” We don’t need to swing the pendulum the other way and become depressed with self-loathing. Confidence is not the opposite of humility. Arrogance is. Entitlement is. Self-esteem is not wrong. Self-aggrandizement is.

Jesus never had a “woe is me” attitude about anything. He never lost confidence in who he was or what he was meant to accomplish. Jesus rested securely in his identity as God’s Son. He never tried to make much of himself, and he even told people not to tell others about him. Fame and fortune were not on his radar. He never did anything for the likes, the views, or the cred.

As we follow Christ we are called to deny ourselves. Let’s stop fixating on the world of hype and self-promotion. Rather, let’s humbly rest assuredly in our place in God’s family, as his sons and daughters.