Friday, January 4, 2013

Christian Suffering

How often have we heard, "If you're comfortable, then you must not be where God wants you to be", or "I feel so content with my life right now, something bad must be on the way." OK, maybe we haven't heard those exact statements, but we understand the sentiment. But, is that true? If we believe those statements or the philosophy behind them, we would have to agree that struggle and hardship IS the normative Christian experience. Yes, the daily struggle with sin is very real. Yes, pain and suffering (even for the Christian) is very real, but is that the standard that Jesus establishes as the normal life for His children? NO! In fact, Jesus makes plain just the opposite, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) He also mentions something about the internal mechanism that enables the Christian to live fully peaceful and wholly content lives, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my JOY may be in you and that your JOY may be complete." (John 15:10-11) The Apostle Paul backs that up with, 'I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:12-13) When we look at these few words from the Bible, we see that for a Christian peace AND contentment is a way of living, not a goal to be obtained. We can rest assured that Jesus just might want us to live happy, peaceful, content and fulfilled lives because of our faith in Him. Let's all reject the fatalistic notion that living the Christian life is nothing more than a painful struggle to do good and embrace the truth that we are meant to live content. Happy New Year everybody! Comments are very much welcomed!

  • Amber  Asked - This is something I have been thinking of a lot lately. How much does our Christian life require suffering? How much do I trust that God is good?

     Amber! You ask very good questions. The Christian suffers only as much as humanity in its current situation suffers. Even though we have faith in the Lord Jesus, we are still on the same broken earth as every other human being. When Adam committed sin, all humanity and even the earth itself, began to suffer. It only follows then that every human being will suffer due to the brokenness of man and his environment. I look at it this way, even Christians catch a cold or the flu, get hit by someone else's car, walk off the curb and break their leg and even develop cancer. Just because we're Christians doesn't mean we suffer anymore or any less than the general human population. On the other hand, we know that the world hates the Light of Jesus and that we as Christians represent that Light. We also know that evil wants nothing more than to tear down every Christian simply to diminish the Light. So, on that level, Christians do suffer more than the general human population. But, if we feel we are being persecuted because of our relationship with Christ, then we will be fully content because we will know that we are right where Jesus wants us to be. One more thing on Christian persecution, I truly believe that God calls some Christians to martyrdom. God has used many Christian men and women to advance His Kingdom by allowing them to be unfairly treated by other human beings. History is full of case after case of people being beaten, tortured and even killed simply because of their faith in Jesus. That kind of suffering is a very specific calling that most Christians will never experience. If you have read any of their stories, you would see that in every case, these people endured to the very end with Supernatural, God-given, Unshakable Faith. I truly believe that Jesus will fully bless everyone who believes in His name with peace and contentment over every situation!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lord, I lift Your name on high
Lord, I love to sing Your praises
I'm so glad You're in my life
I'm so glad You came to save us

You came from heaven to earth
To show the way
From the earth to the cross
My debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord, I lift Your name on high

I love the song "Lord I lift Your name on high"! It's a doctrinally sound modern hymn. It tells the whole story of Jesus Christ!

Perhaps the reason I like it is because it tells the story of the TRANSITIONS that Jesus when through just to prove His love for you. The theology o this song can also be seen in Philippians 2:5-11. Look at what it says:
our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature
God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Notice that this passage starts with a word about your attitude. In the Greek, the word is
phroneĊ, meaning to have understanding, to be wise, to feel, or to form an opinion. But... it also means to savor a thought or to stew over an issue... That's right, you have to THINK about your attitude! If your attitude stinks, then there is a pretty good chance that are not dwelling on the person of Jesus. Really! You will be amazed at how your emotions will become lighter and your attitude will be healthier when you just stop and think about your Savior and the transitions He endured for you.

TRANSITION #1(V.6-7)- From heaven to earth: From a heavenly existence to an earthly experience. Jesus left His comfort in the home of Heaven and took on human frailty to show us all how to live in this place we call home. He knows all about temptation, loss and pain because He experienced all those things just like we do. He knows about our issues because He has experienced them as we have. The only difference is that He never sinned while enduring the hardship of His human experience. That gives us all hope in that since Jesus is the key to a future heavenly experience of our own, we can trust in His perfection and not our own.

TRANSITION #2(v.8)- From earth to death: From human experience to suffering obedience. The main message of the life of Jesus is His complete obedience to God the Father, obedience even to death. I can't even imagine how Jesus could have left His heavenly home in obedience to God's command, but to think that He came to die in order to satiate God's wrath against sin, just for me, is almost incomprehensible. To be honest, when one is called into serving God, the transition is not always easy. Obeying the call is often very, very tough, but the reward is always rewarding! If Jesus had not obeyed and suffered so horribly, then we would not have access to God and our heavenly home. So, yeah, when we suffer, we are reminded of the ultimate suffering of Jesus and the awesome reward that we received because of His obedience. Oh, and by the way, our suffering just might not be about us, but it is always about God.

TRANSITION #3(V.9-11) From Death to heaven: From suffering obedience to transcendent acceptance. Because of Jesus' obedience, even to the point of dying for the sins of the world, He took the punishment that should have been ours. In that single act, He satiated God's wrath against sin AND paved the way for those who believe to achieve heaven. To the Believer, everything we believe hinges on this fact. We believe that Jesus is in heaven preparing a place for us when we pass from this life. On the other hand, we also believe that at some point, everyone, believer and unbeliever alike is going to be held accountable for what they believed about Jesus. We believe that everyone one will finally realize that Jesus was who He said He was and did what He said He would do and we will all know absolute truth. That's when everyone one will fall before the Lord Jesus, some out of love and reverence and some out of fear and shame. Now that's a transition I can't wait to be a part of!

TRANSITION #4(Rev. 3:20) From transcendent acceptance to personal acceptance. Ultimately, Jesus wants to make one more transition. He wants to transition from heaven to every human soul. He wants to be invited to move into your heart, take up residence and do life with you. This is the only transition in Jesus life that He won't make unless you participate with Him. He will not enter the locked door of your heart unless you ask Him to. He will never supersede your will, but will glad replace your will with His if only you Him to. For some of us, that means we need to ask Jesus into our life right now, for others, myself included, we need to ask Jesus to keep opening the door of my heart and enter into a communion with Him.

So there you have it. If Jesus went through so many transitions and is still seeking to transition with you, then transitioning with for Him is really nothing compared to His transitions. You see, the life of a devoted Christian exhibits the attitude of Jesus no matter what transition God allows us to go through! He wouldn't ask you to do it if He knew you couldn't!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

For those of you who know me you know that if it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all (OK, before you have a fit about me using the word Luck, stick with me)! I'm one of those guys that nothing quite works like it should the first time. Like the mouse for this computer I'm using; the one I inherited with the use of this computer was a wireless unit that wouldn't "click" on anything. I ordered a new one from Staples Online and got it a few days later. Once it was installed, nothing happened... no movement, no courser, nothing. I called up the manufacturer and after an hour they decided to send me a replacement. Once I installed that one I found that it wouldn't highlight anything and "clicked" on everything it touched! After yet another hour on the phone with the manufacturer, we discovered that this particular wireless mouse must be incompatible with my desktop computer. I'm now using an old, reliable wired mouse.

There's another guy kinda like that in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul seemed to have a series of unfortunate events follow him around all the time, also. He was shipped wrecked a couple of times, had some sort of physical malady that limited his eyesight and was put into prison a few times just for talking about his faith. Unlike me, Paul never seemed to loose his patience or his Christ-like demeanor. By the way, even-though I was tempted, I never threw any of those wireless mice at the wall.

Back to Paul... I think the secret to Paul's attitude was the belief that the vision and the provision were one and the same when directed by God. In Acts 23:11, God calls Paul to go to Rome to witness about Jesus to Caesar. God had already sent Paul to the Gentile people including the people of Asia and, at this point in his life, God had called him back to Jerusalem to witness on behalf of Jesus to the religious leaders there. Every step of his journey, Paul experienced God's hand providing for his every need in order for his mission to be accomplished. Now that God called him to go to Rome, he obeyed, knowing that everything would work out for him to have an audience with Caesar.

You can read through Acts 23-28 and see all the calamity Paul had to endure just to get to Rome, but looking closely at chapter 27 will give us some insights into how Paul dealt with stress. In this section of Acts, Paul has been arrested by Roman soldiers and is about to set sail with his guard on a shipping vessel with a fairly large crew. Paul knew that this particular voyage was going to be disastrous, but the sailors and the guard wouldn't listen to him, so they all set sail for the home of Caesar.

Day 1 (vs. 13-17) A wind starts to kick up that eventually leads to a full-blown hurricane! At first, the sailors try to resist the storm by heading into the wind and gave that up in favor of just letting the storm take them wherever it takes them. Eventually, they decide that the fury of the wind is going to rip the ship apart so they secured the rudder and passed ropes all around the body of the boat to reinforce the hull. They put every once of their experience and expertise to work to save their boat, their cargo and possibly even their lives!

Day 2 (v. 18) Through the night the storm worsened. Men began to throw the precious cargo, their livelihood, over the rail to lighten the ship. When no end seemed close to this massive northeaster, the men were forced to plan for survival and all thoughts of future welfare were abandoned.

Day 3 (v. 20) This must have been the biggest thing these people had ever encountered. They started acting irrational and did things they would never have done in the normal course of a voyage; they threw all of the ships tackle into the sea! When the storm continued their actions actually became self-destructive!

Day 13 (vs. 21-26) Yep... 13 DAYS!! By this time all the sailors and the Roman soldiers gave up all hope of being saved. The prolonged stress these people endured lead to loss of appetite and a disabling emotional and physical depression. But wait, there's more! Paul, who had been through the exact same turmoil as all the others isn't feeling lost or even overwhelmed. He is actually the only one speaking any reason and encouragement. Why? Because he had a vision from God that reminded him that he had not yet been to Rome. God had given him a vision of things to come and they had not happened yet. So, to Paul, the storm was bad and I'm sure he would rather not have been on the ship, but he wasn't worried about his life.

Day 14 (vs. 27-38) Things actually work out. The ship is run ashore and the hull smashes on impact, but no one looses his life! Paul was right, they never should have started this particular trip, but that didn't kill the vision that God gave Paul.

So what about your adventure. Are you so completely overcome by the storm in your life that you are acting like the sailors and the Roman guards? OR, are you so reliant on the vision God gave you first as a new Believer and then later when you discovered your purpose? Paul endured the same storm as those around him but never lost hope because he never lost sight of his God-given vision. are you giving hope to those around you? OR, are you as worried as they? Please remember this: When God gives you a vision, He has already provided a means for the vision to happen!
The Vision and Provision are the same thing!

Friday, October 15, 2010

transitions: when God calls

You ever feel like you've been pulled into something that you are really not equipped or any way prepared for? I have. I truly felt that God called me to lead a group of teenagers on a missions trip to Tampico, Mexico but I knew that was a huge step of faith and a stretch of my leadership abilities. As if that wasn't trying enough, the day after we arrived, I was the only adult leader of 20 other adult leaders to be "volunteered" to take a bunch of teen girls into the city to play volleyball against an all teen girl's jail. Once we arrived at the jail, I was informed that I couldn't stay on the premises and that I had to go back to the village where we were staying. The village was only about 10 miles away, but Tampico is a metro-plex of nearly a million people and none of the roads are straight and none of them have two-way traffic. A local young adult girl road shotgun in the big 15 passenger van on the way to the jail, but I had to return by myself. Talk about feeling overwhelmed and intimidated! I asked the young lady how to get back and she told me to just follow the signs that say "puente" (bridge) since the village was located in the foot of the rather large Tampico Bridge. She also said to simple say, "el puente" to someone if I got lost. Well, you guessed it, I found myself at a stop sign in front of a small grocery/deli over looking what appeared to be a part of the city made of cardboard boxes and blue plastic tarp without any idea where to go or what to do. I started to feel very uncomfortable at that point. Since there wasn't any traffic behind me, I bowed my head and prayed, "Dear Jesus. I know You sent me to this place. I know you have more work for me to do. So, if You want me to use this very episode to bring You glory, please, please please help me get back to that stupid ole bridge! Amen." I looked to my right and saw on older gentleman sitting on a park bench in front of the store reading a news paper. I pushed the automatic window button down and, in my very weak and broken Spanish said, "Como, senor, el puente?" The fellow looked right at me, slowly stood up, snapped the paper folded, stuffed it under his arm, turned to his right, pointed straight ahead and said in a rich, baritone, ENGLISH voice, "The bridge is that way, young man!" That's when I cried... I put the van in drive and five minutes later found myself in the comfort and safety of my friends.

There's this other guy, a guy in the Old Testament book of Judges, that found himself being called to something he felt he was totally unprepared for. His name was Gideon and you can read the whole account here & here.

The narrative of Judges 6 opens with a record of the renewed idolatry of Israel. This time judgment came from the Midianites who swept down through the plain of Jezreel, terrorizing Israel as far south as Gaza. They didn't permanently occupy the land, but each harvest season they would arrive unexpectedly and plunder the harvest. What spoil they could not carry away they destroyed. So insecure were the Israelites that they lived in dens, caves, and strongholds to seek safety for their possessions and for themselves.

But suddenly things changed. A stranger appeared under the great oak by Ophrah, a little township on the southwestern border of the territory of Manasseh. There Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat with a stick. He did so secretly and with constant apprehension that a wild band of Midianite Bedouins might sweep down on him, taking his grain and his life.
Although the stranger called him a "mighty warrior," Gideon's clandestine operations at his father's winepress did not exhibit great valor. For seven years his people had been oppressed by the enemy and this mighty warrior was despondent and discouraged. This stranger appeared to him at his lowest point to call him to the great work of God.

Gideon was startled at first by this stranger, not certain who he was. When the he proclaimed that the Lord was with Gideon, Gideon's questioning response was, "If the LORD is with us,
then why has all this happened to us?" Gideon believed that if God had not withdrawn Himself from Israel, the present Midianite occupation would never have occurred. As well, this mighty warrior, like Moses of old, questioned why the Lord would choose him to deliver Israel. His family was poor in Manasseh and he was the least of his father's household. But in the midst of Gideon's concern he heard the promise of God, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together." Point #1, When God calls you, He sees you as He created you, not as you see yourself!

Gideon was still not convinced this was an encounter with God. How did he know this person was really the angel of the Lord? Gideon asked for a sign to prove that he was, in fact, being called to serve the Lord. He started to worship God by preparing a sacrifice of a goat and the makings of unleavened bread knowing that if the stranger accepted his worship he would know that the stranger was delivering the truth. Not only did the stranger accept Gideon's offering He sent fire from heaven to consume the goat and bread of His servant. At that moment Gideon knew he was not in the presence of some nameless angel or unknown stranger, but in the very presence of God! After Gideon freaked out a bit, God placed His loving arms of peace around him and assured him that he is the man God wants for His own good purpose. Point #2, When God calls you, He reveals Himself in Worship!

Gideon understood the gravity of his calling, God gave him the authority to dismantle pagan alters that his family built and worshiped at. In fact, he stood against all the wrongdoing of the people in his home town and gained respect as a judge of the people on behalf of God. So, when God called him to deal with Midianite problem, men from all over the Promised Land enlisted to stand by his side! A whole nation of oppressed and frightened people were energized by the passionate response to a Godly calling of a single obedient person! Point #3, When God calls you, He equips you with passion and authority that will rub off onto other people!

Even though Gideon fully understood his calling and knew his purpose, he still needed assurance that he was on the right track. Some have said that Gideon lacked faith before attacking the Midianites, because he laid out fleeces; not once but twice. I feel that he just needed assurance that he was still in God's will. Think about it... a young, seemingly weak farmer leading nearly 32,000 other seemingly weak farmers into battle against a countless number of conniving, ruthless assassins... Yeah, I'd probably want to make sure I was hearing God correctly, too. Asking God to confirm His will isn't about doubt or fear but about timing and direction! Point #4, When God calls you, He will confirm you!

Point #5, When God calls you, He wants all the glory! This is the best part of the story! Gideon was all ready to take to the field of battle when God tells him to pair down his army. When it was all said and done, there were only 300 men left to fight with Gideon. Why? Because God wanted to prove that Israel needs Him in order to succeed! He wanted to show His people what can happen when He takes control. If you don't get anything else in this blog, get this point because your calling is not about you!

Oh, one last point. The night before Gideon and his 300 warriors were to attack, Gideon snuck into the enemy camp. While there, he heard an enemy combatant interpret the dream of his friend. This is what he said, "This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands." That's when Gideon cried! Yep, right there in the midst of his enemies, Gideon worshiped God! At that very instant, he knew the battle - had - already - been - won!!! Point #6, When God calls you, He goes ahead of you!

So, embrace your calling. God wouldn't have called you if He knew you couldn't do it. He will reveal Himself even further when you worship Him for calling you do do His work. He will equip you and give you everything you need to get the job done. Keep asking Him to confirm His will and I promise He will! Don't worry about fame, God is going to receive it all for Himself, you get your reward later! And, don't forget, God has already gone before you and getting everything ready for you to effectively answer His call!

'Nough said!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Like a will that takes effect when someone dies, the new covenant was put into action at Jesus' death. His death marked the transition from the old plan to the new one, canceling the old obligations and accompanying sins, and summoning the heirs to receive the eternal inheritance that was promised them. He brought together God and his people in this new way.

Hebrews 9:16 (The Message)

Boy! What a difference a month makes! It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been in Fillmore for two weeks already. The girls and I have unpacked almost everything and we are all starting to settle into routine. Both Cassie and Bailey really enjoy their schools and are quickly making friends. Kimy was hired at Houghton College and is now the Administrative Assistant to the Dean of the Chapel. I have fully moved into the pastor’s office at church and have all my books on the shelves (they are nowhere near any kind of order, but they are up!). I have met with several of the ministers from around the area and have had a few of the Fillmore Faithful stop by my office to offer warm greetings and sincere welcomes. I even received a big ole bag of squash and apples and 1½ dozen fresh farm raised eggs! Yep, what a difference a month makes!

It goes without saying that I have met some pretty great people, but perhaps the coolest of them is the awesome staff I get to see on a daily basis. Both Pastors Alicia and Mike are beautiful Christian people that I absolutely love working with! We have met together for two staff meetings and I keep discovering just how in tune with FWC and Jesus they truly are. I praise the Lord God Almighty for His foresight in choosing these wonderful people to serve the Fillmore Faithfull with me. We are truly blessed to have such dedicated people behind the scenes working to meet the needs of God’s people and the expansion of His Kingdom!

We started a new sermon series for October called “transitions: when God calls”. The first message was based on the story of Elijah calling Elisha. The main point was to follow when called and not to worry about all the other things you think you need to do instead. Please join me in thanking Laura & Jim Wardell and Pastor Mike and Ben for their leading of worship this last week-end. This coming Sunday we will look at Gideon and how he responded to being called by God when he saw himself as a poor choice to be a mighty warrior. Next Sunday is about the vision Paul had to go to the people of Macedonia. Then, on the 31st, I will speak about how Jesus made the ultimate transition in order to bring us to God. That Sunday will also be Communion. Please pray with me that Jesus will receive all the praise and honor from this series and that people will be challenged to follow Jesus and His plan for their lives!