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I spoke with a dear saint of God recently who is going through a very difficult time in life. This person has been very much wronged as of late, and negative things seem to be piling up one after another.
In the course of our conversation, this person said a couple of things that I often hear.
“I don’t know how much more I can take”. “I’m not handling this well”.
How we view the “handling” of our problems is very interesting to me, and I think we (Christians) get it wrong a lot.
I think we often feel that we aren’t handling things well for the following reasons:
1. We are very emotional, experiencing feelings of anger, resentment, revenge, sadness, despair.
2. We resent that we feel such emotions.
3. On occasions, we say or do things that we regret.
4. We find ourselves complaining to God or to others.
5. We are not ourselves. We are easily distracted, struggle to read our Bibles, and can’t concentrate in prayer. We say things like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me”.
6. We are tempted to stay away from church or fellowship, because our emotions are depleted, and we can’t stand to talk to one more person.
7. Overall, as Christians, we expect that we ought to be much more in control of our emotions, and not feeling so out of control.
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It is possible to love Jesus and know Him as Savior, yet still have some embarrassment about Him. Our hearts can be divided between our love for Jesus and our fear of being embarrassed. Consider this passage…
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Matthew 26:26-28 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
Jesus was no victim. That truth continues to impact me. As He announced His impending death, and deliberately moved towards it, I cannot imagine the enormity of emotion that He experienced.
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We often ask for wrong things from God. There may be a rightness about our intentions, but our intentions can very easily be skewed.
It was good that the disciples were following Jesus. The mother of James and John asked Jesus for a position of authority for her sons in Jesus’ kingdom.
Matthew 20:20-28 20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” 22But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”
24And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The disciples were concerned about position. Where would they end up in the hierarchy of Jesus’ kingdom? James and John wanted positions of leadership. When the other disciples heard of their request, they were angry about their efforts of self promotion. Jesus went on to teach all of them, which indicates that they all had an erroneous view of “position” in the Kingdom of God.
Instead of focusing on their position, Jesus instructed His disciples to focus on their purpose, which was servanthood. He taught them by way of negative example, speaking of the kingdoms of men. He then spoke about His own kingdom, and the example and purpose of His own life, which was to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
In our lives, may we realize that position is something set by God, and not us, but purpose is something we fulfill. May we focus on purpose rather than on position.
A rich, young ruler had come to Jesus asking about eternal life. Ultimately, Jesus told him to sell all that he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. The young man went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
Jesus went on to explain the problem that rich people have.
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What a great contrast there is between Jesus’ kingdom and the kingdoms of the world. They are contrary not only in purpose and goals, but in methodology and intention.
In Matthew 10, Jesus empowered His disciples to go on a healing and preaching tour throughout Israel. He told them who to go to, and what to say. He told them not to provide for themselves, but to allow others to support them voluntarily. Jesus orchestrated, empowered, directed, and sent out His followers.
Matthew 10:16 encapsulates what their mentality was to be.
Matthew 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
A sheep among wolves is completely defenseless, and must depend upon his Shepherd to protect him. These men were equipped to serve, and even do miracles, but though they were endued with great power, they were never to quit trusting in God for their provision or the words to say when opposed and threatened. Though they were equipped to cast out demons, they were to have the mindset of a sheep depending upon its shepherd. A sheep among wolves always has to depend upon his Shepherd.
Jesus also told them to be as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves. The wisdom of a serpent is for self gratification, specifically, the gratification of eating its victim. With stealth, patience, and cunning, it stalks its victim for personal gain. With a serpent, its all about personal gain at the expense of another.
Doves on the other hand, are simple, and not dangerous. They don’t have that killer instinct. They don’t prey upon one another, or other birds (that I know of).
Jesus exhorted the disciples and us to be patient, cunning, wise, but to use none of those qualities for personal gratification or self enrichment, and especially at the expense of others.
So, the disciples were equipped with power and were to be wise, patient, shrewd, but none of it for personal gratification. Though they had power, they were to depend on God. Though they were wise and instructed, they were to be simple minded regarding not advancing against others.
Normally, people use all their skills to exploit others. The exact opposite is true for the Kingdom of God. We are to serve God and people, and not advance ourselves with the gifts God has given us.
Matthew 8:18-22 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Most American Christians understand the concept of the need to follow Jesus at any cost. In this passage, Jesus points out two conditions that His disciples must be willing to accept: Jesus comes before creature comforts, and Jesus comes before family.
Some who follow Jesus fail these requirements in obvious ways. Other followers of Christ fail in more subtle ways. It is the second scenario that I wish to consider.
For some Christians, owning a home or homes has kept them from following Jesus closely. They haven’t rejected Him, but they have become extremely distracted and preoccupied with that which will pass away.
There is nothing inherently wrong with home ownership, but in America, it is almost considered a “God given” right to buy a home. In many minds, the Gospel includes “The American Dream”. Don’t misunderstand me, we can be homeowners and still follow Jesus. But does our home ownership compete with our efforts to follow the Lord? If owning and maintaining a home keeps us from following Jesus according to His desire for us, would we forsake home ownership?
We buy a home, and then chant the mantra about “being good stewards” of that “which God has given us”. I don’t think that the Lord would lead us to stewardship that would leave him as 2nd or 3rd on our list of our priorities. We assume that God want us to be homeowners, but for some Believers, renting would be more spiritually freeing.
For some Christians, family relations are not good, and are not viable competitors against our devotion to Christ. However, in some families, devotion to family rivals or eclipses our devotion to Jesus. This is an insidious trap. Family devotion seems so “Christian”, and yet it can become more important to the Believer than his or her relationship with Jesus.
The Christian who is overly devoted to family is a prime candidate for replacing Jesus with family. In their minds, “family devotion” is the “Christian” thing to do, therefore, it can never be wrong and can never go too far. But devotion to family can go too far, and we can exalt our devotion to family over and above our devotion to Christ. It’s not that we reject Jesus, it’s just that family relationships become His competition.
I am thankful for all who desire to follow Jesus. I am thankful for my salvation. May we all be very careful in these two seemingly innocent aspects of life. May we never allow even “good” things to hinder our devotion and obedience to Jesus. Be careful to not allow the good to replace the best.
First of all, let me apologize for writing an article on an intense topic (sexual addiction), and then not visiting my own blog much to follow the conversation. In fact, I have yet to thoroughly read all the comments from the previous thread. Sorry about that. I intend to read them. As of this writing, I still don’t have internet at our new house. That should change in the next few days. Oh, the pain of it all.
I want to share a few more thoughts regarding sexual sin amongst Christians.
One of the comments I hear from men who are habitually looking at pornography is that “I can’t help it”, or, I am out of control”. Some would call that “addiction”. That was thoroughly discussed in the comments section in my previous article. However we want to label such habitual behavior is secondary to how we view the actual behavior.
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“I don’t have a life like other people”.
(Regarding the Apostle Paul and his suffering:)
“Humility comes from being in God’s presence”.
“Believing was more important than living”.
(Re. the apostles and the dangers in their lives)
“It takes a crucified man to preach a crucified Christ”.
“What you are is ultimately what you will preach”.
(Editor’s note)- For more Blessed One Liners, check the archives for December 10 & 11, 2007.
Don McClure’s teachings can be purchased through his we site: http://www.calvaryway.com/index.html
Daniel Fusco’s teachings can be heard at http://www.reasontorejoice.org/
One of my favorite Olympic memories is that of gymnast Kerri Strug vaulting in the 1996 Olympics.
She was injured, and had severe pain in her left ankle, but she willed herself to give her all for the American team.
It was of special interest to our household, as, at the time, our daughter was involved in gymnastics, and we had a bit of the Olympic fever about the whole thing.
The result of Kerri’s effort was a great vault, and a gold medal for the American Women Gymnasts. It was an incredible moment.
Kerri’s efforts were very inspiring, and were appropriately praised for quite some time. Watching the video clip got me emotional all over again. She proved herself worthy of the title “Olympic Champion”.
You can watch the video of Kerri’s vault here:
The Apostle Paul sat in a jail in Rome, and wrote these words to his beloved Philippian brethren.
Philippians 1:27, 29
27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…
29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…
“Striving together”. The Greek word is synathleo, a compound word made up of syn- which means “together”, and athelo, which means “to engage in a contest”. We get the words “athlete” and “athletic” from athleo.
It gives us the picture of athletes striving together for a common goal which is bigger than personal recognition. It speaks of a team mentality, as opposed to the “me first” mentality we increasingly see in today’s world of professional athletes.
Kerri was granted the privilege of being on that team. It was a very special position to hold. Kerri was willing to suffer for the team, her parents, her coach and for America, as she wore the Stars and Stripes on her uniform. There was, undoubtedly, a great deal of personal achievement that she had, but it was bigger than just her.
Paul also told the Philppians that, “it had been granted to them to suffer on behalf of Christ”.
The Greek word for the phrase “granted to them” is charizomai, which means “to give graciously”. From that word we get the word charis, which means “grace”. The Philippians had been “graced” with the opportunity to suffer for Jesus.
Let’s connect the dots and come to a conclusion.
Paul exhorted the Philppian believers to live a life worthy of what Christ had died to give them. They were to live their lives in such a way as to resemble what a Christian is. As Kerri lived out the heart of a champion gymnast, so we too, are called to live out what we are: “Christians”. (That is assuming that you, the reader, are indeed a follower of Jesus)
Secondly, we are to have a goal in life that is bigger than ourselves. Have a big picture mentality. The goal is Jesus and His kingdom. It isn’t just you and your personal wants. Make the decision to strive together with other Christians for a goal bigger than yourself. The trouble with many of us is that we strive against each other for personal gain, instead of with each other for Jesus’ honor.
Thirdly, we have been graciously granted the opportunity to suffer for “Team Jesus”. Those young American women were incredibly privileged to be on that that team. Yes, they earned it, but it was still a privilege. Since then, the team no longer exists with that line-up.
We have been graciously granted the privilege of being part of the Body of Christ, which is eternal and has existed for nearly 2000 years. The 1996 Olympics have come and gone. The Kingdom of God is eternal. People earn their way onto an Olympic team. God the Son came to Earth, put on flesh, and died on a cross to grant you the privilege of being in God’s family.
Kerri suffered for an inspiring, but temporary cause. Christians have been “graced” with the privilege to occasionally suffer for that which will never pass away.
We don’t “have to suffer” for Jesus. We have been granted that privilege.
Christians comprise the most privileged people group on Earth. It isn’t because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is. It isn’t because of our temporal personal goals, but because of His eternal purposes.
We, more than any other people group, have the best reason to endure suffering.
The “Voice of The Martyrs” ministry tells us that presently, 500 Christians die each day for their faith. Thousands more suffer daily. They don’t get the earthly recognition that an Olympic athlete does. Their recognition goes far beyond that.
To us it has been granted the opportunity to live, suffer, or even die for the greatest cause mankind will ever know. We are among the most privileged group.
(Editor’s note) For those interested in further thoughts on this, my sermon notes are available on this blog site.