Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What Is God Doing With Me?

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

What is God Doing With You?

I had such a rough time of it a few weeks ago!  I was the substitute teacher for a high school geometry teacher and it did not go well.  Several of the kids refused to put away their cell phones, students refused to do the class work and instead talked loudly with their friends.  Two tried to guess what my other job was and listed several that clearly were intended to insult me.   A number of the kids laughed openly at me for insisting that they become quiet because others were working.   I spoke with a few kids just before class was over and they told me that despite how bad it was, the class was much worse and far noisier when the regular teacher ran the classroom.  Somehow that did not make me feel any better.  It seemed so oppressive, so purposeless, this work of going into classrooms where the students have no interest in learning and did not respect the authority of the teachers. What was the point of that?  Who chooses that kind of life?

I have asked the question and perhaps you have too.  What is God doing with me?  Maybe as you sit at home and reflect back upon your day, you wonder about God’s plan for you.  Is there really something He is doing with you or are you just a number in a huge crowd of wandering souls?   Perhaps you have read books about finding the purpose in your life but still wonder about where God is taking you.  You have had good moments and tough ones and everything seems awfully random and disconnected.  So what is God doing with you?  Can you make sense of what has happened in your life?

Many teachers cite the example of an obscure figure found in the Old Testament as the pattern for how God deals with His favorites.  Tucked away in 1 Chronicles 4 is the much loved account of the ephemeral Jabez.  All we know about him is that the Bible says he was more honorable that his brothers and that his mother gave him the name “Pain” or Jabez because she had a rough delivery giving birth to him.  Famously, Jabez at some point begged God to make him prosperous.  "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain."  (1 Chronicles 4: 10)  Hasn’t nearly every one of us prayed similar prayers?  “Dear Lord, improve the lot of my life and take away all this bad stuff I face!  Make me successful!”   What is so wonderfully delicious about this account is that we are told, God granted his request.  Isn’t that uplifting!  Our Lord made Jabez’s life pleasant and strife free.  He was promised success and prosperity.  That is what we all want.  No wonder so many Christian writers have taken this story as the blueprint for God’s plan for us.  Despite the fact that nowhere in the text does the Lord say this is His universal way of dealing with people who are “good”, it is touted by a number of popular Christian teachers as the expected life plan for those who live decently and follow the Bible.

Not surprising, few promote the central figures in the New Testament as examples of how they want God to work in their lives.  Paul in particular is on almost no one’s top ten list of experiences they want for themselves, not when you take into consideration his own account of what he faced.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27 NIV)

Rarely do you find someone who says, “I want to be beaten with rods and whipped nearly to death.”  We would much rather have it like Jabez without health problems and living comfortably.  Yet again, the Bible does not say that Paul is the expected blueprint for each life.  Let us consider Jesus’ actual words of what He plans to do with every one of His people.  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 NIV)  There it is; God’s plan for you.

We discover in this prayer of Jesus that there are two parts to where God is taking you.  First, He is going to make you united with God’s people.  Just as close as the Father and the Son are, He plans on making you with every other born again man, woman and child.  Regardless of station in life, national or ethnic background, God is going to develop trust, love and holiness in your relationship with the rest of the Church.  This is a monumental task and will take quite a bit of re-working in us.  He must cleanse us and purify us for this to happen because we are prickly and self-centered but it will be done.  Nothing short of a miracle can make us as close to others as the Father and the Son are to each other but that is of course God’s will and our Savior’s prayer.

The second part of this prayer is a stunning revelation.  God is going to make you as close to Him as the Father and the Son are to each other.  For this to take place, our Lord is not going to build on the strengths you possess.  He is going to completely re-work you so that there is not an inch of rebellion in you, not a gram of disobedience.  That will take some doing because we are doubters who question the Lord at every turn.  We think we are far wiser and more understanding of what we need to be happy and it pains us sometimes to follow Him.  All of that is being worked out of you.  You will grow to trust Him completely and love Him devotedly as God works in you.

The Apostle Paul summarizes perfectly God’s plan for you.  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)  It is not God’s goal for you to be successful although that might take place.  It is not God’s goal for you to make a great income although that might take place.  It is not God’s goal for you to be healthy although that might take place.  His goal is to do something with you that will last forever; that will purify and perfect you so that you can live with God and other Christians in complete unity.  If that means that you lose all you have, lose your health, lose your friends and live without what the world says is important to be happy, then that will happen.  It happened with Paul.  It happened with Job too.  Every experience you have, every circumstance you face has one goal to it.  God is using it to make you perfectly fit to live with God and His people forever.  Nothing will stop our Lord from accomplishing this with you.

Every evil strand of selfishness and pride must be removed from you if you are to be in perfect unity with God and His people and our Lord will do what it takes to get them out of you.  Greed and arrogance must be taken out of you too as well as complacency and independence.  Christ will move heaven and earth and give you every experience and relationship needed to make you fit for your life with God and His people and each of us is unique and God’s way of working into us His love and peace and faith is dependent upon what He sees must be done to complete His work of salvation in us.  Never fuss over how your life is going.  God knows what He is doing with you and in the end, you will be perfect in every way that matters to the Lord who died to save you.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Loss of Self-Pity

Genesis 27:38 NIV
Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" Then Esau wept aloud.

Do You Ever Feel Sorry For Yourself?

I have been limping for about three months now and I must admit that I have begun to wonder if I will ever walk normally again.  I have to hold the rail as I go up steps, I can’t stand very long before I have to sit in a chair, I stopped going door-to door inviting people to our church because of how badly my knee hurt.  Now I don’t want to feel sorry for myself but I have had a difficult time trying to see what good this limping has done for me.  Should I thank God for the pain I am suffering?  Is it wrong to pray for God to heal me?  What should I say when people ask me why I am limping?  Is there a right way for me to respond that lets people know that I am not feeling sorry for myself or can I be brutally honest about how frustrated I am not being able to walk very far?  What is the right way to deal with difficulties?

Perhaps you have faced these same questions and were not sure what you should do.  Should you complain to anyone about your troubles?  Is it Christian for you to be upset by your circumstances?  Do you try to be stoic about your hardships?  Maybe you are good at hiding your difficulties from others.  You pretend as if everything is ok when your world is falling apart.  Should you be commended for this?  When people ask you how your day went, do you automatically say, “Good” even if it wasn’t?  Is it better to be honest about how you feel and let people know when you are struggling with your problems than to keep them to yourself?  What is the best way to deal with your troubles?

Sometimes we can’t help but laugh at some of the actions people in the Bible have taken.  The story of Jonah, the unwilling missionary is one such example.  He famously tried to run from God when given the assignment of going to the pagan city of Nineveh to warn the people there that the Lord was about to judge the city for its wickedness.  Jonah did not want the city warned; he just wanted the people judged and so he fled.  When he ended up in the belly of a great fish, Jonah agreed to go preach in the city and the fish spit him out on shore.  After Jonah spent a day preaching that in forty days the city would be overturned, the people repented and sought the Lord’s forgiveness.  When God relented and did not destroy the people, Jonah in a huff went up onto a hillside overlooking Nineveh and angrily stewed.  Because it was blazing hot, God caused a vine to grow and provide shade for Jonah and this made Jonah happy.  But that night, God killed the vine and Jonah was left without shade the next day.  Angrily he told the Lord that he wanted to die.  Now isn’t this interesting.  He was sitting out in the hot sun by himself because he was mad God let the people of Nineveh live.  Rather than sitting comfortably in one of the nice homes in Nineveh, he stubbornly resisted the hospitality of the peopleand baked under the blazing sun.  He also was mad that God killed the vine that had given him some shade and for these two reasons the reluctant preacher wanted to die.  We know exactly what was going on with Jonah.  He was feeling sorry for himself and angry with God for not treating him better.  We might have even laughed at Jonah if we were with him for the little pity party he was having.  Of course, Jonah was only hurting himself we might argue.  What harm was there in him pouting?

The case of Lot is a bit more serious because of how his self-pity impacted his daughters and the generations that followed.  Lot was the cousin of Abraham who went on to become the father of two great nations.  His life took a turn for the worse when he and his cousin went separate ways.  Lot and Abraham each had great herds of sheep and goats but because of the difficulty finding grass and water for such large flocks, the shepherds of Abraham and Lot could not get along and fought over the limited resources they had to share.  To quell the infighting among the shepherds, Lot and Abraham decided to move away from each other and Abraham gave Lot the option of choosing first where to settle.  Lot decided on the fertile plain near Sodom and so he settled there.  Apparently, Lot gave up his shepherding eventually because he wound up living in the city of Sodom, married and had two daughters.  After perhaps two decades living in Sodom, Lot had become comfortable with his new life.  When God sent His two angels to rescue Lot and his family from the destruction that was about to come, Lot was hesitant to leave and he and his family had to be nearly dragged out of Sodom by the angels.  Although they had been told not to look back at Sodom as the fire and brimstone fell upon it, Lot’s wife did for some reason and she was turned into salt.

After escaping the destruction of the cities of the plain, Lot and his two daughters hid in a cave.  The text says that Lot was afraid of living in the village of Zoar where they originally fled and set up camp in the cave.  What probably the daughters thought would just be a temporary stay became a permanent home.  It seems that at some point Lot must have known that it no longer was a risk for him to leave the cave and yet still he remained, year, after year after year, keeping himself and his daughters isolated from the rest of the world.  His daughters, feeling the heaviness of growing old without children made the perverse decision to get their father drunk so that he could get them pregnant.  The children they bore became the founders of two nations, each wicked and pagan.

What do we make of Lot and his decision to hole up in a cave?  Certainly his cousin Abraham would have welcomed him with open arms and he could have lived like a king with Abraham and his clan.  Lot and his girls would have been safe and could have rebuilt their lives.  The daughters might surely have had real husbands and a normal family life.  Lot apparently never recovered psychologically from the destruction of his home and the loss of his wife.  It wasn’t just Lot’s wife who looked back at ruin of Sodom; Lot too became as stiff as a statue psychologically after leaving it behind.  Did self-pity destroy Lot’s personality?  Was he incapacitated emotionally due to feeling sorry for himself?  It is not a stretch to think that perhaps Lot gave in to despair and dragged his daughters down with him.  Did he not see how sad they were not having husbands or did he just ignore all the signs, all the comments they made alluding to their disappointment.  That is what self-pity does to us.  It makes us so self-absorbed that we can’t see past our own wounds.  Those we love become shadows for us; vapors in our insulated world of hurt.

Our world is tragic, we must face the facts.  Sin has brought death to every corner of life.  Yet that does not mean we have to feel sorry for ourselves.  Paul said that we are to do everything without complaining.  Do everything without complaining or arguing, (Philippians 2: 14) That seems nearly impossible even for the most upbeat of us.  There is so much to complain about in our lives!  The waiter doesn’t pay attention to our order, our back is giving us trouble again, the traffic is bad, we have an aunt with cancer, the kids aren’t doing their chores, work is too demanding.  There is in Hebrews 2:10 something that must be examined with great reverence. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. (NIV)  The Greek word translated “perfect” has as its primary meaning, “completed” or “finished”.  Christ did not need to become more holy than He was.  What temptation did though in making Christ resistant to sin and fit to follow the Father in every way, suffering also did in making Him resistant to self-pity and self-absorption!  He became through His suffering completely trusting in the Father to do what was right with His life.

Self-pity and its weaker cousin, feeling sorry for ourselves are the disciples of atheism.  If God has said that He is making everything in our lives turn out for our good, self-pity is a rejection of that promise and a rejection of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV) Why would I feel sorry for myself if I know that the result of what I face today will end in something far better than what I had before?  It would be incredible for a child to cry about getting a million dollars when he expected a nerf gun.  What sort of fool would feel sorry for himself if he were given a great mansion rather than a small shed to live out his life?  Jesus never complained about any of His suffering because He trusted the Father explicitly!  If I face an illness, God will work it for something good.  If I am poor, God’s riches will be poured into me.  If my family is struggling, our Lord will put it together better than it was.  When we complain and feel sorry for ourselves, we throw Christ off the throne and sit there in His place judging Him and His care for us.  Self-pity is open rebellion against God and to keep feeling sorry for yourself means you don’t think the Lord is good or reasonable despite his promises to take care of you.

Certainly we feel the pain of suffering and sorrow and no one can make light of the horrors so often found in this world.  Terrible things happen and we face them too.  Surely Christ wanted His friends to stay with Him as He suffered the anguish of what was to come while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We also need our friends and our friends need us when the evil of sin and Satan crush us.  That does not mean though that we need to feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in self-pity. Let go of your frustration that others don’t treat you fairly or respect you like they should.  Quit feeling sorry for yourself and turn your thoughts to Christ who is taking care of you.   We have a God who is within us giving us strength and in all that we face, the love of Christ will turn it for our good and we will see soon enough that He has blessed us beyond measure in every way.  All great and joyous men or women of the past have faced sorrows and painful experiences and been mistreated but they refused to feel sorry for themselves.  Their greatness was realized and unveiled the moment they decided God is good, that He loves them and that in the end He can be trusted with their lives despite how others treat them or think of them.  Do you believe God loves you and has your best interests at heart?  If you do, then be glad He has you right where He wants you to be!

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Loss of Self-Reliance

What Makes a Good Christian?
2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.   

How Confident Are You in Yourself?

We had a problem with gophers in the lawn next to our sanctuary and it frustrated me to see the grass being ruined.  I went and got some gopher poison and used the normal strategy of probing the ground with a metal rod to try and find the soft spots which indicated a gopher tunnel was there.  I created a small hole that led down to the tunnel, poured the poison into the tunnel with a tool I had purchased and covered the top of the hole with some sod.  Of course you don’t know right away if you killed the gopher, you have to wait a week or so to see if new mounds of dirt develop.  They did!  I tried again, used the tool to probe for tunnels, thought I found one, poured the poison pellets down the hole I made and waited another week.  Again there was a fresh mound.  This went on for several weeks.  Fresh mound, fresh mound and fresh mound!  Realizing this gopher was much smarter than me, I began to pray for God to help me.  Eventually I quit trying to kill the gopher but after a month or so, it dawned on me that I wasn’t seeing any new mounds of dirt.  Had the poison worked after all, was the gopher back in the empty field?  What happened to my little enemy?  One evening, as I stood outside stretching after a long day of writing, I glanced over where the lawn meets the field and there perched at the edge of the grass was a grey cat with her eyes fixed intently on the ground.  Perhaps, I realized, as I stood and watched the stray cat alertly on guard, I had received unexpected help in my battle with the gopher.

What is your strategy when you are facing a difficult situation?  What do you do when you are injured or sick?  How do you respond to the loss of your job or a problem in your marriage?  Do you have a plan for dealing with your kids when they get into trouble?  What would you suggest to someone having financial problems, about to lose their house or struggling with depression or anxiety?  All of us have had gophers in our lives.  The question is, what to do about them?

Let me give an example of a gopher a rather famous person from the pages of the Bible encountered.  Jesus was in a sticky situation.  He had just fed a crowd of more than five thousand men with only five small loaves of bread and two little fish and although not everyone in the great crowd saw what happened, eventually word circulated about the miracle that had taken place.  As people whispered among themselves and slowly the discussions became louder and increasingly emotional, the connection between what had just happened and how Moses had fed the masses of Hebrews in the desert with Manna was made.  The people were desperate for one like Moses, a leader of supernatural proportions who could take them out of the political and religious oppression they felt living under the rule of the Romans.  It seemed amazing to them that right here on this weedy mountainside at the outskirts of town, the hero they all longed to lead them to freedom had appeared. This was too good to be true!  At first, the people in unorganized groups speculated among themselves what this might mean.  They talked about the ramifications of having such a one as Jesus take charge.  Finally, the scattered discussions became unified in both content and direction.  They had to find some way to get Jesus to be their king.

For most of us, this would not be a gopher; it would be the opportunity of a lifetime.  Who would not want to be a king?  Jesus didn’t.  Not this way and not at this time!  He had come to die for the sins of the people, not to lead them past the Romans and their armies.  Everything our Lord planned on accomplishing would be wrecked if He took this offer.  Yet it was not just a matter of declining.  After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15 NIV)  It is strange to think of being made king by force…a contradiction of terms.  How can one be king if forced by the subjects one rules to be that king?  Jesus wanted no part of this!  Yet how could He refuse the demand without putting His disciples at risk and keep Himself from being murdered before His time had come?  It was a gopher of immense proportions.  How did Jesus respond to this?  He went off by Himself to a mountain and the Father took care of the crowd for Him.

A casual reader might say that Jesus ran away from His gopher and this certainly could seem to be the case.  But going to a mountain by Himself we learn generally meant that He left to pray.  Sometimes He took His disciples with Him.  About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. (Luke 9:28 NIV)  We are told that Jesus often went up the Mount of Olives and we assume He did so to pray.  At least that is what He did on the night before He was crucified.  Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."   He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed… (Luke 22:39-41 NIV)  Jesus, by leaving the crowd and climbing up the mountain made sure that He was aligned with the Father at every turn because He trusted the Father to see Him through whatever gophers He faced.

Let’s look at one more gopher, a tenacious one encountered by Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel.  After tricking his father Isaac into giving the prophetic blessing to him rather than Esau who was supposed to receive it, Jacob fled for his life.  Esau was so furious with Jacob for stealing the blessing of their father that he made plans to kill him.  More than twenty years later, Jacob decided to return home.  Jacob was rich, had two wives and two concubines, had twelve children with one on the way but he had a giant gopher facing him.  His brother also was rich, had an army of servants and friends and Jacob did not know if Esau still wanted him dead.  That is something that can keep you up at night.  The Bible tells us that when Jacob discovered that Esau with four hundred men was coming to meet him, Jacob feared not only for his life but for that of his entire family.  In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well.  He thought, "If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape."  (Genesis 32:7-8 NIV)

Jacob’s response to the threat of his gopher was swift.  Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,' I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.  Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.  But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'" (Genesis 32:9-12 NIV)  Jacob prayed.  He was carefully and with perhaps a certain amount of hesitancy putting some of his trust in God to take care of him.  We know he did not completely believe he could trust the Lord with his gopher because he figured out a scheme that he hoped would appease his brother’s anger.

…from what he had with him he (Jacob) selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.  He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, "Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds." (Genesis 32:13-16)  As we shall learn later, this strategy was completely unnecessary and reflected Jacob’s belief that the gopher was bigger than the one to whom he prayed.  That evening, as Jacob remained alone on the side of the Jabbok River opposite to where Esau and his soldiers were coming, a man approached him and the two engaged in a wrestling match.  Jacob believed it was God and we can be certain it was.  For hours they fought, neither gaining the advantage.  Finally at daybreak, the Lord decided to end the match.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."  But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."  The man asked him, "What is your name?"  "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."  Jacob said, "Please tell me your name."  But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." (Genesis 32:25-30 NIV)

There is in this exotic story something we must face and that is our tendency to rely upon ourselves for everything until we are broken by God.  Jacob prayed that the Lord would protect him and his family but he didn’t trust God to do it.  That is why he came up with his plan to pay for his brother’s forgiveness.  What is fascinating is that Esau didn’t even want the flocks, was not certain they were actually for him until after he ran to Jacob and embraced him with great weeping and joy at seeing him again.  But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.  Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. "Who are these with you?" he asked.  Jacob answered, "They are the children God has graciously given your servant."  Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down.  Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.  Esau asked, "What do you mean by all these droves I met?"  "To find favor in your eyes, my lord," he said.  But Esau said, "I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself." (Genesis 33:4-9 NIV) Only God could work such a miracle in the human heart.  What seemed like certain disaster for Jacob was an overwhelming triumph of grace.

Let us consider the end of Jacob’s wrestling match with God and the Lord’s decision to cripple Jacob.  With all his power Jacob wrestled with the Lord; using his strength to try and gain what God was already willing and happy to give him.  Jacob wanted the Lord’s blessing and like he did with his father, tried to gain it by his own effort.  Do we not fall into the same silly pattern as Jacob, having so little trust in God to take care of us and so much faith in our own ability to take care of the gophers we face?  God took Jacob’s hip out of joint because in order to build Jacob’s life right, it had to be broken.  What seems so simple, to trust God, is perhaps the most difficult challenge we face.  Most of us fight so hard to maintain our independence when it is absolutely ridiculous!

Proverbs 3: 5 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)  In the New Testament, the call to trust God is put this way.  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV)  Imagine the absurdity of a five year old child telling his father that he doesn’t need to live at home any longer, he will just get a job and rent an apartment.  We are like that child stubbornly refusing to really trust God with our problems and challenges.  Why not pause and like Jesus and go before the Father and ask His help?  Until Jacob realized he could completely trust God with his gophers, he made a mess of nearly everything he touched.  Once he reached out to the Lord, God guided him through all the challenges and hardships he faced.  What about you?  Will it take God to damage your hip or worse your ego before you realize how every breath of yours is dependent upon Him?   Why wouldn’t we trust our Savior with our problems?  We might be amazed at how well God takes care of us if we would go to Him first with every need we have.  Life is too short to waste it on worry or worthless plans.  Go to God first and let Him guide you through to the end!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Christ Your Savior

John 1:29 NIV
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

What Should You Do About The Sin in You?

When I was a kid, my friend and I were playing baseball in the back of our elementary school.  Suddenly a large gang of kids surrounded us and as I tried to get away, one of them pulled me off my bike, separating my shoulder and several started punching and kicking me while I was on the ground.  Others beat up my friend and just as quickly as they came, they vanished.  We did not know any of the kids nor did we have any idea why they attacked us.  My shoulder was permanently damaged and both of us were left with lasting memories of what happened to us.  Did it scar us psychologically?  I do not know.  Is the terror we felt that day still etched in our minds and does it impact us today?  I cannot say.  I do know that it was an example of how Sin is present in our world and how we are affected by its universal reach.

I recently watched a movie whose central character was beaten up by his cruel and perverse father when he was young, both his eyes being swollen shut by his dad’s furious fists.  As a result he left home when only a young teen.  How did his father’s sin affect him?  The boy became a thief to stay alive, was sent to prison for killing a man, later cheated on his wife and became an alcoholic who was unable or unwilling to show either of his sons the love they desperately craved of him.  What would you say about this man?  Would you speculate that the sins of the father impacted the later behavior of the son?  Are the sins of our parents passed along to the following generations?  What we now call alcoholism, child abuse, unfaithfulness, broken families and domestic violence is cast in the Bible as Sin, the destructive force that wrecks humanity and the universe.  What impact does one person’s sin have on the lives of others?  More importantly, what should be done to stop the damage sin causes?

Just to see what the Scriptures might have to say about this topic, I did a quick search in the Bible of the phrase, “for their sins”.  It is found seven times in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament.  The way it is approached in the two parts of the Bible is significantly different.  Here are the verses where “for their sins is found.  In the Old Testament we have the following.  They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. (Leviticus 26:43b NIV) He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them. (Psalm 94:23 NIV) I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. (Isaiah 13:11 NIV) See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. (Isaiah 26:21 NIV) So the Lord does not accept them;he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins." (Jeremiah 14:10 NIV) The punishment for their sins rested on their bones, though the terror of these warriors had stalked through the land of the living. (Ezekiel 32:27 NIV) God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins. (Hosea 9:9 NIV)

Do you see the common thread between the verses?  “Their sins” are to be punished!  In each case, the sinners will pay for their sins.  Never is it considered any other way in the Old Testament.  We of course have seen the effect of sin upon individuals, families and society.  We certainly do pay for sins.  There is a degradation of personality, a corruption and degeneration of relationships and damage to our circumstances when sinners sin.  It is the coin of the realm; you pay for your sins one way or another.  Sin wrecks you and damages the lives of others impacted by the sinning.  Of course there is more importantly the eternal component to sin, you pay for it fully when you meet God face to face.  Sin brings its own punishment and God makes sure it hits us squarely.

In the New Testament, there is a dramatic shift in how “for their sins” is addressed.  Only twice is this phrase used in the New Testament, both times in the book of Hebrews.  Unlike the other high priests, he (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:27 NIV)  The sinners do not pay for their sinning, Christ offers Himself for the sins of the sinners.  What makes sin, sin is that there is a Law which determines what is right and wrong, a standard that is universal and unbending.  This is the Law that God has established as Lord and Creator of the universe.  It is firmly in place and we are bound by His decision of what is right and wrong.

In the Old Testament we are tied to the Law by its punishment.  We don’t keep the Law, we violate it and so its relationship to us is judge and executioner.  We cannot live up to the Law and eventually the Law destroys us.  With Christ having been crucified, the Law becomes completely different for us. The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. (Hebrews 10:1-2 NIV)

Here is a revelation that must be considered carefully.  The Law is a shadow, it is not the actuality of things once Christ was crucified.  The reality before the Cross was that all people were condemned by the Law.  Now it is different.  Christ is Savior and that means He takes away the sin of the world.  The Law which always pointed out our corruption and condemned our soul is not what determines the course of our lives any longer.  It is Christ crucified who now decides now our fate and how we can live.

If Christ were not crucified, then all we could do would be what sin in us determines.  We can only go so far in love and joy and contentment because sin limits it all.  Sin is like a filthy filter that reduces the amount of good that can flow into your life and that can come out of your life and the Law always made it clear you were broken and without hope of being any more than a corrupted and lifeless soul.  But what Jesus did for us was take the sin out of us so that there is now no limit on the goodness and joy we can possess and our effect on others can be just as good as what Jesus brought to each life He encountered.  Heaven is the great society of living souls filled with the vast unlimited supply of love and peace and joy that is found only in God Himself.  You must never think that our Lord died to make you a better form of yourself; one who makes something of his or her life.  No!  He died to put His own life in you and make you into a perfect child of God without fault or blemish.  This cannot be emphasized enough.  The crucified life of Jesus Christ is the new law of your life, Him living through you and putting within you all the joy and holiness and peace and contentment He, Himself possesses.

The Law is no longer your curse and the mirror that reflects back all the bad in you.  It has become the way your life operates with Christ a part of you, taking away from you the damage caused by sin and giving you a standard that corrects your actions and way of thinking.  You do what the Lord tells you to do because that is how you are now made.  It is not due to some external law that has to be kept or some standard that you must approach that drives you but that the Love of Christ Himself has been poured into your heart and through His love, you choose to do what the Lord tells you to do.  …God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5 NIV) You live according to the Law Christ has placed within you and you no longer make sacrifices to do what God tells you to do because you have nothing to sacrifice, it always is just a matter of whether you love God or not and if you do, then whatever He says to do, either through the Scripture or by His prompting of you, you do that very thing.

When you choose to disregard the Law built within you, the Law of Christ living as part of you, you will grow more and more miserable, discontented and disoriented.  Once you do what God tells you to do, His joy gets worked into you a bit more and His peace gets established.  You never again, with your faith in Christ to save you worry about what God will do with you.  That is settled.  He will make you sin free and joined with Him forever.  To enjoy that life with Him, you obey Christ at every turn.  Life is quite simple for you now.  Just do what the Lord tells you to do and everything you care about will fall into place according to God’s plan for you and you can count on this every moment of every day.  God loves you and His love for you is how He decides to treat you.  That is a great comfort regardless of the circumstances you face.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:16 NIV)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Loss of Self-Realization

Ephesians 4:17 NIV
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  

If You Could Do Anything With Your Life, What Would It Be?

You may know that my first year of college I decided to be a chemistry major in an effort to qualify for medical school.  It was of course a respectable degree to pursue…at least if I could do it.  It required lots of hard work and many who choose chemistry as their major don’t complete it because it is so challenging.  What interested me most about this selection of a major was that it was respectable and would push me to maximize my abilities to accomplish the goal of being a medical doctor.  No one tried to discourage me; I was generally told to pursue my dreams and that I could accomplish whatever my heart desired.  Few of us would not want to pursue our dreams and I was no exception to this normal approach to life.  If I could not be an NBA basketball player, I might as well be a medical doctor.  It seemed reasonable to me and I believed I could achieve this goal.

You could say that the expression that defined me at this point in my life was, “I got it.”  You hear “I got it” often in sports.  If a fly ball is hit to the outfield, one of the outfielders yells, “I got it!”  Volleyball players scream out “I got it” to let their teammates know they will receive the ball.  If a fish is on your line, you might yell, “I got it” to let everyone in on your impending accomplishment.  But you also say “I got it” if you are going to answer the phone or open the door for whoever is there.  Psychologically, “I got it” means that you can handle your problem; you don’t need help.  You may tend to like the independent type, the “I got it” you who relies on yourself to “get the job done.”  The term for “I got it” is “self-realization” and it is now about a century old.  Self-realization or “I got it” is generally the object in therapy of nearly every worker in mental health.  “Be all you can be” which is nearly the same as “you got it” has a noble feel to it and who would argue that it should not be your goal in life.  Yet you know that just because everyone else seems to hold to a particular view does not mean that it is the best way of seeing something.  Could it be that “be all you can be” is not the approach you should take to life?  Is there the possibility that you ought to evaluate this philosophy critically…maybe self-realization is not what is best for you or me?

There are several ways self-realization is practiced.  I have a talent and I want to maximize it.  I have an interest and I want to pursue it.  I have an opinion and I want to express it.  I have a goal and I want to chase it.  This line of thinking is often found in the Bible and although the term “self-realization” is not used, the expression of it in normal sorts of ways is often described in case studies that are provided in God’s word.  Lamech is not a familiar character in the Bible but he certainly was a dramatic figure.  His life is well summarized in his own words.  Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me.  If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times." (Genesis 4:23-24 NIV)  Although this is rather extreme, Lamech is expressing precisely the spirit of self-realization.  Self-realization is the determination to assert my will over my environment both internally and externally.  In this case Lamech decided that when he was wounded he had every right to kill the man who wounded him and then he did it.  He expressed himself and his morality by extending outward his influence.  Without independence, self-realization is not possible.  For Lamech, he took self-realization to the outer edges by killing the man who put limits on his happiness and comfort.  He referenced God but certainly never consulted with God nor did he act in conjunction with God when he decided to kill the young man who hurt him.

A second example of self-realization is also found in the book of Genesis.  The strange account of Jacob stealing his father’s blessing from his older brother illustrates how far some will go to extend the boundaries of self.  Rather than being satisfied with what he had as his mother’s favorite and heir to much of his father’s fortune, Jacob tricked his father into giving him the spiritual blessing the father intended to pass on to Jacob’s twin brother Esau.  Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing." (Genesis 27:19 NIV)  If it were not for the murderous anger it provoked in Esau, this could be labeled typical sibling rivalry.  Take it out of the context of family relations and you might make the case that Jacob was just fulfilling his destiny.  God had told Jacob’s mother that Esau or Esau’s descendants would eventually serve Jacob or Jacob’s descendants.  Jacob was following his dream of rising beyond his brother in influence and power by snatching away the blessing of his father.  One must wonder if Jacob ever gained much satisfaction in stealing his brother’s blessing as he immediately had to flee for his life and then spent twenty years living under the domination of his future father-in-law.  How far should one go to live out one’s dream?

A third example, this time from the New Testament, illustrates the reason why self-realization must never be our goal.  The often recounted attempt of Peter to correct Jesus is on the surface rather comical but Jesus did not treat it lightly.  The disciple “meant well”.  He thought Jesus was not trusting the Father enough when our Lord told the disciples that He would soon be killed by the religious authorities.  Without noticing at all that Jesus promised He would on the third day after death be resurrected, Peter made sure his opinion was voiced.   Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22 NIV)  Jesus’ response was not pretty.  “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23 NIV)  Here we have precisely put the essence of self-realization.  There is in Peter a disconnect between himself and God and he is not aware of it taking place. Peter means well.  He has what he thinks is good advice for Jesus but he is thinking without God and becoming spiritually a part of Satan’s rebellion.  It seems so innocuous, self-realization.  All you want to do is make something of yourself, build something you care about, use your mind to be creative, enjoy life.  Who could argue against that?  Peter had a good idea and it made sense to him yet our Lord blasted his advice out of the water.

Consider the rebuke of Jesus carefully.  “You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  This may seem so minor a criticism but it is actually the sin that defines all Sin.  Take note of Jesus’ warning in John 15.  "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6 NIV)   If you rationally contemplate this statement, it would seem that the most important determination you can make is to live your life out completely aligned with Christ.  There is no warning in scripture more severe than this that one might be “picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”  If this is disturbing, this possibility of being thrown into the fire and burned, then the goal of being attached to the vine, of remaining in Christ should rise above every other concern one has.  What good is it to realize your dreams, utilize your talents, enjoy your days and speak your mind if by doing so you are not remaining in Christ…if it all is completely outside life with God?  In self-realization, you take charge of your life and do as you see fit but that is not Christianity; that is a meager and impoverished alternative to Christianity.

Paul expressed perfectly what a normal Christian life is.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20a NIV)  When you put your faith in Christ as your Savior, Christ becomes a part of you.  Your personality, who you are, is now Him and you and that is you as a person.  It is no longer just you; that person is dead but the you that exists as a result is Christ and you.  As you go about your day, you become conscious of Christ in you and it matters because He gives you wisdom, He strengthens you and encourages you and as you trust Him with what is happening with you, God’s peace takes over and His joy gets worked into you and it makes sense to remain in Christ because that life with God is grander than you ever imagined.  The life without Christ is an inadequate, empty and insufficient life that becomes nothing more than rubbish.  The life with Christ is a miracle of God and you.  The bigger Christ gets in you through your obedience to Him, the bigger you become.  Self-realization will only take you to the edges of you and the sin you have corrupting you.  Christ in you is you without limit and becomes closer and closer to perfection as you build your life with Him.  Just look closely at how Jesus lived His life; without worry or fear, full of love and forgiving, kind and having not an ounce of envy for what others had.  That is where we are heading, that is the direction we are going…for with Christ joined to us, we will become perfect.

Let us consider just one aspect of what it means to have Christ be a part of us.  He said, “my peace I give you”.  What does that mean?  Think for a moment about the time Jesus was in the boat with His disciples and a furious storm arose that brought terror to the disciples.  Meanwhile Jesus slept without a care in the world, unperturbed by the winds and waves raging.  When the panicked disciples awakened Him, Jesus calmly replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" (Matthew 8:26 NIV)  Now, what kind of life could you and I have with that peace available to us?  It is astounding to think just how big our lives could be if we let Jesus, living within us, play a bigger role in us! 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Great Miracle

John 5:6c NIV
"Do you want to get well?"

Do You Want God to Fix Your Life?

In the national news there was a story that was sickening to read.  It demonstrated just how wrecked our world is and how ruined it is by sin.  A man was convicted recently of raping his sister at least once a week over a four year period.  He was nine years older than her and it began when she was only nine.  The girl’s parents were often away at work and entrusted the care of their daughter to their son who was a young adult living at home.  What kind of horrible inclinations led to this perversion we cannot say but it must be stated clearly that it had a devastating effect upon the girl.  Now an adult, she tells of her longstanding anger toward her parents for letting her stay with her brother, her anxiety attacks, the loneliness she feels constantly as a young woman alone in her pain and the psychological numbness that she endures which keeps her from being able to experience closeness and make attachments with those who try to get close to her.

In a world that is warped by sin and its consequences, there is a sort of universal feeling that a new pill, a good counselor or a government program can put all the hurting and troubled people back together and make them good as new. Yet we have not seen any real success in our efforts to place bandages on a wounded social order that universally struggles to find peace and joy.  If it were just one or two people in our city who were struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, burn-out, bitter feelings, deep-seated anger and addictions, we could just ignore it and say, “well at least it isn’t me or someone in my family”” but it is us and it is our family affected by the damage caused by sin.  Your heart and my heart and the hearts of those close to us are damaged by Sin and that damage causes us pain and all sorts of sorrows.

The problem we face is universally experienced and it is felt in every corner of the earth.  Sin damaged hearts are everywhere and we cannot begin to express how much pain these wounds cause.  At the very center of all the wreckage brought on by Sin is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  It was Sin that brought such hatred against Him that the cries to crucify Him rung out in the court of the Roman governor, that the laughter of the Jewish priests and soldiers as his body was bloodied and His face pummeled by punches spilled out onto the hill where Christ was nailed to the cross and hung there awaiting death.  More than that though, the Bible tells us that Jesus died purposefully, to do away with Sin completely, to take it out of us and eventually take it out of the world.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 NIV)  What does die to sins mean?  This is of course why Christ gave up His life on the Cross!  It is the total and complete reason why Jesus let Himself be crucified with His blood poured out at every wound He suffered.  It was to take the Sin out of us and make us thoroughly free from every part of Sin, its poison and its damage, its curse and its sorrow.  To die to Sin means that Sin no longer impacts us, no longer has a hold upon us.  What Sin works in us and how it works itself out of us, it all is dead to us through the crucifixion death of Christ.

Yet we still feel the lingering effects of Sin.  We may continue to suffer psychological and physical pain caused by Sin and we still commit sins often and regularly!  Pay careful attention to this single statement we find in the Bible because it is critical to your happiness.  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV)

When we are talking about God working in you, what do we mean by that?  We mean the Holy Spirit joined with you, a part of you.  You could never experience God as a part of your personality, in union with you if Christ were not raised from the dead.  Jesus talked about this great miracle again and again, that once He finished His work dying for the sins of the world, He would give them through the Father the Holy Spirit to be joined to them, bringing comfort, insight and direction.  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:39 NIV)  And later the Lord told the disciples, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:16-20 NIV)

How does the resurrection of Jesus Christ impact you directly?  It was only after He came up out of the dead that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to His people.  He started with the Disciples the first Easter Sunday.  Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."   And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-22 NIV)  Then on Pentecost the Holy Spirit continued to come upon God’s people and as they believed in Christ as the one who took away Sin, the Holy Spirit became  part of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.(Acts 2:4 NIV)   While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. (Acts 10:44-45 NIV) This great miracle of having God become joined to you is perhaps the most important news you will ever hear in conjunction to Easter.  God, who takes away Sin joins Himself to you as soon as you put your faith in Him to give you eternal life.

Now let us return to the matter of the change God wants to work in you.  For it to happen, you must work out your salvation yourself.  Pay careful attention to our verse.   …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  Consider this crucial discovery we have in Scripture.  You will find again and again the great miracles God worked for people did not take place until obedience occurred.  Naaman was not cleansed of his leprosy until he washed in the Jordan River.  The ten lepers were not healed until they left Jesus to meet with the priest.  Jesus did not raise Lazarus from the dead until the stone was removed from the front of the grave.  The lame man was not healed until he went ahead and picked up his mat.  If so many others could not be healed and their problems solved until they did what God told them to do, why should you think it would be any different for you?

Work out your salvation is not you making yourself saved.   It is not you taking away your sin.  It is you receiving from God the changes His death on the Cross provides for you.  There are hidden places in you, deep and dark places in you that take away your joy and peace as a result of sins committed against you and sins you have committed and the Holy Spirit, a part of you will get at them and heal them and take away the power they have over you.  But you must do something.  You must do what God tells you to do.  If it means loving someone you dislike, you must do it.  If it means acting kindly towards someone who does not deserve it, you must do it.  If it means putting down your phone and praying, you must do it.  If it means cutting off a relationship because it is turning you away from Christ, you must do it.  If it means reading the Bible when it seems boring, you must do it.  If it means stop criticizing others and judging them, you must do it.  If it means giving up a career that is making you greedy and discontented with God, you must do it.  If it means starting a kids club to help illiterate children learn how to read, you must do it.  If it means talking to someone about God and sharing the goodness of Jesus Christ, you must do it

With the Holy Spirit within you, Christ resurrected can heal any broken part of you and make that your strongest part but you must work out your salvation by doing what God tells you to do.  Perhaps the problem with your finances is that you are too afraid to trust God by giving Him a tenth of all you earn.  It might be that your depression is connected to your unwillingness to thank God for what He gives you when He gives it to you.  Your anxiety might be due to bitterness you hold in your heart toward someone you have never forgiven.  The peace of God is waiting for you to trust Him with your actions.  The Holy Spirit in you can heal even the deepest wound and give joy to you when you think happiness is impossible given your circumstances.

Our Lord admits that doing what He tells you to do may involve fear and trembling on your part.  You might be even ashamed to do what He tells you to do.  But if you just obey God, the miracle of Christ in you will make you happier and more peaceful and contented than you are.  Today I watched a crow peck at a bag near the fence.  Clearly he thought there was something in it he wanted.  Like those who do not work out their salvation, he tugged at the bag, flipped it over, pulled it out into the parking lot and pecked at it.  He put his foot on it and tried to tear at the bag with his beak but it was a worthless endeavor.  Finally, the crow quit, without any satisfaction for all his effort fighting with the empty bag.  At the same time, a hummingbird, like those who work out their salvation, when from lavender bloom to lavender bloom, getting nectar from the flowers and left satisfied.  What a worthless endeavor it is to go through life without trusting the Holy Spirit to work out of you all the damage Sin has done to your heart!  But, what gladness we have when we have given God all He wants of us and as a consequence He builds within us all the strength and joy and encouragement and contentment He has to give us as we trust Him with our lives.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

An Aching World

Psalm 49: 20 NIV
A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

What Do You Possess?

Last week I was in a high school class and I asked the students what particular strengths they possessed.  One mentioned that he was good at connecting with people, that he had the ability to look them in the eye and pay attention to them.  The rest of the class was either dumbfounded by the question or too shy to answer.  One young man, who I had gotten to know a bit had a strong speaking voice and I told him I saw that in him.  Several students gave examples of how his powerful voice would benefit him.  I asked another young man what a strength of his was and he could not give me an answer.  He could not think of a single talent or skill set that he possessed that was of any value.  In fact, he insisted that he was not good at anything.  Now I realize that the setting might have made it difficult for him to admit what he saw as something good about himself but it struck me what a tragedy it was for a person to have nothing to claim as a personal strength.  Perhaps there are many others who cannot come up with personal qualities that would benefit themselves or others.

Is it possible that you too really don’t know who you are, don’t know what lies within you that could be considered great or even spectacular.  What really are the strengths you possess?  Recently it was mentioned just how broken we are in places we aren’t even aware exists.  We don’t know the depths at which sin has damaged us.  Our heart is so vast and unexplored by us that we cannot really know what destruction our heart has incurred.  Yet there is another side to this discussion that must be considered and that is what sort of power we possess in Christ.  Are we certain we know what has been given us by God and the value of what we have?

Psalm 49: 20 declares the great loss there is to us if we possess riches that we don’t know we have.  A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.  There is a witlessness to us when we are not aware of what great possessions are ours.  It is like we are as dumb as an ox if we have never noticed the wealth we own.  Consider the immensity of the claim found in Colossians 1: 27.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (NIV)  The implication is that when Christ becomes a part of us, joined to us as a “new creation”, there are great riches abiding within us and it must be acknowledged that the vast majority of Christians have no idea what those riches are.  Is it possible that we live in nearly complete ignorance of what runs deep within us?

One of the most fascinating aspects to the relationship between Christ and the Father is the approach the Father took to the treatment Jesus received at the hands of those who despised Him. It was always the same.  Not everyone thought Jesus was a great man sent by God.  Many thought He was either a lunatic or possessed by demons.  Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." (Mark 3:20-22 NIV)  How did the Father respond to this unfair criticism?  He did not do anything.  He let their hurtful comments go unaddressed.  The Father simply let our Lord absorb them without shielding Him from the blows.

At Jesus’ most vulnerable point when it seemed like the entire world turned on Him, the Father refused to defend Christ.  Without a bit of evidence to convict Him, the religious leaders tried their best to come up with some way of having Jesus put to death but the Father did not send a single person Christ’s way to help Him.  The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. (Matthew 26:59 NIV)   When Christ faced the terrors of Roman brutality, the Father left Him alone.  Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe  and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face. (John 19:1-3 NIV)  To the very end, the Father did nothing to ease our Lord’s suffering or humiliation.  Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,  and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said.  They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.  After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27-31 NIV)

How can we account for the Father’s total neglect of the Son in His horrific trials? What did He have to gain by His response to the Son?  Whatever supernatural signs the Father did to support His Son’s work were never associated with His suffering or humiliations.  The Son was left, if we can be so almost heretical sounding in this, without the resources of the Father to help Him with all He suffered.  He was in a sense “on His own.”  The great force of our Lord’s own personality faced the worst that Satan and the World could throw at Him and yet without a hint of bitterness, self-pity or lust for revenge, He endured it all.  The Father offered nothing supernatural at all to the Son for His endurance; He left it up to the power of the perfect Son of Man’s own will to love without hatred and persevere without quitting.

This must be processed thoroughly.  Jesus had within Himself the power to love the most hateful sinner, endure the most demeaning criticism without having to despise the critic or try to defend Himself against the unfair charges.  He was able to face any seeming defeat without becoming at all discouraged.  Whatever else we might contemplate regarding everything Jesus suffered to bring an end to Sin in the World, we must also consider just how much strength was contained within the scope of His personality to face it fully without hatred or despair!  It all reached a crescendo when He cried out from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34 NIV)

If we simply take a step back from the primary work of Christ in bringing salvation to humanity on the cross, there is a secondary effect that we must see.  Think about the immensity of this statement regarding the state of mind of our Savior just before He was crucified.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) Our Lord, by what He suffered and how He responded to His suffering, revealed what is possible within the human personality when it is joined to that of Christ.  If you have been born again, you have Christ in you and all He has within Himself to face any difficulty or trial, you also possess by Him being a part of you.  The problem, and this is a most troubling problem, is that you most likely don’t even realize what our Lord places within you when He joins Himself to you.  It takes a great crisis, a tremendous force of evil for you to see what it is you have in Christ.

When the Apostles faced the greatest trial of their lives, the arrest and crucifixion of Christ, they failed miserably.  They were cowardly, self-pitying and without faith.  How could they ever know just what power they held within themselves with Christ a part of them if all they had to assess it was how they acted during the last days of His life.  God gave them an opportunity to discover it in a way most of us would try our best to avoid.  After they had been boldly preaching about Christ, the Jewish priest and leaders of the Jewish religious community rounded up the Apostles.  They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42 NIV) How would they have responded to this horrid beating before Christ and His courage and joy had become a part of them?  Most likely in the same they did to Christ being arrested.  They would have felt sorry for themselves and quit preaching.  Not now though, not with Jesus and all His strength and courage and love a part of them.  Instead, they were happy the Lord found them worthy to be humiliated because they lived with Christ.

What we must face squarely is this supernatural strength of character to peacefully find joy and the ability to forgive even when faced with brutal, beastly treatment.  The effect of this supernatural response to terrible circumstances may not be immediately seen but that does not mean it will not work eventually in the hearts of those without Christ who witness it firsthand.  Without the sheer weight of the cruelty faced by Christ it might never have been known just how much power was contained in the heart of Christ.  Anything less than this great show of force could have been disregarded because it was no more miraculous than the work of a Gandhi or Socrates.  This response of Jesus and then of the Apostles to terrible difficulties and brutal treatment was as wondrous a miracle for those present as the parting of the Red Sea for it showed just what a real person has inside when Christ is living within.  There are monumental trials Christian people face and they are sometimes horrific and God does not deny just how terrifying and difficult they are.  But our Lord lets Satan initiate them for this one purpose.  In them the power of God is revealed in its full glory.  Those who could never forgive true evil, who could never love hateful people, who could not on their own be courageous in such circumstances are courageous and joyful because of Christ within and that is seen for what it is; a true miracle of God.  You cannot know the full extent of God’s power in you until you face overwhelming circumstances.  You will not know just how great the love of Christ is within you if you never encounter someone you cannot love on your own.  Who would have known what our Lord could do if He never was crucified and your friends and family might not know just how great and wonderful Christ in you is if you do not encounter a hardship only Christ in you can overcome and in that hardship have supernatural joy in the midst of it!