Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

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Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

How Pain Brings Us To Our Knees!

Going On Vacation! Next Post July 17th

-Does God Really Love Us?

We are tempted to ask how it is that God could truly love us if He allows us to suffer through painful experiences. In fact, it is because He loves us that He choreographs pain and suffering into our lives. Let me explain. It is not our natural tendency to seek closer fellowship with God when our lives are filled with blessings attached to this world. No, it is our tendency to stray from God when life is good! We get more comfortable leaning on this world’s blessings for our daily support. So, God— in His Love & Sovereign grace— places a “wake up call”, in the form of a painful experience, in front of us. He shakes us back to reality with something to get our attention re-focused on Him. To force us to our knees in prayer to Him.

-Our Greatest Satisfaction!

He does this because He knows that nothing will ever offer us greater satisfaction than a Spirit-filled relationship with Him.  All of this world’s goods and services are but cheap substitutes for a walk with God. If you follow the narrative, from the first chapter in the book of Acts, you’ll see 120 disciples waiting, in an upper room in Jerusalem, for the promised Holy Spirit. And, in chapter 2, the Spirit comes to indwell and fill the believers so they’d have the supernatural power, of the Spirit, to obey Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to every people group & to disciple them.  Immediately, God begins to use them in His supernatural work as 3000 were saved & became disciples that day! And, then, more and more were added!

-Comfortable & Complacent!

But, as you read the next few chapters, it seems like the church becomes complacent & comfortable with their success and God’s work begins to slow down! So, God, in His Sovereignty, brought persecution! Stephen is stoned! And, then James is killed & Peter is imprisoned. And, it’s this crisis of faith that unsettled them & they returned to their knees in prayer! They were humbled! They got back to Biblical prayer! They expressed their helplessness & total dependence on God’s power to see Peter released from prison! “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” Acts 12:5.  In the verses that follow, God sends an angel to spring Peter from prison (vs 6-11).

-The Lost Confronted By Answered Prayer!

There’s another prayer principle that God reveals to us by His answered prayer to release Peter from incarceration. God will use a mighty display of His power to confront the lost with their sin! King Herod had imprisoned Peter and assumed he had more power than he actually had! So, God says, “No, Herod, you’re plans to kill Peter won’t work!” Someone once said: “We make our plans & God laughs!” I love that! Don’t lose heart, church! It may appear the world is out of control. But, God hasn’t lost it. In His Sovereign timing He will display His power again & confront the lost with their need for repentance. So, let’s get the bigger picture when we find ourselves in a painful place! Don’t pray that God will take it away! He may be doing a special work in your life or the life of someone watching! Trust His plans!

 

There’s Freedom In God’s Sovereignty!

-Trust Him With Your Pain!

I’ve used my last few posts to take a deeper look at the prayer life of Hannah, from the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 1.  We’ve considered how God used her God-honoring prayers to heal her of her brokenness. She learned to pray with a view toward God’s Sovereignty over every painful situation in life.  I can’t overemphasize how important that was to Hannah’s spiritual formation. Until you can pray —about EVERYTHING— with a view toward God’s Sovereignty; and, with an acceptance —of your PAINFUL circumstances— even when you don’t have the answer to your “WHY” questions, you’ll be susceptible to a bitter heart! You’ll be in danger of turning yourself into God’s judge!

-Motivated By God’s Glory!

Until you can pray with a motivation for God’s glory alone, you’re pain & suffering will eat you up! Let me share, with you, a Facebook post that one of our members shared after hearing this message in church:  “The sovereignty of God is the pillow I lay my head upon. I have finally come to that conclusion; thus, I can sleep at night. God is in control and I can TRUST His decisions for this journey my family and I are on, now. He WILL get us through, and even if things don’t go as planned, if we are TRULY his, one day things will get better, if not in this lifetime, in Heaven… I finally GET God’s SOVEREIGNTY! I GET it,” Can you hear the “freedom” expressed in that statement?

-Trust His Character!

When you finally grasp God’s Sovereignty it’s a doctrine that offers great freedom! In part, because of God’s Character! He reveals Himself, in Scripture, as loving, gracious, merciful and benevolent toward us! Furthermore, He is just and righteous in ALL His ways! We can trust Him! We can trust that His Sovereign entry into the corners of our lives will always, ultimately be for our good & for His Glory! But, you must accept these revelations, of Himself, by faith! Then, let Him be God! Hannah experienced the freedom, of God’s Sovereignty, over all her circumstances. And, because she was motivated to see God glorified —through her circumstances— she could just leave it all in God’s more-than-capable Hands! 1 Samuel 1:18 says, “…Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent.”

-Truth Changes Us!

That line was the greatest indicator that she had left her painful circumstances in God’s Hands! Remember, back in v.7, that Hannah had grown so despondent that she wouldn’t eat. Her husband became concerned, “Why won’t you eat?” But, when she submitted to God’s Sovereign plan, “…she ate and no longer looked despondent.” Truth changes us when we believe it! Previously, in her anguish, she had been misread as drunk by Eli, the priest—”…no,” she said, “I am a woman with a broken heart… I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord…” v.15,16. Praying, through her pain, had been messy for Hannah. Until the Holy Spirit wrestled with her and calmed her troubled heart. One more lesson, about prayer, from Hannah! She offered praise when God answered! Take a good look at her words in the next chapter, vs. 1-10.

 

Prayer That Views God As Sovereign!

-Why Do We Ask “Why”?

Whenever we experience something painful, it’s so typical for us to ask “WHY” isn’t it? Why me? Why do I have to go through this? Hannah’s story, in 1 Samuel, is particularly eye-opening! When she found herself unable to conceive & have children,  it would have been normal for her to ask, “Why am I unable to have a baby?” The Scripture addresses that “WHY” question:  “…the LORD had KEPT HER from conceiving…because the LORD had KEPT Hannah from conceiving…” 1 Samuel 1:5-6.  God takes credit for her inability to conceive! While doctors may have come up with a “medical reason” to explain it, God’s Sovereign control was actually behind the human “medical reason.”

-Praying In The LORD’S Presence!

Hannah responded to her condition by going to the source— “…she continued praying in the LORD’S presence” v.10,12.  Above all our human problems & conditions is God’s Sovereignty! Now, I know that many believers just don’t wanna credit God with that much Sovereignty. They’d rather say that God “ALLOWED” it; but, He’s not really the “CAUSE.” And, they believe they’re “protecting” God’s reputation in doing so! But, listen, if God is not Sovereign over every event & over everything else than you either have to believe that Satan is just as powerful as God; and, there really is a “BATTLE” going on between good & evil; and, God might not win! Or, you have to believe that man’s “FREE WILL” is Sovereign & trumps God’s will!

-Sovereign & Omnipotent!

I believe that the Scriptures tell us that God is both Sovereign and omnipotent! And, in Exodus 4:11, when God said to Moses, “Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” that God was taking Sovereign credit for such things as blindness, deafness, and the inability to speak! In His absolute wisdom, He uses the pain & suffering, we endure in this world, for our good & for His glory! It was because Hannah saw her inability to bear children as part of God’s Sovereign plan, that she prayed with a motivation for God’s glory. She saw her negative circumstance as God’s opportunity to bring Himself glory!

-God’s Sovereign Plans For Your Kids!

All the years of barrenness helped Hannah realize something that many parents never comprehend— that children aren’t just for PARENTS! They are for the LORD! God has HIS design for your kids! And, they ultimately belong to HIM! Are you more into your plans for your kids; or, His plans? Hannah’s not bargaining with God, in her prayer! He doesn’t bargain with anyone! Out of her painful experience God had changed her. He had used her suffering to prepare her heart to give her child to God, Who gave it! “After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, I requested him from the Lord… though the boy was still young, she took him to the LORD’S house at Shiloh” vs. 20-24. Hannah saw it as her great privilege to give her son to the Lord for His purpose!

 

How God Uses Prayer To Heal You!

-Your Response Is Key!

The pain & suffering of unfulfilled hopes & dreams can foster an internal root of bitterness and leave emotional scars. Unless you respond like Hanna, who’s story is told in 1 Samuel 1-2. Hannah took all her pain & suffering & bitterness to the only One capable of doing something about it—Hanna prayed to God! Her story shows us that God uses our God-honoring prayers to heal our brokenness.  I’m not saying that prayer fixes it! I’m not saying that you’ll always get what you want when you pray! But, if your prayer is “God-Honoring” He will use it to heal the brokenness inside you.

-Prayer Can Change You!

Prayer won’t necessarily change your circumstances; but, God will use your prayer to change you! He’ll give you the understanding you need to accept His will.  We need Hannah’s story! God teaches us about life in Hannah’s story! We all have burdens to bear! No one leaves this life unscathed; without experiencing a myriad of painful circumstances! Hannah’s story gives us some answers to the “WHY” questions behind those circumstances; and, it also gives us some answers to the “HOW” questions; as in, “HOW” should we respond to those circumstances as followers of Christ! So, we all need this! Through Hannah’s story, God gives us another example of effective prayer. It’s effective because it’s God-Honoring! It’s also effective because it’s “God-Centered”!

-Pray Like Hannah!

I want to challenge you to learn to pray like Hannah. Ask God’s help to change the way you pray if it doesn’t line up with Scriptural examples like Hannah! Look at the text:  “…the Lord had kept her from conceiving. Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving” 1 Samuel 1:5-6. In v.10 the text says that “…deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…’” That’s an effective prayer because she prayed with a view to God’s Sovereignty over her situation.

-Seeing God’s Sovereignty!

Whenever we experience something painful, it’s so typical for us to ask the “WHY” question, isn’t it— Why me? Why do I have to go through this? Why was Hannah childless? Why was she unable to conceive? The Scripture said it was the Lord’s doing, doesn’t it? God is the ultimate Sovereign over all our problems; and, Hannah believed that! It wasn’t because of “natural causes” that she couldn’t conceive. I’m sure if Hannah lived in our day that doctors would have come up with some “medical reason” why she couldn’t have children; but, God’s Sovereign control is behind every “medical reason.” Clearly, God had graciously given Hannah a “problem” in her life. That’s why she went to Him in prayer. In v.12 it says, “…she continued praying in the LORD’S presence.” She believed nothing was outside His ability to alter!

 

A Mother’s Effective Prayer!

-You Don’t Have To Be Superman!

Why is it our human tendency to think that good Christians must not have any problems? Maybe it’s because we come to church and we see all the smiling faces & we assume they must have it all together Or, maybe we’ve heard too many sermons on the abundant Christian life; and, we assume there’s some secret formula we have yet to discover! And, if we can just find it that the Christian life will become effortless; and, temptations will just bounce off us like bullets off of Superman!

-What About Pain & Suffering?

I have a well-intended Christian friend who called me several times over the 3-year period when I dealt with cancer & surgeries & chemo. He told me it wasn’t God’s will that I had cancer because I was a Pastor & a “good man”; and, “yet,” I told him, “I have cancer.” None of us are immune to pain, suffering, sickness, heartache or loss! Job is the poster child for pain & suffering; and, yet, scripture’s testimony of Job was that, “…He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil…” Job 1:1,8.  He was a righteous man who endured some of the worst pain & suffering in the history of mankind.  Job’s commentary, on pain & suffering, was that, “…mankind is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” Job 5:7.  And, so, it ought not surprise us that trouble afflicts the righteous as well as the ungodly.

-Look It Up In Your Bible!

If you have doubts about that, check it out for yourself! Research the Bible, starting at the very beginning; and, see how many of God’s faithful followers endured significant pain & loss in this life. Eventually, you’ll come to Hannah’s story in 1st Samuel ch.1. Her story is intertwined with that of her husband & his 2nd wife.  “There was a man from Ramathaim-zophim in the hill country of Ephraim. His name was Elkanah… He had two wives, the first named Hannah and the second Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless” 1 Samuel 1:1-2.  So, there was the rub— she was childless! But, to make matters worse, her husband’s other wife had children & taunted her because of it. The next few verses point out her pain— she wept; she wouldn’t eat; she was hurt deeply!

-How To Deal With Your Pain!

Look at this: “…the Lord had kept her from conceiving. Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving. Whenever she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way every year.” So, Hannah wept, the test says, “…and she would not eat… deeply hurt… Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…’” 1 Samuel 1:5-11.  Notice, she didn’t take matters into her own hands! She PRAYED! We all have more in common with Hannah’s childlessness than we may think. And, we need to respond, like Hannah, by taking all our pain to the only One who can fix it!