Can God Trust You With Pain?

-What An Odd Question!

That probably seems like an odd question because it makes it sound like “pain” is a good thing, doesn’t it? A good thing that you could be “trusted” with? We might ask if you could be trusted with your best friend’s car; but, not “pain”! The question may also seem confusing because it suggests that pain is something that comes from God & everything inside us wants to rebel at the notion that pain & suffering might be choreographed into our lives by God! That can’t be true, can it?

-We Are So “Coddled”!

Most Christians, here in the west, have been coddled! I have & so have most of you! We suffer very little for our beliefs. Several months ago, I went, with a couple of our men, to visit a faith-based community center in another city. It was a Friday; and, Friday is typically my day off. But, I had had a number of interruptions, that week; and, I didn’t get my work done. So, I was whining that I’d have to go into the office for 2-3 more hours, when I got back, to finish up my work! And, the Lord convicted me! As we pulled into the church parking lot, I apologized for complaining about my “suffering.”

-Real Suffering Looks Like This!

The Holy Spirit had pressed in on me & planted the thought that there were probably brothers & sisters, in Christ, in other parts of the world, who had died for their faith that day. Still, others had endured harsh treatment, for their faith; and, I was whining about working an extra 2-3 hours.  We’ve bought into the lie that coming to Jesus is like playing a Country Western song backward— we get our dog back, our truck back; and, our girlfriend back! Funny! But, that’s not what Jesus said. He said that if the world hated Him, it would hate us! That if they persecuted Him, they would persecute us! That if we followed him, we’d have to give up our life! We have to deny ourselves & count the cost!

-More Like Jesus!

You see, the Father intends to use all the “junk”, in this sin-cursed world, to make us more like Jesus— who was, in fact, a SUFFERING Savior, right? Someone said, that, we tend to “…read the Bible, not with a desperate hunger for evidence of God’s triumph in pain; but, with a view to improving our private pleasure.” Clearly, Bible characters, like Moses & Joseph, were not overly concerned with improving their private pleasure! On the contrary, they endured great difficulty on their way to spiritual success; and, it was because of the great difficulties, in part, that they experienced spiritual success. For Moses, Scripture says “…he CHOSE to SUFFER…” rather than enjoy sin’s pleasures (Heb 11:25).

-He Chose To Suffer!

It says he CHOSE to suffer! As the adopted son, of Pharoah’s daughter, he had a choice— short-lived pleasures; or, suffering! Which would you choose? Be honest! Most of us would choose short-lived pleasures, wouldn’t we? Long-lived pleasures, even better! But, Moses CHOSE to suffer! I never choose to suffer! But, I will tell you that when suffering has been my lot, that I grew more deeply, in my faith & my walk with God & others, than I ever did enjoying the short-lived pleasures of this life! I’m not suggesting that we live our lives with a death wish! Rather, we learn to submit to whatever course God directs our lives; and, by faith believe His intentions are good! We need to learn that during this difficult time in human history! Amen?

 

Give Yourself Away!

-That’s True Greatness!

True greatness, in God’s Kingdom, is not shown by exercising power; but, in giving yourself away to others! Jesus contrasted the leadership style, of the kingdoms of this world, with that of God’s Kingdom, when He called His disciples together 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.

-Jesus Made Himself A Slave!

Jesus didn’t use His title—  “GOD” —as a big stick! At the incarnation, when He became flesh, Paul said, in Philippians, that He assumed the form of a “SLAVE.” The Greek word used there, “Doulos”, is the same word Mark uses in v.44. Jesus came to be a “SLAVE” in order that He might serve us & give away His life for us! In God’s economy, He calls you great when you, like Jesus, voluntarily ENSLAVE yourself to the people of the world & serve them! Don’t miss the significance!

-Not To Be Served!

Even God, Himself, did not come to be served. He came TO serve by making Himself a ransom for sinners. We generally think of a ransom as a payoff or a redemption demanded for the release of a hostage. It’s money that’s “given away” so the person, taken hostage, can be released from their bondage. Jesus was teaching His disciples that He didn’t come as a Gentile ruler, showing off how powerful He was! He could have! But, He didn’t! That was not His way.

-Jesus Made Himself A Ransom!

He came to give His life away as a ransom, for us; so, that we could be set free from our bondage to sin. That’s the good news of the Gospel! And, we’re called to live out our lives in the same way— to give them away, “Jesus-like”! So that the world will take notice that the followers, of Jesus, are not like this world’s leaders! We don’t strut! We serve! Jesus served us ‘til it hurt— ’til it killed Him! I’ve known very few Christians who’ve served ‘til it hurt! I can’t say that I have personally experienced any kind of pain from serving others! It’s never cost me blood!

-Make It Count!

Don’t give yourself away to a company; or, to a house full of stuff! Give yourself away to people! Be available! Make your time count for eternal things! If you’re too busy, repent & give your agenda to Jesus! One day we’re all going to stand before God & He’s going to ask us, “What did you do with what I gave you? Your talents? Your abilities? Your background? Your experiences? Your education?” You don’t want to tell Him, “Well, I was kinda busy with my own ambitions and plans.” Or, God’s going to say, “What were you thinking? Do you really think I put you on My earth to live for yourself? I put you here to represent Me & to serve the lost who don’t know Me!” Trust me, all you want to hear that day is:  “Well done, good & faithful servant!”

 

Compassion Ministry Validates Faith!

-What Does Faith Look Like?

If you’re one that believes your salvation is solely about what and whom you believe in, James epistle has to be a bit unnerving for you! I say that because James lays down 3-part evidence for what genuine saving faith looks like; and, it includes (1) Self-control over one’s speech; (2) A Ministry of compassion to the needy; and, (3) Practical Holiness. I am alluding to the words, written by James’ hand while inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— ”If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26-27.

-Compassion Ministry!

James places the ministry of compassion on an equal plane as living a holy life & getting rid of your potty mouth! Unfortunately, many believers tend to separate them and elevate one area over another! Many think that becoming HOLY— or, “…keeping oneself unstained by the world” as James says here— is more important to God than taking care of widows & orphans! God doesn’t see it that way! Each one plays an equal part in living out our faith in Jesus, which is exactly what James means by “pure religion.” Ignore the chapter break— which isn’t inspired; but, added by well-intended individuals— and; discover something even more scandalous! James declares it “favoritism” to look past the needs of orphans & widows.

-Pure Religion Shows No Favoritism!

See how it flows without the chapter break:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:27-2:1. Failing to minister to the needs of orphans & widows is FAVORITISM! Don’t do that, he says! He then goes on to illustrate favoritism, for us, in ch.2. So, I think it’s biblically accurate to say that the “pure and undefiled religion” in 1:26,27 is the same thing as “faith in Jesus” in 2:1. So, is this how you would define genuine faith? If not, perhaps you need to redefine faith the way that God does! It’s His definition that counts!

-Let God Define Genuine Faith!

That may seem obvious to those of you who are passionate about serving Jesus! But, unfortunately, that’s not the case with many in the church who claim to be Christians! I’m referring to the authority, of Scripture, to dictate every area of our lives! EVERY AREA! There is not one part, of my life, that I can claim authority over! God & His Word have complete authority over every area of my life— my thought life, my work life, my sex life, etc. God’s Word has complete authority over all of it! What “I think” and what “I believe” have to be submitted to the Revelation of Scripture; and, repented of & changed when what, “I think” & what “I believe” doesn’t match up with it! Are we in agreement? That is a fundamental of authentic faith in Jesus Christ! It’s no longer a Holy Bible when we start cutting out those parts we don’t like!

 

Serve One Another!

-Jesus, The Example!

For I have given you an example,” Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, “that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” John 13:15-17.  The example, He set before them, was NOT the washing of their feet! In some circles, where the washing of feet is practiced, individuals can actually take “pride” in the “humility” they display as they wash each other’s feet. No, the example Jesus sets is true humility in the serving of others! It is humble deference to others; and, serving them in every life situation!

-Jesus, The Master!

I am your Master,” Jesus says, “And I’ve given you an example to serve in the SAME WAY you’re seen me serve!” That’s the identity that Jesus gives us! That’s who we are! We are servants, just like Jesus, our Master! We’re called Christians; and, that literally means “little Christs.” Acts 11 says the believers were first called “little Christs” at Antioch. They so resembled the humble, servant Christ that the unbelievers said they acted just like Him! Like a “little Christ.” We will never serve like Jesus served until we grab hold of that! To use Jesus’ words, our purpose & calling is to “…do as I have done to you…” He calls us to be a servant to all! Just like Jesus!

-Jesus, The Lover!

But, we will never serve like Jesus served until we love like Jesus loved! In the first verse, of John 13, it says, of Jesus, “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The key to understanding that verse; and, the kind of love Jesus had, is found in that phrase, “…He loved them to the end.” It means “to the uttermost” or with “total fullness.” He loved them “utterly”, with “total fullness”; even though He knew that His hour, to endure the cross, was near! Though He knew of His approaching death to pay for the sin of the world! All the way to the cross He is pre-occupied with His love for them! His kind of love drove Him to serve! To minister! And, we’ll not serve like Jesus until we learn to love like He loved! It’s quite simple really! We don’t serve because our pre-occupation is with other things! We’re pre-occupied with the building of our own little kingdoms; rather, than His kingdom! We don’t serve because it’s not on our agenda!

-Will They Know You’re His Disciple?

We’re not in love with the same things Jesus was in love with! Later, in the same chapter, John records these words of Jesus: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. The world will know that we are Christians (“little Christs”) by our love; and, our love will be evidenced by a life of service to others! Loveless people are too pre-occupied with their own “self importance” to do common ministry… like washing someone’s feet! Not Jesus! He is fully aware of His identity! He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is God incarnate! And, He’s washing the feet of disciples who were too proud to serve each other! That is true love’s character! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to other people! And, we’ll serve them like Jesus did!

 

The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!

 

Don’t Eat Each Other!

-Not All Cannibals Are Alike!

Did you know that not all cannibals are alike? An “Exo-Cannibal” eats only those outside his immediate social circle (i.e. his “enemies”). While an “Endo-Cannibal” will eat those within his immediate social circle (i.e. his “friends”). But, a “Pan-Cannibal” is indiscriminate & will eat anyone! Bet you didn’t know that! You probably thought that all cannibals were alike! Let me share a true story with you! The world’s most infamous cannibal was the legendary Fijian Chieftain, Ratu Udre Udre.

-A Guinness World Record!

Listen to this— he actually holds the Guinness World Record for eating the most people! I was surprised, personally, to discover that Guinness actually kept such a record! Ratu Udre Udre ate between 872 and 999 people.  According to his son— whom he did not eat! Guess that made him a “good father”— Ratu Udre Udre kept a stone for each body he ate! Now, unfortunately, many Christians have more in common with Udre Udre than you might think because many Christians “eat” their own! You might say they’re “church cannibals” & Paul’s letter to the Church of Galatia bears that out. His 5th chapter begins like this:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1. That’s the “good news” of the Gospel! We’re born into this world with a yoke of slavery around our necks! And, we can try with all our might to get out from under our sin; but, we’re incapable! But, Jesus liberates us by His atonement, for sin, on the cross! He liberates us from the penalty & power of sin over our lives!

-Don’t Devour One Another!

So, “stand firm,” Paul says, “don’t submit to that old yoke of slavery” again! And, continuing in that context, he speaks to the Gospel’s power to affect our relationships with people! We’re no longer enslaved to the world’s way of “devouring” one another; or, hating one another & holding grudges! That’s what Paul says a little later in the same chapter:  “For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.” Gal. 5:13-15

-Are You Drinking Poison?

Someone has accurately stated that “unforgiveness is the poison you drink, hoping it will kill someone else!” And, in this scripture, Paul is reminding this local church that the Gospel sets us FREE from those kind of toxic relationships. The Gospel of Christ frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet! When we truly humble ourselves before God & submit to Him, Jesus moves us— by the power of His Holy Spirit— and, RADICALLY begins to transform us in every way including our relationships! When humanity sinned, in Adam, it was a complete breakdown of our ability to “image” God, the Father & our Creator! We’re BROKEN! We’re all born into this world with an inability to love, like God loves, because of our inherited  fallen nature! Only a conversion to Christ can change us! We’ll pick it up there @ our next post!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “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” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!