Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magnifying The Value Of Christ In Our Suffering

Living a life that desires to magnify Christ in it, and to show His infinite worth, will cost a person everything. It will be the single hardest thing you ever do, should you choose to go that far for Christ. To paraphrase a wonderful quote from one of my favorite Christian authors John Piper: In our own lives, Christ is made most glorified to the world, when we are completely satisfied in Him, and in what He calls each one of us to do. Jesus understood that the best way for this world to see the full magnitude of what He was supposed to mean to it was to suffer on the Cross. He knew better than anyone what it was going to cost to pay the penalty for our sins. Without a shadow of a doubt, Christ understood what it meant to suffer for God's Glory. And He satisfied that wrath with His sacrifice on the Cross.

Whatever we discover in this world, whether it's a gift we figure out that we have, or something we find out that we have the opportunity to do that allows us to give God glory, we should run after those things. There is no greater joy on this earth than in experiencing the greatness of God. And if that means that in order to see that happen we have to undergo intense periods of painful suffering sometimes in our lives, then we should count that as the most beautiful blessing we could ever receive. I mean because, to be quite honest, knowing Christ and gaining Christ is all that matters. Everything else in this world is utter rubbish in comparison. The apostle Paul described for us in 1 Corinthians 2:2 his one, all-consuming and passionate desire in this world when it came to how he knew the world should know Christ and view Him; and it was "to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified". He also exclaimed a little later on in the New Testament, in Philippians 3: 7-8 that everything in this world, and anything he could ever gain or achieve was counted "as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". You see, Paul understood that boasting in the glory of what Jesus did for mankind on the cross, that brutal and bloody death He had to die, will always be the biggest example we can look to in times of incredibly painful suffering that will inevitably occur throughout our lives. The way Paul saw it: not one single person that has ever lived or will ever live will ever know what it truly means to suffer, compared to everything Christ suffered through on the Cross for us. Because Christ, and the horribly bloody death He died, is the single most intense, highest-level of suffering that a person can ever experience. But what was even more amazing than the fact that Christ underwent that for us, was His willingness to obediently do it. Knowing what it would cost, and how terrible it really was going to be, and staring Sin straight in the face and knowing He was going to conquer it's dominion over our lives and our disgusting slavery to it. When Paul mentions time and again the cross of Christ, we come to understand that he could see that obedience in suffering for God's glory, to be willing to go that far for our holy God, was and always will be the best way to show the world who Christ really is, and what His significant importance as the bedrock and cornerstone of the Christian faith is supposed to mean to us. Because honestly guys, it's not necessarily always about how faithfully you share the Gospel or how you live out a Christ-like lifestyle; it's more-so about how true you stay to your faith in Christ, and how much you still want to show Him to the world when you're suffering; when you feel like your life is crashing and falling apart in front of your eyes. If you can stick that out, maintain your faith and stand the test of trial and tribulation, then you can truly understand what it means to give God glory. And you will experience the happiness of knowing how, when the going got tough, your faith and trust in God got stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

"So what does this mean for my life?" you might ask. It means this: in every area of your life, in every single thing God calls you to do for His Kingdom and for His glory, you run as far as you can, and you suffer as much as is laid upon you. Because in doing so, I can promise you that you're giving God true and faithful glory that He deserves. If the only thing we ever desire from Christ is to give us gifts, and to make our lives the way we want them to be, and we don't ever really truly want Him as our most-satisfying treasure, then the way we will always view Jesus is as a means to an end. This will mean that the magnificent glory of the cross that Jesus died on for us will become reduced to nothing more than a self-glorifying, self-seeking pedestal to climb up upon when there arises a selfish need within us that we need to reach up for to get for ourselves. The true essence of our faith, the most intimate desires of our heart, should be in trusting Him to give us what we want and need the most: and that's the presence of Himself in our lives, everyday. This means that, above everything else we receive in our lives, above everything else we suffer through or find ourselves struggling in a rough patch through, we are to treasure the value of knowing Christ and possessing Him as our Savior; and knowing that He's with us always. That we possess Him in our very hearts, no matter how bad we screw things up all the time. That He has never and will never leave us. And that suffering for His names' sake is a wonderful opportunity to give God glory and point other people to salvation in Christ, not a hindrance to our lives and a burden that prevents us from doing what we want. When our desires for our life match God's desires for our life then that will be the point at which we can begin to understand the supreme value of Christ and what the crucial importance of following Him daily really means in the life of a believer.

The brilliant philosopher-theologian St. Augustine, who's writings were extremely influential in the development of Western Christianity, said it best when he concluded "For he did not delay, but ran through the world, crying out by words, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension-crying aloud to us to return to him. And he departed from our sight so that we might return to our hearts and find him there. For he left us and behold, he is here".

My prayer is that, when you experience painful and brutal moments of suffering in your life, that you understand who it is you're pushing through it for. Faithfully being willing to suffer for Christ, in the same way that He obediently suffered on behalf of the Father's Will, is the best way to honor God and give Him glory. And in the life of a Christian, it will always be the most powerful way to demonstrate the infinite value of Christ.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Learning To Be Responsible For Each Other

More and more, as I walk throughout my life, I find myself wondering “Am I really giving everything I can be giving to God and His purposes for my life?” I’ll admit, sometimes I really don’t like the answer I get back. It’s during these times of reflection that I sit back and think about every area of my life that I feel needs to be given up to God. Unfortunately, I've realized that I tend to contemplate what’s weighing me down at the moment. I concern myself with all these “negative-nancy tendencies” as I call them, in which I allow all the things “going wrong right now” or all the things “causing me to constantly worry” dominate my attitude for the day and completely control how I dictate the way I live my life from day to day. Guys I’m here today to tell you that I’ve truly been convicted of that lately, and it’s not the mindset to have when pursuing God’s purposes for my life. It’s not the mentality we should have when desiring to follow Jesus and do whatever it is He asks of us. And above all, it’s never the place to be at if you’re wanting to serve others and to witness to others in sharing the Gospel. Take a minute and think about what God has blessed you with in your life. Look at your mental capacity. Your physical gifts. Your spiritual disciplines. Your emotions. Are these areas of your life being poured out and exercised every single day of your life in ways that demonstrate God’s Kingdom at work in your life? Are these areas of your life allowing you to stay true to God’s purposes for your life and honoring a Christ-like walk of faith that displays to the world a genuine, true Christian lifestyle?

What I’m getting at today is, in everything we do and say, in how we carry ourselves out there in the world, and in the many different ways we interact with the surrounding culture, we must never forget that we are not our own. Romans 13: 7-8 tells us “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lords”. In everything we do and in everything we are and could ever be: we belong to God. This means that we must constantly be pursuing God’s righteousness, always asking God for more opportunities to serve and witness to people and for His presence in our lives daily. As long we profess a faith in God, and we believe in what Christ did for us on the Cross, there will never be a day that goes by that we won’t forever belong to God; purchased by the blood of His Son. This realization Must change the way we live our lives.

You might ask “Well what does this all mean for me, then?” It means that we are responsible for each other. We have a duty and an obligation to disciple those around us. We can't life this life focusing and honing in on our own desires and our individual spiritual walk. We have to take care of and look out for each other. One of the most beautiful rewards of the Christian faith in action is having the opportunity to serve your fellow brother or sister in a time of need; to know that God has given you a chance to walk alongside a believer and encourage them as they, just like you, chase after Christ. If you re-read my beginning paragraph of this blog post you’ll see that I described for you the types of things that have held me back from faithfully living out God’s purpose for my life and appropriately serving others who I have known have needed help. The theme of my struggles was centered on my pathetic effort in trusting God with the issue, learning how to stop being a slave to it and just let it all go, and how problems like that affect the way I interact and talk with people every day. What I want you to take away from this is that things such as laziness, turning away from God, being consumed by personal problems, and even a lack of spirituality can and will affect the way we serve and witness to people. When we reach that point where our biggest desire is to serve God's Kingdom, it will also be the point in which God will require us to let go of the most "stuff". This is a time-less truth I've have to re-discover over and over again in my life. And it’s not easy just so you know. It’s not supposed to be. But Jesus addresses this problem we have with worldly cares, feverish anxieties, and keeping things stored up inside. He tells us in Luke 12: 25-26 “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” The message behind these verses is that some things we just have to simply let God release us from. When we witness to others, and when we’re serving others, we can’t be holding on to fears and worries and things we’re choosing to keep hidden inside. We can't give off the impression that we're losing our minds and that the problems of the world are drowning us in a sea of misery. When you're serving someone you are put in a position where You're helping provide the comfort and peace to their specific situation. When God uses each one of us to serve and to witness to each other, both believers and non-believers alike, He's not envisioning a human race of wild chickens running around in crazy pandemonium with their heads cut off. He has each one of us in a servant role so that we can all grow together on the same playing field and suffer together on the same playing field. That means that there has to be those few who dare to stand out amidst the firey chaos and lead. And even those that make a stand are on the same level as those that are in need of help. We are not greater than each other. All of us, no matter how rich or how poor, how strong or how weak, how much of a leader or how much of a follower, will always be lowly humble servants to God.

Let's take a look at anxiety for a minute. We can’t be anxious about what’s going on in our lives. Now, we can be concerned about certain things. I mean I’m all for that. In fact, I’m a firm believer in the fact that there are specific things in life that require our constant attentive care and focus. But these things should never be elevated to the extent that they consume us completely; that they control and dictate how we interact, how we view the way God is working in our lives, how we pursue God’s call for us, and even how we view each other. As I said earlier, we are responsible for each other. And when we exercise to the fullest potential all of our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional strength in living for God and for His purposes in our lives, we must also realize that we are called to do the same for each other. We are each other’s keeper. We must always be on the lookout for the well-being and safety of each other. When one of us grows and thrives in God’s grace and power, we all do. When one of us is suffering and going through a difficult time of darkness, we all are suffering through it together. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13 that “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body…” With this in mind my prayer is that we all can grow in the righteousness of Christ together. That we all can let go of burdensome things plaguing our hearts and minds, humbly serve one another in everything we do, and follow Christ together. That we can interact with one another, believers and unbelievers alike, in a manner that glorifies God and exercises the full potential of our faith. Anything God calls us to do or has planned for us to do will probably never be easy. But none of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are ever alone out there in this world. Out of everything we’re called to be as a Christian, out of all the many things God will ask of us in this life, we will always be called to serve one another. It might not always look beautiful to serve this dirty, sinful, rebellious world. But it's what we're supposed to do. Because in the end it will not be the service of each other that was the main focus, it will have been our willingness to devote ourselves as servants of God’s glory that will have made all the difference. We all have this obligation. We all have this duty. We are responsible for each other. God bless you all.