February 9, 2016

I Cannot Do This: Trials vs. Pride

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog post about how self-doubt is harmful. You might wonder why I wrote a title for this blog post that appears to be the definition of self-doubt. Why did I write this title?

There is a fine line between not having self-doubt because you have assurance in yourself, and not having self-doubt because you have assurance in God. To have self-doubt means I do not believe I am worth helping and worth being useful to God. To have assurance in God is to have faith that God will empower you because of the relationship you have with Christ. The absence of self-doubt should not be a "I can do all things because I am wonderful" mindset. Rather, it is an "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength" mindset. A healthy absence of self-doubt says that though I cannot do this, God can and will.

This week I was studying the first few chapters of Revelation which contain the letters of Christ to 6 of the churches that existed at the time of the writing of Revelation. The study was written by Beth Moore and is part of her devotional titled John: 90 Days with the Beloved Disciple. She explains how each letter has a different flavor. Some have all commendation from Christ, others have mainly correction, and most have a mixture of both. In addition, when you look into the historical accounts of each city, the way the city acted reflects the message Christ had for them. For example, the church of Laodicia, written about in Revelation 3:14-22, was known for being in between two cities. One city was notable for hot water springs, the other for cold water springs. Since it was in between the two cities, Laodicia had water that was lukewarm. This city had the notable "because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold-  I am about to spit you out of my mouth" verse written about it. I love learning about these things!

When I was doing the study, the differences between the letter to Laodicia and the letter to Smyrna stood out to me. Besides telling Laodicia that they were lukewarm, Christ had even more to say. He said, "You say 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17). Ouch. Pride is spiritually harmful and causes us to spiritually resemble a wretched person.

Interestingly enough, Beth Moore records show that Laodicia did not just do this with God. They did this with the Roman government. The city had accumulated enough wealth that when hit by a devastating earthquake, they did not accept Rome's help. They believed they were were self-sufficient. The church must have carried that mindset over to God, letting their city's culture affect them more than was healthy. God did not have good things to say about what their self-sufficiency looked like to Him.

In contrast was the city of Smyrna. Christ said of them in Revelation 2:9, "I know your afflictions and your poverty- yet you are  rich!" The Bible does not say much about why they are rich, but I believe it has something to do with the fact that God is near to the broken hearted (Ps. 34:18). And that when we are humbled God lifts us up (James 4:10). The city was known for being highly persecuted, yet Christ still described them as rich.

What I gather from both churches is that trials bring spiritual richness. In order to fix themselves, God instructed Laodicia to "buy gold refined by fire" (Rev. 3:18). This alludes to trials and faith. God knew Laodicia needed testing and difficulty in order to grow in their faith and to let that growing show them how insufficient they were.

Older believers always amaze me. They make me wonder at how joyful and spirit filled they are compared to younger believers. Why are they like that? They have gone through enough of life to have experienced countless trials. As a result, they are spiritually rich.It reminds me of the verses in Romans 5:3-5 which says:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us

Trials are valuable. Though the world says hardships are to be dreaded, they actually are something to give thanks for. Why? They bring richness and growth to your Christian walk that could never happen another way. Who doesn't appreciate hope? Or character? I could use some hope. Hope helps in the next trials and gives assurance that God will come through and that He will equip. It gives an assurance that nothing will break you, because God is good. 

In our walk with Christ we can be in many places in regards to this. We could be the prideful citizens of Laodicia, or we could be currently going through a trial as a citizen of Smyrna. It is also possible to be on neutral ground experiencing neither pride nor trials. 

If you are on neutral ground, be careful to watch yourself for pride. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" In addition, do not loose heart if you experience trials without having a pride problem. It's been my experience that God protects me from having pride by bringing me though a trial before pride has an opportunity to come. He does it to prepare me for bigger things, or any time I might do something people will praise. Trust God's timing, He truly knows what's up.

If you are a citizen of Laodicia, keep in mind the full instruction Christ gave the citizens of Laodicia. He said in Rev. 3:18, " I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." 

I take this to mean accept the trials and seek God's sufficiency through them. And while you're going through them, purify yourself by ridding yourself of what does not glorify God and renew your mind so you can see the world through the lenses of God's truth. When you see how in-sufficient you are compared to God's ability to equip and provide, the journey to rely on God is easier. 

Lastly, if you are a citizen of Smyrna take heart. The trial has a reason and God is near even if you do not feel Him. Although in the trial you often do not feel like working through it but just giving up, strive to do the next right thing. As you do the next right thing, trust God to equip you. You cannot make it through the trial, but you and God can. Though it may seem God does not equip in the moment of prayer, He will. 

It reminds me of the story of Peter walking on water. Peter didn't automatically walk on the water, he had to step out of the boat in faith. Then he had to focus on Christ ignoring the circumstances that caused doubt. Though he failed, the story was put there to encourage us to be different and succeed. Trust that God will hold you up, and continue to hold you up, until the trial is over. God is a Good Father, the giver of good gifts (Matthew 7:10-11), and our help (Psalm 33:20). God gives us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He is so faithful and will see you through.

I love the fact that Christ told Smyrna He saw their trials. God sees where you are. He is not unaware. He is lovingly shaping trials to teach and shape you to have your assurance rest on Him. Though you may feel poor, you are rich! And will be richer because of this trial. 

February 2, 2016

Christ Has No Hands but Ours

A blessing about being home schooled was all the beautiful books I read for school. The thing I miss most right now are those books. Now that I am done with my core college history, government and English classes I hardly get exposed to new books.

In school, I was introduced to my current favorite book. It was a book that accompanied my high school anatomy curriculum. I wanted to prepare for all the anatomy that nursing requires so I took an extra year of science to do so. The curriculum I use often pairs Christian books with all types of courses, this was no different. I got a book called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. 

Dr. Paul Brand is one of the most fascinating, exemplary and God loving man I've heard of. He began working as a doctor for patients with leprosy while it still had a stigma attached to it here in America. Then he went on to move his study to India. In the fascinating studies he writes about doing in the book, from looking at live blood cells in a sedated albino bat's wing to performing stressful operations in inadequate situations in India, to being one of the first to realize leprosy caused loss of limbs because it damaged nerve endings. His love for his patients is shown in every story and it is an important read for any Christian wanting to go into the medical field.

The best part about him though was the deep and remarkable parallels he found between the human body and the Body of Christ. For example, how cell's represent sacrificial service or skin represents the task of showing love. I cannot do justice to all the wonderful insights the book has given me.

The part of the book that I want to share here is a little story he wrote at the end of the book about some students in Germany. After World War II there was a church that had been badly damaged. As the students began the work of rebuilding, they came across a statue of Jesus who's hands were blown off. They debated redoing the delicate task, but decided instead to make a statement. They left the hands untouched and wrote in a plaque under the statue "Christ Has No Hands but Ours."

This is the definition of the Body of Christ. To do what Christ would do if He were on earth right now. Thank goodness there is more than one Christian on earth, or else it would be too big of a task. But that is why there is the teaching of the Body having many parts. We do not have to do it all, just our part.

When Christ left He empowered. He gave gifts. He gave His Spirit. Each of us a specific gift. Each for a reason.

God has a task for each of us, and thank you Lord for the promise that we can be "confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6), and that "the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me" (Psalm 138:8). I've always taken a lot of comfort in the verse that says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).

But is the Church truly living the way it should? Is it acting and living like Christ would? All we can do is work on ourselves, or gently encourage those we can.

All to often we focus on the classic "would Jesus watch that movie?" While I love and teach that, I want to enlarge the teaching. I want to use the positive form and talk about what Christ's life and purpose would be while on earth. If on earth, Jesus would be teaching. He would be tending to the sick. He would be at a hospitable and showing love. He would be evangelizing. He would be mentoring. He would be exhorting. He would be showing mercy. He would be giving insight from Scripture. He would be telling creative stories to show truths about God.

Doesn't that list look a lot like spiritual gifts and talents? Can you see yourself doing one of the acts Jesus did? Can you see yourself teaching as He did? Using clever ways to make biblical truths stick in the minds of listeners? What about tending to the sick as He did? The medical field utilizes this. They use the gift of mercy to realize the need and to not overlook those who could benefit from  help. If you are a creative person, you are being like Christ because you use
creative ways to show the truths about God. Christ used stories, you use poetry, painting, dance, theater, and more. Do you simply like to build into the lives of youth? Or even simply your children? You are being like Christ building into the lives of His disciples.

Be encouraged, there is no one way to serve God. I often become discouraged looking at all the different works to be done that I am not gifted at. I need to focus on what God has called me to and excelling at that. Christ served in many ways to set an example.

Understand though, that means we need to do what we are gifted to do. Start small, build up your experience. A new Christian with the gift of evangelism can't be expected to teach like Billy Graham. But you can do something. You can begin now. Christ having no hands but ours means He's entrusting this work to you. Reap the blessing of being used by God. It is worth having a purpose in this life. And, the Body needs you.

The teaching of the Body of Christ having many parts is there for a reason. It is too easy to slip into the mindset of being a one person ministry. Jesus could be a one person ministry because He was God. We are simply the hand or the foot or the eye. An eye doesn't look much like Jesus, the collection of body parts does. From experience I know a ministry cannot be run by yourself. I taught a Bible study where I had to serve like someone having the gifts of teaching, exhortation, prophecy, mercy, hospitality and leadership. Not exactly do-able, but I tried and got burned out. While God blessed my efforts in big ways, I suffered and my ministry had to stop. Had I brought more people in to lead with me, it could still be going right now.

One last thought to close is a poem I found while researching the story of the statue of Jesus with no hands. The poem is by Annie Johnston Flint who lived 1862-1932. It goes:

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today

He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way

He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died

He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read,

We are the sinner’s gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed;

We are the Lord’s last message, given in word and deed;

What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy with other work than His?

What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?

What if our tongue is speaking of things His lips would spurn?

How can we hope to help Him or welcome His return?

I want to clarify, God is so powerful He will accomplish His purpose in spite of us. This should not cause us to not serve, but to want to be used toward the purposes of God.  I believe it is a great blessing to be used by God to accomplish big things. He wants to use you and to bless those around you because of your willingness.