I have been standing a lot lately. Physically, I am on my feet a lot. I don’t have a desk job, so that means I am up and moving about most of the time. However, the time on my feet pales in comparison to the time I have spent spiritually standing.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
The conflicts, troubles, situations and attacks that have come my way have taught me to rely on God. I’ve learned to trust God more and am learning to seek Him first when I have a problem. That’s a big accomplishment for me. I used to think I could fix everything myself, but I learned that I cannot control everything or everyone. So now, I turn things over to God and allow Him to take care of things.
We are supposed to trust God with the situations in our lives. How many of us quote Romans 8:28 on a regular basis? It’s easy to throw up our hands and just say, “let God take care of it and it will all work out in the end.” However, turning a problem over to God does not excuse us from being present in the solution. What that means is, God will win the war for you, but you still have to go through the battles.
For example, if your house caught on fire, would you pray for God’s help and then sit down and wait? No -- you still need to call 911 and make sure everyone gets out of the house safely. Or what if you have hurt someone with your actions or words and you want to restore your relationship. You can pray for God’s help in restoring the relationship. That’s great, but have you apologized to the person yet? God will always do His part, but we have a part to play as well. The scripture from Ephesians doesn’t say that you recognize a problem and stand . . . it says having done ALL, then stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints --
The pieces in the armor of God are the tools He has given us to use when adversity comes our way. Spiritual warfare is our training ground, where faith is tested and built. We couldn’t build faith if God just took care of all our problems. What happens to a child who has a parent that fixes all their problems? He becomes an adult who doesn’t know how to deal with conflict or adversity. That’s not what God wants for us.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Yes, we need to trust God in all situations. Yes, we should allow God to fight our battles. No, that doesn’t mean we can go hide under the covers until it’s all over. We have a role to play in our battle, and when we have done everything – scripturally, morally, ethically – that we should do, then we stand. Then we turn it over to God and allow Him to be our strength. Here’s what I have found to be the case. If I keep going back and trying to fix the situation and it is going nowhere or it’s getting worse, that means I’ve done all, but I am not standing – I’m not trusting God to do His part. I need to back off and let God work. On the other hand, if I am avoiding the situation and trying to dodge a confrontation in hopes that it will all go away and it doesn’t, then I know that there’s probably more that I need to do. I need to take responsibility for my part and do what needs to be done, and then turn it over to God.
2 Timothy 4
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Faith is an action word. Every day we have to step out and live the life God has called us to. There will be troubles along the way, but He equips and trains us how to deal with them. When we have done all that we know and are capable of doing and when our strength has been exerted, He is there. In Him we have our victory. Being present in that victory is what will grow our faith.
Psalm 18 :6, 28-29
In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
God has promised that He will be there for us – He said we wouldn’t leave us or forsake us. His word says that we can do all things through Christ, which strengthens us. But we must be present and accounted for – we must be willing to walk in faith and willing to stand when the time comes.
Jesus had to go through Samaria. Well, He didn’t have to. It wasn’t like it was the only way or that He had no other choices. Most Jewish travelers took the long way around Samaria, avoiding the Samaritan people at all costs. Jesus had to go through Samaria because that was the only way to reach the people there.
John 4 gives us the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well. The woman was shocked and surprised that Jesus spoke to her that day. First of all, she was a Samaritan and Jews did not associate with them. The Jews considered them to be an inferior people, part Jew and part a lot of other nationalities. Hundreds of years prior, Assyria had captured the northern kingdom of Israel and had taken most of the people into exile in Assyria. Then Assyria brought in people from its other lands and settled them in Israel. They intermarried with the Jews who remained in the land, creating the Samaritan people. The Jews felt they were superior to them, making the Samaritans feel inferior. Being a Samaritan in those days was even worse than being a Gentile.
The Samaritan woman was also shocked that Jesus spoke to her because she was a woman. Men did not speak to women in public – especially women they didn’t know. Men considered themselves to be superior and women were inferior. In addition to being a woman, she was a woman with a bad reputation. Why else would she be coming to the well at noon instead of in the early morning with the other women? She felt inferior because of her sin.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
When Jesus looked at the woman at the well, He didn’t see her the way others did. He didn’t see her as a Samaritan woman or a woman with a bad reputation and write her off. He saw her as a person who needed salvation and needed the love of God in her life. Even though He knew her sin, He spoke to her with respect and kindness. He offered her the “living water” that would quench her spiritual thirst. When she shared her experience with Jesus with others in town, they came looking for Jesus and found their salvation also.
The culture of that time had created barriers between the Samaritan people and God. The Jews thought they were the only ones going to heaven because they were the seed of Abraham. They thought their place was secure and that gave them a feeling of superiority over the Samaritans and the Gentiles. When Jesus came, he broke down those barriers. He spoke to Nicodemus about being born again – it wasn’t enough to be a descendant of Abraham. He spoke to the Samaritan woman about how we worship is more important than where we worship. It was about faith, not religious ritual.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Feelings of superiority and inferiority still cause barriers in the church today. You have people who feel they are superior Christians. They have been serving God longer or better. They have titles and positions that they think elevate them above others. They also tend to be judgmental and do not associate with other Christians that they feel aren’t at a certain level. They may think their church or denomination is better than others. They put themselves on such a high pedestal that they miss opportunities to do what God has really called them to do. You can’t lead others to Christ from a superior position.
The Christians with the inferiority complexes are just as challenging. Even though they claim that Jesus is the Lord of their life, they walk around defeated. When a blessing comes their way, they think they don’t deserve it. They have a calling from God, but they don’t feel adequate to walk in that calling. They put themselves down and are constantly comparing themselves with others. Their lack of self-esteem makes them an ineffective witness for Christ.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.
In our journey, we can each fall into these categories at different times. There are times when we get on our high horse and we have to be knocked back down to earth. And there are times when we sink into self pity and have to be lifted up again. We are always growing and hopefully maturing so that we reach a middle ground. In that place, we can walk confidently but humbly for the Lord. Confidence should not be confused with superiority. Confidence means we know who we are in Christ and we know the promises of God are true. Likewise, humility should not be confused with inferiority. Being humble also means knowing know who we are in Christ – we know that he is our all in all. We submit to His authority and commit ourselves to His service.
Between Christians and non-Christians, these issues come into play. We, as Christians, do not want to become like the Jews from Biblical times. We should not see ourselves as superior over those who are not Christians. People know if you are looking down on them and they are not going to be receptive to you if you are making them feel inferior. God loves all mankind and it is His will that none should perish.
There are also times when people who are unsaved may say something along the lines of “you Christians think you are better than everyone.” Perhaps they have been treated poorly, but more likely this is coming from the feelings of conviction they are experiencing. It isn’t easy to confront our own sin and mistakes. We try to blame others or simply walk in denial. Christians need to be sensitive to these feelings and realize where they are coming from. Where there is a spirit of conviction there is a soul that realizes it needs salvation, and we can help lead that person to Christ.
The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
In other words, some days you are the windshield and some days you are the bug. Every dog has its day. Into each life, a little rain must fall. Pick your favorite saying. The bottom line is we are equal in God’s eyes. When we start feeling superior or inferior, we have to realize that we are out of step in our walk with God. We need a reality check and we need to remember who we are and not who we think we are. God is our superior, but He doesn’t make us feel inferior.
This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.
If actions speak louder than words, what have your actions been telling people lately? Are people crossing the street or hiding in their offices to avoid you, or do they seek you out for counsel and conversation? Do your actions reflect who you really are and what you believe?
James 1:22 -- But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
I don’t think most Christians realize how powerful their actions are. We may have a great testimony. We may be able to quote scripture verbatim. We might be eloquent in explaining the gospel to others. But that’s only part of it. We have to walk the talk. We may have just witnessed to someone and encouraged them and feel good about it, and then we do something un-Christian like that cancels it out. Our actions must line up with our beliefs if we are to be effective in winning others to Christ.
James 1:26 -- Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
What kind of message are you sending if you preach Jesus and Him crucified, and then turn around and gossip about someone? Yelling at a store clerk over a mistake may make you feel better, but what does that do to your testimony? If you are out witnessing somewhere and come across that clerk, do you think he or she is going to give you the time of day? Ever see someone with a fish emblem on their car or a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker giving another driver the finger? Temper tantrums, pouting, selfishness and similar behaviors indicate immaturity. How can we ever get people interested in having the kind of relationship with God that they need if they don’t see it in our lives?
Last week when I was taking down the Christmas decorations, I was watching a marathon showing of a reality TV show. (That’s where they show all the episodes of the series back to back.) The contestants were all living under one roof, but had divided themselves into the Christians and the non-Christians. My observation was that the girls who claimed to be Christians looked down on the other girls and considered themselves to be better. The other girls picked up on that judgmental vibe. It created conflict, of course. The Christian girls missed many opportunities to share their faith and to show kindness to the other girls. Some of their behavior was ugly, and the other girls said they didn’t understand how they could call themselves Christians and act the way that they did. I found it very sad. It made me wonder about my own behavior. Was I living up to and demonstrating what I believe?
I have a friend who worked in an office where the supervisor claimed to be a Christian. Apparently she claimed it very loudly and frequently. She spoke it loud and proud to anyone who was within earshot. My friend found her very annoying and had no interest in hearing about her beliefs. As a supervisor, she was difficult to work with and was more of a hindrance than a help. When my friend was laid off, she was actually happy to be getting away from her. It made me cringe to hear my friend talk about her experiences with this Christian woman. For years, I have been “planting” the seeds of faith, only to have them stomped on. I even feel bad talking about this woman, but I do so to make a point. It’s not just what we say, but how we say it and how we behave. Reaching people with the gospel is challenging enough without shooting ourselves in the foot.
I have a file folder full of poems and sayings that I like. A poem by Edgar Guest is probably my favorite. I found the full version on line. It’s called, “I’d Rather See a Sermon”.
I'd Rather See a Sermon
I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day;
I'd rather one would walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
I may misunderstand the high advice you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.
One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to everyone is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day!
--Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)
The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the Word that became flesh. The Word of God teaches us how to live and how we can be saved. Jesus came to earth and demonstrated – He was the Word in action. He preached and he taught. He healed and He loved. He sacrificed all that He had so that we might live. “What would Jesus do?” is a valid question that we can ask ourselves daily in any situation. Paul talked about us having to die daily in our flesh so that people could see more of Jesus and less of us.
Actions do speak louder than words. I remember the first time I came to our church. I had asked God to be in my life and I had promised Him I would raise my daughter as a Christian. I asked Him to help me find a church so that I could learn what that meant. I had visited one church, and was overwhelmed by the people. After one visit, they wanted to come to my house and I think I got a letter from everyone in the church. It was too much for me to handle. It felt like they were more interested in getting me to be a member than knowing where I was in my Christian walk and what my needs were. Then my neighbor invited me to what is now my church. I don’t remember the sermon that was preached that day. I don’t remember the songs that were sung. What I remember was the love that I felt among the people. I remember feeling welcomed, but not overwhelmed. I remember seeing the joy on the faces of the people as they worshipped and thinking, “That’s what I want.”
As a Christian, do people want what you have? Do they even know you are a Christian? Are you living a spirit-filled life? Are you praising God through the bad times as well as the good? Do you practice self-control over your tongue and your emotions? We are all human, and there are times when we are going to slip up. I know I can get myself all worked up and mad over situations. Usually I can keep it under control, but sometimes I boil over. That’s when I have to ask the Lord for forgiveness and keep trying to do right.
An old Italian proverb says: Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out. We can say we are Christians, but it doesn’t mean anything until the rubber meets the road. It’s more than showing up for church two days a week. We have to live it every minute of every day. We have to be doing the work of God every day. As the old saying goes: Being in church doesn’t make me a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes me a car. We have to be doers of the word. We have to walk the talk. We have to be the sermon. By being (working, fulfilling, striving to be) who God has called us to be, we will make a difference in the lives of others. They will see Jesus in us and they will say, “That’s what I want.”
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It has its stressful and hectic moments as we prepare for that special day of celebration with family and friends, but when we look back afterward we find it was usually worth it. For Christians, it is an especially wonderful time as we remember and reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ.
Despite a few protests over manger scenes in public places, it does seem that Christmas is the one time of year that you can talk about Jesus without getting a lot of flack. Television shows and movies depicting that wondrous night in Bethlehem can be found on a variety of channels. The newspaper will run stories and photos of churches presenting live manger scenes. School children are allowed to sing songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” without the ACLU having a cow.
So why does Jesus get better press coverage at Christmas than Easter? I think it’s because in the Christmas story, Jesus is an infant. He is baby – he can’t walk, talk, feed himself. He relies on his parents for his daily care. And who doesn’t like babies? They are cute and cuddly and they smell good (most of the time). There isn’t anything threatening about a baby Jesus. We read the story about the night he was born and we sympathize with the young mother who is turned away from the inn and must give birth in a manger. We marvel at the heavenly choir of angels who alert the shepherds in the field and direct them to the newborn baby. It’s a story of peace on earth and hope for mankind.
A grown up Jesus – now that’s a different story. He isn’t a cute and cuddly infant anymore. He is a grown man – the Son of God --who has come to tell the world the Good News. He is Jesus – the Christ – who would die for us, that we might have eternal life. But it isn’t a pretty scene. We read about how he was beaten, mocked and spit upon. His hands and feet were nailed to a cross and he was hung there to die. Though I have owned the movie for several years, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch “The Passion”. Just thinking about all He endured for me, it breaks my heart. To have to watch it depicted will be difficult, but one of these days I will watch it. The really “Good News” is that despite the horrible death He endured, it wasn’t the end. Three days later He rose from the dead and today He is alive and working in my life. Praise God!
This theory of mine that the baby Jesus is non-threatening to most people is demonstrated in a movie that came out about five years ago. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” features Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver. It has a lot of slapstick comedy and what I call “bathroom humor”. It’s a “man’s movie” – definitely the opposite of a “chick flick”. I found some of it rather funny and some . . . not so much. There was one particular scene that I remember because I found it to be so irreverent. Ricky Bobby and his family are sitting down for dinner and he says the grace. He begins the prayer with “dear baby Jesus.” When his wife and father-in-law try to correct him by telling him that Jesus was a grown man, he rebukes them. He lets them know that he likes to think of Jesus that way and tells them that when it is their turn to say grace, they can pray to the grown up Jesus. When Will Ferrell and his team created that scene, I am sure they were going for laughs. But I think that like most comedians, he was able to capture a widely held belief in our culture. In other words, he really hit the nail on the head.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
You see a grown up Jesus forces us to make a choice. Either you believe or you don’t. Those who choose to believe in Him and truly put their trust in Him have been promised eternal life. Those who choose not to believe have been condemned. While no one seems to want to talk about it, there is a place called Hell as surely as there is a place called Heaven. Deciding not to make a choice is really choosing option #2 by default. When you are considering these choices, you are making your decision based not on a baby in a manger, but on the saving works of the adult Jesus who preached repentance and who laid down His life for you.
Not everyone finds the baby Jesus non-threatening though. King Herod felt his position was threatened when he learned from the wise men that a new king had been born. After receiving information from the teachers of the law, he directed the wise men to Bethlehem. He told them to let him know when they found the child, because he also wanted to worship him. Baloney! He wanted this threat eliminated. When the wise men didn’t return, he ordered that all baby boys age 2 and under in Bethlehem be killed. Jesus and his family escaped before this happened, thanks to an angel’s warning given in a dream to Joseph.
Today there are groups that find the baby Jesus threatening. Groups like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and atheist organizations fight to keep away images of Christ in the manger. They have been successful in having them removed from government properties. While they can’t yet stop private citizens from displaying them on private property, I am sure they will continue to try. You have to wonder why they feel so threatened by someone they say they don’t believe in. I have to think that is because they know He is real. I think when they see the baby Jesus, they understand perhaps better than anyone who He really is and the power He has. They know that if people see Him and are reminded of who He is or are learning for the first time who He is, that the body of Christ will grow stronger. If you study on the baby Jesus, you will eventually learn about the fully grown Jesus and you might choose to put your faith in Him. Whether they want to believe it or not, these groups are tools of the Enemy used to keep people from Jesus.
1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Jesus came from Heaven to earth and He started out as a baby. He experienced all that we experience growing up. He became a man and when He reached the age of maturity in the Jewish culture, He began His ministry. That’s when He became a threat to the enemies of God. He continues to be a polarizing force, creating conflict and disagreement among people around the world. In Matthew , He says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” That sword is the word of truth.
Unfortunately, I think the body of Christ overall is not very mature. I think we have a lot of baby Christians – and I am not excluding myself in that characterization. As baby Christians, we’re not much a threat. That’s why Christians are getting so beat up in today’s society. That’s why anti-Christian groups are so successful at getting manger scenes removed and having the Ten Commandments taken off walls in public buildings. It’s just the beginning. If we don’t grow up and step up, pretty soon we’ll be losing a lot more. We need to wake up and realize who we are in Christ, not who we are in ourselves. In Him we have power and authority, but only if we believe. In order to fulfill the work God has called us to do, we need a mature body of believers. As I have written before, it’s time to get off the milk and begin to eat of the meat of God’s word.
The beginning of the New Year is a time that people make resolutions and set goals. You may want to lose weight or save more money or eat healthier. I need to do all those things myself. But I think the goal we as Christians should make for 2011 is to grow up. We need to get over ourselves and over each other. We need to get over the past. We need to look to the future and be about our Father’s business . . . and we need to be grown up about it.