Are You Willing? 5

Matthew 5:10-12

Rev. Mike Slaughter once said that others have wondered about his hard work in ministry as he helps the needy and works among those who do not have faith. He said that he is happy to be in those challenging situations. He said that he is glad to stand at the gates of Hell because that is where Jesus will triumph.

Whenever we are in a challenging situation, surrounded by the hardships of life and outside the comforts of our family of faith and place of worship, we should be glad. In that place of trial we are in the presence of Christ and we are surrounded by the Lord’s strength.

This passage is part of “The Sermon on the Mount.” What encouragement does Jesus offer those who feel persecuted? What does he say about suffering insults and accusations? What can we expect?

A common misconception is that every problem should cause us happiness. That is not completely true and accurate. The hardships that should cause rejoicing are the trials we experience when we do the good work of God.

As we deal with people outside the church, people who are not familiar with the love and grace of God, we should expect some opposition. The love and mercy that we are to show to others seems to defy the logic most people employ. Instead of welcoming this love and grace many people are confused by it and seem to reject it.

If we strive to do the work of God we can expect that there will be those who will work to stop it. We may have to face those who will persecute us, criticize us, even make up false claims about us – anything to get us to stop.

If we are working for God and our intentions are holy and good, then we must press on with the good work we are doing. And as we soldier on in the kingdom of God we should do it with a glad heart, knowing that God will richly bless us and provide for us even in the worst of times. When we are in the midst of challenges because of holiness we are also in the midst of Christ.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you of Christ’s presence even in the midst of hardships?

Are You Willing? 4

1 Peter 4:12-13

I recall a teen-age girl at our previous church who had a pretty good life. She and her family had a nice house, drove nice cars, and she was popular in school. Then one day her father became ill and she was absolutely devastated. How could God be so cruel? Why was life suddenly so hard?

And I wondered at her lack of faith. I wondered why she was so surprised when something bad had happened.

It isn’t that we should never hope for good in our life. It isn’t that we shouldn’t desire a comfortable life. But neither should we be surprised when bad things come along now and then. In Matthew 5:46 Jesus tells us, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Things happen in life. Some are good and some are bad. But we who believe in God and try to follow the teachings of Jesus, we who try to live a righteous and holy life will indeed encounter opposition. Those who do not have our faith may be confused by our beliefs and may be against what Jesus teaches. The evil that exists in the world will always work against those who try to do good.

So, Peter has a comment on our attitudes. What does he say about suffering? How should we react?

This is not to say that we should delight in troubles. Rather, we should not be surprised when bad things come along. And we should expect that our attempts at living as Jesus taught is going to bring some challenges.

We shouldn’t rejoice in every problem that we encounter, but we should rejoice when we encounter trials as we live out a holy life. It shows us that we are in fact doing good or the evil that exists wouldn’t be working so hard to stop it.

If we experience hardships because of our faith it can be an indicator that we are indeed on the right path. We should rejoice, not in our troubles, but in the knowledge that we are doing what is right.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you rejoice in the trials that come from living out your faith?

Are You Willing? 3

2 Corinthians 4:7-9

I caught the end of National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” movie the other day. Most of the movie is about all the horrible things that take place in the Griswald home during the holidays. Things fall apart. The tree bursts into flames. The dog knocks over cabinets and tears down curtains, and so on.

In the end the main character realizes the importance of Christmas is the love that came from God. In spite of all the upheaval he is at peace.

Although our lives are nowhere near as chaotic and tumultuous as what goes on in the movie, we can sometimes feel that we are being pushed around and that our lives are under attack at every turn. We can sometimes feel discouraged.

In this second letter to the Corinthian believers Paul offers some words on the struggles of life. To what does he compare human frailty? What are the bad things of life? What are the good?

Paul begins this section with an image of our humanity. We are like clay jars which hold a great treasure. The exterior, the clay jar, is not as important as what is inside. The container is a fragile thing, easily broken and destroyed, in spite of the goodness within.

So it is with us. We are fragile mortals, easily destroyed, easily broken. Our frail mortal existence is not as important as what is inside us. The Spirit of God dwelling inside each of us is what is important. The presence of Christ within us is the treasure we bear.

And in spite of all that buffets and assails us – we are pressed, struck down, perplexed and persecuted – we remain strong in the Lord. We are not crushed or abandoned. We do not despair because we are not destroyed.

No matter what difficulties we may endure, no matter what hardships, we persist. No matter what our weaknesses and frailties we are successful because the treasure of Christ is within us to help us carry on.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What helps you remember the treasure you carry?

Are You Willing? 2

John 15:18-19

Teachers should really treat all their students the same. As a teacher you should not have favorites, but when I taught there were certainly some students I liked more than others. What I had to avoid, however, was acting on that favoritism.

If I were to show that I liked one student over another it would cause problems. Other students would be jealous or envious and I would ultimately be doing a disservice to the ones I liked.

In John’s account of the Last Supper Jesus has a great deal to tell his disciples. He is very blunt about what they might expect. How might the world view the followers of Jesus? What are the reasons behind this?

It would be so much easier for Christ’s followers if they could just go back to the lives they were living before they met Jesus. If they became like everyone else – living as fishermen, tax collectors, businessmen – then they would fit in just fine with the rest of society. They would be unremarkable people, easily overlooked, and easily brought in to be part of the crowd.

But they have encountered Jesus. They have learned from him and followed him. Their lives would never be the same again. Their lives would never be ordinary.

Instead they would go on to become great leaders in this new movement, this new awareness of God and His mercy. They would be wonderful examples of righteous believers. And that would cause problems.

Jesus knew that these people who would begin living a more holy life would be resented by others around them. And the same may be true of us.

When we live out the love of God, when we behave as Christians, we can garner some resentment from others. By being holy examples of loving, grace-filled people we can make others feel less than good enough. We can be outside what is considered normal, and that can cause resentment.

What we need to remember is that we are called to this holy life, even if it will cause troubles. We are called to this holiness in spite of its challenges. We must remember that we are not alone. Jesus is with us to give us strength.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you live “out of the world?”

Are You Willing? 1

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

As an armchair general I enjoy the study of tactics and strategies of battle, and so I am familiar with one military axiom for commanders – “find your weakness and strengthen it.” Find out where you are vulnerable and then reinforce that place so that it is no longer vulnerable.

Of course, if you carry that idea out to its logical conclusion, eventually there will be no weak points. Everything about your forces will be strong. The same attitude can apply to our faith.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul talks about our personal weaknesses. What does Jesus say about weaknesses? How should that make us feel? What does he mean by saying “when I am weak, then I am strong”?

As people dealing with our personalities we may not be able to carry out the military approach of strengthening our weak points. As believers we may not be able to strengthen the weak places of our faith. An honest appraisal of our abilities may show us that we are lacking in one area or another.

Paul was also aware of his own failings. Even though Paul is one of the greatest leaders and most influential people of the church we know today, still he had failings. He was far from perfect.

But he did not allow his failings and weaknesses to hinder the incredible ministry he did for God. Instead he remembered the declaration Jesus made to him, that the grace of Christ was enough to sustain Paul and the power of Christ would work through Paul’s weakness.

This may seem like one of those many impossibilities of our faith, but a close examination can show the logic behind it. If we are weak in this approach or that aspect of our faith the Spirit of God will work within us to strengthen that weakness. If the power of God reinforces our weak places then that weak place is no longer weak. It is now more powerful than ever because the Spirit of Christ is there.

As we approach our faith walk we should be aware that God can strengthen our weaknesses. He can be present in those places where we may normally fail and give us success through His grace and power.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you let God work in your weakness?