Living For Christ (3/25/2018)

Please take a moment and prayerfully finish the following statement: As I allow Jesus Christ to lead me, the conditions that I put on my service to him are….

In what areas do you tell God what you’ll do instead of asking what he wants you to do? Do you ever tell God you’ll do it if you have time? By the way, this is a way of saying it may not get done because we usually have the ability to find time to do the things we really want to do. Other common things we say to God are, “I’ll give to others if I have extra.” “I’ll work in this ministry only if I like the other people who are also helping.” “I know the Bible says I’m supposed to forgive but I’ll only do if the person who hurt me asks for forgiveness.”

How much are we willing to embrace the Biblical concept of faith, dedication, and perhaps even suffering for Christ?

The following announcement was published in the bulletin of a congregation in the US. “(Our congregation) is sponsoring a women’s-only mission trip to beautiful Guadalajara, Mexico! We’ll spend the week of June 11-18 in Guadalajara “also known as the shopping capital of Mexico”, where we will have the incredible opportunity to minister to, pray for, and teach women in a vibrant church community. And this trip isn’t a “rough-roach-in-your-bed” kind of experience either – we’ll be housed in nice clean hotel rooms, eat lots of salsa, and have plenty of time to shop! Our hope is to take at least fifteen women (including teenager daughters) on this Mexican Ministry Outreach… We trust God will expand our hearts for Him as He expands our ministry to the women of Guadalajara. If you’re remotely interested in this adventure-or if you’re just in the mood for Mexico after all this winter weather-call for more details about this fantastic outreach opportunity.”

Is this what Christianity in the U.S. has evolved into? We shouldn’t have to bribe people to go and serve others in the name of Christ. Christians should be willing to serve for no other reason than they want to be faithful to Jesus. But we have to ask ourselves: In what ways do we want God or the church to bribe us to serve?

Several years ago, the movie Starship Troopers was released. It’s a sci-fi movie about the armies of earth fighting giant bugs on some far-off planet. One of the squad leaders is tough. As he leads the soldiers into battle, he often shouts, “Do you want to live forever?”

As you serve God, do you act like you are going to live forever by hoarding your possessions, time, and talents? Many Christians put more time into securing and enlarging their possessions than they do following Jesus. Often, they gripe and complain when things aren’t easy and they quit when things don’t go their way.

God doesn’t want us to act like we’ll live forever. He wants us to live knowing that one day we will die and then stand before him to be judged on how we lived our lives.

The United States isn’t the only country that’s sending missionaries out to spread the gospel. Christianity is growing in what we call third world countries much faster than it is in the West. These countries, including China, are also sending people out to share the good news about Jesus. Here’s what Chinese missionaries say as they go out: “The Muslim and Buddhist nations can torture us, imprison us, and starve us, but they can do no more than we already experienced in China. We are not only ready to die for the gospel, we are expecting it.” (Back to Jerusalem)

Which announcement best describes your beliefs and actions as a Christian? The one about going to Mexico and eating salsa or the one about going to other countries and dying for Jesus? If we’re honest, most of us would say the first announcement best describes how we live out our faith. After all, we are products of the American culture which expects life to be as easy as possible.

There’s a problem with this type of mindset. Jesus is very clear that following him will not be easy – even in the United States.

For the past month, we’ve been journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem and the cross. Finally, he arrived at Jerusalem. He entered the city riding on a donkey. The crowds greeted him with cheers and waved palm branches, the national symbol of Israel, in the air.

A few days later, he celebrated what we call the Last Supper with his disciples. It happened the night before he was arrested and crucified.

Luke 22:14-38 says, “14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.”

Jesus is explaining that the events of the Passover in Egypt so long ago as well as their celebration of what God did that night was pointing to him. The time had come for him to fulfill what God had promised clear back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15). God’s people were moving from a time of obeying the written law to the law that the Holy Spirit was going to write on their hearts. Just think about the historical significance of that moment. Surely the disciples were spellbound by his words and wanted the know how this was going to happen.

They weren’t. Look at what happened next: “24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” Even though they lived in a culture where they were being persecuted and abused, they wanted to be the best while enjoying the privileges and comfort that went with it.

25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Jesus is telling them not to worry about being the greatest or having more possessions. That isn’t what the kingdom of God is about. It’s about serving others the way Jesus served them.

Up until this point, Jesus has been talking to the group of disciples. Now he addresses one person. He says, 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Jesus is saying, “Simon, don’t think that serving me is going to be easy. Satan has asked for permission to test you. And guess what? He’s been given permission to do it. But, I’m praying for you Simon. You will fail the test … but you will repent and come back to me.”

As much as we don’t like to think about it, God does give Satan permission to test us. Another good example from the Bible is Job. God allowed Satan to test him to prove that Job was faithful no matter what happened to him or his family.

We have to remember God doesn’t mind giving us the same test again and again if we keep failing it. He does this to strengthen our faith and to mold us into the people he wants us to be. Later in Luke we read that Peter did deny knowing Jesus but we see in Acts that Peter became one of the greatest apostles the world has ever seen. He failed the initial test but he repented and strengthened his brothers. God offers us the same grace he offered Peter when we fail our tests.

“35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That is enough,” he replied.”

Although they didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus is telling them he’s going to suffer because of the devastating effects that sin has brought upon creation.  Since they are his followers, they too will face suffering and difficulties.

This leads us to a question we need to wrestle with, especially if we want an easy and convenient Christianity. If God’s own Son didn’t have an easy life, why should we expect that he would give us one?

Please remember God has not abandoned you when things aren’t going well for you. You’re going through a season of testing. God knows exactly where you are in testing process. He’s allowing it because he is molding you into the image of Jesus. Just know the longer you run from the test, the longer it will take you to pass it. But God is very patient and he does not give up.

If you are having trouble passing the test, ask for help. Serving God is to be done within the context of community. We are to be here for each other. Do not be afraid to be uncomfortable and stretched as you serve God. Being a Christian isn’t about being careful and having plenty of salsa and shopping. It’s about God’s kingdom unfolding among a people who desperately need him. We are to die to Christ since he died for us.

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