In my recent trip to Nigeria, I looked around and saw obscene poverty brought upon by Government greed, but in the eyes of the people I saw hope. The people of Nigeria were not willing to just sit back and die.. they worked hard. Everywhere we drove, venders filled the streets. They literally risked their life going car to car hoping to sell a loaf of bread or bottle of water. The indomitable spirit of the Nigerian people is a great reminder that with the right attitude and determination anyone can turn defeat into success.
Turning Judgment into Success
Have you ever been around a Christian that made you feel defeated or inferior because you lacked a certain “experience”? I have.
I remember during my first week in Seminary a woman came up to me and asked, “why do you wear glasses? Don’t you have faith that God can heal you?” At another time in my life, that kind of statement would have broken me. This women had no idea of how much I prayed for healing when I was a little kid. I even remember calling the 700 club when I was 13 to ask for prayer. I cried when God did not heal me and wondered why I did not deserve the healing like the other people on TV. As I grew older, and more mature, in my faith I came to peace with God’s decision not to heal my eyes, but there are many people who would prefer to use these circumstances to speak judgement against me.
That is what the false Apostles in Corinth were doing to Paul. They were using his own physical ailments and trials to “prove” that he was an inferior follower of Jesus. Paul had many wondrous experiences with God, but he never used them to belittle the faith of others and he never boasted. Instead, Paul chose only to take pride in his actions of service and love toward others.
2 Cor 12:5 …on my own behalf I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. For even if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I would be telling the truth, but I refrain from this so that no one may regard me beyond what he sees in me or what he hears from me…
Turning Trial into Success
Have you ever felt defeated because of hardships in your life? We live in a culture that equates the “pain-free” life with success. We are told daily that riches will keep you from suffering. Pharmaceuticals will soothe all your pain or even the mildest discomfort. In truth, these things only turn suffering into denial. Sometimes we must travel through suffering before we can achieve greatness. Sometimes we must experience trials before we can truly be healed.
Jackie Chan is one of my favorite filmmakers and martial artists, but few people know how he came to fame. At the age of seven, Chan was sold into forced service to a Chinese entertainment company. He was forced to work 19 hour days and suffered many beatings with a cane. After ten years of virtual slavery, Chan was able to turn his skills of acting, acrobatics, mime, and martial arts into an amazing career. Jackie Chan turned himself from a abused-child into one of the most successful Chinese actors/directors/stuntmen of all time. Without suffering, Chan would never have achieved so much.
It is interesting to see how the Apostle Paul dealt with his own physical suffering. Others used his trials to try and show how Paul was weak, but Paul turned that argument around.
When vexed by a physical illness, Paul persisted in prayer, one, two, three times… but the “thorn” remained.
2 Cor 12:7b Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. 8 I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
The thorn was sent because God did not want Paul to be prideful? Why didn’t God just take away his pride?
Paul’s own experience reminds me of Jesus’ life. Jesus persisted in prayer, one, two, three times… but the cup was not taken away.
2 Cor 13:3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak toward you but is powerful among you. 4 For indeed he was crucified by reason of weakness, but he lives because of God’s power. For we also are weak in him, but we will live together with him, because of God’s power toward you.
Sometimes, trials or attacks that people use to defeat us, are the very thing God turns into a means of success.
Romans 8:28 when he declares that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Success for Jesus was not not the removal of his suffering, but the acceptance of his passion on the cross. Success was Paul’s overcoming Satan’s temptations, overcoming his own pride, and the glorification of Jesus among the churches.
Turning defeat into success means…
- Pain turns to Joy
- Hardship turns to Kindness
- Weakness turns to Encouragement
So today, it was a great surprise to read an article written by an atheist entitled, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God“. In this article, Matthew Parris reflects a better understanding of the Gospel in relation to good works, more than many of the other popular “Christian” voices promoting social justice projects. Parris writes in the Sunday Times:
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
Parris goes on to describe his own life in Africa and observing the great need for liberation from tribal “groupthink.” He goes on to make this stunning conclusion.
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.
And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.
The core of this article is that goodness without redemption is really no good at all. What a day we live in… when in contrast to many Christian activists, an atheist demonstrates a deeper awareness of God’s power to save.
Three years ago today, at the age of 50, the talent and tragedy of Michael Jackson (1959-2009) came to an end. Jackson was a man who imagined himself as the master of his own destiny, but he never quite found the driver’s seat.
On the day of his death, I memorialized Jackson’s life and death in my poem below.
I am recognized the world over,
but see a stranger in the mirror.
I’m made in the everlasting image of God,
but surgery failed to bring me nearer.
I hide behind a surgical mask,
but everyone sees my pain.
I live in a land of fantasy,
but ghosts are never slain.
I search for joy in childlike things,
but peace eludes my plaintiff quest.
I was crowned by all ‘The King of Pop’,
but never found a place to rest
I destined my life
I stayed in control
I was the master of my fate;
The captain of my soul*
* The final two lines of this stanza are adapted from William Henley’s poem “Invictus” which, according to Justin Taylor, was quoted by Jackson in one of his albums.
This month I have been thinking a lot about maturity. Wow! There is a lot I could write under such a broad theme. Ultimately, my mind settled on sharing a few words about what I call “The Five Spheres of Relational Maturity.” Every disciple of Jesus needs to mature in their relationship with…
- God, and
- the Body.
The graphic below may help you better visualize how I see these relationships taking shape (yeah, I realize my graphic below uses circles, but, hey, “sphere” sounds so much cooler than “circle”).
Every day we live within these 5 relational spheres and rarely is their an intentional focus on moving toward maturity.
Did you know that your words are always influencing others? But, how much time do you spend in a day making sure your words are having a positive influence rather than a negative one?
Most of us think about God at random times throughout our day, when things go bad, or something really wonderful happens, but do you regularly aside time to listen to God speak?
In stark contrast to the haphazard lifestyle most of us embrace, maturity is taking pleasure in each sphere of relationship while at the same time making choices to enhance each one.
- Maturity in relationship to Self means setting aside our rights for the sake of others, caring for ourselves in body, mind and soul, and embracing God’s commands.
- Maturity in relationship to Non-Christians means we create ways to make friends and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through both word and deed, to those who are lost.
- Maturity in relationship to Christians means we use our Giftings from the Holy Spirit to help other Christians mature in their faith.
- Maturity in relationship to God means we spend time listening to YHWH and learning from the Spirit of Christ who lives in us.
- Maturity in relationship to The Body means we explore opportunities to serve the entire church, maintain the unity of our One Faith, and grow a stronger Family of God.
That is my vision—to see people develop intentional relationships that connect each of the 5 spheres into one generous circle of relational maturity.
How do you see maturity taking place in these 5 areas of your life?
I woke this morning with a strong awareness of my own place in this world.
I woke from a deep sleep with a desire to pray for the homeless.
Like many Americans facing tough economic times, my home was lost in 2010 to foreclosure.
Today, I am facing unemployment, no health insurance for my kids, and no steady income.
But that is not the kind of poverty or homelessness that woke me from my sleep.
There are people living in the streets with nothing but the clothes on their back to shelter them from the cold,
And while their plight should be met with compassion,
That is not the kind of homelessness that woke me from my sleep.
There are 2.5 Billion Christians worldwide.
The Scripture says that every one of us is homeless.
We are strangers among the nations.
We are aliens in a foreign land.
We are hobos until our King returns.
I woke this morning with a desire to live my life like the homeless vagabond I am called to be.
1 Peter 2:11
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (NIV)
Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. (NLT)
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (ESV)
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. (NASB)
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; (KJV)
The image for this post is an original work based on the painting “Hobo and Dog
” by Normal Rockwell (1924). The image represents all God’s people, homeless in the Universe, awaiting the return of our God and King.
The Petra song, “Not of this World
” makes for a great soundtrack for this post and image. If you are too young to remember this group, do yourself a favor and download this song
or the entire album