“If you allow it, [suffering] can be the means by which God brings you His greatest blessings.”
Last night was a great baseball night. If you are a baseball fan then you can appreciate what a great game last night’s Mets-Royals matchup was. If you are a Mets fan, as I am, then it kind of stinks.
I was all set to turn in around 11:15 with the Mets up 4-3, and with one out in the bottom of the ninth when the Royals homered to tie it. 11:15 is already more than an hour after I typically turn in. But because I am a Mets fan, and because it is not often that they make it to the Series, a dose of adrenaline kicked in and I watched the 10th, then the 11th, then the 12th, then the 13th until finally around 1:10 in the bottom of the 14th the Royals got a run across to win it.
I was disappointed. But I also still have great hopes as the Series continues tonight. I hope to still be awake when the last out is made. I hope the Mets win. But as a fan of baseball I hope every game is a nail-biter so that baseball can once again take hold of its historic claim to America’s favorite past-time.
Win or lose, October 27 will always be a great day for me for at least 2 reasons: 1) My first born son came into the world in 1987 and 2) It is the anniversary of one of the greatest baseball games ever played – the infamous 1986 Game 6 Mets-BoSox Bill Buckner miracle Met’s win that left me screaming after 1 AM in the morning.
#1 will always top #2 – but still I hope for more exhausting adrenaline filled nights that create more Met memories to add to my collection. Perhaps I’ll even a get a few more this year.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
You cannot read this passage and think that the Bible only depicts Jesus as a great man or brilliant moral philosopher. The word that Paul uses here is supreme or pre-eminent 1:18). Here are a few illustrations that I found that help to convey what this means for us as followers of Christ seeking to give Him supremacy in our lives.
1. (From Our Daily Bread) – Pam Sneddon was taking a class in photography. For one assignment, she chose her 6-year-old daughter as her subject and asked her to sit on a serene hillside. Close by was an apple tree in full bloom. Pam just couldn’t resist. She gave the tree a prominent place in the picture. Pam was surprised when her instructor pointed out a problem with the photo. The apple tree distracted from her primary focus, the little girl. “See how it catches the eye,” the instructor said. “It competes with your subject. You need to choose one subject and leave the other out.” This observation applies to more than good photography skills. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must center our attention only on Him. Like amateur photographers, we are often attracted to the “apple trees in full bloom.” We pay more attention to our hobbies, friends, family, or work. Christ commands our attention because He is “the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality”. That may mean relegating something we deem to be important to the background–or cropping it out of the picture altogether. Whatever distracts us from Jesus has to go. As the preeminent One, He must be the single focus of our lives.
2. In Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper, our Lord’s hands are empty. And therein lies an inspiring story. Da Vinci dedicated three years to this painting, determined that it would be his crowning work. Before the unveiling, he decided to show it to a friend for whose opinion he had the utmost respect. The friend’s praise was unbounded. “The cup in Jesus’ hand,” he said, “is especially beautiful.” Disappointed at once Da Vinci began to paint out the cup. Astonished, the distinguished friend asked for an explanation. “Nothing,” Da Vinci explained, “must distract from the figure of Christ.” Da Vinci focused attention solely on Christ by removing the distraction of the cup. Having removed the cup, he had to do something with the hand. The left hand was already outstretched just above the table, lifting, as if to bless and command. Now the right hand, also empty, was also outstretched invitingly.
May the Lord more and more have supremacy in our lives – over our spouse, our kids, our job, our favorite teams, our finances, or whatever else has supplanted Him as the Pre-eminent One.
“God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion.”
“Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”
I’ve always loved the prayers that Paul offers in his epistles for the churches that he is writing to. Rather than comment on this prayer to the Colossians I thought I would instead offer a prayer for my church.
A Prayer for Ridgecrest
Father, I am very grateful for this church I have been privileged to work at for 22+ years. I have watched as You have worked in the lives of young men and women and developed ambassadors for the kingdom. I have watched as You have created a hunger to help the helpless as we have worked in Haiti all these years. I have watched as You have created a place which people can call home and where people can find hope.
But now I want to ask that You would do more. More than we can even ask or imagine. Yet I will ask anyway. I want to ask that You use Your Word by Your Spirit to bring about transformed lives. Would You capture our heart’s affection and our mind’s attention as we hear Your Word preached, as we listen to Your Word being taught, as we read Your Word for ourselves. Would you create in us a hunger that can only be satisfied by You. Would You create in us a holy discontent with the things of this world. Would You create in us an eager anticipation for heaven and eternal life.
Would You teach us what it means to abide. Your Word says that “If a man abides in Me and I abide in Him, He will bear much fruit.” Teach us how to abide in Your Word. Teach us how to abide in Your incomparable love. Enable us to grasp just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – and to know this love deep down in our souls, that we might be filled to the measure of all of Your fulness. As we learn to abide may we be a fruit-bearing people that delights your heart and that nourishes the souls of those who are lost and desperate and helpless and hopeless.
And would You teach us how to pray. We confess our prayerlessness. We confess our anemic attempts at intercession. We confess that our prayers lack contrition and unction and fervor. We need You to energize us to pray. We need You to empower our praying. We need You to give us an urgency for prayer.
But mostly, Father, we need You. We have tried to live the Christian life in our own strength. We have tried all the tips for successful Christian living. We have tried to work up the courage to live consistently. We need You… for “apart from You we can do nothing.”
Forgive us for our waywardness. Fuel us each day with Your joy. Fill us each day with Your compassion. May Your Spirit equip us to do Your work and enable us to worship You in a way that brings honor and glory and praise to You and Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a Big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”
I have always loved the way that Paul started his letter to the Colossians. But, every time I read it it always makes me think about how the church that I serve in is perceived by others. When people around our community talk about Ridgecrest Baptist Church what do they say? What is our reputation – both among believers and unbelievers?
Have they heard about our faith? (1:4a) – By definition the church is made up of a community of believers. Our faith is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. But how is this confession worked out in our lives day by day by day. Does our behavior reflect what we believe? As James says, “faith without actions is dead.” Many people are quick to confess that “Jesus is Lord” but nobody around them would ever guess that this true by the way that they live their lives. This is not only a damaging testimony personally but also damaging (and dare I say damning) testimony to the church they represent.
Have they heard about our love for all the saints? (1:4b) – John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Both Paul and John are talking about how believers love and care for other believers. And both seem to indicate that the world will take notice when we demonstrably love one another. Is this what Ridgecrest is known for around Durham? Are we known far and wide as a church that deeply loves one another?
Have they heard about our gospel fruitfulness? (1:6) – Again, what are we known for? Are we known for the great programs that we have at our church? Are we known for our friendliness? Are we known for our great facilities? Or… are we known for the lives that have been changed, the families impacted, the churches planted, the souls saved, the disciples made – the eternal fruit of gospel faithfulness.
What are we known for? I admit that I do not have an answer to this question for my church. I am on the inside looking out. My prayer is that more and more that we will be a church known for our faith in Jesus and our love for one another and our fruitfulness due to gospel faithfulness.
To be content is a wonderful thing. Paul says is 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” So evidently contentment is something that can be learned. John MacArthur does a good job of outlining some things that we need to learn to experience contentment…
First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul had learned to give thanks in every circumstance and he exhorted all believers to do the same. Thankfulness is first of all a matter of obedience (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18), but it is also a characteristic of a Spirit-filled believer (Eph. 5:18-20).
Second, learn to rest in God’s providence. If we truly know God, we know that He is unfolding His agenda and purpose in our lives. He has sovereignly determined each part of His plan for us so that we’ll be benefited and He’ll be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:28). We should not be surprised or ungrateful when we experience trials because we know that God sees perfectly the end result (cf.1 Pet. 4:12-13).
Third, learn to be satisfied with little. Paul had learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. In 1 Timothy 6:6Paul exhorted a young pastor with these words: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive.
Fourth, learn to live above life’s circumstances. That’s how Paul lived. In 2 Cor. 12:9-10 he wrote, “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.”
Paul didn’t take pleasure in the pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested through him in times of infirmity, reproach, persecution, and distress. We also should learn to take pleasure in the power of Christ in times of distress.
Fifth, learn to rely on God’s power and provision. The apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”; and Jesus said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Like Paul, we can learn to rely on Christ’s promise. He faithfully infuses every believer with His own strength and sustains them in their time of need until they receive provision from His hand (Eph. 3:16).
Finally, become preoccupied with the well-being of others. Paul summarized this mindset inPhilippians 2:3-4, where he wrote: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
A self-centered man is a discontented man. But the soul of the generous man, the man who lives for the interests and benefit of others, will find blessing upon blessing in his life (see Prov. 11:24-5;19:17; Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6).
May the Lord teach us contentment as we intentionally put these things into practice.