Cast away by society, we await rescue

We live in a world that hates Jesus.

By proxy, if you are a faithful follower of Jesus, the world hates you, too.  In a bout of self-examination, I think that’s the measure of one’s relationship with the Lord.  When I consider my own life, I find myself lacking.  How can the world really hate me when I spend so much time striving to better myself in it, taking advantage of it, and trying to impress it?

In the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character finds himself alone on an isolated tropical island with nothing but a volleyball to keep him company.  He spends four years surviving and waiting to be rescued and taken home.

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a similar predicament.  In a world that is so anti-God, those who are truly living for God find themselves stranded, separated, and cast away from the rest of the world. The only solace is found in the knowledge that the Christian has something much better than a volleyball to keep him or her company.  The Bible says that the Lord is with you wherever you are.  The Christian’s purpose on this earth is to make disciples of all nations, and that means coming under fire because of your faith.

Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us to “be strong and courageous… for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Like Hanks’ character, Christians must survive, living according to the Word and will of God in a world that tells us to live according to our own will.

Also like the character, the followers of Jesus must wait to be rescued and taken home.  The Christian rock group Petra had a hit in the early-1980s that said “We are strangers. We are aliens. We are not of this world.” That is true. This world hates Jesus, and thus hates His followers.  The Christian’s home is in Heaven with the Lord, and that’s why Christians must wait to be rescued and taken home.

First Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the Lord Himself will descend, and “we who are alive and remain will be caught up…to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”  Talk about being rescued!

I do not know how many years Christians will have to survive on the earth.  However, the Lord will rescue those who follow Him, and the rewards will be great.

In the meantime, Christians must not worry about being cast away from a society inebriated in sin.  As Christians, we must be strong and courageous, unafraid of separation and disapproval from a finger-pointing world.  After all, we have God on our side, with a promise never to leave us or forsake us.  In the ninth inning of history, followers of Jesus must rise up and draw a line in the sand.

This world glories in the compromising of principles for the sake of harmony.  Denominations and organizations masquerading as Christian have signed over what they know to be truth in order to get along with those who ignore the truth.  Christians must not be fooled by the rhetoric of peace and harmony from those who have no true interest in it.

Truth is found in the Word of God, and it tells us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  2 Timothy 3:12

So I come back to self-examination.  Am I persecuted?  The Bible says that is the mark of one’s godliness.  I continue to seek my own will, and that has to stop.  All Christians need to continuously look in a mirror and ask themselves these questions:  Have I been cast away by the world?  Am I seeking intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, or am I fearful of what others might think?

No one ever said living for Jesus was easy.  The Lord Himself said that we must take up the cross, and the cross was a very painful persecuting death at the hands of the world.

We must not fear for our own earthly lives, because Jesus Christ will rescue us.

The dangers of cyclical Christianity

I saw a movie the other day.  A man left a drug and alcohol rehabilitation, supposedly clean and sober and off to face the world.  Not ten minutes later in the movie, that man was back at the clinic he had just left to start over.

He had gone from drunk, to rehabilitated, to giving in and being drunk again.  Now, back at rehab, he began the cycle again.

There is a parallel in the lives of many Christians.  It’s what I call cyclical Christianity.  That is, a faith that is revived every now and then by some spiritual high.  Those spiritual highs are good, but one must never be so unbalanced spiritually that they rely on these highs.  It’s predetermined rededication, and while it might seem genuine on the surface, it’s dangerous and unhealthy for our individual relationships with Jesus Christ.

When I was in junior high and high school I got a good taste of this in my church’s youth group, which suffered from the “last night” syndrome.

At a summer camp in 1991 our youth minister confronted the entire group on the last night of camp.  There had been a lot of misbehavior, unbecoming of Christians, and he was blunt in his assessment of where we, as a group, were spiritually.  As a result, many people saw the error of their ways and repented.  Jesus Christ was glorified that night.

A friend and I thought that message was very appropriate.  We had been discouraged by some of the things we saw, so we warmly dubbed it the “You suck” speech. The new attitude of the youth group held out for a little while, but the spiritual high wore off.

I remember an event in February 1992 called Disciple Now Weekend.  The main event of these annual weekends, so to speak, was the rally on the last night (Saturday).  That’s when the time of dedication occurred.  The weekend was very important in my life, but looking back I find another example of cyclical Christianity.

The students were dismissed by grade level, but the sophomores and juniors stayed longer than the others (I was a sophomore).  We had just been asked to consider signing a painting of Jesus, the theme of the weekend being to “Be the One,” the theme derived from Al Denson’s song of the same name.

Being the one amounted to standing firm in our faith in a world soaked with sin.  Not floundering, but standing up for Jesus Christ in our schools, with our friends, in our daily lives.  I signed it, so did everyone else in attendance.  It was special to me, but amongst most it was the thing to do.

I’m not telling this story to judge anyone else who signed the painting.  I just know the history of the youth group after that.  There had been a lot of talk at the time about cliques in our youth group.  Sub-sections of friends that hung out together.  There had been disunity.  Now people were talking about breaking down those barriers.  It was a very good thing. I had been as guilty as anyone.  I’ve never been very good at exposing myself to those who aren’t close friends.

So that night a lot of people cried.  Decisions were made, commitments determined.  However, two months later at our Spring Break retreat we needed another spiritual high.  The cliques were as real as ever.  The “last night” syndrome was in full effect once again.  That last night was a deja vu of Disciple Now, a deja vu of the summer camp.  It was cyclical Christianity.

The disease of ups and downs is by no means new.  After their exodus from Egypt the Hebrews’ obedience to God went back and forth, back and forth.

They would obey God, then forsake Him.  Before you knew it they were worshipping Baal (or insert any other false god here).  The Lord would allow them to be overtaken, either by the Babylonian empire or someone else, and they would no doubt blame Him.  They would do their time, but because God loves them, He would raise someone up to lead the people back to the narrow road.  It happened over and over.

I ask you now.  What in your life is taking the place of God?  Your job?  School?  Your own selfish desires?  Are you 100-percent dedicated to Jesus Christ right now.

Cyclical Christianity is all too familiar to me.  I don’t go into exile for seventy years or anything, but there are times in my life where my obedience to the will of God has been on a week to week basis.

I struggle with being obedient.  But then I go to church, hear someone speak, read something, or am just plain convicted.  I repent of whatever I’ve been doing and for a while I’m really walking with God, only to eventually go astray again.

I’ve got a feeling it’s like that for most Christians, and therein lies the tragedy and weakness of the church. Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.  All too often we are trying to walk off on our own.

The remedy for daily discipleship of Jesus Christ is to put on the full armor of God.  Look at Ephesians 6:10-19 and examine the things Paul instructs us to do.  Be strong.  Stand firm.  Resist.  Gird up your loins with truth.  Put on righteousness.  Prepare yourself with an attitude of peace.  Have faith.  Guard your mind with the Word of God.  Pray at all times.  Be alert.  Persevere.  Make the gospel known.

The guideline for behavior as a follower of Christ lies in the cliched question:  What would Jesus do?  It’s not about a bracelet or a bumper sticker.  It’s about obedience and the glorification of Jesus.  Does your behavior glorify God?  Are you living up to your responsibilities as a Christian (Ephesians 4:1)?

My high school chemistry teacher used to tell us to RDTP.  Read the darn problem.  That’s what we need to do.  We can read about every problem we might have in Scripture.  That’s also where the solution to all of those problems are.  After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Read the darn problem, then recognize the solution so you can be the disciple that Christ wants you to be.

We are living in precarious times, which means that, more than ever, we must not live in ups and downs.  Cyclical Christianity goes against everything the Bible teaches.  God is constant, and we must be constantly seeking.

A gift for the Father

Today is Father’s Day, a day set aside in our country to honor dads.  This particular Father’s Day is special for me for a few reasons.  No matter your family situation, though, this can be a special day for you if you are a Christian.

After all, all Christians have at least one Father. Jesus told the disciples at the last supper, “If you know me you know the Father.”  There is no better gift you can give God the Father than to commit to know His Son Jesus Christ better.

In this world of believing only what you can see, feel, taste, and touch, it takes faith to have a relationship with Jesus. Jesus wants a relationship with you, and even if He has a relationship with you, He wants a stronger one.  This is a reality that all of us forget about sometimes. A lot of people claim to be Christians, claim to have a relationship with God, but don’t really show it in their daily lives.

Sometimes we consider things too hard.  Perhaps obedience to the Lord would make us too uncomfortable or offend someone. Well I’m here to tell you today from personal experience that there is no better feeling than knowing you are doing the will of God.  There is no greater peace than that which comes from Jesus Christ. If you are obedient to whatever He would have you do, the peace and satisfaction that comes from knowing it is pleasing to the Father is greater than any worldly discomfort you might feel in the interim. God had been telling me to do something for several years now, and I had acknowledged, then ignored, that command.

Well I finally obeyed God recently, and the old adage of a burden, a weight being lifted is true indeed. Following the will of God may make the world think you’re crazy.  Consider that a compliment!  To live a holy life, as God intends, we must be different.  Holy means set apart.  Christians should be set apart from the rest of the world.  We are in the world, but not OF the world. When people questioned the actions and words of the apostles during the early stages of the Church, they responded:  “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) That’s the true test of your faith.

Who are you obeying?  God?  The world?  Does the world consider you different?  Examine yourself and ask “Can anyone I know easily tell by my words and actions that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of my life?” God has given us the ultimate gift already, but this Father’s Day consider your relationship to your Heavenly Father.  There is no greater gift you can give Him than your whole self.

Life shouldn’t be a roller coaster

I got to thinking about Thunder Road today.  It’s a big roller coaster at Carowinds, the amusement park that sits on the border of North and South Carolina, just south of Charlotte.

It’s an amusing couple of minutes.

The thing is, you get in your “car,” for lack of a better term, and immediately go around a turn slowly.  You begin climbing this big hill, then you know what happens…

You go down the other side of this big hill, the momentum of which takes you up and down subsequent smaller hills.

Like I said, it’s an amusing couple of minutes.

Lately I got to thinking about my own life, and I was mulling over a fact that I’ve known for a long time.  I’m very susceptible to up and down swings in my relationship with God.

Anything having to do with a relationship with God has to do with life in general, which brings me to the title of this column.  Life shouldn’t be a roller coaster.

God doesn’t work in ups and down.  He is constant, everything about Him.  He has, is, and always will be loving, just, peace, comfort, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

God doesn’t spend a week with you, convince you to fix something in your life, then leave for a month only to come back and tell you to fix the same things again.

Satan learned long ago that the best way to get to Christians is not to pummel them bad, bad, bad.  Sure, you see cases like that sometimes, but the best way for Satan to get to you is to make you content with your current situation.

When you are content you let your guard down.  You begin to get confident, believing that you can handle things.  That’s how a lot of people who seem to be on fire for the Lord flame out.

Here’s a basic truth to try and live by every day.  You can’t handle things.  If you could, there would be no need for Jesus Christ.

Here’s another truth.  A personal relationship with God that flourishes consists of a believer putting complete faith in Christ, giving everything they have.

When I think of the apostle Paul, I have to wonder if I’ve ever had that great a relationship with God.  After his conversion, he pretty much had nothing, yet he went everywhere preaching the gospel.  He was imprisoned, persecuted, even killed, but during his life he gave all he had to Jesus, and look what Jesus did with Paul.

It’s hard to think of another servant of God in the church era of history that has been more influential in bringing people to Christ.  Paul is still witnessing today through his letters in the New Testament.

There’s a 4Him song going on a decade old that goes, “I want to be a man that you (God) could write about a thousand years from now.”

If someone were to write about my relationship with God, I have doubts as if someone reading it could be inspired at all to come to know Jesus.  Yet Paul, who lived two thousand years ago, wrote words inspired of God that have led millions to Christ.  That’s a testimony.

Chances are, no matter what you do in this earthly life, you won’t be leading millions to Christ.  But what about one, two, or three.

One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 10:31.  It goes a little something like this:  “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”  Now check this out.

“By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  John 15:8
Jesus is the Vine, we are the branches.  But what kind of fruit are we bearing?  Up and down Christianity doesn’t cut it.  God is all about consistency.

We will never bear fruit until we learn to live by the aforementioned truths, right out of the Word of God.  We’ve got to give all we have to God.  I don’t trust myself to bear fruit, that’s why I just need to give everything to God and trust Him to bear fruit through me.

Here are some questions I need to start asking myself.  We all should.  Do I have a sense of urgency in leading people to Christ?  Do I love everyone the way Christ loves everyone?

The old adage of not being able to take anything with you to heaven is only partly accurate.  The Bible talks about believers storing up treasures from the Christ-like works we do on earth.  I want to be selfish in this way only.  I want lots of those treasures.  But in order to be selfish that way, I need to be selfless every other way, giving everything to the Lord.

Lines for roller coasters are too long any way.  God is always there, and always ready for you to begin serving Him.