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Monday, February 6, 2012

Be real

The Bad News:
·        A high school football player with a lot of promise signs with a national powerhouse college.  While that promise remains, he loses out on the starting job.  He’s frustrated, but continues to work.  Whenever he does see the field, he performs okay, but never well enough to permanently win the job.  Year-after-year, he’s mired behind a guy who most believe will be an NFL superstar, but nothing is really expected of him anymore.  He considers leaving the school, but doesn’t want to give up.  Doesn’t want to quit.  Finally, he wins the starting job.  He’s good, but not great.  When the NFL draft occurs, this kid who once had so much promise, isn’t taken until the end of the 6th (out of 7) round.  People drafted this late rarely even make the team.  This kid works hard, though, and wins a spot on the team…as a third-string scrub.
·        A no-name kid from Missouri leaves college two credits short of graduation to live the dream in California of being an actor.  This works out well for him.  Jobs he earns: Refrigerator delivery man.  A driver of strippers to their destinations.  The guy in the chicken suit handing out restaurant fliers on the sidewalk.  These are not acting jobs.  These are actual jobs.  He finally lands a commercial here and there before scoring his first credited role in a movie…where he earns a total of $38.
·        A writer is frustrated.  He has only sold short stories to various magazines for no more than a few hundred dollars.  Novels have been rejected left and right.  He’s teaching to make ends meet.  He, his wife, and his first child are living in a trailer park.  The novel he has been working on sucks.  He can’t get it to work.  Finally fed up, he throws the manuscript in the trash.

Who are these people?  Does it really matter?  We’ve heard stories like these before.  It seems everyone has one.  “Person” struggled through a life of trials and suffering before making it big.  “Person” was never good enough growing up, but kept working and became a star.  “Person” started at the bottom of the industry before working their way to the top and owning the business.  We applaud these people for their perseverance and hard work…because that’s what it takes to do these great things.  Hard.  Work.

No professional athlete is a pro by accident.  Yes, their athletic ability is genetic, but their talent comes from hard work.  Yes…actors, bands, writers, etc. usually catch a “lucky break” in order to hit the big time, but almost none of them arrive there without numerous bumps, bruises, and hits to their self-confidence.  Most millionaires started at the very bottom and worked their way to the top.

There’s a misconception to the “American Dream.”  Americans today believe that they’re entitled to fortune and glory.  That’s not what the American Dream ever was, is, or will be.  In the American Dream, we are allowed to work.  The harder we work, the closer we get to fortune and glory.  Quitters need not apply.  The people that give up when things get hard will never see that reward.

Many Christians carry similar misgivings about their walk with Christ.  They believe that once they accept God into their hearts, they’re entitled to a free and easy life.  That’s not what the Christian life ever was, is, or will be.  Christians will encounter hardships.  Those that fight through those hardships will be rewarded.  Those that turn their back on God when times get tough will not witness His grace.

James 1: 2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”


The Ugly Truth:
Wait…WHAT?!  Consider it JOY when life sucks?

Yes.

“You learn from your mistakes.”  “You grow up when times are hard.”  We hate this line of thinking.  We hate it because we know in order to learn or become a better person, bad things have to happen to us.  Who wants to sign up for that?

Here’s the thing…nothing that’s worth having comes easy.  Nothing.  You have to work.  No joke…as I typed that last sentence, a Gatorade commercial aired in the other room.  In it, you see star athletes like Dwyane Wade and Serena Williams working their BUTTS off…in the gym.  In the weight room.  Lifting, running, training.  Sweat is POURING off of them.  The narrator says, “In life, you get what you put into it.”  Then it shows them schooling opposing players on their respective courts.  You have to endure pain and suffering in order to reap the riches at the end of the road, and as I’ve said in past posts, that road will be bumpy.     See…here on earth, others want those same riches, so they’re going to do everything in their power to knock you down in order to get it themselves.  Spiritually, the closer we get to those riches, the more Satan is going to try to blow up the road.

I mentioned a great blog last week—Jenn Roth’s.  A few days ago, she shared a video entitled “Suffering and the Mission of God” by Francis Chan.  If you have 34 minutes, it’s amazing stuff.  Powerful stuff.  At one point, he says, “If you’re not suffering, you shouldn’t be at peace.  You should be thinking, ‘How come no one’s attacking me?  Why isn’t Satan attacking me?’  Probably because he doesn’t have to.”

If we’re not living a God-centered life, Satan has little interest in us.  Some may think that’s great.  If he’s not interested in us, then he won’t attack us.  If he doesn’t attack us, we won’t hurt.

I return (briefly) to that third-string NFL player.  You think anyone is worried about him?  Think the other teams are game-planning for him?  His life is easy.  He’s on an NFL team.  He plays only during practice…which means he’s rarely hit.  No pain.  Plus, he gets to cash a decent paycheck every week.

Yet ALL he wants is to be the starter.  He WANTS teams game-planning ways to beat the crap out of him.  He WANTS to get hit.  He WANTS the pain.

This makes sense to us because it’s sports.  Because it’s the “American Dream.”

Most of us are willing to work hard for the things we want, if we want them bad enough.  As kids, we wanted the newest toy, but our parents wouldn’t buy it for us.  Instead, we were told that if we did a whole bunch of chores that we hated doing, they would give us the money needed to buy the toy.  So we worked.

In high school, we were told that if we wanted to go to college, we had to have “these” grades and “this” ACT score.  So we worked.

In college, we were told if we wanted to good job, we had to take “these” classes and do “this” well.  So we worked.

In our career, we were told that if we wanted promotions and pay raises, we had to come in early and stay late.  We had to out-perform our co-workers.  So we worked.

Yet in our faith, we want it to be easy.  We want God to just hand us everything.  When He doesn’t, when trials and pain and suffering come our way, what do we do?  Do we smile and say, “Nice try, Satan, but I’m going to come out of this bigger and stronger than ever!” or do we throw our hands in the air and say, “What the crap, God?”

Another great line from Francis Chan: “Almost every book in the New Testament talks about suffering, yet we’re surprised when the trials come.”

Being a Christian is supposed to be easy?  Easy?  Have we read the Bible?  Have we studied the men of God?  Very few of their (earthly) stories end happily.  Nearly every one of Jesus’s disciples was arrested, tortured, and executed for his beliefs.  You want to complain about your trials?

My sister-in-law was a strong, Christian woman.  She died on Jan. 9 from a brain tumor at the age of 29.  She left behind a grieving husband and two children (5 and 3).  Earlier this week, a friend of a co-worker died in her sleep of a suspected heart attack.  She was 35.  She left behind a grieving husband and three children (the youngest of which is in kindergarten).  Another Christian co-worker has been battling breast cancer all year.  My wife’s Christian grandmother had a pretty severe stroke this summer.  My Christian grandfather has been suffering from Parkinson’s for years.  My Christian dad hasn’t been able to land a steady job for three years.  My Christian wife and I are unable to have children.  You want easy?  It would be easy for me or any of these people to have their faith rocked.  To turn our backs on God.

It would have been easy for Jesus’s disciples to quit.  The people back then thought up forms of torture the sickest minds alive today could never dream of…and performed them on these Godly men.  All they had to do to make it stop?  Renounce God.  Reject Jesus.

Think about that for a second.  The backbone of faith is believing…not thinking, not suspecting…believing in something you cannot see, hear, or touch.  These men had never seen God.  They had never spoken with Him.  They had never touched Him.  They spent a lot of time with Jesus, who said that He was the son of God.  They didn’t have to believe Him.  They didn’t have to believe.

But they did.

And they died for it.

Makes our issues seem pretty small, doesn’t it?

You want to talk suffering?  One word: Jesus.  Who, in the history of time, has suffered more?  Think of how heavy the weight of some of our days can be.  Stress.  Over-worked.  Gossip.  A fight with a loved one.  Scolded by the boss (or parent or spouse).  It gets heavy, and it weighs us down.  Jesus carried this weight (and more) for all of mankind.

Scoreboard!!

When I watched the Francis Chan video, there was a moment about 17-18 minutes in that was an absolute gut-check for me.  I’m paraphrasing here, but he said, “What do we, as Christians, always say?  I want to be like Jesus, I want to be like Jesus, I want to be like Jesus.

“Yet we don’t want to share His sufferings.”

Ouch.

Trials are a part of life.  If we are serious about following God, then Satan is going to do everything he can to throw us off the path.  If you have Satan’s attention, then you’re doing something right.  If you’re doing something right, God has all kinds of glory waiting for you.


The Good News:
·        During the next season, the third-string nobody moved his way up to second-string by out-working everyone else.  The team had a special parking spot next to the building where the winner of the “Hardest Worker in Practice” was allowed to park.  This guy won that spot twice.  When the starter was knocked out of a game with an injury, he stepped in…and never let the job go.  He has gone on to win three Super Bowls and is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.  His name is Tom Brady.
·        After a couple of bit roles in movies, the actor landed a small role in “Thelma and Louise.”  The role only paid $6,000, but he stole the scenes he was in, which paved the way to his first starring role in the movie “Kalifornia,” where he earned $500,000.  This role caught a lot of people’s attention, and soon he was rejecting star roles to play in his choice of movies.  His next role was in “Se7en,” where he earned $5 million.  His name is Brad Pitt.
·        The author, depressed, fell asleep.  Little did he know that his wife walked in, saw a manuscript in the trash, and started reading it.  When he woke up, she handed it back to him and told him to keep working.  There was a good story on those pages.  He went on to finish it and shopped it to publishing companies.  Meanwhile, his small family was to the point where they couldn’t pay the bills.  The electricity would be turned off for a month so they could pay the water bill.  Water would be turned off for a month so they could eat.  Finally, his editor called him.  A publishing company had decided to publish his story…and paid him $400,000.  That book was “Carrie.”  The author has gone on to sell a few more books since then.  His name is Stephen King.

These are all earthly treasures for hard work and perseverance.  Imagine what God has in store for us spiritually for struggling through pain and suffering and coming out stronger on the other side.

There’s more to the chapter of James quoted above.  Verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

I won’t type it all here, but read Romans 8: 18-27.  Amazing.  Amazing.  How do you not get fired up when reading something like this?  The Bible promises suffering to anyone that follows God.  Got that?  Promises suffering.  At the same time, God also promises grace and glory to all who persevere through that suffering.

One last quote from Francis Chan:  “Sometimes we need to suffer just so we can look at our lives and know if we’re for real.”

I love, love, love that line.  Life is full of tests.  You’re always preparing for the next one.  At school.  At home.  At work.  In your relationships with friends, family, and God.  The only way you know where you stand is by taking those tests and seeing how you respond to them.  Are you for real…or just talk?

I am a teacher.  A lot of people think that a teacher’s job begins and ends in that classroom.  Real teachers believe differently.  My students are going to learn how to become better writers by sitting through my class 170+ times a year…but they’re going to learn more about becoming an ADULT by watching me for five minutes when they bump into me at Wal-Mart.  I am not saying this with arrogance, I am saying this with truth—I am a role model for my students.  I should be.  Every adult in their life should look at their roles the same way.  For some of these students, I see them longer during the day than their own father will.  Sometimes it’s because he’s not in the picture at all.  Sometimes it’s because he works late.  Regardless, some students will look at me in order to see what a grown man is supposed to be like………so when they watch me, what will they see?  I am always conscious of this, and I act accordingly.  Whether I see a student or not, I always act as if one is watching.  Because one always is.

This mindset is especially true for Christians.  Non-Christians watch Christians like hawks.  Some are curious about the Christian life…so they watch.  Others are watching…waiting for when we screw up, so they can pounce.  So they can call us frauds.  These people are not paying attention when our lives are happy-go-lucky.  Anyone can be a good representation of God when times are going well.  Non-Christians are watching, waiting to pounce when we hit a bump in the road.  They want to see how we deal with the rough patches life throws at us.

Imagine:  You are not a Christian, but your best friend is.  He gets an A on his test…and praises God.  Is that going to draw you to God?  Your friend hits the game-winning shot…and praises God.  He gets married…he has a child…he gets the promotion at work.  Praise, praise, praise.  Are you drawn to Him yet?  Now imagine that he fails that test…he is cut from the team…has his heart broken…wife has a miscarriage…is let go from his job………and still praises God.  Are you more drawn to Him now?

Someone is always watching.  When they watch you, do they see God?  Even in times of pain?


So…Now What?:
John 14: 25-27.  Jesus is talking.  He says, “‘All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”

God will not abandon you.  Do not believe for one second that when you are suffering, He has turned His back on you.  Quite the contrary.  He’s suffering with you.  See…we don’t want to share Jesus’s suffering, but He willingly shares ours.

So…what do we do?  When pain strikes us, what do we do?  Bite our lip and take it?  Say thank you?  No…we’re still human, and it’s okay to hurt.  It’s okay to accept that pain.  But instead of turning away from God, instead of taking it on by yourself, turn to God.

My brother wrote this last week and I loved it.  “Rather than questioning God’s intentions, petition Him to reveal His character in the situation.  ‘Lord, help me see Your goodness in this.’  ‘Father, show me Your love through my trials.’  ‘Holy Spirit, be my Comforter.’  This honors Him and benefits you as you ‘meet trials of various kinds.’  Then, request that He use what you have learned about Him to encourage not only yourself but also the people with whom you interact.  You will be blessed, others will likewise be blessed (thus doubling your own blessing), and God the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit will receive all the glory.”

The world can be scary.  You will be attacked.  You will endure hardships.  Bad things don’t happen to good people…bad things happen to all people.  It’s the good people who step out into the world and meet this suffering head-on, showing God all the way.  Be.  Real.  Do not let your hearts be broken and do not be afraid.

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