June 19th 2005
This week I took my son to the doctorfs. As we sat in the pharmacy waiting to pick up his medicine, we sat beside a man who had just been told that he has diabetes. I saw the fear on his face as the pharmacist explained to him the medicine he would be taking. It was my first time to witness such as scene and I can only imagine what a person would look like, feel like the moment they are told they have a more serious disease such as a heart blockage or cancer. The man listened intently to what the pharmacist had to say, hanging off her every word, and agreeing readily to every lifestyle change she suggested. He was clearly at a crisis point. We have all had crisis points in our lives, failing a test, a failed relationship, loss of a job. At these points we are@ready and willing to change to give up ourselves to overcome the crisis. We commit ourselves to what must be done, just as the man in the pharmacy.
My hope for the man is that he is able to stick to his commitment because I know how hard it is. I have so many times committed myself to change, to becoming better only to slowly fall back into the same lifestyle as before. But donft we all do this something, making promises we donft keep, committing to something and then putting our own desires above that commitment when the two are incompatible.
Letfs start with a blanket question.
What is it that brings you the most happiness?
But how do you get there?
Yes it all comes down to commitment. Whatever you want you must be committed to it. To be committed requires self denial. Losing yourself. You must give up to gain the goal. Take a look around you and you will see all the people who are happy and successful are not the ones that simply follow their own way, they are not the blades of grass that are blown in the wind. They are the ones that value their commitments above their personal freedom. The difficulty is to find balance. I commit myself to work but I fail in my commitment to my family life. I commit to study but I fail in my commitment to health. I commit to sport but I fail in my commitment to education. I commit to church but I fail in my commitment to serve God. How can we know how to balance these commitments? How can we pledge ourselves to so many things? Are we not double or triple booking our lives? Itfs too much pressure and it pulls us in too many directions. This is why defining commitment is important. I prefer the definition of alignment. The dictionary defines alignment as to place or lay in a line or to bring into a line ( bringing three or more point into a straight line). We align ourselves to the most important and greatest of all. By doing this and committing ourselves to God first and foremost we must also put the rest of our lives into alignment with the Almighty and thus we achieve balance. So many of us think of only two point lines but our lives are made of many commitments (points). Two points always form a simple line but to bring in more is the true meaning of aligning. The Bible states that God will make our pathes straight. Surely he means this through commitment. He is saying that by following him, being committed to him we start the line but it must be extended and we bring all other aspects of our lives into alignment and thus the path before us becomes straight.
Lets try to illustrate this Now here I have a rope
When you commit yourself and pull as hard as you can the road must become straight. The force between yourself and God will always be stronger than the force of those things making your path crooked. They either must be pulled in line with Yourself and God or be released. You cannot hesitate or let up at all or your path wonft be straight and it will be as easy for you to enter heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. This is something the young ruler couldnft do he wasnft willing to commit himself so much that only lining up with Christ matter. He had told the truth when he stated he had kept the law. Or at least he had offered sacrifice when he broke it. He paid his dues. If he hadnft, Jesus would have responded quite differently. He was a good man He was a good Jew. But he could not commit to Jesus, to God above all else. This is what we must do.
But remember the most important part of committing yourself is self denial. We cannot commit to Christ because we often get in the way of ourselves. We trip over our own two feet. But this is exactly what we must do if we want to be good parents, good husbands, good wives, good friends and most important Disciples of Christ. To be a discipline we must have self discipline in other words discipline ourselves and let God do the same Your rod and staff comfort me.
In order to make the concept of self-denial meaningful, it@might help to think of it in terms of four experiences that grow from such a kingdom spirit. Anyone who values commitment to God above all else will exhibit that attitude through personal spiritual disciplines; faith lived in community, compassion, and integrity during times of suffering.
Ever wish you had the golf game of Ai Miyazato or Tiger Woods? Did you ever wonder how you would feel if you scored the championship goal at the World Cup? Or maybe you've watched a movie and envisioned yourself in the starring role. Most of us have entertained such fantasies at one time or another.
You've probably done the same thing in your spiritual life. Ever see someone walk away from an attempted seduction by drugs, sex, or money and wonder what you would do in the same situation? Ever tell a friend you wish you had the prayer life or Bible knowledge of some mature Christian you know? Or maybe you're worrying about how to deal with financial problems or growing old and dying.
When we watch star athletes or mature Christians function, we sometimes forget what lies behind the little glimpse we get. The golfer who sinks the $800,000 putt has spent thousands of hours on a putting green to get his stroke right. The actress on screen has trained for years, tediously memorized every line, and rehearsed endlessly. The big moment doesn't come without the tedium of daily work at one's craft.
Maturity in spiritual life is no different. Jesus could quote scripture to Satan in the wilderness temptation because he lived with it in regular synagogue study and personal meditation. He could forgive the taunting mob on the day of his crucifixion because he dealt graciously with people every day.
Skilled surgeons, superstar athletes, and faithful disciples have the same thing in common: personal discipline in their fields of expertise. They could not do the spectacular things without sometimes-tedious practice. The extra hours of devotion to
behind-the-scenes, non-glamorous training makes them excel when others fade.
If you want your faith to endure the test, you have to train. Your daily exercise in Bible reading, prayer, and waiting before God prepares you for a crisis. Don't be surprised if you collapse on the course if you are not training daily.
If you want to model Christ's holiness to your children or coworkers, you have to discipline yourself in the "little things" of truthfulness, pure speech, and respectful treatment of others.
These are the daily habits that give you strength for the great test you will face someday.
What you do when put "on the spot" in public view is most often what has become second nature to you when you are not in the spotlight. Crisis, opportunity, or persecution simply brings into the full view of others what is habitual for you. So if youfve ever wondered what people mean when they talk about spiritual disciplines and if you've been curious about the difference they might make in your life, now you know. But these are the daily personal habits of people whose hearts are committed to God. These people know God in private and seek his heart with the desire of a deer panting for water in the desert.
These same people also know, however, that salvation is not a one-on-one experience with God. It is lived in community. The church is the place where people committed to God show that they understand commitment to one another.
we human beings sense a light going on in our heads. We refer to what
happens in those moments as insight or discovery. Sometimes we even
flatter ourselves as having had a "moment of brilliance." A panel of
scientists held a conference in
What some people are just now stumbling onto is what Jesus told us from the start. people need each other in order to live out their commitment to God. They need encouragement, support, and challenge for the sake of their kingdom ambitions.
Children who are not held, played with, and otherwise loved have a significantly greater likelihood of growing up a; disturbed and dangerous people. Psychologists who have studied the frightening rise in violent crime (i.e., mugging, rape, random violence) among teens point to the consistent absence of intact families with nurturing adults. In particular, males growing up without a father to model and teach basic life skills to them tend to do poorly in school and have a high incidence of trouble with the law.
Adults who isolate themselves from the world around them are prone to die much younger than those who cultivate companionship. Theodore I. Kaczynski, the man the FBI believes is the Unabomber, may well become the classic case study of how isolationists are inclined to anger and paranoia; they may not only reject and flee authority but also attack it without remorse.
Disorders such as autism and schizophrenia make it impossible for people to connect with or love others. But there is unambiguous evidence that people without these unchosen problems lose their mental health as a result of choosing to withdraw from others. Even those people who have a good reason for electing solitude (e.g., monks, arctic researchers) are not always unharmed by it; some repudiate their isolation to rejoin a larger community, and others remain secluded only to lose their emotional balance or sanity.
The God who created us has always known and tried to help us understand that he made us to be social creatures. He sets us in families, inclines us to create villages and cities, and places those he saves in a spiritual community called the church. Salvation is
not a correspondence course between each believer and God. It is an experience to be lived out within social settings.
The fact that some sisters and brothers are difficult to know, love, or work with simply proves that community is challenging, not that it is unnecessary. Some relationships are easier and more natural than others. The way we choose to live within community tells a great deal about our relationship with Cod. It exposes any false claim we have made to self-denial for the sake of God and the brothers and sisters he has given us.
"If anyone says, 'I love God, and yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
To know God is to share his concern for helping the neediest, weakest, and most defenseless. It is to take care of sick children, address the needs of people in prison, or put clothes on the backs of people burned out of their homes. Jesus said that anyone doing such things will be counted as having done them to him personally when he returns to judge the world.
personal generosity touch most of us especially accounts of sacrificial
kindness concerning people who have very limited resources themselves.
A little boy in
suits of clothing someone provided him to a friend in the same complex who still had only the clothes on his back.
Going to church, reading the Bible, and praying are good. But they are empty efforts until they move us "to know God" by the lifestyles we adopt in this world. James C. Fehnagen, in Mutual Ministry, brings our responsibility to those who suffer into sharp focus:
When Paul talks about "suffering with those who suffer," he is talking about compassion, that supreme gift without which we are less than fully human. It might well be that the greatest threat to human survival now confronting us is not the loss of energy or the increase of pollution, but the loss of compassion.
We are confronted daily with the pain of human tragedy-the breakup of a family Or the sunken face of a starving child-to such an extent that we soon learn to turn off what we see. In order to cope with our feelings of helplessness, we teach ourselves how not to feel. The tragedy in this response, which is probably mare widespread than we dare believe, is that we also deaden our capacity for love.
For Christians, the cross stands as an ever-present reminder that love and suffering are two sides of the same coin.
Compassion is a practical and essential element to self-denial, for it means that we have learned to value others and be unselfish with things under our control.
4. INTEGRITY IN SUFFERING
The final element necessary to self-denial is suffering for Jesus' sake. Just go back to what the Lord told his disciples after the wealthy ruler had left. He assured them that those who gave up all for his sake would receive eternal life in the age to come and ''homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them persecutions" in the present age. As much as we would like to make suffering an optional component to commitment and faithfulness, Jesus identified it as an essential feature of discipleship.
You've read the stories and seen the live television coverage of the raging fires that periodically hit forests. Thousands and thousands of acres may be scorched. Houses get burned to the ground. It is scary to watch then from the safe distance of a television news report.
But do you realize that these same destructive fires are also incredibly creative? More than that, they are even necessary to keeping the land alive and productive.
Fire can process dead material in forests into nutrients more quickly than decay. Many Pine cones require temperatures of one hundred and twenty degrees or higher to burst open so they can distribute their seeds and create new trees. Some species of birds thrive only in areas regularly burned. Quail, for example, need burned-over areas so the undergrowth will not get too thick and overgrown for them.
Spiritual life is amazingly similar to those fires. Trial is necessary to purify faith and open doors of growth. Don't all of us tend to complain-maybe even whine-about the problems, unexpected challenges, and unfair features of our lives? Maybe complaints similar to the following have escaped your lips:
"It shouldn't be so hard to live an upright life! God shouldn't let Satan tempt us with his wiles and threaten us with his evil powers."
"There are just too many demands," says a high school student. "You can't fit in with some people if you live by Christian standards. They make fun of you. I shouldn't have to go through something like that."
"Just when I thought I had it made," an older person says, "here comes a heart problem I'll have to deal with for the rest of my life. It just doesn't seem fair that God lets things like this happen to his children!"
When you are inclined to think life isn't fair, I challenge you to realize that life works just the way it should. Challenges produce character. Difficulties evoke creativity and compassion. Life's trials make us realize our need for God. Your willingness to deal with
these pressures, temptations, and limitations is nothing more or less than self-denial on a daily basis. The Bible says: "These [trials] have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
Jesus gave up heaven so you and I could.be saved. The Rich Young Ruler couldn't give up his wealth for eternal life. Abraham was willing to slay his precious Isaac for the sake of his faith in God. Paul discarded everything he had ever deemed valuable for
the sake of following Christ. Judas couldn't give up his dream of a militaristic deliverer for Jesus as Messiah. Noah, Sarah, Joseph, Rahab, Samuel, David-the list goes on and on, and somewhere on that list is your name.
Does heaven mean more to you than earth? Is truth more precious than self-deception? Do you love God more than self, Christ more than anything? These are the questions that hold eternity in the balance for all of us.