When Things Do Not Go My Way - Wait a second, I am a Christian, you mean life will not be perfect??

Would it be accurate to say that life can be good, and life can be difficult?  Some days your feet hit the ground and you feel like, Pinky and the Brain, “Today we take over the world!”. Other days it takes every ounce of strength, energy, and discipline in you to drag yourself out of bed?

You go to your regular pizza joint and have the same pizza, and one day it tastes like a slice of heaven and the next the same pizza tastes like a cardboard box.  You go to a lunch time braai with friends and end up staying for toasted sarmies for dinner, and the next time with the same friends, you are back home by three in the afternoon in your PJ’s binge watching something on Netflix.  What does scripture have to say about the ups and downs of life? 

In Christ we are given the kingdom. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” Jesus will give you the active, dynamic, rule and reign of God. In the same way that the curtain in the Holy of Holies is torn top to bottom and God is revealed to all at the moment of Jesus’ death, Jesus is saying every woman, man, and child is given the kingdom.  The kingdom is not reserved for those with special training, for a particular race, with economic status, with a color of skin, or any other of the myriad ways we divide our family. Jesus is living proof that God is with us.

We live in the tension of the ALREADY AND NOT YET of the kingdom.  Daily we can experience the immediacy and the future nature of the kingdom.  Sometimes you pray for someone and they are instantly healed!  Other times you pray for the someone and they get sicker.  But in Christ we are called to live out kingdom life.

Scripture comes with a warning and it runs throughout the gospels.  Many of Christ’s parables speak of us baring fruit, eternal fruit.  Consider the vine and the branches, the talents, the Barren fig tree, the sower and the seed and more… We are commanded by Jesus to live fruitful lives. Christ’s word to us in this area of our lives is strong.  He says it this way, "This is the way it is with you. God's kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. (Mat 21:43 MSG)

That is a frightening thought that the kingdom will be taken back from you.  But you may think, come one, once saved, always saved!  The bible does say if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord you will be saved.  Friends, what we are talking about this morning goes beyond salvation.  We need to move from the Cradle and the Cross to live Kingdom lives today.  But what does it mean to live out a kingdom life?

Let us begin with a look to what scripture tells us about the immediacy and the future nature of the kingdom. The already and not yet…

THE ALREADY OF THE KINGDOM

Jesus tells us to pray “Your Kingdom Come” that kingdom is the future kingdom where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more hunger. No more cancer, no more surgery, no more COVID and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The writer of Hebrews talks to us of the heroes of the faith. I will not go through the entire of Hebrews 11 so let us pick it up from VS 24. But bear in mind that the phrase ‘By Faith…’ appears 16 times in this passage.

We pick it up with Moses:

Heb 11:24-35 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.  (25)  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  (26)  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  (27)  By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.  (28)  By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.  (29)  By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. 

The writer moves on from Moses:

(30)  By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.  (31)  By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.  (32)  And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, (33) who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, (34) quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  (35)  Women received back their dead, raised to life again….

Come on Jesus!  Bring it on!  The ALREADY of the kingdom.  By faith, these people rocked the world!  But as the writer goes on and we begin to see something else happening…

THE NOT YET OF THE KINGDOM

Yes, we will see victories in this life.  But what happens when we do not?  Did God fail us?  Did we do something wrong?  Is our faith not strong enough?  Were our prayers not anointed enough?  Did we not read the bible enough, go to church enough, give enough?  We have read of many victories, read on with me:

Heb 11:35-39 …Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  (37)  They were stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated-- (38) the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  (39)  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.

Nearly all Jews knew the stories of Maccabean martyrs, who were tortured in various ways: scalded to death, having skin flayed off, stretched on the wheel and so on. Regular torture practices of the Greeks included fire, thumbscrews and stretching on a wheel to break the person’s joints, then beating the victim to death (sometimes pounding the stomach as if it were a drum) in that helpless position. The Maccabean martyrs were scourged, whipped, crucified and more.

We just read of Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets and more who conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched flames, escaped the sword; people whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Even people receiving their dead, raised to life again.

The ALREADY of the Kingdom but there is the NOT YET of the kingdom as well that holds things in tension:

There were people who were tortured and refused to be released, they faced jeers and flogging, chained up and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They were destitute, persecuted, and mistreated--all were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.

Do you see the tensions of the immediacy and delayed nature of the kingdom?  Friends, these kingdom lenses are a healthy way to view our faith and scripture.  If we do not, we easily become disillusioned and lose confidence either in our own faith or sadly the faithfulness of our Father. 

You can have all the faith in the world, and Father may still say no to one of your requests?  Let me ask you a question: “How much faith does it take to overturn God’s no?”

I have lived this all too often in my life, we all have.  Having many surgeries and more throughout my life and well-intentioned Christians saying things like you must just have faith, or more faith.  Meaning that my difficulties were of my own doing and somehow my suffering, illness, surgeries and even deaths I have faced were somehow my fault.

Have you ever anyone met a well-meaning but deluded person who says something like, “I know your child is sick, or you have cancer, etc.  let me ask you, is there sin in your life or in your past that has caused this?” It is simply NOT TRUE!!

HOW DO WE DO LIFE WITH THESE TENSIONS?

The writer of Hebrews goes on to give us three ways in which we can live and get through the valleys and mountains of this life:  How we can live life well understanding the already and not yet nature of the kingdom

1 – STEP OUT OF SIN, RUN THE RACE AND PERSEVERE

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  (Heb 12:1)

Is there sin in your life that you need to deal with?

Are you living the kingdom life Jesus called you to?  Remember Jesus words, “God's kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life”? (Matthew 21:43)

Are you persevering? The dictionary defines persevering as, “continuing in a course of action despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”  

Think of Joseph, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Job, Jeremiah, Paul, and others, they all lived persevering faith. Are you ready to throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just do not care or will your live out persevering faith?

2 – FIX YOUR EYES ON JESUS

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Remember that wonderful hymn? “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

If you need direction, remember: He is the lamp unto your feet.

If you are in the storm remember: Peter walking on the water…

If you need peace remember: Jesus spoke peace to the storm…

If you need healing, provision, joy, purpose, it is all found in the person of Jesus! Fix your eyes on Him!

3 – STAY IN SCRIPTURE SO YOU DON’T GROW WEARY AND LOSE HEART

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3) Eugene Pedersen and the Message paraphrase puts it this way, “When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (MSG)

When you are feeling weary and losing heart, stay in scripture!   

Take some time to consider just how do we do this thing called kingdom life?

  • Have faith – Jesus you are with me, on my side in this war for eternal life, and that you will bring the victory.
  • Step out of sin, run the race, and persevere.
  • Fix your eyes on Jesus.
  • Stay in scripture so you do not grow weary and lose heart.

Mail Order Christianity

Do you know when the first commercial mail order business started?  They printed catalogues and people could order goods and they would arrive via the mail. The first mail order business was started in January 1893!  Since then, mail order has developed and given way to way bigger and quicker providers of our wants and needs.

Today we have, Amazon, Loot, Takealot and more who are very efficient.  You can sometimes get your goods within 24 hours.

With COVID and lockdown, companies have been innovative and now you have the Checkers 60 app on your phone.  You can order groceries and household goods and get them delivered within sixty minutes.

We have become accustomed to seeking-and-finding.  With the internet and all these amazing Apps, we have an infinite dispenser of goods to meet our personal needs and wants. And very often we can have them delivered right to our door, and if we pay an extra fee they may arrive in a shorter space of time.  This is how we do business.

A question for us to consider: “Do my personal needs and wants reflect a similar mechanical and business approach to my relationship with God?”

My need or want, energizes my entitlement, my sense of faith becomes my payment for an immediate reaction from God.  And the as my intensity, need and faith increases it is like a double payment for a rushed delivery.  And my expectation is that as my intensity increases what I desire from God will arrive in a short space of time.

In our modern-day Takealot digital mind, I wonder if we think we have the right words, phrases, intentions to connect, procure and convince God to give us what we perceive we want or need?

Let me simply suggest to you that it does not work that way.  God is not a one arm bandit, that we say a prayer, give a tithe, go to church, feed a poor person and the pull the lever and our answered prayer pops out. As we delve into Psalm 23, we will see much of the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’ of the kingdom of God in David’s prayer.

This prayer speaks to us of provision, rest, refreshing, direction, breaking fear, comfort, anointing, blessing and salvation!  But do we read it with our Takealot mail order Christian lenses or our kingdom lenses?

David begins his prayer speaking to us of provision. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1). The Amplified Bible puts it this way: THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.  Why do we have a Shepherd?  To feed us, to guide us, and to shield us. If we need to be shielded it means that we need protection.  Why do sheep need a shepherd?  To protect them from the predators, wolves, bears and lions.

Let me say use a sports metaphor; When you are playing in the game of life, there is an opposing team playing against you.  The good news is that you are on the winning side.

If we put on our Takealot Christianity mail order understanding that God is our infinite dispenser of goods to meet our personal needs and wants when we read this scripture.  All we see is that part that says, “I will lack nothing” Come on Jesus! Yes please!  I do not want to press into the reason I need a Shepherd.

Jesus said, “Seek first…”  The Greek words are  zēteō prōtos;

It is not just seek, like I’m looking for my keys, the meaning is much deeper. Zēteō; is to seek: —deliberating, demanding, inquiring, looking, made efforts, searching, seek after, striving trying, kept trying to obtain.[1] And the word first, prōtos; —before anything else, first of all, of first importance, the first one, first thing, foremost [2] We seek Jesus first and His kingdom first an foremost, as Eugene Pedersen’s paraphrase of scripture the Message put it: Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Mat 6:33)

David goes on and speaks of rest.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, (Psalm 23:2) If we read it simply with our modern-day-digital Takealot Christian mind of mail order we believe we will be stting on a beach in Mauritius drinking something out of a coconut waiting to get to heaven?

Again, we read this and think, oh yes, I can rest.  But Rest from what?  Work, illness, surgery…

And did you see it? The Shepherd, MAKES ME…  Sometimes for our own good we are made to lie down.  Do you know that if a sheep kept wondering away from the flock the shepherd would break its leg.  Bind it up and carry it with him until it learnt to stay with the flock for its own safety. 

You want rest?  You have a part to play… It is not simply a Christian Takealot mail order thing.  Jesus says to us:

Mat 11:28-30Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  (29)  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (30)  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

We must come to Him; we must take His yoke… The word yoke is two words in the Greek. Hē, zugos; and the meaning is much deeper than we think.  It means that we take up all Jesus calls us to, His case, cause, circumstance, companions, condition, experience and followers and we pair with them.

David goes on and speaks of refreshing, He refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:3) And we all need refreshing, don’t we?  I know I most certainly do.  It has been a long road.  This COVID thing, people getting sick and some tragically dying.  With lockdown there is nowhere to hide for people and the realities and frailties of their lives, relationships and work is being exposed.  Personally, having two surgeries close together, crutches, pain, medication.  It wears a person down and I need refreshing.  Are you perhaps in need of some refreshing?

With our Takealot Christian mail order mind-set we think, “Come on Jesus, I know you refresh my soul, as Nike says, Just Do It Already”  

However, Peter says this to us in Act 3:19 “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,”

We have our part to play, we must repent, and again the Greek word there is not simply saying I’m sorry.  The word is metanoeō; and it meant to change one’s mind or purpose.  It is to make a one hundred and eighty degree turnaround with your life.

David continues and speaks of direction, “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3). We need His direction, it is so easy to stray onto the wrong path, walk through the wrong door.  But if we stay focused on Jesus, He will guide us in the way we should go.

Again, we see the tensions of the kingdom and scripture.  We want the Lords direction when we are going the way we want to go.  What happens if He leads you down a path that you do not want to go down? This is when we must heed Solomons words, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (6) in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Pro 3:5-6)

The Lord breaks our fears when we are in the darkest places in our lives, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; (Psalm 23:4) He breaks fear in our lives. Even when you are in the Valley, He is with you.  That means you still must go through the valley.  With your modern-day-digital mind of Takealot mail order Christianity in place, you pray and expect deliverance from the valley. In my experience, very often He does not save you from or out of the valley, He saves you through it.  That is what this scripture is saying, even though I walk through the valley, you are with me.

If Jesus simply delivers you from the valley when you pray why would Peter say to us:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  (7)  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  (8)  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  (9)  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1Peter 5:6-9)

David gives us assurance that He will comfort us who mourn, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)  Even Jesus Himself says we will mourn and be comforted, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).  We must understand that, Jesus will bring us comfort, but it also means you are going to have something to mourn about…

Then we go onto anointing. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)  You anoint my head and my cup overflows! Yes please!  Come on Jesus bring on that anointing!

What about what David says just before this?  You mean I will have enemies?  Um, yes you will.  If you believe in Jesus and stand on what He says, you will have enemies. If it is all anointing and cups overflowing when you come to Jesus why would the Lord say, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Josh 1:9)

Its not all about anointing, there will be enemies and you will need to be strong and courageous!

However, there is blessing on the Lord, as we continue in this prayer of David, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” (Psalm 23:6) And yes, we have blessing being children of God, His goodness and love are unfailing and unending.  And we need that goodness and love, if we didn’t why would the Apostle Paul pray for us in this way? I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (18) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (19) and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  (20)  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, (21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:16-21)

There is blessing but it does not negate that you will go through difficulties, but in Christ Jesus our salvation is secure because as David says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6) Our salvation is secure in Jesus.  However it does not negate the fact that we live in a fallen world and will still go through troubles.  Paul writes to us and says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  (39)  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all (fallen ACP) creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39) What He is saying is that while we face death, demons, powers, and all sort of things in fallen creation, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus.

As I close off could I encourage you to take off your Christian Takealot mail order lenses and prayerfully read this prayer once again with your kingdom lenses.  As you do, may His kingdom come and His will be done in your life.

Psalm 23 - A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

 

[1] Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries: updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

[2] Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries: updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

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