As we face an unsettling & uncertain 2021, I believe we have some real certainties in our lives. You can certainly know this morning that Jesus loves you, that He has a good pleasing and perfect plan for you, that His mercies are made new each day.
I pray what follows will be of some encouragement for you. I know that each one of you has your own story. Your own triumphs and failures. Your own victories and losses. Your own valleys and your own mountain tops. We live in a fallen and broken world.
Jesus Himself says to us:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 14:1; 27 & 16:33)
He says all this to us because He knows that we will go through the ups and downs of this life. But let me assure you that He remains on the throne no matter what. COVID-19 has not surprised Him, the economic issues, what we face in our world today had not dethroned Him at all.
Whatever it is you may be going through in this moment, remember that He is with you, He will never leave or forsake you, He loves you so much that He died for you! And He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the end. And in the end, it is all going to be ok. We are called to persevere in our faith; How do we do that? Though knowing who we are in Christ.
We all have our own stories; I want to start off with a little of mine and then unpack for us what scripture says about all this.
As you may or may not know I had knee surgery to repair torn menisci in my knee early in November. I saw my Orthopedic Specialist on Tuesday and it seems I will need further surgery to repair my knee. This will help and protect the joint and avoid a knee replacement. My left knee is my ‘good’ knee so we need to do all we can to keep it strong.
Another surgery?? Really?? This will be my 52nd. In the last few weeks I could feel that it was not healing properly, it has been sore and uncomfortable. I still needed crutches for stairs and the full leg brace to walk anywhere out of the house. So, when I saw the specialist it came as no surprise to me that he would need to do something about it. I thought it may be medication or an injection, I never thought it would be yet another surgery.
I am honestly ok with it. It simply is what it is. I cannot walk around like this, so something needs to be done. And most importantly Jesus is walking in this valley with me. I know Father has a plan. Most people who hear about this are shocked. They ask things like, “why?” “How do you do it?” “This is ridiculous”, one friend was angry and said, “What the heck! I would be livid and demand answers from your doctor!”
How do you get through this? Well, I start chapter one of my book Becoming with a true account of a man who encounters Kirk Douglas in an elevator, and he asks him, “Man, do you know who you are?” This is one of the key questions to our life and a persevering faith. Where does your identity and sense of self-worth lie?
You want to have persevering faith? You need to know who you are in Christ. Where does your identity lie…? I want to start by looking at where your identity is not found, or at least should not be found…
YOUR IDENTITY IS NOT FOUND IN WHAT YOU HAVE AND DO
I drive a fancy car, live in a fancy house, have a fancy job, have a fancy qualification, have a fancy title, pastor, Bishop, reverend, Dr, Prof, have fancy clothes, watches, phones, computers, TV’s, and I have a fancy haircut!
If your identity lies in these things when the tempest of life hits and you need to have your 52nd surgery, or you get sick, or things get difficult financially; It is very hard to get through the valley that can be life. Why? Because what and who are you when difficulties strike? When all the fanciness doesn’t bring any comfort.
Who are you without all the fanciness?
Jesus gives us a powerful passage to consider:
Luke 12:15-20 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (16) And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. (17) He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' (18) "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19) And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' (20) "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
We live in the world where the thought is that he who dies with the most toys wins, bigger is better, more is the way to go and fanciness is considered fantastic!
Jesus gives us a way of breaking the grip that all that fanciness has on our lives.
Mat 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (20) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In other words, do not let your possession possess you. Do not live for the things of this world. Do not consider having fanciness part of your identity. Where is your heart? In your fanciness or in Christ Jesus?
YOUR IDENTITY IS NOT FOUND IN WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU
My life rings often true as a modern-day Greek tragedy. However, my identity is not found in being a victim, or of 52 surgeries! A while ago I sat with some young leaders from other cultures and was asked to share my story. As I did, they wept. They thought because I was white and a male, everything just went well for me.
While we were away we met a professor who was staying in the same complex as us. I went to the shops with him in the car and we were chatting. As we spoke, I stopped and said to him, “I hope this is not depressing you, you may need a glass of wine after this trip” What I did do was unpack some of the hope I have and why, hopefully Jesus continues to work in his heart.
Consider Paul’s well-known passage to the Corinthian church. He boasts about his suffering to make his point… Just because you are a Christian not everything is light and life!
2Co 11:23-27 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
His identity was not in what happened to Him! He knew who he was in Christ Jesus. He introduces himself in many of his letter this way:
Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- Tit 1:1 …, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness--
His identity was not found in what happened to him. My identity is not found in what happens to me. The same is true for you!
YOUR IDENTITY IS NOT FOUND IN WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF YOU
Now this is not an excuse to just behave like an ingrate and think that you can get away with it by saying, “Well God made me this way so, stiff! I don’t need to change!” That is a blatant lie from the evil one! We are called to a life where grace and mercy cross sect with righteous and holiness. We are called to be salt and light to the world. To live lives that attract people unto Jesus. But even when we endeavor to live that kind of life, Jesus said because of me you will people will think badly of you...
Matthew 10:22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
Think about it. If you truly live for Christ, you may very well ruffle some feathers. His ways are not very popular in this culture of secularism, humanistic rights, and under the guise of freedom, if you feel it, it is ok for you…
If you speak out, you will have struggles with people. Simply sharing with an unbeliever, the basics of your faith could cause this to happen. I give 10% of my income away. I will not have sex with a woman unless I am married to her. When I am billed wrongly and a supermarket or restaurant, I will not take it as my benefit by go back and pay what I owe. I know that I am a sinner, I have eternal life because Jesus died for my sins. I give my time to feeding the poor. I get up every Sunday and go and serve in my church. I go into informal settlements and give my clothes away to the poor.
Some people may think you are a little crazy… But your identity does not lie in what people think of you…
Jesus said it this way:
Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Friends, you may be having a hard time but remember…
Your identity is not found in what you have & do, in what happens to you or in what people think of you. If your identity lies in these things you will struggle to have persevering faith and when the proverbial paw-paw hits the fan, life will begin to unravel. If we want to find peace and purpose when we face our 52 surgery, when life begins to enter the valley, our identity needs to be in Christ Jesus our Lord!
How do we do that? We follow the greatest example in human history that we have. The life of Jesus Christ.
Paul sums it up well:
Phil 2:5-10 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: (6) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (7) but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (9) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Jesus emptied himself of everything, and His knew who He was in the Lord. His identity was secure. Even when He was betrayed, mocked, beaten, whipped, nailed to the cross and crucified. We are called to do the same no matter what circumstances we face. No matter what, we are called to be empty of ourselves and filled with Him.
Do you know how valuable you are to Him? You! Not your talents and gifts, not your money, power, possessions, degree, business, looks, clothes, car, home, title… YOU!
You are the one He adores, you are the one he cares for, you are the one He loves! He gave His very life for you!
Let your life be secure in that. Let your identity be in Him. Let Jesus be your treasure. He will get you through the valley! Persevere in your faith!
If your hope is in Him, if your identity is in Him, if your life is His, you may go through difficulties but you can know that while He may not save you from the valley, He will save you through it!
Are you facing some struggles?
Are you facing some difficulties?
Are you facing some fears and anxieties?
Are you facing some health issues?
Remembering and applying these few points will help you through:
- Jesus knew who He was! Gods own son, do you know who you are?
- You have a choice in whatever circumstance you face, for me it is my 52nd surgery on Wednesday, will you choose Jesus?
- Know that even if you choose Jesus the path never goes in a straight line.
- Know that you are not perfect however in choosing Jesus, Father uses our mistakes, our lack of knowledge, and our weaknesses all along the way.
- Know that you will learn valuable lessons by walking the path.
I leave you with Paul’s words of encouragement:
Php 4:6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. (7) Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (MSG)
Let Jesus be the center of you…