Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cold Hard Reality Check

We live in hard times.  No these aren't the hardest times ever lived, even by American standards.  Also, we do not live in hard times compared to most of the rest of the world.  I am not going to debate the whole issue today of First World Problems vs. Third World Reality.  The fact is that many of us go through hard times, many of are going through hard times, many of us have had an entire life of hard times, and many of us have hard times yet to come.  That, my friends, is reality. 
[We are] hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; [we are] perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NKJV
I know this verse is mostly about persecution.  Its message transcends persecution, though, and is a really good passage about our dual reality.  That reality is that this world is hard and it is out to get us, but we have a superseding reality that it all does not matter in the end.  The world is hard, but it is only our home for a short time.  We may be in poverty in this world, but we have eternal treasures waiting for us in heaven.  Life may be hard, but it is only hard for a time.  Hard times may be even more difficult, but they are only for a time.  If not for Jesus, this world would truly be hopeless.  If not for Jesus, we really would have nothing to live for.  This hopelessness is brilliantly illustrated by Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  Without God, life becomes a pointless meandering ending in death.  Even if you "make your mark" on the world or even if you leave children behind, what does it matter?  Maybe it will matter to others, but it would matter absolutely nothing to you who entered the great nothingness of godless death.  Eventually, history will have even forgotten you and every mark you left would be superseded by other marks left by others.  If you are lucky, your life will become a legend of half and assumed truths.  Even still, you are still dead and gone with all that you once were rotting away in a box sealed so tight you are not even allowed to become part of nature.  That is reality without God. 

Thank God we do not have to consider such a reality.  We have everlasting life through Jesus Christ.  We have a hope of an eternal and perfect world to come.  We do not go to a "better" place but to a perfect place.  We do not go to a place where time goes on forever but to where time does not even matter at all.  We go to a place where money is seen for the silliness that it really is.  We go to a place where our treasures really do last forever because we will never have need to even use them.  We will live in a world where what we did on earth may be forgotten (or forgiven), but those things done for Jesus are memorialized in those who are your new eternal neighbors through the work that you did.  We are not saved by works for sure, but others are led to salvation through our works.  That will be a reality as we meet the lives of those we may never even knew we touched until we meet them in Heaven.  As for our bodies, we will be raised up into new and glorified bodies never to be touched by sickness or injury.  It is that hope of a new life that gets us through this life. 

We really need that hope.  Despite the repugnant apostate ramblings of prosperity preachers and the sheep who follow those wolves in to greed and despair, the reality of life is that it is usually hard.  Fortunately, we do not face the cold hard reality of life alone but by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.  That is why we can say those same things that Paul said in 2 Corinthians. 

We are hard pressed on every side.  If you do not have a job, you have bill collectors, the needs of your family, and others all clamoring for money you do not have.  If you do work, you have the constant reality that your job could be lost.  No one is safely employed in these times and employers know that.  We have deadlines, overbearing bosses, many hours away from home, and many other demands unique to whatever job you have.  Despite all these crushing forces coming around us day in and and day out, we are not crushed.  We have the Holy Spirit in our hearts leading us and guiding us through the maze of stress that is our life.  What brings many down, we are sustained.  Though there are times we want to throw our hands up and give up, we do not.  We continue on day after day facing the stress of this world by the power of Jesus working in our lives.  That is how we face it, but we are not crushed by it.  In fact, it is our reaction to hard times that leads many to the Lord.  What causes much of the world to live in fear and despair, we handle with joy and faith knowing that no matter what happens, the Lord will get us through. 

How many of us have been perplexed?  How many of us have asked the question "Why me?" or "When will it be by turn?"  or "How long?"  etc.  We all had those moments where life overtakes us for a moment before we remember our faith.  God does not always answer those questions for us right when we ask them and sometimes He does not answer at all.  I believe there are many things in our lives that we will never understand until we are present with Him in eternity.  Yet despite the uncertainty, we are not in despair.  That is because we have trust in God that He will get us through no matter what it is we are going through.  We need not be in despair because even when we do not understand, we know that God does and that God does love us. 

And, finally, all of us could say that we have been struck down.  Whether it be the unrequited crush we have had when we were young or whether we were left at the alter ready to begin a new life that never will.  We have all faced loss whether it be jobs, money, or loved ones.  Many of us have been fired, laid off, and repeatedly turned down for jobs.  Many of us have watched as others received raises and promotions we thought we were in line for.  Many have lost in sports, careers, relationships, and more.  Some have been struck down by serious health problems in their lives or in the life of someone they love.  Yet no matter how many times we are struck down, we keep getting back up because we are not destroyed.  We will never be destroyed.  We get up because we are not working under our own strength but with through Jesus Christ who strengthens us no matter what we face in this world.  There is nothing in this world more powerful to destroy us than Jesus Christ is to sustain us.  There is nothing that happens to us in Christ that is not allowed by God to happen to us.  We walk in that faith, which gets us back up no matter how many times we are knocked down.

Someone some time ago posted a quote on Facebook that God saves his toughest battles for His strongest soldiers.  If only that were true!  God gives tough battles for various reasons to various people.  For some (such as Peter when he denied Jesus), it was to humble him when he thought that his strength was more than it was.  For others (like Abraham when he was told to sacrifice his son), it was to show just how strong his faith really was.  In all cases, the end result is to increase our faith.  God does not save his toughest battles for His strongest soldiers, but His most faithful soldiers face and overcome every battle they face.  Life in Christ is a war with many battles.  Those battles will stretch and try our faith but as we face and make it through more and more of them, our faith increases all the more.  We all have our challenges and we all wake up each day and face those challenges yet again.  When we face them alone, we fail.  When we face them in faith that Jesus is going to fight that battle for us and through us, we are victorious.  When we do fail, it is important to get back up and face it all over again.  I say that because no matter how miserably we fail, no matter how much we are beaten down, no matter how much we think that we can not get up an do it all over again, we have a God who will restore us, encourage us, and strengthen us.  So, please, when you feel that life is getting the best of you and you are just ready to give up or when you think there is no way you can overcome or get back up and face your challenges again, remember this one thing.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13 NKJV

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