Friday, August 21, 2009

Making the Most of our Maladies

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:20-21)

C.H. Spurgeon once said, "So surely as the stars are fashioned by His hands, and their orbits fixed by Him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us." Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a malady? If not, prepare your heart. Life is full of them. Trials, some call them. Others call them hardships. Just the words themselves are enough to make us quiver. Aren't they?

Paul is near the end of his life as he writes this letter to the church in Philippi. He is under house arrest in Rome. Shackled. Secluded. Supervised. Roman guards for companions. Is this the reward for years of faithful missionary work for the Lord? Is this the end-of-the-line for God's determined worker? Will Paul's finale result in such a great malady?

Paul didn't ask these questions. Paul viewed his malady differently than what you might expect. You see, Paul didn't gauge God's goodness in his life by the health, wealth, and prosperity teachings we hear so much of today. He didn't measure his checkbooks or reconcile his financial statements in order to determine whether or not this had been a successful season of his life. He didn't hold his chains, look toward heaven, and cry, "Why me, Lord?" Instead, Paul saw the opportunity that God had given him in his malady--and looked to make the most of it!

In fact, he taught the church in Philippi what Spurgeon would later recognize--our trials are allotted to us. God is sovereign over the maladies of life.

If we are to learn to make the most of our maladies, we must be completely surrendered to the will of the Lord and say as Paul did, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." We must be surrendered to God in the midst of our maladies because He is sovereign over them. We must also have courage because the outcomes might not always be what we expect them to be. Yet, we can always be sure that we have an opportunity to make the most of our troubles. We will always make the most of our hardships when the end result is that Christ is glorified by the witness we exhibit during them! Always! One-hundred percent of the time!

We have an eternal impact on those around us not when we master our maladies. Nor when we hide them from others. Nor when we ignore them altogether. Rather, we have an eternal impact when we exalt Christ through them and trust Him with the results.

Take courage! Hope! Let us give our maladies to the Lord and make the most of them (for His glory) when they come our way!

God bless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Danger of the Happy Hollows

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

Goodness. Simple, yet pleasing to the ears, eyes, and soul. Goodness. Our youngest thoughts remember the simple idea of it, right? Be good. Play good. Act good. We are taught what good looks like. And as we grow, we learn what it looks like to breathe goodness. To live goodness. To play goodness. Before we know it, good becomes the standard. Good becomes the goal. Good becomes what we are "good" at. We learn to play by the rules of goodness for goodness' sake, right? So what's the problem? The problem is that though we learn to present ourselves as being good, we are simply not good. It is a cover up. It is a sham. It is an outward projection of what we wish to portray without any inward confrontation of who we really are on the inside. Sound familiar?

Jesus had a problem with religious people who spent all of their time projecting goodness outwardly without taking an honest inventory of their inward problem. Exuders of goodness with happy, hollow insides. The deception is in that which we exude. We have placed so much importance on the appearance of goodness that the appearance has BECOME goodness to us. Just the appearance of it then means that it is real in our minds. And the Pharisees say in unison, "Amen, pass the potatoes!"

There is danger in the Happy Hollows. There is danger in believing that when we get the goodness game down pat, we magically become the goodness we portray--without dealing with our sin inwardly and without repentance in our minds. We have become a people who need not repent as long as we can project goodness outwardly. Happy but hollow. Happy outwardly. Dead inwardly. No wonder there are so many dying churches in America. No wonder the church has seen drastic declines in the past decade. Who needs repentance when we can cover ourselves with goodness to cover the unrighteousness that screams out loud from the hollows within?

Jesus shared his sharpest rebukes for those of us who play the goodness game. "Hypocrites!" he said. "Blind guides!" he yelled. "Empty!" he discerned. Happy. Hollow. Dying on the inside.

It would be an understatement to say that we live in a culture of people who put all importance on what is noticed outwardly, church included. But there is danger in the happy hollows. We need to re-learn repentance. A masquerade of goodness leaves our internal sin problem unresolved. This is Satan's lie, "Be good and hope for the best. God wouldn't condemn a good person, would he?" We need to re-learn the biblical truth that although we play a "good" game, "there is no one righteous, not even one...there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10a, 12b) We need repentance! We need Christ! We need to deal with the inside, for once in our lives!

Jesus pointed out the inward need of people, the happy hollows, to show just how much our sin is masked by goodness. Jesus didn't come to save good people--he came to save sinners. Sinners who come to grips with the reality of their condition. A heart filled with spiritual cancer. A heart that is dying. A heart that resembles a bunch of dead man's bones.

There is good news for all of us! Really GOOD news! Jesus loves us in spite of us, not because what we outwardly project or for goodness cover-up. God sees past our good game, even when others around us do not. Even when the church does not. Even when the preacher does not. Everyone can buy into our happy hollows game. God does not.

Have we convinced ourselves of our own goodness by the outward projections we have learned so well to display? This is the danger of the happy hollows. May we be the people in our generation who are willing to deal with the hollows within us. May we turn to Christ for forgiveness. May we repent before God. May we live genuine lives which are concerned with much more than an outward facade.

Lord save us from the danger of the Happy Hollows. Amen.