IMMUNITY TO DISCOURAGEMENT

Life is harder than I thought it was going to be. A series of mishaps, like we experienced recently, wears one down.

Sickness never comes at a good time. Disappointments from people we were counting on make us tired. When the car breaks down, it costs time we don’t have and money we didn’t bank on. We hit the sack, and we don’t doze off as quickly as usual. We are distracted by difficulty.

When you thought you did well on the project and you find out otherwise, discouragement knocks at the door. You feel like saying, “Come on in.” My advice—don’t answer it. As soon as you own discouragement, you’re likely to say things out of character and do things you shouldn’t. Discouragement sets you up for disaster. Resist it. And—if you get discouraged, don’t camp there.

I especially tell pastors and parents, “You do not have the leisure of discouragement. Avoid it for the sake of others. It does too much damage.” If you spend time in the pit of discouragement, you can assume that you have discouraged more people than you know. Discouragement breeds discouragement. Hard to EN-courage if you are DIS-couraged.

Moses had given the leaders a double-whammy exhortation: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 1:21). Those two menaces are siblings.

The twelve spies sent to check out the land were handpicked for leadership gifts. And yet they caved in. The testimony of the people: “Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart” (28).

“Cor” is Latin for “heart,” from which we get the word “courage”. To lose heart is to lose “cor.” How many times have I taken courage from my children. In my discouragement I have dis-couraged them. God have mercy!

Elijah experienced some great answers to prayer. But that alone won’t keep you from discouragement. He had some spiritual highs that trump anything we have accomplished. He singlehandedly dismantled Baal and his four hundred cronies—in one day’s work. He called down fire—and it came! Then he prophesied rain—and it fell from heaven.

Then a single threat from a wicked woman turned him from victory to defeat. He ran faster than the chariot of Ahab only days before. Now he is running for his life. He gets suicidal, feels sorry for himself, and thinks he’s the only faithful one left. He was only off by 6999.

When we’re running from our enemy rather than toward, our enemy grows in our mind. We fantasize the worst, and we say things we regret later.

Everyone’s car breaks down. But when it is compounded by sickness, a lost phone, a broken computer, and a misplaced document, we wonder who is attempting to wear us down. We’re tired of getting fired at.

By God’s grace and His alone, I choose not to surrender to discouragement. I will not surrender to self-pity and nurse my wounds, as if I deserve better than this. Because of who I am and what I am called to, I cannot afford it! By His strength, I will build up an immunity to discouragement.

THE VULNERABILITY OF JESUS

Jesus left a place of safety for rejection. He left honor for shame, glory for humiliation.The eternal God became vulnerable enough to be heard, seen, touched, scrutinized, and abused.

 

Vulnerable at birth. Think about it: confining your world to the body of a teenage girl. You were the Word spoken that created the world. Now you cannot speak. You who communicated within the blessed Trinity, now unable to vocalize except through crying.

Vulnerability in the family. Big brother Jesus lived with continual misunderstanding. He was accused of judging them, though his righteous actions judged them. The fact that his family did not believe in him until after the resurrection says something about how His siblings felt toward him. When they came to rescue Him from madness (Mark 3:21), He repudiated His mother and family in favor of those who followed Him. Tension!

 

Vulnerability with his disciples. He chose unlikely front men to get people ready for his coming. At times their inability to get it got to Him: “How long must I be with you?” The band He prepared to leave did not show signs of taking over the world. They were still asking basic questions about His identity.

Vulnerability at the cross. Jesus at his weakest, God at His strongest. Total exposure, hands stretched out defenselessly. Vulnerability literally means “the willingness to be wounded.” People hurled insults at Him and did not get a response back.

The vulnerability of Jesus stands in stark contrast with the lack of vulnerability of two groups in the gospels:

Religious leaders. They were not preaching the lie—they were living it. Jesus called them hypocrites, which literally means “play actors.” They presumed to walk in holiness. In truth, they were wicked men, feeding off the people. Their insecurity kept them from vulnerability. The prodigal was honest, the elder brother was not. The tax collector was vulnerable (“Have mercy on me a sinner;”) the Pharisee was not (“God, I thank you that I am not like other people”).

Disciples. Jesus wanted them to adopt the position of weak and dependent children, asking an extravagant Father to meet their needs, but they chose the stance of sophisticated and self-confident adults arguing about position and importance. Their insecurity showed in their unwillingness to assume the posture of a servant and wash feet. Jesus knew who He was and carried out the assignment. Humility is a mark of vulnerability, a quality the disciples didn’t learn until after Jesus left them.

Two Primary Models Used By Jesus

Children are naturally vulnerable. They are not too proud to express need, to ask questions, to reveal what they do not know. They are not sophisticated. They don’t normally have discussions about relative greatness. They tend to be more inclusive than exclusive.

Servants do not own anything. They are stewards of what belongs to their master. Unlike the religious leaders, servants have no reputation to protect and no constituency to impress. They stand on the low end of the totem pole and they have no pretense about their sense of importance. They have a one-track mind—doing the will of their master.

Take your pick: you can be like the Pharisees and insecure disciples or like honest kids and servants—and JESUS!

THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY

A pastor friend was told that the marriage was over unless he did something soon. He listened, got help, and their marriage is stronger than ever. His vulnerability by going public in an article helped struggling couples.

Leif Hetlund said at a conference that he was addicted to opium for years because of back pain. Leaders who show vulnerability tell us normal folk we don’t need to hide. He leveled the playing field.

Dan spoke about joy to our young adults. He wanted joy not conditioned by circumstances but said he wasn’t there. That helped others acknowledge their lack. Vulnerability releases grace.

My son wrote his siblings confessing that he fell short in being a grace-oriented elder brother. His younger brother, with whom he had experienced some tension, wrote two weeks later exposing his failures. Parents hope for such honesty among children. What a gift to give to a family—or a spouse!

Vulnerability releases vulnerability, that heals relationships and upgrades love. “When we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another” (I John 1:7).

I asked my children to share with me where I had failed them as a father. They didn’t wait ten seconds. I reacted inside but managed to keep quiet. More hard responses came (ouch!) that led to healing.

Vulnerable: L. vulnerare, to wound, from vulnus, a wound. 1. That which can be wounded. 2. open to criticism or attack.

Beverly told Jerry he was putting in too many hours and not spending enough time with the children. Jerry had just heard a sermon about humbling ones self, but instead fired back: “I work hard to provide for the family. Why are you so critical?” Beverly closed down and kept her misery inside.

Craig risked telling his boss about the working conditions, the short lunch, and the absence of breaks, saying change could improve employee satisfaction. He was sure Martin would appreciate the recommendation. Instead, he cut Craig’s hours and told him he was a whiner. A different response would have increased his bottom line.

Kerry appreciates his wife and lets her know often. When he told her recently that he wondered if she maybe talked on the phone just a little too much, she blew—and got on the phone to tell her mom about her mean husband. Defensiveness destroys relationships.

The captain told the coach that maybe they were losing games because of tension between players. The coach fought back a trigger defense and asked for more information. A meeting with the team aired some differences and improved their record dramatically.

Vulnerability goes low, accepts criticism, acknowledges weakness, overcomes pride, encourages people to be themselves. Pharisees can’t do it because they are hiding. So are many leaders, bosses and spouses. Not Paul: “I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling” (I Cor.2:3). Vulnerability is not cheap psychology; it is central to the gospel of God!

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12:9,10). When people are vulnerabile, God turns weakness into strength. Not a bad exchange.

THE GIFTS ARE FREE

THE GIFTS ARE FREE—

BUT THEY COST!

You can’t buy them, but they come with a price tag. How much would the gift of healing cost? The price of humiliation, more than we may be willing to pay. Ask Kathryn Kullman, loved by multitudes, hated and mocked by others. You don’t pay in cash—you do in commitment. What does it cost to die to your reputation?

My friend George paid for his ministry of deliverance. Often on ministry trips I didn’t see him from morning until night because many needed him. It wrung him out, but he loved bringing liberty to people, and he skipped meals to do it. Would I?

When I sensed as a local church pastor that God wanted to bring a prophetic word on Sunday, I would call Jean Hahn. She would say, tongue in cheek, “Thanks a lot,” because she knew it meant praying into the night. She paid a price for the privilege of speaking on His behalf.

If Kathrine Cullman was correct, God is looking for people willing to die to their time, their schedules, their opinions, their fears, so that they can “faithfully administer God’s grace.” The Greek word for grace is “charis.” The gifts of the Spirit are gifts of grace—“charisma.” The charismatic renewal has been named from the gifts of the Spirit—the “charismata.” They come from the grace of God. But those who receive them pay a price. And the greater the anointing, the higher the price tag.

God gave Roy Jones, an architect, the gift of discernment. Occasionally people would call to tell me about strange things going on in their home—lights turning off, noises, moving shadows. I called Roy and asked him to accompany me. God had given him a remarkable gift. It seemed that he could smell a demon. He would shake his head to affirm activity of the enemy. I offered the prayers that commanded the demons to leave, which they always did, but Roy discerned their presence. Though a busy man, he made ministry a priority. He knew that his gift was not his own; it belonged to those needing the discernment.

So how do we receive the gifts of the Spirit? Unlike fruit, which is developed over a period of time, gifts can be received in a moment. Scripture says that the Spirit “gives them to each person, just as he determines” (I Cor. 12:11), which might cause us to wait passively. But at the end of that chapter, Paul says to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (v. 31).

In case we missed it, he says it again: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spirit gifts” (14:1). So divine sovereignty works hand-in-hand with human desire. Could your desire for spiritual gifts be described as zeal? Have you convinced God that you want to exercise the gifts? Are you asking—again and again?

If God has given you an intense desire to prophesy or to bring healing to others or to set captives free or to teach God’s word with accuracy, then perhaps He has also given you the willingness to die to yourself in the exercise of them. Just remember: they are free—but you’ll pay for them!

BUY NOW, PAY LATER!

BUY NOW, PAY LATER!

How about “pay now, enjoy later?” That’s what Jesus took. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross…” He did not enjoy it. He looked beyond the pain to the pleasure. Christians do the same.

Peter, who had an allergic reaction to the idea of a cross, finally got it. In his first letter he uses suffering and glory in the same sentence—many times. Take your pick: suffer now and get glory later, or enjoy now and get pain in a dark future.

People who jump out of a thirty-year marriage for an affair are working with the “buy now, pay later” plan. They will wish they hadn’t. Jesus did not regret putting off joy—neither will you.

Satan’s offers look so good. Step over the line, just this time. The pleasure is exhilarating and enticing. But an ounce of illegitimate joy today equals a pound of sorrow tomorrow. You are not an exception. “The wages of sin is death”—every time.

I know men who regret going with “buy now, pay later.” They didn’t expect that a few experiences would cost so much. I decided to write something for myself, my wife and my children called, “If I Should Fall.” I wanted to count the cost before attempting something stupid. I needed to get a sober idea of what I would pay for saying yes to pleasure.

Let’s face it—sin is fun. “By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrew 11:24,25). Sin brings pleasure, but it “fleets.” It is followed by shame, guilt, excusing, and blaming, nothing that brings joy. Way to go, Moses. You were given the offer of non-stop pleasure in the home of the richest man on earth, and you chose persecution. Call it greatness!

Any pleasures you can put off today? Here are three ways to practice the mindset:

  1. You are saying no to the legitimate pleasure of food for a deeper sense of God’s presence.
  2. Physical exercise. You are inflicting yourself with artificial pain for the joy set before you. It takes months, but ask people in good shape if their pain is trumped by pleasure.
  3. Building regular prayer and Bible into your life does not come naturally, but the hard effort builds lasting pleasure down the road. In time, discipline morphs in delight.

I’m going with the “pay now, enjoy later” plan. How about you?

“THIS IS NOT HEAVEN!”

“THIS IS NOT HEAVEN!”

That is what a friend says in the face of trouble. Entitlement would make us think we deserve better. So would a victim mentality. It says, “I had it bad for long enough. Now I want to have it good, and you need to fix it for me.”

Read the description of heaven in Revelation 21 and 22. Not remotely like my day last week. The passage does not describe a busted pipe with water all over (I live in Minnesota!), an extended time in the hospital with my wife, and two seizures in one day for our precious daughter—and we’ve got it ten times better than most.

Get over it: “It the world you will have tribulation.” “Be not surprised…” said brother Peter, once he finally got it. When we step into heaven we will know it.

A missionary who had served his whole life on the field was returning. So was a celebrated diplomat who had spent a few years overseas. As the ship pulled into the harbor, the fireworks and the tickertape were announcing the prominent statesman as the crowd on the dock welcomed him back. No one appeared to shake the hand of the veteran missionary. Feeling lonely, he asked the Lord what was going on. He heard deep within, “You’re not home yet.”

One day our enduring will morph into enjoying. For the time being, “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” When “then” comes, you will know it. The Lord will say, “Well done…enter in the joy of your Master.” And non-stop bliss for an eternity will make the enduring fade into a distant memory, never to surface again.

I spent a year overseas after my second year of seminary. Two months in Kenya was followed by eight months in Israel, then a summer traveling through Eastern and Western Europe. When I arrived in London, I planned to visit a famous museum. But I was homesick, gone for fourteen months, and I said, “No more museums. Home today.” When I went through customs in Los Angeles, the customs officer looked at my passport, smiled, and said, “Welcome home.” I wasn’t prepared for that. I got teary-eyed. I was home!

Earth is not heaven. Don’t expect it to be—yet! And this kind of thinking is not remotely close to “whatever will be will be” theology. That outlook is called fate, in which we are pushed and pulled by chance. We are subject to a benevolent King who lives in the eternal present and knows the outcome of our day and our future. He cares for us more than we can imagine and is using the hardship to make us more like Jesus. Everything counts—including the days that look all too random.

Take this outlook, and your troubles are called “light and momentary” by Paul and “a little while” by Peter. They learned to put all their marbles in the age to come—the only way to live. Peter called us exiles and aliens. We aren’t there yet. This is not heaven.

HOW TO APPLY THE WORD OF GOD

FIRST, HOW NOT TO

Knowing without doing is not knowing. Reading the Book goes beyond knowledge to transformation. God’s passion is for us to look like Christ. Application of the Scripture can be tricky. How?

  • Make it too general. “We should win the world for Christ.”
  • Apply it to someone else. “Sure wish Harvey were here.” Or “Sharon could use this.”
  • Not applying it at all. Think that knowing is doing. A professor asked us, “Do you have a desire to know the Word of God?” We responded affirmatively. Then he asked, “Do you have an equal desire to do it?”
  • Apply it where you don’t need it. Craig says, “My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so I don’t smoke.” But he abuses his body by not getting sleep. He says a strong “amen” when the pastor preaches against adultery. He is quieter when he talks about judging.
  • Make excuses for where you are not applying.       “I don’t give; I’m still in college.” “I am far from perfect. I could be doing more, but I’m doing better than most.”
  • Mistake emotional response for change. Jim says, “You really convicted me this morning about not witnessing, Pastor. I feel terrible because of my lack of concern for the lost.” Fortunately for Jim, the guilt wears off in time for Sunday afternoon football.
  • Use the Scripture to argue your case. Ken doesn’t realize that his knowledge of the Word has puffed him up. He loves to debate. The Word never moves from his head to his heart. He keeps it from touching his prejudices, and people are not interested in his God.

HOW TO APPLY THE WORD OF GOD

  • Let the application flow out of interpretation, from truths you see as you read and study. The more you know what it means, the easier you will apply it personally. The Bible can speak for itself—if you let it.
  • Make sure it applies to time and culture.       Universal principles need personal application. We don’t face the issue of food offered to idols, but we do deal with doubtful things. Paul gives us principles that apply in the 21st century. The better we understand what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, the more accurately we will apply it to our setting.       The Scriptures say nothing about movies, but they do speak about the use of time and the importance of letting our minds be transformed by truth. It is one thing to hear what Paul wrote to the Galatians in Asia; what does it mean for Christians in Minnesota?
  • Application must flow in harmony with the whole message of the Bible. It must not do harm to any other portion of Scripture. It doesn’t contradict itself.
  • Application should lead to action. Prayers of confession may start the process, but take heed: God is after change. Billy Graham once said, “Don’t ask me about what I don’t understand. I have enough trouble behaving what I do understand.” Scripture “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Let it judge you. Like a friend says, “Don’t just read the Word. Let it read you.” Or like a Chinese student, a young believer, said: “I am now reading the Bible and behaving it.” (Ideas here come from a lecture by Dr. H. Hendricks.)

THE CRISIS WITH ISIS

They haven’t kidnapped one of my daughters yet. If they did, what would I do?

Cry out to God, ask others to join me, pray for their persecutors, bless them (Luke 6:28), and hope to God she is released. So I (and you) need to be interceding for the persecuted around the world, remembering those who are ill-treated (Heb. 13:3).

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 6:44,45). ISIS murderers get water from heaven on their gardens and sun on their patios. Call it the kindness and mercy of God.

What about those with loved ones who are beheaded? Should they forgive them? Yes, but don’t be naïve about it. Hezekiah was foolishly vulnerable with the envoys from Babylon (2 Kings 20), not an historical friend of Israel, and his descendants were disciplined. Our national leaders remain naïve about the Muslim threat.

Muslims were rejoicing when the Twin Towers went down, and some of them lived in the States. Do we still treat them as allies? Do we say their religion is peaceful? Read their book. I’ve got it on my shelf. It encourages killing infidels—more than once. And if you’re not worshiping Allah, you’re the infidel.

Of course, we know peaceful Muslims who are scandalized by ISIS. Wish they would speak out. Their quietness leaves more room for the rowdies.

Jesus was brutalized and murdered by people who had it wrong. His first order of business from the cross was to forgive them. It deeply impacted a centurion. Luke tells us later than “a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).   Quite a revival! It was likely not unrelated to the way Jesus and His disciples accepted suffering and death, which I am sure my daughters would.

At the same time, Jesus boldly stood up to the religious leaders when it was time to talk. He called them names that were not close to endearing, like hypocrites, blind guides, and white-washed sepulchers. They were the walking dead. He chided them for feeding off the people rather than feeding them. Truth was told.

The silence of peaceful Muslims is puzzling, if not telling. Other cultures would call out their own who cross the lines. Their fear of their brothers tells us much about their faith, which I discovered from personal conversation with them is not faith but fate. “Insh Allah”, the will of Allah, overrules everything, like predestination taken to an insane conclusion, leaving no room for faith under the ironclad will of a distant deity. Should we trust the peaceful ones? Not if they remain silent. They vote with closed lips.

At the government level, the strategy is quite different from a gospel response. I don’t bear the sword, but government does. “Would you have no fear of him who is in authority…If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3,4). God is forgiving, but He is also angry. Government leaders are terrorists of a sort: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad” (3). Go ahead, government; you have permission from God to terrorize them.

We are required to protect our own, using every means conceivable to guard our borders and our people overseas, and we make no senseless overtures with the enemy, especially when he is walking our streets.