It’s easy to be discouraged, but, with Gods’ grace, keep moving forward in faith.
The phrase “Becoming is better than being” has been around for a while.
I love what it means. It reminds me life is best lived in the discovery of what it means to be human. A mountain doesn’t worry about its purpose. Clouds have no ambition. But you and I are different.
We seek meaning and purpose in life. As followers of Jesus, we found those in Jesus. He shows us the best way to live our lives in pursuit of holiness and righteousness.
Now, you’re used to hearing someone like me, a pastor, encourage you to spend time in worship and prayer, reading the Bible and serving God’s people. We have learned those activities, what we call spiritual disciplines, help us become. It wouldn’t be too wrong to say become “like Jesus.”
Now, we could be someone who says they are a Christian. But labels can conceal more than they reveal. Many have adopted the Christian label without embracing the Christ-like way.
That’s where our spiritual disciplines help us. We learn to become.
In all that talk, you could get the impression that our faith is about doing more. To be sure, for God so loved the world he did something. Anytime you need forgiveness or mercy, God gives. God does. As we experience the everlasting love of God, the grace of God compels us to care for the needs of others. To stand for justice. To actually walk with God in humility.
Those are all things we do.
And yet, it’s okay to sometimes be. Becoming is better, we’ve said. But we never agreed by how much. What if it’s only a morsel better? Then that means being is okay, too. Maybe stopping to be helps us appreciate what we are becoming.
I say all that because I don’t want you to think all your Bible reading or praying makes God love you more. To go down that road is to believe you’re earning God’s favor. I wish you no luck with such an endeavor because it is impossible. In fact, you’ll struggle with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
In Genesis 15, God appears to Abram in a vision. It’s best to remember what has happened in Genesis 14. Abram defeated a group of kings. It was a miraculous victory. It appears Abram worried this miracle was his reward. He had done something great and that would be God’s fulfillment to him.
God’s first words to Abram were, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abram wasn’t quite convinced about the reward part because he expected a legitimate heir. So, God told him to count the stars–there are your descendants.
Abram wasn’t just to be victorious. God’s promise was that Abram would become a father to many nations. Which one was better?
I try not to struggle with those feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. I don’t fight them as much as I accept them. Afterall, we’re talking about our place before God. So, I’m fine being inadequate and unworthy before God because I know the Lord is completing the good work begun in me. I don’t have to work for it. And I for certain can’t earn it.
I get to keep becoming and being. And that gives my life purpose.
Let’s talk suffering.
By now I’ll assume you know I don’t give much merit to American Christians who cry persecution here. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate concerns about religious freedom. By and large, most people of all faith traditions, Christian and otherwise, feel those apprehensions.
Generally speaking, Christians in the US have mistaken a fall from religious dominance for persecution. We can point to noticable shifts in societal perspectives to explain this feeling. A lot of the blame, though, falls at the feet of the church.
We’ve been untrustworthy. We’ve been poor witnesses to the gospel. While preaching forgiveness we brought shame. We masked abuse to protect ourselves and our ministries. With boldness, the church told the rest of the world how wrong it was while ignoring its own faults.
Is it any wonder people outside the faith don’t trust the church?
All that clouds our sense of suffering. Most of our congregations know the feeling of struggle to maintain the status quo, but we do not know suffering for the gospel’s sake.
At times the church has made people suffer. Whether it was the lure of power or the supposed defense of orthodox belief and practice, the church has often been a heavy hitter.
There are many times as well the church, or at least people of God have been the aim of persecution. It still happens. It is still happening around the world today.
As Christians, we need a developed understanding of suffering. The true struggle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms necessitates that we do. Suffering as a result of the gospel requires our willingness to decide what the good news means to us.
1 Peter has in mind those Christians who are suffering. The ones who worship in secret to avoid death from their governments. Those imprisoned for their unwillingness to recant their convictions. Congregations who hear of their sanctuaries closed and burned to the ground.
That’s the suffering 1 Peter anticipates Christians will face. Now, thanfully, not all of us do. That’s why it irks me when we conflate our fall from grace as persecution.
The question remains, are we prepared to face that kind of suffering? How would we respond?
1 Peter 3 lays out a few responses for us. Peter’s point is one I pray we hold close to us. That even in the face of persecution our witness would hold strong. As you face suffering for the sake of the gospel, that the Lord would strengthen your heart and mine, make all that we declare about the goodness of God real enough to believe it with all our heart and all of our life.
And if we do not face such suffering, how will we support our sisters and brothers of faith who are?