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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Buckball Season”

In this episode, when Applejack and Rainbow Dash find a new sport to get competitive about, they get a rather tall shock on seeing their friends Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy are natural pros at it, and decide to recruit them for the Ponyville team in a game against Appleloosa. Yet though Pinkie and Fluttershy have a natural love of the game, it isn’t long before Applejack and Rainbow are putting them through the wringer on demanding practice sessions and pressuring them to win for Ponyville. The game goes from being fun to nerve-wracking and miserable from pressure to succeed, and causes both to slip up repeatedly before it finally nearly drives them to quit the team all together rather than have to deal with the demands placed on them. It’s not until Applejack and Rainbow ease back on their approach and focus more on getting Pinkie and Fluttershy to enjoy themselves that they’re able to play at their best again.

There’s a folk saying that if you do what you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that’s one of those proverbs that’s more empty wind than anything meaningful. To me, following that advice is a quick way to learn to hate doing what you love.

From academics to performances to hobbies to actual jobs, there are a lot of things in this world that people can have natural talents for and/or have to work at in order to be good or the best at. To some people getting that good is impossible, while to others who are “naturals” comes a love of both the activity and the challenge associated with it, as that’s “part of the fun”. I’m an amateur writer myself. Give me a subject and I can usually write a short story of it lickety-split, and even if I can’t I love the creative process of coming up with something for it. But I can’t draw for the life of me, and I’m astonished at people who can do that at the drop of a hat. There’s also sports, public speaking, leadership roles, cleaning, community organizing, singing…all sorts of things.

For the Christian, probably the biggest one is one’s own ministry or personal way of serving God; how they walk with him and promote the Kingdom in their daily lives. Often this one is a continual challenge, with finding new ways to minister and better ways to connect with people, to say nothing of all the need in the world there is for the Gospel and for other forms of assistance. Yet this sort of work, along with any other aptitude, hobby, or proficiency a person might possess, can still be vastly rewarding even in its challenge when it’s the right personality for the right job.

Yet often a problem that occurs is the same as that presented in this episode: it stops “being fun”; or rewarding, effective, stimulating, or any of a million other things that take something we like and make it a drudgery. Sometimes this is due to being stuck in a rut and becoming stagnated, but it can also be due to too much pressure, either external or internal, applied to a person. It goes from being a pastime to something more serious and pressing. Something that has no real reward or penalty for doing well other than our own satisfaction and enjoyment that now requires ever greater commitment and attention. And with that commitment and attention comes unnecessary and unwanted pressures that take something we are enthusiastic about and make it a chore.

And sadly, Christianity and serving the Kingdom of God is no exception to this, and the problem is made worse in some Churches.

Part of being a Christian is to grow toward being more like Christ, a process that will not (and cannot) ever be completed in mortal life but will only happen after our own death and resurrection. Yet some Churches have started what I tend to view as a potentially dangerous precedent. They talk about the blessings and power of God moving into the lives of Christians right now if they only have faith; leading to material prosperity, excellent health, and continuous miracles in their lives. The idea is you only need sufficient faith, prayer, and devotion to God and you can count on all problems in your life being resolved supernaturally as soon as they arise, and you yourself can be empowered to be a good and wonderful Christian to minister in every situation that comes your way; even ones you aren’t prepared for.

While that all sounds good, the problem is that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes misfortune still strikes. Sometimes Christians still suffer. Sometimes prayer isn’t answered the way we want it. Sometimes you don’t know what to say or do to minister to someone even after you pray about it. Sometimes you still feel awkward and uncertain in a foreign situation even if you’re committed to following Jesus. And that’s where the bad part comes in. This little voice in your head…

“Well, if you had really wanted your prayer answered, it would have happened.” “If you really committed more to your devotional life, you would have been healed.” “If your faith had been stronger, God would have answered you.” “If you call yourself a real Christian, you’ll have the power to succeed in any situation.”

And that’s where fear and despair comes in; the thought that if you did pray more or have more faith or, deep down inside, wanted to serve God better, you’d be a more natural Christian and be able to have all these blessings and do all these things, and the fact that you aren’t means you aren’t a real Christian. So you must do more things and act a certain way to prove you are a real Christian and have really been saved and to prove that you love God. Now you start doubting your own salvation and, even more importantly, the Power of God’s Grace.

This is a dangerous path to follow. As the message of this devotional goes, it’s not long into doing this that Christianity stops being about an outpouring of love and concern for other people and more about trying to earn yourself merit points to feel more comfortable about yourself and your status before God. Christianity loses all semblance of letting God work through you and of honestly sharing the Gospel and becomes all about the self. And that is the most fruitless and exhausting chore of all.

Just as in ancient Biblical times the old religious orders measured their worth before God by the good works they did and earning the titles of “rabbi” and “teacher”, nowadays worth is measured by how many miracles and blessings you have earned through your faith and devotion. I heard one author actually call this the “Gospel of Glory”, but not of God’s glory or the Lord’s glory but rather the individual’s; measuring one’s own spirituality and holiness by how much spiritual power and gifts they possess.

I don’t doubt that spiritual blessings, miracles, prophetic utterances, and straight up healings do happen, but it’s important to note that these things don’t happen as a result of any action on our part or by becoming “holier than thou”. Ultimately, we’re all the same. Through and by our own merits and good works, there is no difference between the faith-healing pastor at a pulpit and the drug-addicted criminal lying in a gutter. “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Both will eventually receive the same sentence for their sins, for God shows no partiality. It’s the Power of Christ and the magnitude of His Sacrifice that makes all equal, done without the input of man and without any conscious will or merit on their part. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) It’s all about His Glory and Majesty. Accepting Him as Lord and Savior makes us clean before God, with no remembrance of past sins or wickedness and no tallying of our own works. All done through Christ and not earned at all by any effort. All we can do is accept it when offered to us.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26)

Far from turning the Christian life into one of drudgery, fear, and doubt, this Sacrifice is to set us free from those things. Now that we know that we can’t “earn” any salvation or favor from God but rather we freely have it showered down on us, we should be empowered to be more genuinely loving and thankful. To reach out and minister to people out of care, affection, and thankfulness other than out of a meaningless attempt to gain favor or prove ourselves as Christians. No one can “prove themselves” to be a Christian because becoming a Christian had nothing to do with any meritorious action originating from us. God merely offered us the opportunity and we accepted. He is the one who declares us Christians, not ourselves or anyone else.

If you’re like me and constantly fighting battles with worry, self-doubt, and concern that you’re not doing “good enough” to be a real Christian, perhaps you’re looking to the wrong individual for the source of salvation. Instead, try to focus on the power of the Cross and the One who died upon it, and just how clean you have been made by the power of that Sacrifice. You are now a child of God.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 12-13)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I can never thank you enough for the blessed and holy Sacrifice of your Son, Lord Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty of all of my sins and to make me born again as a child of God. Now that I have this blessed assurance, grant me the power to never cheapen it by succumbing to false worry, self-doubt, and despair but to cling to the Power of Christ and His unbeatable Sacrifice. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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