MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 5 — FALLING AND FAILING
by Pastor Mike Fortune
April 4, 2007
We love and accept our children because we have chosen them to be a part of our family. We love them not because they do all the right things or avoid doing all the wrong things—we love them because they are our children! Right? As parents, we expect our children to be growing and maturing. We expect mistakes. We deal with rebellion and disobedience. We teach, we nag, we beg, we discipline—but we never disown. We know that in spite of any difficulties, unless our children leave us, we will love them into maturity. In our family there is security.
But many Christians feel a whole lot less secure in their relationship with God than they do in their family—and God is supposed to be the ultimate Father! They feel like they are constantly “in” or “out” of the relationship. Why do so many have such a hard time feeling secure? What does it mean to be secure in Jesus? What is our security in Jesus based on? We talked a little bit about that last time. And we’ll continue talking about it today and the next time because it’s so important we grasp the simple but powerful truths Jesus revealed like the one in 1 John 5:11–13. “And this is that testimony (that evidence); God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who possesses the Son has that life; he who does not possess the Son of God does not have that life. I write this to you who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) the name of the Son of God ..., so that you may know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that you [already] have life, yes, eternal life.” 1 John 5:11-13 (The Amplified Bible)
When I was younger, my parents encouraged me to make good choices. They taught me to do my best. “Try hard,” they said. “Even if its tough,” they added. “Get good grades. Do well in school. You're smart,” they declared. So I did. I tried hard. Most of the time. I got good grades. Most of the time. I did well in school. Most of the time. Until I met geometry. For some reason, I just could not figure out geometry, nor did I really want to. But in order to make the teacher look like I was trying, I started going early to class so I could study with him. Unfortunately, the only person I was fooling was myself.
Mr. Baxter [not his real name] was probably a very good teacher. And looking back at it, he probably was pretty smart too. But, I convinced myself that he didn't like me. He was so picky. “Show all your work”, he would scribble in red ink on the bottom of many homework assignments. That really annoyed me. “Why should he care as long as I get the right answer?” He gave me a big ring with note cards attached to it. Written on them were billions of rules I had to remember. I decided that there were too many rules to memorize and not enough reason for me to waste my time with them. So I didn't do that good in geometry. “At least I didn't fail”, I rationalized. But still, I had that knot in my stomach when I left school knowing that was the day report cards were sent home.
That's when the fireworks really began. My mom must have beat me to the mailbox because when I got home, she already knew what my grades were like. “How come you did so bad in geometry? What happened?” She may have been just disappointed. Perhaps she was simply concerned. Maybe she was plain mad. I couldn't tell from the looks on her face. All I knew after that first question out of her mouth was she wasn't a happy camper. “I don't know.” I snapped. She was making me mad. I couldn't believe, that all this time, bringing home sparkling report cards, year after year, meant nothing. Then, one day my report card has a blemish and suddenly I'm road kill. She acted like she didn't even notice how well I did in the other classes! “Who cares about one class?” I blurted out. Big mistake. She obviously cared.
I stormed out of the room and slammed the door to my bedroom. Usually, that only ignites the fire. Slamming doors is not a good idea. I kept thinking that any moment my mom would burst through the door like the Incredible Hulk and force me to start studying Geometry immediately. But nothing happened. There was no explosion. In fact, there was no more discussion about it at all. Neither my mom or my dad ever mentioned anything about it again. Time crawled by as I laid on my bed waiting for something, anything, to happen. Finally, when I did fall asleep, I had nightmares of after school detention at home in my bedroom with my math book. It wasn't until the next morning that I fully understood why my mom was concerned.
On my dresser, when I woke up the next morning, I found a hand written letter on a single piece of pink stationary with a rose on the bottom that my mom must have written before she left for work. It made me feel microscopic. The note read, “Dear Michael, Despite your grades, you'll never be mediocre to me. I love you and want to see you choose the highest and best, but recognize your right to choose. Remember you can always reset your aim, you are smarter than you realize. It's more the effect of effort than brains anyway in life. Love, Mom”
God loves us and wants the best for us
Could it be that Jesus is more concerned with who is in your heart than what is on your report card? Could it be that Jesus loves you despite our mediocre grades? I never did get an A in geometry, but next semester I tried really hard, not because my mom forced me to, but because I wanted to. That was the least I could do for a mom who loved me enough to let me fail. My mom taught me on one small pink page of stationary what I failed to fully realize in many years of church school and that is this. We will never be mediocre to Jesus! Romans 5:8 (NIV) says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He loves us with a love wider than the ocean. He wants us to get good grades, to choose the highest, to choose the best. He wants us to live a life worth living, based on His performance not ours, but He doesn't force us to accept Him. Which leaves us in the unenviable position of making salvation and the relationship based upon our efforts and good works and what we can do instead of what He can do.
And that’s a problem for all of us. Especially when we read texts like Matthew 5:48 (NKJV) which says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” 2 Corinthians 7:1 (NIV) adds, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Which sounds like a big job to me right? Pretty intimidating. And maybe you’re familiar with some Scriptures that sound just like that. Which is why we can sympathize with the converted and obedient apostle Paul who says in Romans 7:15-24 (NIV). “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
So there’s the dilemma. Big time perfection versus big time failure. Total crash and burn. So how do we get this together? How do we get past what Paul was describing in his own experience in Romans 7? Is there any hope for ordinary people like you and me and Paul? I think there is.
And I think it begins by blaming the right person. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” James 4:7-8 (NLT) adds, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.” Who is to blame for our faults and failures? For once you can say the devil made me do it and be correct. The enemy is the devil. But how are we going to blame him much less fight him? We can’t even see him! And even if we could, we’d be no match for him. He’s a supernatural being and we’re falling and failing humans. If there’s anything Tom and Jerry cartoons taught me, it’s that the only way to beat something bigger than you is to get something bigger than what’s beating you. Jerry can’t fight Tom. So he asks the bulldog Butch in 1949, later named Spike in all episodes following 1952, to help. So Spike gives Jerry a dog whistle and whenever Jerry needed help, he used that dog whistle and from out of nowhere, Spike would appear and start pounding on Tom. I love Tom and Jerry cartoons. They don’t make good clean violent cartoons like that anymore. Right?
Anyway, in cartoons or in real life, when we crash and burn, we’re going to need someone bigger than us to help and rescue us. We’re falling and failing because an enemy is having his way with us. But some of us try to fight without any backup. We’ll try harder. Clench our teeth. Resolve to do better. Some of us, like Oprah and Dr.Phill, go with the pseudo Christian approach of learning to think more positively—yeah, that’s all I’ve got to do. And for the people who are strong willed and have a lot of back bone and guts, they can make it appear that they’re making progress, but it’s only skin deep. Inside, their homes are falling apart. Their children don’t know Jesus. And their Christianity isn’t fun. And if your Christianity isn’t fun, it won’t be long till you are done.
On the other hand, the weak people, or as I like to call them, the normal people, who don’t have the back bone and the guts or common sense to pursue something for a lifetime that is no fun and doing nobody any good, they simply give up their Christianity preferring reality to hypocrisy and failure.
Fight the right fight of faith...
A few years ago, I met one of these burned out former SDA Christians on a white water rafting trip in West Virginia. We were randomly selected from a large group of strangers and placed together in 8 person rafts for the day. Eventually we got around to talking about who we were and what we did. When he found out I was a SDA minister, the floodgates opened. And while there were no tears, there was a torrent of pain, confusion, and bitterness over his experiences of falling and failing to keep all the rules. And there are millions of them like that in North America. Why? Because they’ve been trying to be good for so long and failing for so long they decided it’s just easier and much less stressful being bad. Here’s the good news. If they just get to know Jesus, they don’t have to stay away! Our God whom we serve is able to rescue and rekindle in us a relationship with us at any time. We do have a part to play. But it’s not the part many former Christians think it is. We have to fight the right fight of faith. But what is the right fight of faith?
1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV) says, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It didn’t say we’re to fight the good fight of overcoming your faults and failures. It didn’t say we’re to fight the right fight of trying to get your behavior in line. It didn’t say to fight the right fight of obeying all the rules. It says, “Fight the good fight of faith.” But what is faith? It is simple trust. But you don’t trust someone you don’t know. So faith is getting to God to see if He is worthy of your trust. Psalm 20:7 (NIV) says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” So the right fight is fighting to get to know Jesus better each day. And it is a fight is it not? Does the devil make it difficult for you to spend special and specific time with Jesus at the beginning of your day? You bet he does. He knows if he can discourage you from spending time with Jesus, that you’re powerless against him. But that with Jesus, he’s gonna get pounded!
According to John 15:5 (NIV), how much can you do without Jesus? Nothing. Jesus says, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” But how much can you do with Jesus? Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If with Christ, I can do all things, but without Him, I can do nothing, then who is responsible for whatever it is that is getting done? Jesus! This is why we can say Jesus saves and sanctifies! His will is done in heaven and on earth.
So what’s my job? My job is to get with Him. That’s the right fight of faith. And it is not impossible. The weakest of us can fall to our knees and spend special and specific time with Jesus. Anything else that happens after that, on a theological level from God’s perspective, is all God’s and anything that happens after that on a practical down to earth real life level is all God’s too. For apart from Him, we can do nothing.
. . . by staying in relationship with Him
So quit trying to fight the wrong fight. Your job is to fight the right fight. And the right fight as 1 Timothy 6:12 says is to fight the good fight of faith. Of staying in relationship with Jesus. And that is mission possible for all of us! Fighting the wrong fight of trying to change yourself is not only not fun, it doesn’t work! But you can get to know Jesus. You can behold Him. And if you do your job, He promises to do His! Now and until He comes again!
So let me be brutally honest in applying this truth so we understand each other clearly. I love telling people inside and outside the church the same thing because it boggles both their minds. I tell them, “Smoking is not your problem. Gossip is not your problem. Stealing is not your problem. Road rage is not your problem. Alcohol is not your problem.” None of our faults and failures are our problems. They’re God’s! If we give and keep giving them to Him. Why? Because He’s the One bragging about taking care of those things if we abide in Him! Who knew? Looking to live is not only how we’re saved, it’s also how we’re sanctified. It is specifically how we’re changed!
When I learned this, I was so grateful, and so relieved, that I loved Jesus even more than I did before! I wanted to run and jump and dance and sing and often still do on Sabbath mornings when I remember these truths. No lie, I often wake up the entire house on Sabbath mornings with the song “The Days of Elijah” by Donnie McClurkin blasting from my stereo. The kids love it. Jackie doesn’t. You’d have to be there. I’m not a good dancer. But I bet Jesus begs to differ. “Behold He comes, riding on the clouds, shining like the sun, at the trumpets call, lift your voice, it’s the year of Jubiliee, out of Zion’s hills salvation comes.” And right behind salvation comes sanctification. Hebrews 12:2 says He is author and finisher of our faith. And faith is the right fight.
Come and keep coming to Jesus
So if you’ve come to Christ and you’re still coming to Jesus at the start of your day beholding Him and inviting Him in, quit beating yourself up when you crash and burn. The best of us will continue to fall and fail. Literally until the day Jesus returns. In the meantime, come and keep coming to Jesus. For He will never drive you away. He is the one bragging about His ability to change you. Philippians 1:6 [NIV] says, “6Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Chapter 2:13 [NIV] adds, “13For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
That’s the secret to a life worth living. He knows the reality show Jesus produces in us will never be cancelled! That Jesus’ work in us will be way better than any shallow obedience we can muster on our own. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has dunamis power. It’s where we get the word dynamite. The dynamite power of the Holy Spirit removes even the desire to smoke, even the desire to gossip, even the desire to steal, have road rage, and drink alcohol. There is no addiction or behavior on the planet that God can’t change! Here’s the bottom line: by beholding we become changed. If you behold Jesus, you’ll become more like Christ. If you behold your faults and failures, you’ll become more like them. We need to permanently ban navel gazing because 2 Corinthians 3:18 is saying “By beholding we become changed.”
But does Jesus command us to bear fruit or does he command us to abide? There’s some confusion about this even in the church today. So let’s look at that. John 15:1-8 (NKJV) says, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
Does Jesus command us to bear fruit or abide? Which is it? Abide. In fact, 7 times in just those 8 verses He repeats this. I think Jesus repeated it so many times because He knew we’d want to fight the wrong fight. But if we have a relationship with Jesus, if we look to live, if we come and keep coming, if we pray to listen, if we read for relationship, and share for Jesus’ sake, Scripture says God will transform our lives! Isaiah 59:19 (NKJV) says, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.” God rushes to the rescue!
But didn’t Jesus say, “By their fruits ye shall know them?” Yes, He did. But the context of that statement is correctly identifying false prophets not judging those in Christ. Besides, right before that, Matthew 7:1 says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” It is a misinterpretation of Scripture to say that God asks us to be personal fruit inspectors. 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 (NLT) is clear on this. “It is the Lord Himself who will examine me and decide. So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful.”
If God is the One who said He’s responsible for the fruit and evaluation in your life and you start judging yourself or others and their progress or lack thereof, who are you really passing judgement on? Him! Think about that the next time you crash and burn. If you’re taking God’s job of judgement upon yourself, in evaluating your fruit, you are placing yourself above God! And that’s how Lucifier got kicked out of heaven! Right? Wanting to be above God!
So fight the right fight of faith. Submit to Jesus. Draw close to Him (James 4:7-8). And let God do His thing. He started it. He bragged about it. He’ll finish it. If you abide in Him, it’s not your job. It’s not your problem. As crazy as it sounds, Jesus is enough. He is more than able to accomplish what concerns us today. It is not the responsibility of the garden to get rid of its weeds. That is the work of the Gardener. The garden’s responsibility is to absorb the living water of life, to behold the sun of righteousness, and through them, the nutrients required for growth and transformation are supplied. Miraculously. Jesus promises to fight our enemy for us—if we submit to Jesus and draw close to Him. He promises to save and sanctify us. He provides the pardon and the power to change. He is the common denominator. Not our efforts now or ever. By beholding we become changed.
We love our children not because they do all the right things or avoid doing all the wrong things—we love them because they are our children! Right? As parents, we expect our children to be growing and maturing. We expect mistakes. We deal with rebellion and disobedience. We teach, we nag, we beg, we discipline—but we never disown. And neither does God. As our heavenly father, he feels the same way about us as we feel about our children. And because He does, we will never be mediocre to Jesus. Isn’t that good news? Do you want Jesus to rescue you? And rekindle in you a saving and sanctifying relationship with Him? If so, circle Yes at the bottom of your paper.