What are You Aiming at?
Jesus addresses 7 local churches in the Book of Revelation. They are churches of Asia Minor started through the ministry of the great Apostle, Paul. They include Ephesus where Paul spent almost 3 years preaching and teaching. Yet, when John writes Revelation about 40 years later these churches look very different. They are not the churches that Paul knew. Out of the 7 Paul planted and labored over only 2 of them can be described as doing well in Christ. The remainder is struggling. They are lukewarm, tempted by the world, and lost in legalism. They are falling away.
These are great churches of the Apostolic age. The believers in them were taught by Paul, one of the best Bible teachers of all time. Many had first-hand knowledge of Jesus and yet they still lost their spiritual way. The people are living as “Christians” but not as the Lord intends. They are sheep in various stages of going astray.
If this is the condition of these great early churches, is it surprising that today’s church is running into similar issues?
A good portion of the modern church is not walking with Christ in total victory as we should. We are struggling with the same issues that consumed Corinth and Laodicea. Is it at the same ratio as Revelation, 5 out of 7 in bad shape? We can’t know. We can state there is clearly a big problem.
We love our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are just as beloved by Jesus, but like the Revelation churches, it is clear many are in trouble. They try hard, they sing worship songs and go to the church, yet, they are floundering. There is no obvious peace of God that surpasses understanding present. They are constantly being swept away by the cares of the world. They proclaim Christ’s name but don’t live Christ’s life. They are lukewarm. They are consumed with legalism and lacking in loved like Ephesians.
They are in grave danger and don’t seem to know it.
When we look at the sheer number of Christians caught up in these issues that plagued these early churches it is sobering. I am not trying to put down anyone in the Body of Christ. It is just a simple fact. There are many in our churches, men’s groups, and Bible studies that are not where Jesus intends them to be – shining like the sun for Jesus. Why?
Many are aiming for the wrong target. They don’t understand living for Jesus so they are living for self with a sprinkle of Jesus thrown in.
Most of those being turned aside from a full life in Jesus have good intentions. They are trying hard. They believe in Jesus and want to grow in Him. They know in their hearts that something is wrong. They just cannot figure out what it is. Their vision of what the actual goal of Christian life is and what it should like is wrong. It has been twisted by the culture that surrounds us. As a result, they shoot for wealth, ease, prosperity, self-improvement and happiness when Jesus calls them to the higher road of holiness and service. A life in Christ is filled with joy and excitement but if we miss the holiness, we can never truly catch hold of this fruit. The result is a frustrating walk in Christ.
We cannot live a holy life focused on us.
There was an athlete a few Olympics ago favored to win a rifle shooting event. He trained for most of his life to get a gold medal draped around his neck. He dedicated thousands upon thousands of hours of training to be the best in the world. He was ready to reach the ultimate goal in his sport. A Gold Medal would not only validate his work but would provide years of fame and endorsements. The stakes were huge!
The match initially went exactly as planned. He was dropping the targets like clockwork with shots placed in the middle of the bullseye. When it came time for his last target, all he needed was a minimal score to win the first place medal. It was a simple task to hit the target after he had hit the dead center of all the preceding ones. Still, he was intently concentrating as he located the target, steadied his breathing and pulled the trigger. He saw the bullet strike a bullseye through his sight. Yes! He would win easily with that shot. He began celebrating is his mind. The problem was no one else joined in. When he went to check his score, the judges said he completely missed the target. The official scorer gave him a zero. This was terrible. It meant he lost. “What in the world?”, he thought. The confusion was quickly cleared up. He had indeed hit the bullseye but it was on the wrong target. He was so focused on hitting the bullseye, he did not realize he was shooting for another competitors target.
His aim was perfect, his technique flawless and his effort was exactly as it should be. Despite this, he scored a zero because his target was wrong. He did everything right in technique but could not win the contest because he aimed for the wrong thing.
It is Not About You
The same is true in the Christian life. What is our goal? Who are we trying to be? What target are we shooting at?
If it is not Jesus defining our lives, we can never win the Christian race.
There is a constant tension in the Gospels between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus is the greatest teacher of all time. He is showing them how to follow Him. He teaches them how to win the world for Him and live as God intends. Jesus instructs them on the plan of redemption God prepared before the world was created. It is the greatest plan of all time.
The conflict does not come because of Jesus. Rather, what do the disciples do in response to God’s teaching and God’s plan? The disciples substitute their own vision. They try to implement their own plans. Each of them follows their own fleshly desires and run headfirst into the plans of God. Jesus’ heart for us should lead to forsaking the temporary fleshly impulses so we can experience eternal spiritual joys. When we focus on us, though, our hearts lead to desire self-satisfaction. We see this when James and John enlist their mommy to ask Jesus to get them earthly thrones. Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus reveals the plan of the Crucifixion to him. The crowds of Palm Sunday who praised Him as King abandon Jesus on the Cross. They are all aiming for temporal rewards – money, power, redemption of Israel, and generally to feel good. Jesus’ plan was better. It provided for eternity. This is the ever-present struggle when following Jesus.
My plan or His?
My goals or His?
My glory or His?
My life or His?
It is not about us. It is always about Jesus.
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Take Up Your Cross
Our natural desire is to focus on self. We want to serve our interests. There is a tendency to take that inclination and carry it over into our spiritual lives. Our life that is meant to be about being conformed into the image takes a subtle turn. We become consumed with ourselves in Jesus. This may sound contradictory and it is. It is also all too common among all types of churches. There are overt examples like the prosperity based doctrines. They promise faith leads to money, ease, and comfort. This is contrary to Jesus message that faith will be persecuted by the world.
There are also more subtle versions. These are the more difficult ones to spot as they appear “holy” on the surface. In these, the person sees religion as an expression of what they feel. Their church is about them looking or feeling good.
Legalism, for example, is at heart an extremely selfish and self-focused sin. We feel that other people don’t deserve God unless they meet a standard we create. Conveniently, we don’t hold ourselves to that same standard. This is the sin of the Pharisees who claimed to be holy but really wanted to be admired and to have the best seat at the banquet.
A Church of Self Actualization
A more subtle version is the constant drive for self-improvement that creeps into the church. “Your Best Life Now” is the best selling example of this mindset but it comes in many shapes and sizes. Are we always concerned with what we do in our lives and what we overcome, rather than what Jesus does through us for others? A Christian life that is just focused on getting better, happier and more fulfilled is not like Jesus’. He does not want to improve the existing us so we are happy. He tells us that the existing us should die daily so we can become more like Him and serve God. Then God will exalt us just like He did Jesus. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve our lives. It is when this is the entire end of our Christian walk that things get challenging.
Our happiness, while certainly pleasing to God when done right, is not the reason God died for us.
So “Why am I not Growing in Christ?” is the title of this post. It is a question that deserves a direct answer. Too often, the simple answer is the same as back when James and John were conspiring with Mom to get their earthly thrones.
If you are like many Christians, you are not growing because you are consumed with self rather than being consumed by Jesus. You (and I admit me on many days) are not taking up your cross but feeding yourself – your comfort, feelings, plans, and flesh. You are a consumer of Christianity being catered to rather than a slave working to carry out your Lord’s will.
We so often make the Christian life about the servant and our desires rather than the Master and His. We chose to take up our comfort, plans, and life and embrace them rather than the Cross of Jesus. This is not Jesus’ call on our life so it logically follows He does not fill us with His gifts. They are rewarded to His servants who need them to do His job.
Every one of us wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.
We all want the joy, peace, power, and glory of Jesus but we don’t want to wholly submit to the will of the Father as Jesus did.
Jesus said those who lose their life will find it. Though He includes those who are martyred in His name, His point is much broader. It is only those who give up shooting for the targets they choose and shoot at the one Jesus picks out for us who are able to win the gold medal.
The great news is Jesus does not hold our past against us. If we are stuck in our walk with Him. If we realize life in Jesus has been all about us up to this point. Simply turn around. He is waiting to receive each one of us. His way is much better than ours.
Are we ready to give up control to the One who knows all things and loves us perfectly?