To illustrate today's lesson, I'd like to begin with a science fiction story.
The time is far in the future. The place is planet xumorpek. A planet whose surface is riddled with such immense spires and valleys that walking anywhere is impossible. To the human settlers, this poses a problem, so with the wonder of genetic engineering, each of the young ones as they come of age is given the power to transform into a bird.
There were four youngsters coming of age that year. each had chosen a different bird for their transform.
"I would be a hummingbird." said the first. "agile and quick."
"I would be an eagle." said the second. "Powerful and keen."
"I would be a swan." said the third. "Graceful and beautiful."
The fourth one was hesitant to speak.
"What do you wish to become?" the elders asked him.
"A duck." said the boy.
All the others laughed. Why, given the chance to be any bird at all, would anyone wish to be a duck? They tried to make him change his mind, but he refused. They never let him live it down. They teased him constantly, and the boy was miserable. Yet he endured this ridicule, and when the time came to receive his power, he ignored the taunts and thought only about the flights he would fly as a duck.
Several months later, disaster struck. The building which held the colony's food supply was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The elders sent out their four youngest fliers to find some place where food was available.
After a few hours, the hummingbird was too exhausted to continue. He returned to the colony and reported failure.
Two days passed and the swan found she was unable to continue. She, too, turned back and reported failure.
Several more days passed and the eagle found himself unable to continue. He returned to the colony and reported that no food had been found.
But the duck had the greatest endurance of all. Despite aching pain in his chest and his wings, he continued on. When he felt like giving up, his mind went back to the elders who had sent him on his quest. Remembering their need gave him the strength to keep going. After a week of flying, he came upon a large flat expanse where there were fruit trees, fields of grain and large, grazing animals. He alone returned with the news that would save the colony. From that day forward, everyone regarded the boy who became a duck as a great hero.
We all face troubles. If you live in the world, you're going to have trouble. And whether for good or for ill, being a Christian doesn't make your troubles go away. If anything, we have more troubles. After all, there's a flipside to "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." It's also true that Satan hates you and has a destructive plan for your life. All the moreso if you happen to be effective in accomplishing God's work.
Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him. He did say "MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light." (Matthew 11:30). God sees fit not to give us a great deal of trouble, for he knows that the way is already difficult enough. Even before He was forced to carry His cross to Golgatha, Jesus used this analogy: Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." This is a highly appropriate analogy for one big reason. Jesus has called us to be like Him. The people of this world despised Him for what He was. He is holy, pure, and true. He is like a light which illuminates their flaws and sins. For this, they despised Him, and continue to despise Him today. They arrested Him, tried Him illegally, beat Him, whipped Him, spit on Him, poisoned Him, drove nails in His body, and hoisted Him up on a cross to die the most painful and humiliating death which human cruelty has ever devised.
If we are truly "Christians", how can we hope to be treated any better by the world? John 15:20 "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."
Let's read a little more there...
21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'
Pretty grim. But hang on... Down here in chapter 16, look what it says...
20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
If we face so much hardship and persecution, what's the cause for joy? It's all in those four little words. "I will see you". When we are persecuted, we can take comfort in the knowledge that this striving is not forever. When the course of our life is through, we shall arrive at our Heavenly home and enter into our rest. There, we will see Jesus face-to-face, and if we have persevered to the end, He will reward us with honor and gratitude. For those of us who remain faithful until the end, He has promised each of us a victor's crown.
But the way is rough. There will be opposition. There will be slander and libel. There will be lawsuits and injunctions. There will be hatred and threats and yes, even violence. Some may not even realize why they hate you. They'll simply turn on you because Satan hates you and has a hold of their hearts. Sometimes it may seem like too much. You'll be tempted to quit, to go home early.
Some people may think it incongruous that a Christian should harbor thoughts of suicide. Certainly it's something we should not do, but when life is hard to take and you know that there's something better waiting, that you can have peace and be united with the Lord and the saints past if you'll just give up, the temptation can be horrendous. As many of you know, this is a temptation I myself struggle with quite often. Faced with an existance where just doing an honest day's work leaves me in tremendous pain and I am forced to endure searing injections just to continue living, it would be easy for me to just quit taking my medicines and let death take me. Why don't I? Because I know what it's like to look into Jesus' eyes and see disappointment. I experienced it once in a dream, and it is an image that will be emblazened in my brain until the end of my days. I could not bear looking into Jesus' eyes and knowing that I had failed to complete my race. Especially knowing that I will never get another chance, and will have to live with that shame forever.
So we've established that we must endure to the end. But how? Well, let's take a look at our friend the duck-boy.
The first thing he did was choose to equip himself for endurance. While others went for brute force, quickness or vain beauty, he chose a form which he knew would be able to fly longer than anyone else.
Likewise, the Christian has tools at their disposal which work much like a fursuit transformation. As we apply them, they become part of us and change us, enabling us to withstand the attacks of the devil. First, of course, is the helmet of salvation. Then there's the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, and the shoes of the preparation of the gospel. If any of you have ever read Vic Toriuos, you know that he had two additional garments from scripture- the mantle of love and the ornamentation of a peaceful spirit. All of these things transform us as we apply them and use them. Even the one offensive weapon, the Word of God, changes us in this way. As we study the bible, prepare our minds with the gospel, exercise faith and bear witness to the truth, we will find ourselves transformed into creatures which the world may think silly, but who are imbued with God's power in a way that it cannot be seperated from us any more than one can pour water out of brine and leave all the salt.
Our friend daily endured ridicule. It was never easy or pleasant, but he did it by focussing his mind on one thing- his goal of flying as a duck. We can do even better than that. When we endure those trials and tribulations, we can focus our attention on Christ, and think forward toward that moment when He looks into our eyes and says "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!" This won't make the pains any less painful, but it will give us the courage to make it through them.
Then finally, when faced with the seemingly impossible task of finding food, our friend flew until his wings and chest were burning. He kept flying despite the anguish he felt. It was the the thought of the elders, the ones who commissioned him, which gave him the strength to carry on. Again, our situation is even better. We have more than just a thought to sustain us. We have God's promise that He is always with us, that He will never fail or leave us. When we need Him most, He is there, often working unseen, to give us what we need. Sometimes it comes in the form of relief, sometimes He grants us an extra boost of power. Always, He insures that we are able to finish the race set before us.
I'm reminded of a story in which some baptists and pentacostals were having a joint service and the preacher fell off the stage ond broke his ankle. The pentacostals prayed that he would be delivered from this injury while the baptists prayed for the grace to get through it. God sometimes does one, sometimes the other. He knows which is better for the situation, and we can trust Him to do one or the other for us as His wisdom dictates.
My challenge to you, if you have not accepted Christ as your savior, is to consider what He has endured for you, and understand that while accepting Jesus will add problems to your life, it will also add to you the power and the strength to face your problems with the sure knowledge of victory. A victory which is impossible without Him, as a life without Christ ends only in suffering.
If you are already a Christian, then my challenge to you is to live like the duck. Equip yourselves with God's power, focus your eyes on the goal, and allow God to help you. And with all this, follow the course which God has set before you until the very end.
Pastor Oren Otter
September 10, 2005