In 2009, when we lived out in Southern California, I had the opportunity to meet Kirk Cameron. Some of you may know that the actor is significantly invested in the cause of Christ and that God has given Kirk a specific passion for Biblical evangelism. In “real life,” Mr. Cameron is just as kind and engaging as you might imagine from his public persona. For those of you who don’t remember, Kirk’s acting career began at the age of 14, and he was an avowed atheist until the age of 17.
Kirk and his wife Chelsea have six grown children. In a recent interview, Kirk shared a quote from one of his daughters: “It’s the same boiling water that softens potatoes that hardens eggs. It just depends on what you’re made of.” I like that.
If you really think about the humanity of Jesus, it causes you to recognize that we – even on our best days – fall far short of being the best version of ourselves. If you analyze it theologically, Jesus is fully human, yet fully God. That means that Jesus, unlike anyone else in the universe, is the perfect human. He shows us the best of humanity. When we read an account in the Bible of an interaction that Jesus had with another person, we know that what we’re seeing in the words and actions of Jesus is nothing short of perfect love. Not only are we not like that, but we don’t know anyone else like that either. We’re far from perfect, and I certainly don’t have to convince you of that fact.
So when you and I love another person – no matter how hard we may try – we love that person imperfectly. We may exhibit some self-sacrificial love on occasion, but our best actions are always tainted by some degree of self and sin. “What’s in it for me?” is a question I’m asking even when I don’t know I’m asking it. Inherent selfishness is simply part of being a flawed human, and one who is more closely connected to Adam than I would ever want to admit.
So … here we are … trying to love like Jesus … but not getting it exactly right. Maybe you’re like me in that, just when you think you’re making some progress in the saga of sanctified selflessness, you notice some other area of your life where you’re holding on tightly to the idols of pride and control. I think of those spiritual frustrations – the internal conflict between who I want to be and who I know I am – as growing pains. It can feel like a vicious cycle at times, but you and I have to stand by faith on God’s promise that He’s going to finish the good work that He began in us when we first trusted Christ (Philippians 1:6). Even when we are not, God is faithful.
And if we have growing pains, well, we must be growing. We can praise the Lord for that! What I want you to think about today is shoring up your identity as a Christ-follower so that – when the temporal frustration tries to invade your soul in the form of debilitating discouragement – you can refuse to be derailed by what feels very much like an insurmountable spiritual failure. I’m firmly convinced that the enemy wants all of us to declare ourselves “total flops” so that we’ll give up on the race which we’ve been called to run for God’s glory.
Expanding just a tad on Kirk’s daughter’s quote, I’ll share with you here three simple thoughts for your time of personal reflection, just as soon as you get the chance to think deeply on this subject.
- The challenges are coming; it’s not a question of if I will face tough challenges to my identity, but when I will face those challenges. Pressure is everywhere around me, and most of it is negative and contradictory to my core identity in Jesus. I need the Word, regularly. I need fellowship in prayer, regularly. I need fellowship with other believers, regularly. I need gracious but firm accountability, regularly. There are some means of grace available to me, right now, which can keep my heart from hardening under even intense pressure. The Holy Spirit Himself desires to fill me with such strong Christ-identity that I will stay humble before the Lord, humble before my adversaries, and humbly open to truly hearing – when I need it most – the reassuring voice of God.
- Spiritual setbacks can be discouraging, but I can choose to translate them into learning opportunities. From time to time, we all get so busy and distracted that we fail to see the pitfalls which are before us. We yield to temptation, or we carelessly set ourselves (or others) up for trouble – because we have let down our spiritual guard. It happens to all of us, and it will happen more than once this side of heaven. I must ask the Lord to show me where things went wrong, and what my role was in that (it’s always there to one degree or another). Then I can confess, repent, learn, grow, and move on in a healthy way.
- I have one on my side who is far more invested in my crossing the finish line than I, and I can trust Him completely. He is my Friend who sticks closer than a brother. When I come under the discipline of God, that discipline is only a manifestation of His unyielding love toward me, and an expression of His relentless care for me. He will never leave me or forsake me. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross on my behalf, my heavenly Father’s favorable opinion of me is unchanging – He is always with me, always delighting in me, and always for me!
Those truths just might help you make it through a growing pain or two, friends, and hopefully, they’ll help you keep all of your growing pains in their proper (and not larger-than-life) perspective.
I’ll quote my friend Kirk before I sign off for today: “If you don’t know what you’re made of, don’t look to your environment or your industry or other people to give you an identity. There was somebody who made you – ask Him. And you can be sure that the ending of the story is gonna be fantastic.”
I like happy endings. I love happy endings. Hollywood can’t promise them, but our glorious Savior – risen from the dead – can! So, despite these pesky growing pains – here’s to our guaranteed happy endings!