Love from roses

With this post, I am excited to share some reflections from my recent devotions and book readings over the past month. I’ve been reading the book titled, Quiet, written by Susan Cain which is about introversion. And I’ve also recently finished reading the book titled, Tortured For Christ, written by Reverend Richard Wurmbrand which is about the persecution of the Underground Church in countries closed to the gospel. Additionally, my Pastor’s current message series titled, Culture Shift, is very timely to my recent introspections. The message content in all three has seriously challenged my thoughts and hopefully my growth as a mature Christ-follower in this tumultuous day and age. With that said, my heart in this post is to share some spiritual leadership takeaways that can help you and I to love and grow like Christ in an increasingly dark world.

To begin, I’d like to go through a brief overview of the cultural climate of America from the 19th Century to the cultural climate that we now find ourselves in the 21st Century. I believe it has significant relevance for how we can love and grow as mature believers in Christ during these times and how we can have the greatest influence for God’s kingdom on earth.

The Cultural Climate Of 19th Century America – A Culture Of Character

In the 19th Century, the strength of American society rested primarily on a culture of social character. A person’s strength of character is what primarily influenced other people in society. 19th Century America was characterized by the Agricultural age, people working on farms, representatives being statesmen, popular sermons being truth-based like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards, and popular books affirming the culture of character like Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

In Susan Cain’s, Quiet, she communicates that a culture of internal character in the 19th Century could be described with words like citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, morals, manners, and integrity. As I further study the 19th Century period, I think the primary domestic spiritual emphasis in America was a pious devotion and the major foreign spiritual antagonism to America was state religion.

The Cultural Climate Of 20th Century America – A Culture Of Personality

Contrastingly, in the 20th Century era, the strengths of internal character in the 19th century society shifted to strengths of external personality. Inner virtue of character was no longer the strength that primarily influenced people in the 20th Century, but rather the effective outer charm of personality. In the 20th Century, America was characterized by the Industrial age, people working in factories, representatives being politicians, popular sermons being prosperity-based like “Your Best Life Now” by Joel Osteen, and popular books affirming the culture of personality like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

In her book, Susan Cain communicates that a culture of external personality could be described with words like charisma, magnetism, fascination, stunning, attractiveness, glowing, dominance, and energy. As I further study the 20th Century period, I think the primary domestic spiritual emphasis in America was the gifts of the Holy Spirit as awakened by the Azusa Street Revival and the major foreign spiritual antagonism to America was social fascism and atheistic communism.

The Cultural Climate Of 21st Century America – A Culture Of Self-Love

Unfortunately, in the 21st Century, I believe another shift in our American society is taking place and it is a shift from a culture of external personality to a culture of self-love. In the 21st Century, America will be characterized by the Information age, people working on computers, representatives becoming autocrats, popular sermons “itching the ears” of hearers, and popular books affirming a culture of self-love.

This 21st Century culture of self-love can be described with words like selfie, proud, boastful, radical, fanatical, hoarder, heretical, terror, hater, and survivalist. As I further ponder the implications of the 21st Century society, I believe the primary domestic spiritual emphasis in America will be the fruits of the Holy Spirit developed through heightened persecution.  For the Christ-follower, our response to any form of personal persecution provides a litmus test for distinguishing between selfless love for others and selfish love for oneself. In a dark and depraved society, having the genuine fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) will be the only way to effectively live as a Christ-follower in the 21st Century when the major foreign and domestic spiritual antagonism to America will be religious fascism and increasing social depravity.

If we dare to objectively survey the current cultural landscape in 21st Century America, we can clearly see the culture of external personality giving way to a culture of self-love which has significant implications for you and I living as Christians in this day and age. Facebook, LinkedIn, SnapChat, InstaGram, iPods, iPads, and iPhones have given everyone the opportunity to share their iThoughts, iBeliefs, and iOpinions with the whole world. In this type of iFocused culture, the spiritual stakes are high because everyone has an easy and free platform to propagate their individual agendas with their only governor being the mental, emotional, and spiritual state of the individual person. On top of that, the rapid advancement of religious fascism overseas and within America along with the advancement of depraved social lifestyles pose major foreign and domestic spiritual antagonisms that seriously impact the fabric of our society – making it an extremely dark and wicked culture such as it was in the days of Noah. Isn’t it interesting that Hollywood produced a major feature film this year titled Noah?

Spiritual Implications For Christ-followers Living In 21st Century America

In this wicked and depraved culture, the people who will have the greatest influence during these perilous times will be genuine followers of Christ who are baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Personality alone won’t cut it in the dark places of 21st Century society where we are now finding ourselves in America, and neither will character for that matter. Personality power and character power can be self-generated; however, anything of self-generated power will not last in the days ahead. The only power that will have any enduring strength in a very dark and wicked culture will be true spiritual power grounded in a genuine faith in Christ. True spiritual power is far different and superior to personality power and character power because it can never be self-generated. It can only be generated through a genuine faith in Christ that is fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit regardless of the personal cost.

Unfortunately though, for many sons and daughters of the Most High King, particularly in our highly blessed nation of America, we mistakenly think that having a genuine faith in Christ and true spiritual power from the Holy Spirit means that we get a chalice of glory, but not a cup of shame, we get a robe of many colors, but not a mantle of mockery, we get the role of leader, but not the role of foot washer, we get the crown of life, but not the cross of death.

The Paradox Of True Spiritual Power In Christ

To think this way is truly unfortunate because the life of a genuine Christ-follower empowered by the Holy Spirit with true spiritual power on earth is characterized by the same spiritual paradox of Christ’s own life while He lived on earth. When Jesus walked the earth, He was indeed our Sovereign King, but He was also our Suffering Savior. As Christ- followers, our lives on earth gain true spiritual power as we are shaped and molded into Christ-likeness by sharing in His reign as a child of our Most High King, but by also sharing in His obedience as a follower of our Suffering Savior. In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny Himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Christians in other countries where the gospel is illegal have a keen understanding for what it means to take up their cross and follow Jesus, even unto death if it be in His will. As a result, they gain true spiritual power by serving Jesus as their Sovereign King and their Suffering Savior through the daily persecution they experience.

Two Spiritual Principles That Shape The Life Of Every Genuine Christ-follower

In his book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders teaches that there are two spiritual principles in the kingdom of God that shape the life of every genuine Christ-follower: the Sovereign principle and the Suffering principle. To be a genuine Christ follower, there is no way around these two spiritual principles. James and John, the apostles of Jesus, learned this directly from Jesus.

In Mark 10:35-45, the bible tells us, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’  36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  37 They said to Him, ‘Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.’

38 But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’

The New Living Translation reads like this: “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

The Suffering Principle In The Kingdom Of God

39 “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Then Jesus told them, ‘You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.”

The Sovereign Principle In The Kingdom Of God

“But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones He has chosen.”

James and John wanted the glory of Christ – sitting at His right and left – but not the suffering of Christ. They wanted the power of Christ – do for us whatever we ask – but not the shame of Christ – nail scarred hands. At that moment, they wanted their will to be done in their life, but not His will to be done in their life. How often do you and I approach God in the same manner as James and John did in that moment? Like James and John, we want Jesus to make us happy, make us important, and give us whatever we ask for; however, Jesus will have nothing of this form of Christianity because He is more concerned with developing our personal Christ-likeness rather than our personal comforts.

The Sovereign Principle And The Suffering Principle Are A Holy Combination

The holy combination of the Sovereign principle and the Suffering principle forms the foundation for how Jesus develops His followers into His likeness so that we can have true spiritual power that loves others selflessly and rocks our dark world for Him. These two principles are further highlighted in the scripture verses of John 15:16 and 1 Peter 4:12-18.

In John 15:16, Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”

We don’t get to choose our assignments. We don’t get to pick our roles. We don’t get to say who sits on the right and the left in the kingdom of God. These matters of choice are left solely to the sovereign will of Almighty God the Father. He alone chooses, He alone qualifies, and He alone empowers each person with true spiritual power that bears lasting fruit.

And 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world.

No Genuine Christ-follower Is Exempt From Growth Through Suffering

By highlighting these verses and also speaking of the sufferings experienced by persecuted Christians, I am not implying that we will all experience the same kind of physical sufferings as our brothers and sisters in the Underground Church. However, I am implying that none of us are exempt from being developed into Christ-likeness through suffering. While it’s not likely in America that we will suffer physical crucifixion like Christ did and many modern day martyrs of our faith in the Underground Church around the world, it is certain that we will all learn obedience by the things we suffer just as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane – the crucifixion of our will to His will through yieldedness and submission to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.

Romans 8:17-18 states, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.”

The good news is this: there is nothing we can give, no cost to great, and no suffering too painful that can compare to the glory that will be revealed in us and through us as children of our Most High Reigning King and obedient followers of our All-Loving Suffering Savior.

Crushed Christians Reward Others With The Love Of Christ   

In the book, Tortured For Christ, Reverend Richard Wurmbrand writes that “when you crush a flower, it rewards you with the pleasant smell of its aroma.” And he further shares that likewise, when we are crushed as Christians, our lives should reward others with the love of Christ. As we desire to be used greatly by God, my prayer is that we can embrace the great crushing of our wills to His will so that we can be His noble vessels to share His great love and compassion to a lost and hurting world around us.

To God’s glory, have a blessed “Make It Happen” day!

Love And Grow Like Christ In An Increasingly Dark World Copyright 2014, The Make It Happen Learning Institute. You have permission to reprint the leadership article, Love And Grow Like Christ In An Increasingly Dark World, in its entirety only, and forward to your colleagues and friends, provided the copyright notice remains part of the reprint and transmission. All other rights reserved.