So today we continue this I am Second series looking at a very inspiring young lady.  Some may know her from the movie Soul Surfer which is all about her story.  Her name is Bethany Hamilton, and I will tell you her story is inspiring and challenging because of how she responds to adversity, and the challenges of life.  I know by now you probably sick of hearing about it, and you are thinking is he seriously going to stand up there and once again remind me of how difficult life is?  Because I’m ready to hear about the good stuff in life!  Ha, well I’m sorry if you think I’m a downer but I do want to continue to press in on you when it comes to life, and it’s very important to me that we keep moving in on you and the reality of life because we know that life is challenging.  The reality of life isn’t really all that pretty is it, and I think for a lot of Christian’s this is confusing.  We don’t understand why life is so challenging and I think this is a major set up for a lot of us…so let’s start here today.  If you are sitting here, and you have asked Jesus into your heart, and you are surprised at how difficult life STILL is after you have joined Jesus’ team, we should talk.  Why would you think that?  The Bible never told you that from the moment you ask Jesus into your life, that all of a sudden life would be easy did it?  So I think this is what can happen, we read verses like this here…

Isaiah 40:31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. NIV

We read that and think, yes!  This is it!  I’m going to ask Jesus into my life and I’m going to soar through life on the wings of eagles, I will run and not grow weary, I will walk and not be faint…which is so awesome and I fully believe it to be true, but maybe we need to ask ourselves what it would actually look like to soar on the wings of eagles because I think what we are picturing isn’t quite what it actually looks like to walk in victory and freedom, on this planet even as someone who is on Jesus’ team.  We read verses about soaring on the wings of eagles, and verses like this here from Paul…

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. NIV

I love this!  We want this right?  We are more than conquerors!  We are soaring on the wings of eagles!  This is what we signed up for as we jumped into Christianity right?  Well both of these statements are absolutely 100% true.  This is our life in Christ but what I think happens is that for so many of us is this, we picture living our life in victory, and joy as an easier or happier life, maybe even a pain free life without challenges.  We don’t envision that life as more than a conqueror or soaring on the wings of eagles may still have challenges in it…but it’s hard to read the Bible and not come to the understanding that life is not easy.  Life is hard and challenges will continue to come at us…so this can be confusing right?  How can I be on Jesus team, doing the church thing, reading my Bible, trying to live for Him now, and still have challenging things hit my life?  And if they do, what would living a life as more than a conqueror really look like?  Because when I read the idea of soaring on the wings of eagles…it doesn’t involve adversity hitting me so hard in life.  So maybe in this we have something to talk about today…because as we look at Bethany Hamilton’s story, here’s what I see, a young woman who lives as the conqueror that we are to be, soaring on the wings of eagles…even after huge adversity has hit her life.  You see for a lot of us, we don’t want to hear that life will keep happening after we join Jesus’ team.  Life should let up on me, otherwise how could I enjoy life and experience that life to the full thing that Sam brings up each week.  We like hearing about soaring on the wings of eagles, we don’t necessarily like hearing about the tough times that come, and how we are to respond to it.  I think we need to see this, because for so many of us, we picture life as a “champion” for Christ being a nice or an easier life than it may actually be, and you are about to watch a young lady model for you what it truly means to be more than a conqueror…and she only has one arm.  Well that doesn’t make sense does it?  Life shouldn’t hit Christian’s that way should it?  Can I be victorious if regardless of my circumstances? Well I think we should watch this video and talk about it.

I am Second Video – Bethany Hamilton

When I watch this young lady speak, there is one place in Scripture that I just can’t get out of my head and I will tell you I often preface this scripture by saying, it’s the one scripture that no one wants to hear when they are walking through difficult times in life and it’s found here in James…

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

This is the last thing anyone wants to hear as they are walking through trials in life…that we should consider it pure joy.  Really, you want me to be happy that I’m walking through this?  I know, it isn’t easy to hear but it is so true and we need to recognize it.  Just to reinforce this, James is not the only one who goes there…Paul does it to in Romans 5…

Romans 5:3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us — they help us learn to endure. 4 And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. 5 And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. NLT

So let’s slow down for a moment, and think about this…the Bible is pretty clear, problems, and trials are coming.  When someone tells me they are not coming because they have God on their side I ask them to look at the life of John the Baptist, or to read Hebrews 11 where we see how great moments happened for some, but some were killed in horrific ways for their faith.  I could literally take you all over the Bible, and show you example after example of this, much like what we looked at here in James and Romans.  You will deal with pain, challenges, and adversity.  It is coming and will continue to come.  But the Bible is also very clear, we as Disciples of Christ are to walk through life in victory, freedom, and joy.  Soaring on the wings of eagles, not growing weary…so how can both exist in our realities?  Well maybe this victory is bigger than our immediate circumstances.  So interesting, and it really gives us so much to talk about today.  How can I soar on the wings of eagles, live as more than a conqueror in a world of pain, and hurts, and adversity?  This is a very important question and I think in Bethany Hamilton’s life we see what soaring on the wings of eagles actually looks like…she walks in victory, and a shark ate one of her arms.  What I see, is someone completely walking in victory in spite of how hard life hit…and I think that is what it truly means to soar on the wings of eagles as a Christian.  It isn’t that pain never hits, it’s actually how we respond to it.  We can have joy, regardless of our circumstances!  That would be special and maybe in there is that life to the full that Jesus came to provide!  So this leads me to some really important questions.

How do you respond when pain hits your life?  You know, this might be the most important question I ask you today.  We want victory in our lives, I just don’t think we picture having to go through tough times to get there.  We need to stop tying our circumstances to that victory, do you catch what I’m saying?  So when tough times hit your life how do you respond?  I will tell you first hand, I don’t often think to respond as James told us to here…

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

I want you thinking about this.  What is your reaction to difficulties in your life?  Do you think something a long these line…’you know what, I need to consider this pure joy because these trials are going to make me better in the end?’  Do you think this is wonderful!  I should look at these tough times as tests that will help me develop fully as the person that God wants me to be, and that in the end I will be mature and complete not lacking anything?  Is that how you respond to tough times in your life?  Ha, I will be honest here and say this is a struggle for me too!

You know what, when it comes to my own life, I can’t tell you that I’m literally excited about the next challenge or test I face!  I don’t get excited when things aren’t going well about how much that will help me develop and mature!  You can ask Mashawn how I handle pain, she would probably tell you that I don’t look like I’m soaring on the wings of eagles all the time!  Ha, lately I have been dealing with lower back pain, and it’s a treat, frankly it’s something I have dealt with for years off and on but lately it hasn’t been good.  And with that back pain, I get frustrated by my circumstances…what I can and can’t do.  I really have enjoyed running, and I haven’t been able to run which frustrates me.  I have a lot of trees in my yard, and when I look out the window and see the leaves…I don’t consider it pure joy as I think about how bad my back hurts and how to get all those leaves moved, frankly I get frustrated.  I see my daughters soccer schedule and know she has tournaments here in November and means cold weather, lots of sitting and standing, and long car rides…all of which aren’t going to help me and my back…and I don’t consider it pure joy.  I will tell you, I have been frustrated, because I have things that I want to do, and right now because of my back (or my circumstances) I just can’t do what I want.  I don’t feel old enough to be put out to pasture just yet, so I find myself, frustrated, and like, really God!  So my response, isn’t joy…it has been more grumpy, more frustration, and more sulking than considering it pure joy.  I am fighting it on the inside because life doesn’t look like what I want it to look like right now…and the other day, I felt like God spoke to me and said, maybe because of this pain, you can slow down and engage me more.  Maybe there is something I want you to see here in this.  UGH, I hear it…I get it, but it certainly doesn’t look like what I want it to look like.  So I’m not considering it pure joy, and I’m not thinking about God’s plan in it, I look more like a pouting child spiritually than someone who is more than a conqueror because I have my own plans!  Then we see someone like Bethany who last her arm, and walks in joy.

So how do we walk in victory in the midst of pain?  I think this is so important.  Often times when pain and tough times hit our lives we turn our focus inward, on to ourselves and our circumstances.  I will say right now, in my worst moments this is exactly what has happened to me like as I deal with my back issues.  I know what I can’t do, and what I want to do, and get frustrated enough that I don’t even thihnk about or want to know what maybe God could do or wants to do with me during this time!  I want you to see this, the key is your focus.  We must stay focused on eternal things, even as we walk through the tough times, which is tough to do because in our pain I think it’s easy to turn inward and focus solely on ourselves or to get angry enough that we don’t want to hear what God may have to say in this process…it makes me think of something Paul wrote here in Romans…

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV

I love this and I think we can see this fully in Bethany’s life, God has transformed her thinking.  Her mind is on eternal things, things bigger than her immediate circumstances…and because of that, she comes out of a shark attack that took her arm, and instead of turning inward, she can look at what God has done and is doing through that, and she walks free.  It’s pretty humbling to think about if you are me pouting over some back pain, as you look at someone with one arm who walks in so much joy…but you see I think this is what it truly means to be more than a conqueror.  This is what it truly means to soar on the wings of eagles…I think for so many of us, we look at our immediate circumstances, and all the pain and challenges of life and think…what in the world is this.  I asked Jesus into my life and life is still so challenging.  We wonder where God is in all of it.  We question why God would allow things to happen and the last thing we want to hear is what James told us earlier right?  That through the pain and the tough times we will be better.  It’s hard to hear but if we can get our eyes and keep our thinking on God and eternal things, I think we may view these trials much, much differently in our lives.

I think this is such an important thing to get into today.  Tough times will come in your life.  That doesn’t change because you are now on Jesus’ team.  You will still deal with things, but I think the difference now becomes that you don’t have to walk through any of it alone and as our minds and our thinking moves off of ourselves onto God, we can view these things very differently and respond so differently to difficult things in our lives.  Because our circumstances don’t determine our joy, or our freedom, or the victory that we walk in…GOD DOES!  I think that is what it means to not be caught up in the patterns of this world here.  Our fleshly response is to sulk, to focus on ourselves and our immediate circumstances…but with the help of the Holy Spirit living inside us, we can respond differently.  But we need God’s help to do it.  Now that’s freedom!

So as we start to close this down today I want you thinking this all through for yourself.  How do you respond to difficulties in your own life?  When tough times hit can you see God in it or do you turn inward and sulk…frustrated with what could be?  You see when I watch Bethany I’m inspired because I think she is showing us what it actually looks like to be that “more than conqueror” type person that we all want to be and I don’t think it looks the way you and I thought it would.  We never picture it ending the way John the Baptist life ended, beheaded in prison…and we certainly don’t picture it with a shark attack and losing an arm or a leg or something like that do we?  As we read scripture it is clear.  Life is not easy.  Difficult and challenging things will come, so the question becomes how do we respond to it?  And when the pain hits will our focus stay on God, or move to ourselves and our circumstances and what we want to be doing in the moments of today rather than the bigger things of God.  I think this is a big question for you today because we are all dealing with life.

So you may be in here today just hurting on the inside, let’s face it you are dealing with a lot.  If you are wondering how I could be so amazingly perceptive as to understand that you are dealing with a lot just know it isn’t that hard to figure out because we are all dealing with so much.  Life is hard, and I want to see you walk in the kind of freedom and joy that God designed for your life, and you have to understand, that it’s bigger than the spot you are in right now and I think that is so hard to do when you are walking in so much pain in the moment.  So I leave you today with this one idea.  If you are sitting there struggling.  Wondering how in the world to even go on, I really want to encourage you to focus on Christ.  This is our rallying point, and while all your pain is trying to keep you focused on you, we must realize and focus on Jesus and what He did for us on the cross!  That is how we get through the toughest moments in life when we don’t feel like going on, when we want to give up, we got back to the story of Jesus and what He did for us on the cross, check this out here in Hebrews…

Hebrews 12:2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. 3 When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! MSG

In the end, you need to understand that pain is coming, it’s part of our lives on this planet.  The real question isn’t if there is pain, but how you respond to it.  Are you able to focus on God and eternal things in it, or just your circumstances?  Freedom is found in walking in victory regardless of your circumstances.

In the end, when we can stay focused on eternal things in this mess of life, we can walk in the kind of victory that we all want…that is not a life without pain, but a life free to move towards God regardless of the pain.  That is what it means to soar on the wings of eagles, that is what it means to be more than a conqueror.   This life to the full thing, is a life moving towards God, with joy, and freedom, and victory regardless of what life throws at us.

So this is what true victory actually looks like.