Surprised by Suffering

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“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”  1 Peter 4:12

How do You care for those You love, Lord?  I mean, not those You love “distantly,” you know, those that You love but they, on the other hand, don’t want to have anything to do with You, but those who You love and want everything to do with You?  How do You care for those You love, those You have chosen and who are answering that call, those who are precious to You and to whom You are becoming more and more precious?

Do you keep them from troubles?  No, You walk with them in the fire.  You give them strength in the midst of difficulties.  You give them hope.  I suppose it’s a form of tough love.  But then again, Jesus walked through the fire for us.  If He is my master, why should I receive better from the world than Him?  Why should the love that I demonstrate back to You be any less?  Why should I be allowed to skip the test?

I like the way the Amplified version shares this verse, “Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange (unusual and alien to you and your position) were befalling you.”  When troubles come in my life, do I sit amazed and bewildered as though I should be immune?  Do I act as though I’m undeserving of going through struggles?  Yet Jesus was deserving?  And isn’t that telling, the part of thinking it’s unusual and alien to me and my “position”?  When I think I don’t deserve struggles, am I elevating myself above Jesus?  Why would he deserve struggles and me not?  Why would I think that?  If the Son of God was tested and demonstrated the stuff he was made of and his loyalty to his heavenly Father, why wouldn’t I expect the same and be preparing myself and allowing Your word and Your Spirit to prepare me for it?

But, more often then not, I find myself saying, “Why, Lord?  Why are they treating me this way?  Why am I going through this?  Why me?  Why this?”  Why am I surprised?  Why does it throw me for a loop?  Why?  You’ve told me to not be surprised by it.  It’s not new news.  It’s old news.  I should expect stuff like this.  You’ve told me.  I’ve heard about it already.  It’s the story time and time again since the beginning of time.  When did it become so shockingly out of the ordinary?  When it hits me.

I guess it was the same for these beloved believers in Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.  When the persecution and trials were hitting them, they were acting like they didn’t know why, like they weren’t expecting it either.  So Peter reminds them and us, “Stop thinking it’s alien and stop being shocked!”  PreceptAustin.org reminds us “Remember that all of the commands of God come with the power of God to carry them out!  Submit.  Yield. Surrender to His will.  Continually walk in the Spirit.  Continually be being filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit.”  Every fiery trial is an opportunity to do just that, to see if our talk is also the reality of our walk.

I need to stop being caught off guard.  I need to be in Your word, all of it, so I know that none of this stuff of life is new.  Those believers living thousands of years before me have gone through this and worse and those after me will go through this and worse.  I have the testimony of those before me, and even the testimony of those who will come after me to guide me through!  I mean, I can even be encouraged in Revelation by those who have persevered to the end.  Do I think one would need to persevere if there were no fiery trial?

When the Lord chose Paul as an apostle He said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16)  Oh, well, that’s Paul.  I’m not Paul, Lord.  Well, Paul helps me out there because he reminded the believers, of which I am now one, “That no one be moved by these afflictions.  For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)  Jesus repeatedly told us we would need to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him.  What did I think he meant?  Paul was clear as well.  “…[W]e also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…” (Romans 5:3); “…but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses…” (2 Corinthians 6:4),  “…we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed: perplexed, but not despairing…” (2 Cor. 4:8), “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2Cor. 4:17), “…and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” (2 Cor. 1:7)

No, I am not immune to suffering as a believer.  I should expect it to come in some shape or form and be ready for it.  Paul warned Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12)  It’s not a maybe.  I can count on it.  So why do I let myself get caught off guard? 

John Piper shared an awesome message on this entitled The Holy Spirit Will Help You Die.  He explains, “This is an admonition to know what God is like.  This is an admonition to have a true and deep theology.  If you know that God sometimes wills for his people to suffer as 1 Peter 4:19 says; that God’s judgment begins with Christians to test us as 1 Peter 4:17 says; and that if suffering befell the King how much more his subjects (John 15:2) as 1 Peter 4:13 implies; then when your fiery ordeal comes you will not be surprised.  You will not raise your fist and say, ‘Where is God now when a young missionary and father of two children is shot through the heart?’  You may weep for the pain, you may be angry at the sin of the killers, but you will not be surprised.  Your knowledge of God, learned from 1 Peter 4:12-19, will not let you be thrown into confusion or uncertainty.  God is the all-powerful Creator and God is faithful to His people.  So the first admonition is, Don’t be surprised at suffering.  Know your God!  Have a true and deep theology.”

How do I make it to the other side of the fiery trial?  I need to stop deceiving myself and start expecting it to come.   I need to learn to rejoice in it, because You are using it in my life to mold and shape me and to show that I am Yours.  I need to look for Your blessing in the midst and the presence of Your Holy Spirit.  I need to know why I am suffering and make sure it’s for Your righteousness and not my own agenda.  I need to know that I need purifying and because I’m part of Your household, it will come to me first.  And I need to learn to entrust my everything to You no matter the cost. 

Am I willing to step up like a real son/daughter?  Am I willing to allow You to take me through whatever fiery trials You have for me, so that I can be everything You created me to be in You?  St. Augustine once said, “God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without trial.”  Trials will come.  And they will keep on coming.  But God is bringing them for a reason, for a glorious purpose in us.  Rather than letting these hard situations cause me to be bitter and unmovable, Lord, may I be ready and respond in faith and love and perseverance, knowing that You have designed each one for my good and Your glory.  As You prove me, Lord, let me come out of the fire, purer, truer, stronger, more loving and caring, and more like You every time.

I can’t get over John Piper’s sermon, The Holy Spirit Will Help You Die.  He later shared a story of a young mother named Perpetua who was imprisoned, mauled by a wild heifer, and then beheaded.  She even had a nursing infant.  But she wouldn’t deny Christ.  She was even a new believer.  She wouldn’t deny Christ for the love of her own life, not even for the love of her infant, or her mother or father.  In the arena, she encouraged fellow believers.  If someone was to threaten my life or the life of a family member, would I be willing to die for You, Lord?  Would I be willing to allow them to die for You?  Oh, that You would give me that strength in the time of my need!

This is a good thought to end with.  John Piper keeps me thinking.  “But more important is the fact that thinking about your own death for Christ will help you live for Christ as you should. A true Christian must be willing to say, “I will not renounce Christ even if it costs my life.” But as soon as we say that it makes a whole lot of things in our lives look ridiculous. I will die for you but I can’t find time to sit and read your teaching each day. I will die for you but prayer doesn’t seem real. I will die for you but I can’t talk to Jim about you at work. I will die for you but I can’t support your cause with more than 10% of my income. One of the best ways to bring wonderful Christ-honoring changes into your life is to measure your way of life by your willingness to die for Jesus.”  Lord, if I would be willing to truly die for You, then I want to truly live for You as well.

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Prayer and the End of All Things

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“ But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”  1 Peter 4:7

That is one sad phrase to hear, isn’t it?  “The end is here.”  That’s not even the whole of it but let’s just imagine a little bit of what that feels like.  Then end of vacation.  The end of visiting with family you don’t get to see much.  The end of Christmas day.  The end of the Fellowship of Christian Puppeteers National Conference.  The end of a life here on earth.  But the words here say “the end of all things is at hand…”

Yep, all means all.  My life as I know it, is in the process of coming to an end.  Every moment is in the process of coming to an end.  The world and everything in it is in that same process of coming to an end.  There is a limit to the time we and everything else have to experience life as we know it now.  There is a limit, a definite time or goal set by God, not just individually, but there is a day that You have set Lord, when all things as we know it will cease to be and the way that You know things ought to be and were created to be will come to be. 

I wonder if I’m living as though any day could be my last day?  It would be an awful shame to ignore the truth I know, and waste the days I’ve been given.  I don’t have an excuse for living ignorantly.  You’ve given me everything I need to know.  You’ve even given me Your Spirit to empower me.  But where am I focussed?  Am I focussed on things that are ending or am I focussed on life and things eternal?  Where am I in prayer?  Is my mind soundly set on You and Your ways?  Where do my thoughts and imaginations dwell?  Am I alert to the inclinations of the Holy Spirit?  Am I ever in-tuned to Your leading like a good soldier?  Am I alert to the things happening around me and to the open hearts or redirection of Your Spirit?  How is my prayer life?  How ready for each day, which may be my last, our last, am I?  ‘Cause we won’t be living like this forever.  You’ve got a new world full of Your ways, and extra full of You coming!

The Amplified Bible shares 1 Peter 4:7 like this, “The end and culmination of all things is near.  Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to HIm.]  The Complete Jewish Bible shares, “The accomplishing of the goal of all things is close at hand.  Therefore, keep alert and self-controlled, so that you can pray.”  Do I get the emphasis?  What is the way to handle the coming end of all things?  What is the most important way to prepare and be ready and to live in that in-between time once I know Jesus and am surrendered to You as Lord and Savior?  PRAYER.  If I don’t stay in constant communication with You, the rest is going to fall apart in my life.

The type of love and hospitality, the way I use my giftings, the kind of steward I am,  the words I speak and whether I glorify You or not will all flow from the kind of relationship I have with You in prayer.  Am I dependent upon my time with You?  Do I cry out to You in my neediness?  Or am I self-sufficient?  What is my prayer life like?  Is it powerless?  So will the rest of my life be.  Is there no urgency?  Is that because my thoughts are more lined up with this world than with You?

I don’t want to be like the scoffers in the end times, that Peter says are busy walking after their own lusts, their own desires.  I don’t want to get comfortable sitting on my haunches saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)  No, they aren’t.  The minute Adam and Eve chose their own way over You, that first sin of choosing something less than God in the place of You, that was the beginning of all things ending.  Sin brought with it death, the end of good things.  And just as You promised that all things would die, so You promised that all things would come to a final end, and be made new in You, so that some day, those who put their trust in You through Your promised Messiah, who came as a Bethlehemite and a Nazarene and suffered the cross for our reconciliation and Your glory, and who rose again, to make this picture clear for us, could bring us to You.  Jesus has paved the way so that the end is not the end for those who believe. 

It’s funny.  Now that I’ve been a full time missionary for over 2 years, I understand better how this world is not my home.  I can be “home” in Luray, Virginia, with my family, friends, and church, but I know it’s only for a time.  This is not my home any more.  And then I can be home in Manila, Philippines, with my family of God, and my husband, and friends, and I still know it’s only for a time.  This is not my home either.  I’m getting older, as we all do.  My body is changing.  I understand there is a limit not only on my life, but on that of the world as we know it.  And it still comes down to that one question.  How is my prayer life?  Am I in tune with You, Lord?  Am I where I need to be in You for the moments I have left?  Because if I’m not, others will lose out, and there is an eternity at stake here.  Lord, help my heart to love and cherish and long for time with You in prayer to know what I need to know and how I need go each day.

“Life is Like a Box of Chocolates…”(F.G) or a Bag of Balloons…

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“Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?”  Acts 4:25, Psalm 2

So, today’s a sidetrack but not a sidetrack.  Life happens in the midst of our devotions and meditations and diverts us, not from meditating, but sends us deeper into prior meditations.  So that’s where I’m dwelling right now.

Not long ago, I was memorising Psalm 2:   “Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things.  The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take council together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us.’  He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.  Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.  ‘Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.’  I will declare the decree: ‘The Lord has said unto me, You are my Son; this day have I begotten You.  Ask of me, and I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’  Be wise now therefore, O you kings: be instructed, you judges of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.  Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

At first read, maybe that sounds depressing and harsh.  I mean, it talks about the Lord dashing the heathen to pieces and breaking them with a rod of iron.  That’s harsh.  That sounds “Old Testament”-ish.  It doesn’t apply today, right?

Well, maybe we haven’t been reading it rightly.  Because this is the same scripture that the new believers referred to as they were rejoicing following some of their first persecution after Peter and John healed a man by the power of Jesus (Jesus-that one that God was ultimately referring to through David’s words, the one He has set on His holy hill of Zion).  So, I want to see where Peter and John and the new believers go with this.

Peter and John had been heading to the temple in Jerusalem, and on their way this day, there was a man crippled from birth laying outside one of the main gaits for entering the temple, the Beautiful Gate.  There he was, asking for alms, because that was the only way he had of making a living.  Peter and John, didn’t just have compassion on this man but they listened to the Holy Spirit on how to show that compassion.  They had no money to give him.  They had something better.  Peter didn’t just see this beggar man.  He fastened his eye on him, and John did as well.  There was something greater going on here.  Then they told the man to heed them, not just look at them.  So he did, but only expecting money.  But, that wasn’t what he got. 

“Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”  And Peter took him by the right hand, lifted him up, and he lept and walked and entered the temple with them praising God.  Everybody saw.  So why didn’t everybody believe?

Sometimes, we all get so caught up in anger and in imagining and striving toward things that are just vain, just empty.  We get so caught up, we can’t see the truth in front of our own eyes.  The truth is that there is Someone reaching out to us who is able “to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…” (Ephesians 3:20)  If only we would let that power work in us…

Life is like a bag of balloons.  Well, that’s rather “Forrest Gumpish, isn’t it?  But I’m a balloon twister sometimes.  And my whole bag of balloons is really useless unless I fill them with air and form them into balloon creations.  What good is a bag of balloons that just stays a bag of balloons.  Here in the heat of the Philippines, they will just degrade before long.  Then what good were they, unless I let them be filled with air and shaped and molded and allow them to bring joy to others.

God’s whole goal is for us to be “filled with the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)  Our problem is that we’re too busy occupying ourselves with things that just keep leaving us empty.  We keep our imaginations and thoughts and strivings on things that can’t fill us, and never will.  The truth is, knowing the Son is the only way to know the Father.  Knowing the Son is the only way to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”  (Psalm 2:12)

One of the things these verses from Psalm 2 and Acts 4 reminds me is that there are hard things in life.  But even in the midst of difficulty, God’s fullness in Christ brings power, prayer, and praise.  Look at Peter.  Look at John.  Look at the lame man.  Now see the glory of Psalm 2 for yesterday and today and forever:  “Lord, thou art God, which has made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:  who by the mouth of your servant David has said, ‘Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?  The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.  For of a truth against your holy child Jesus, whom you have anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever your hand and your counsel determined before to be done.  And now Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of your holy child Jesus.”  And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:24-31)

Do I believe that God is in control of every circumstance in my life, even the bad?  Do I cry for escape or is my greatest prayer for boldness to proclaim the wonder and power of God?  Who am I like?  Where are my thoughts focussed?   Lord, may my thoughts be focussed on you no matter what kind of chocolate I pull from the box.

Living in the Spirit- Part 4- Ultimate Delight

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“…so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God…For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”  1 Peter 4: 2,6

It’s easy to hear the words to live “for the will of God.”  It’s great to know that we can and ought to “live in the spirit the way God does.”  It’s even better news to hear that the gospel is telling us this is attainable.  It’s not only saying it’s attainable, but that this is the goal and design of God.  It’s great to hear all this, but how do we get there?

I don’t get there by listening only.  Hearing, for the Jew, meant to listen and apply to ones life.  That’s why Peter has been telling us practical ways of applying our lives and thoughts and actions to living in the will and spirit of the Lord.  That’s why Paul and the other authors of scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, shared the same, and showed what it looked like walking it out and what it doesn’t look like when we aren’t walking it out. 

The other day I got to share, “walk out,” and think about Jesus through the time he stayed back at the temple as a 12 year old youth.  And when his parents came back and finally found him, he was surprised that they didn’t know where to look for him and answered, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Only, the original Greek doesn’t say that.  It says, “in my Father’s these,” a weird construction we don’t quite know how to put together at first.  But maybe it’s more than being in the house of God?

What if it’s more of something like, “I must be in my Father’s every moment, every move.  I must be in the midst of my Father and what He is doing and where He is.”?  What if it’s a fluidness matched by solidness to be lined up with the spirit of God wherever, whenever, whatever we are doing?  Skip Moen shared, “All of who I am is about what God wants.  The context of my life supplies the meaning.  Life is not about you.  It’s about abiding under Him and under the others we serve.  We know that it’s about everything we have, everything we are and everything we hope to be.  We know that it’s about perfect completion of His purposes.  And now we see that it’s about context.  What is the context of your life? Is it all about God?”  For Jesus it was and is.

I can’t help but ask, “What was Jesus’ gain by being there?”  I ask that because now I’m looking at His words in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”   What was Jesus’ reason, his driving force to do what he did? What was the “joy set before him” that he endured the cross for?  What if that joy had nothing to do with being crowned, or being seated at the right hand of God, or looking at my smiling face in heaven, or any of the things we imagine as wonderful rewards?  What if the joy set before him, was the joy of delighting His Father, the joy of delighting with the Father wholly again?  What if seeking first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness trumps all the things added to us?

In other words, what if delighting God is our whole motivation?  And what if, when that becomes my whole motivation, I find that God is my greatest delight?  What if that changes my desires by the power of His delight?  I mean, isn’t that why the Lord sends us His Holy Spirit, that I might know the delight of the Lord and live in that?  That I might, like Jesus, know my Fathers’ these?

God knows us.  Unlike Jesus, we don’t always say, “Yes, Father,” and do it.  That’s why Jesus told the parable of the two sons, the one who said, “Yes, Father, “ but never did it; and the one who said, “No, Father,” but then went and did what the Father asked.  It’s not our words that make or break us, it’s what we do with our Father’s request.

Another thing I miss if I don’t live in the will of God, is being part of His family.  Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”  There is no earthly family that has the closeness, love, and protection that there is in the family of God.  It goes beyond the color of our skin and our bloodlines.  It goes beyond physical boundaries.  It goes beyond the past, the here and now, and our future, into eternity.  Things can separate us from our earthly families, but nothing can separate us from the love of God.

And here’s the beauty of being in that family of God—it’s available to anyone who will believe in the “wholeness” of Jesus, of who he is, and why he came, and what he did, and that he is who God said he was.  Through Jesus, he gives us “the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  If I want to live by the spirit of God I must be born by the spirit His way, not mine.  I must let him change me.  I must submit to His ways, His life, His delight.

I’m led to think about that blind man, blind from birth, who Jesus healed.  And the leaders didn’t want to believe him.  And that amazed this unlearned blind man how they couldn’t see the great thing that had been done and that it had to be of God.  And he winds up teaching them the gospel truth!  “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”  That’s beautiful.  But it’s not saying the imperfect aren’t welcome or can’t come.  If you want to know what it means, find out what it means to worship God.

What does it mean to worship God?  Does it mean to follow some ritual?  Why did so many of the Pharisees and scribes miss out on getting it?  Why did this poor “sinner” find the truth?  How can I, a poor sinner, find the truth?

It starts with delighting in the Lord.  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  I don’t delight myself in You, because of what I get from or in You.  I delight myself in You because I, like the blind man, have come to know that You are my shear delight!  I can delight in You like nothing and noone else.  You alone are worthy of my delight.  You are DELIGHTABLE just by nature of who You are!  The getting my desires of my heart part is just the bonus that comes from knowing You and experiencing You.  Delighting in You is where doing Your will in my life flows from.  It’s no longer a chore but a beautiful blessing.

When I delight myself in You Lord, everything else falls in place.  I will want to commit my way to You.  I will trust in You.  That is when I see You act time and time again.  You will bring forth my righteousness.  I will learn to exhibit Your justice.  I will be able to wait patiently for You.  I won’t have to fret over the evil in life because I know that You have overcome and everything is flowing in the direction You want.  Despite the evil, despite the persecution, despite the pain, I know that Your will is coming to pass and one day, in Your time, it will be completed both in me and in this world, and You are including me as part of that necessary process.

What’s the answer when things aren’t going my way, or even when things are absolutely against me?  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!  Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!  Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”  (Psalm 37:7,8)  In other words, if I know You, Lord, I ought to live as though I do.  I ought to think as though I do.  I ought to respond as though I do.  And not just like I know You, but as though I am in You and You in me, as though Your Holy Spirit empowers me to live as You and bring healing and love, rather than a response from my flesh that harms and destroys. 

Believing isn’t just about agreeing with a creed, nor is it about obeying your commands.  Scripture says the demons believe, and sometimes they obey You too!  But there isn’t one demon who delights in You.  There isn’t one demon who allows You, with joy, to lead and direct the desires of their heart and the actions and responses of their lives.  There is not one demon who desires to line their emotions up with Yours.  Not one!  And there is not one demon who loves the fact that You are LORD of lords and KING of kings.  But I do.  And I love that You are my King and my Lord and I want You to have Your way in my heart and my life in every situation in my life and beyond forever!

Living for the Will of God, Part 3

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” 1  Peter 4:1,2

It’s a whole different story to live for the will of God than to live according to my own passions.  That’s why I need help understanding how to live in the the midst of persecution or any kind of suffering, whether it is mild suffering or the most extreme imaginable.  Passion acts without thinking.  Passion self-protects.  Passion can be controlled and motivated by fear, hatred, anger, bitterness, jealousy, etc.  But You want me to be controlled by You, by Your will, in every situation.  How do I get there?

Peter says that the Gospel was preached “even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (1Peter 4:6)  Before we put our trust in Jesus, as our Lord and Saviour, we were all dead spiritually.  That’s why Jesus came, taught, lived, died, and rose again, so that we might live in the spirit the way God does. Because there is no way to please God other than by living in God and living by the spirit.  Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [flesh] and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)  He also said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

But here’s the problem, it’s one thing to know what you should do and it’s a whole other thing to actually learn how to do it.  So how do I live for the will of God?  How do I not let my emotions control me?  How do I let the Spirit of God lead my responses?

Well, that’s what Peter has been doing, giving us some practical examples of what our responses should look like.  It looks like hopeful, expectant waiting and doing.  Paul says, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:25-30)   

That means that, because of the word of God, because of the good news, the gospel, I can hold onto everything that God has shared with me and taught me.  I can deposit my trust in Your promises as though it were an absolutely sure bank deposit that no thief can ever enter.  I come to know the truth, and then I act upon that truth in ways that show that I am living expecting You will do what You have said.  Maybe I don’t see a pain free future ahead because I’m suffering through cancer, or a divorce, or severe persecution, or the bad attitude of a loved one or employer, but I know Your promise of peace, no more sorrow, no more pain.  I know the promise of Your presence, of Your Spirit, of Your joy, and love.  All your promises begin to outweigh the pains of my flesh because I’m looking and hoping most toward You.  It’s how Paul, even in beatings, and stonings, and shipwrecks, and imprisoning could say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)  His eyes were on You as the horizon he was reaching for.  And the only way to reach You is to live according to Your will.

And the wonderful thing is that You don’t tell us to live according to Your will and leave us helpless.  You place a deposit in us!  You give us Your Holy Spirit who helps us to know Your mind and to do Your will.  You intercede for us when we don’t know what to say or what we need.  You help us to understand Your word.  You never leave us alone.  Like a  song in church yesterday.  Let me share it and I’ll end just meditating on all these thoughts.

There’s a grace when the heart is under fire

Another way when the walls are closing in

And when I look at the space between

Where I used to be and this reckoning

I know I will never be alone

There was another in the fire

Standing next to me

There was another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

Of how I’ve been set free

There is a cross that bears the burden

Where another died for me

There is another in the fire

All my debt left for dead beneath the waters

I’m no longer a slave to my sin anymore

And should I fall in the space between

What remains of me and this reckoning

Either way I won’t bow to the things of this world

And I know I will never be alone

There is another in the fire

Standing next to me

There is another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

What power set me free

There is a grave that holds no body

And now that power lives in me

There is another in the fire, oh

There is another in the fire, whoa

There is another in the fire, whoa

There is another in the fire, oh

I can see

And I can see the light in the darkness

As the darkness bows to Him

I can hear the roar in the heavens

As the space between wears thin

I can feel the ground shake beneath us

As the prison walls cave in

Nothing stands between us

Nothing stands between us

There is no other name but the name that is Jesus

He who was and still is, and will be through it all

So come what may in the space between

All the things unseen and this reckoning

And I know I will never be alone

And I know I will never be alone

There’ll be another in the fire

Standing next to me

There’ll be another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

How good You’ve been to me

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

I can see the light

And I can see the light in the darkness

As the darkness bows to Him

I can hear the roar in the heavens

As the space between wears thin

I can feel the ground shake beneath us

As the prison walls cave in

Nothing stands between us

Nothing stands between

There’ll be another in the fire

Standing next to me

There’ll be another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

How good You’ve been to me

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

Count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be, sing it again

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Chris Davenport / Joel Houston

Another In The Fire lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

I checked out the song story behind the lyrics as well.  https://youtu.be/6xrE-JMAfMY

The Same Way of Thinking, Part 2

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”  1 Peter 4:1,2

How could Jesus suffer in the flesh like that, without retaliating and looking forward to the joy set before him?  Joy?  Peter tells me later that Jesus had given himself over.  He had given himself over to God, fully.  How do I find myself coming to the same thinking and actions as Jesus when I suffer?

I must arm myself.  I must take up arms.  This is a military term.  I must be prepared with my weapons in hand because this is warfare.  But it’s not warfare against men or even demons.  This is warfare against my flesh, against my own thinking that is contrary to God’s.

We are at war against our own human passions.  The Greek word is epithumia.  It’s often translated as lust.  What exactly is this problem with my passion or lusts?  In this case, it’s something like a feeling or desire that controls me.  I don’t control it.  It controls my very thinking and therefore it controls my every action and response.  Peter exhorted, “Beloved, I exhort you as aliens and exiles, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)  Skip Moen describes the meaning behind epithumia this way, “Lusts— the Greeks knew the underlying essence of lust.  Lust is what makes you boil over.  Lust is that force that grips you with its power and causes you to explode.  Lust is passion unbridled.  In fact, the Greek word itself shows us this background.  Epi and thumos combine to mean ‘out of violent movement of the mind’.  Lust is the volcanic reaction that occurs when your mind says, ‘I’ve got to have that now!’ It isn’t accidental that the word thumos is also associated with wrath and anger.  Lust drives us insane.”

It’s the problem that Adam and Eve were overcome by in the garden when they couldn’t stop thinking about eating the fruit.  It’s the whole process of the thoughts they entertained that brought them to that point, that led to not thinking about what they knew as true.  It’s the problem that Cain had when he wouldn’t control his thoughts about God and his brother Abel.  Cain was just boiling over, wasn’t he?  He just kept letting his thoughts dwell, and dwell, and grow and grow.  “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:5)  Do I ever get like that?  Do I take someone’s response to me, whether it was mistreatment or just a response I don’t like, and dwell on it and dwell on it in my thoughts?  Do I let my thinking focus on someone else’s actions?  Do I let my mind, my thinking, let its guard down?  Do I set down my weapon of my mind, and stop thinking about Your truth You have given me?

That is dangerous territory.  That opens my passions to the same path as Cain.  God warns me as well, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:7)  I’m a soldier in a battle right now.  So was Cain.  As soldiers, we don’t have the right to lay down our weapons until the war is over.  And it’s not over.  If I care about being a good soldier, a faithful warrior, a good and faithful servant, I can’t be driven by my desires, lusts, and passions.  I must be driven by the truth.  I must let my mind control my heart, not my flesh. I must let You be in control.  I need to submit my thoughts to You. 

It’s not easy.  Naturally, sin is just waiting for the opportunity to control me.  It’s just waiting for me to lay down my weapon for one second.  Like a crouching beast of prey, it’s lurking for that opportunity to attack when I’m not thinking rightly, when I’m letting my feelings reign, instead of the mind of Christ.  It’s not easy, but what is impossible for man, is “possible with God.” (Mark 10:27).

It’s a reality that as a believer, God, through His son Jesus, has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to think and do according to His will.  Lord, You have not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:7)  And here is the reality, here is what that self-control looks like.  It looks like me, surrendering myself to You by surrendering myself within the suffering.  When I experience this sensation or expression that causes me to feel pain, I surrender that experience or sensation to You.  I don’t respond without thinking first.  I don’t let my flesh or my desires or my pain do my thinking.  I take up the weapon of my position in You.  I remember who I am in You.  I remember how Your word shows me to respond.  I lift up the weapon of Your Word and Your love and Your life and Your resurrection and Your Holy Spirit.  And when I stop relying on my feelings to guide me, I come to the point of ceasing to let sin control me because my passions aren’t in control, but You are.

This is serious business.  This is what I am called to as a believer.  I am called to divine warfare and the battle is played out in my mind!  It’s real, not psychological, but if I can’t control my thinking, then my part of the battle is lost!  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”  How?  “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4,5)  My thinking must be lined up with God.  I am responsible to take every thought captive, to submit it under the authority of Christ under God.  I am responsible to rebuke and cast away and destroy every thought that is contrary to You.  Then, I will be able to obey You, to think like You, and to act like You in these situations.

I want to cease from sin.  I don’t want to be controlled by anything but by You.  I want You to be my Lord and Master, my God, not by word alone, but I want my actions and responses to be a living testimony to what I believe about You.  I don’t want to lay my weapon aside and let my emotions rule over me.  I want to be fully surrendered to You.  Let the same way of thinking be in me that was also in Christ Jesus.

The Same Way of Thinking Part 1

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”  1 Peter 4:1-2

Christ suffered in the flesh.  I’m supposed to think the same way as You, Jesus.  What does that mean?  Paul banked his whole being on this thought and encouraged us to do so as well.  “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3:8-12, 14-15) 

Being human, being in the flesh, means suffering, whether I am a believer or not, but especially as a believer.  Why?  This flesh is not my forever home.  This flesh is wasting away.  I know that.  I was a baby once.  I was a toddler.  Then I was a child, a teenager, a young adult, and now, not to0 far off of being a senior.  We all age.  We go through aches and pains.  We wrinkle.  We can’t do what we could when we were younger.  Why spend my life satisfying what can’t be satisfied in this life?  Why live feeding an appetite that will never be full?  When living for God in Christ satisfies our deepest longing, when that was what I was created to do, why not live for God with all of my being and count everything else as loss that doesn’t matter, to gain what truly does?  The good news is that God, in Jesus and by the power of His Holy Spirit, helps me to think like this, like Jesus.  Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of His suffering, and because of His new life, I can know God personally and experience His power, which empowers me just as it did Jesus to walk in Him, to live in Him, to suffer in Him.

Maybe that sounds hopeless, but it’s anything but hopeless!  It’s because of the truth of the hope we have in God that allows us to press on when things seem unbearable.  Paul exhorted the believers in Thessalonica, “…we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved…” (1 Thessalonians 2:12-16)  How can I do this?  How can I think like this and live victoriously in the midst of suffering?  How can I want to?

I accept the word of God that I am encouraged here by as exactly that—the word of God.  I treat the word of God as truth, the final word of truth.  I bank my life on it.  I bank my joy on it.  I bank my eternity on it.  I even bank the lives of those around me on it.  And I let God have His way in me through it.  I let Him work in me as a believer as I walk in belief.

Peter brings it all together.  “For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18)  “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1,2)  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

Why allow myself to suffer for Christ?  Because You suffered for me.  You suffered becoming man even though You are one with God.  Why?  For God’s glory and my redemption.  You counted the losses to You all as more than worth it for the glory that was to be revealed in the outcome You knew God had promised.  You call me to have that same mind set. 

Lord, let me look forward to Your final restoration of me, the full restoration of me, instead of trying to restore myself.  Let me look to Your confirmation of me and stop trying to confirm myself.  I’m so blind to my own faults and inadequacies.  How can I perfect myself when I am by nature imperfect?  I need someone who is perfect to perfect me.  Hmm.  That only leaves You!  Let me look to You to strengthen me, because my idea of strength has been skewed by the world.  Let me be established by You, because otherwise, I’m like a house built foolishly on the sand.  I don’t want to seem established here in this world.  I want to BE established for all of eternity.  I want to be all of this in You and by You no matter what it takes.  Let me honestly come to the point where I would count everything else loss, and accept my suffering as a gift to draw me closer to You and make me more like You.  Thank You that I am never alone in my suffering.  No believer is.