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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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.

True Colors

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“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

How can I “put up with” suffering for doing the will of God?  How can I go even farther and rejoice in it like Paul and Silas when they were beaten and thrown into prison?  Maybe I should keep reminding myself that Jesus suffered too.  Only You, Jesus, went a step farther.  You had no sin, so there was no part of you that should have been punished for your sins.  Of all righteous people upon the earth, not even Noah and Moses could compare to You.  So when You suffered once for sins, it was for our sins that You chose to suffer and accept that suffering.  So what do I have to whine about?

I am righteous in you, because of you, but I’m not righteous in and of myself.  Your love for us and love and honour of your heavenly Father were so great that you bore our deserved suffering that you didn’t deserve so that you might bring us to God.  You were put to death in the flesh.  It was wholly you that was beaten and crucified and died that day.  Your flesh, your body, your emotions know the feelings and experience of that pain and sorrow and what it is like as a human to die an excruciating death. 

But you are more than flesh.  You were man, and God, Emmanuel, God with us.  There is more than flesh to you.  There is the Spirit of God.  Flesh can die, but the Spirit of God is eternal.  The Spirit of God is immeasurably more far-reaching.  You said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)  Flesh can only go where humans tread, but spirit can go anywhere.  They killed your flesh, but your spirit continues what it started.  You are no longer alive in the flesh.  Your flesh wasn’t even found in the tomb!  But God made you alive in the spirit!  In the spirit, you continue to do your work and proclaim the victory of God.

Truth is, I find these words in Scripture confusing.  And Bible scholars don’t all agree on exactly what Paul is saying here.  I can’t help read it and think it’s both about you, Jesus, and us.  That you suffered to bring us to God, us who are called to put to death our flesh and be made alive in the spirit.  I acknowledge that you were put to death in the flesh according to God’s plan.  But you were also already alive in the spirit, weren’t you?  Did God have to make you alive in the spirit?  John said, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”  That sounds to me like you were already alive in the spirit.  But you were confined to fairly temporal aspects of living in a body, though you could walk on water, and perform miracles.  You submitted to having a physical body.  You kept yourself under subjection, willingly.

But then death set the spirit free!

And when your spirit was free to be fully alive and free, what did you do?  You went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.  Who are they?  Scholars have some disagreement over this as well.  Is it fallen angels, demons who disobeyed in a different way than others?  Is it all those who didn’t obey at the preaching of Noah?  Does it matter?  Could it be all of them?  Isn’t it right that Jesus’ victory that God had planned and declared since the beginning of creation is proclaimed to all the living and the dead?  There is no excuse when we stand on the day of judgment, is there?

Well, how do they know?  They were alive before Jesus.  How can they be held accountable?  What if Jesus’ proclamation included the evidences they ignored?  What if none of us are guiltless?  What if the evidence is all around us, we just don’t want to see it?

But here’s the good news for us who are still alive- Jesus is alive!  His spirit lives.  If I’m living in some prison of my own making, disobeying God now, I can listen as he proclaims the love of God for me!  I can bind myself with him, in him in faith and trust and allow him to do more than just proclaim the good news to me.  I can let him bring me freedom from my prison.  I don’t have to be ruled by my flesh or this world.  He, by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, can guide me to put my flesh to death and be made alive in the spirit of God.  I can obey.  I can be like those 8 people who were saved from the flood in the ark.  “[T]hrough the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him,” (1 Peter 3:21,22) 

What are you worth to me, Jesus?  What is God worth to me?  Would I be willing to die to my self to live in You?  Would I be willing to let go of my self control, the natural desires of my own flesh, to let You give me new desires, new life, a new spirit?  Is my love superficial or real?  I suppose only life and suffering will show my true colors.  I pray that they will come out matching yours.

On Suffering

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“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  1 Peter 3:17

Who likes suffering for any reason?  Not me.  But did you stop to think that suffering can be a part of God’s will?  Lord, You could be the author of suffering in my life?  Think about that.  Selah.

Peter didn’t make a mistake here.  He says it again in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”  So there is a suffering in accord with God’s will and a suffering out of accord with God’s will.  What does that mean?  Well, Peter said, “it’s better to suffer for doing good, if that be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  If I’m walking according to God’s will, and my life is exhibiting the goodness of His life in me, God may very well, and most probably will see fit to direct me through experiences that I would consider as suffering, in order to more deeply refine me.  It’s not because You don’t care, Lord, it’s not because You have forsaken me; it’s because You love me and know my full potential.  It’s for my benefit.  After all, I’m not above my master, who suffered.  I’m not exempt from the treatment that was chosen for the master.  As Jesus entrusted his soul, his whole being, to God’s will, so should I.  Do I believe that God is my faithful Creator in every circumstance?  Jesus did.

But what if I find myself a murderer or a thief, or a gossiper or backbiter, or trusting in drugs or alcohol, or living in lust or outside the will of God some other way?  God, even when I am unfaithful, even when I will not admit His faithfulness, is still our faithful Creator.  It’s not His will that I remain in that “evil” state.  It is Your will for me to go through suffering that I might wake up like the prodigal and come to You.  That’s the compassion of God for me.

We so readily want to curse You, Lord for allowing suffering into our lives.  Suffering is painful.  It is.  Suffering seems so evil.  It doesn’t seem like it should have anything to do with You.  “Hey, Guys, I want you to meet my God, the one who brings affliction and pain into my life on purpose.”  What?  But it’s like this, it’s not that my choice to follow You brings on these painful events and circumstances.  Because I’m following You, these painful experiences are imposed from the outside.  I need to know that “abuse, threats, rejection and even physical harm” may be imposed from outside because of my stand in and with You.  Yeah, it’s emotional.  Yeah, it hurts bad.  But this is my school grounds.  This is where You teach me endurance like that of Christ.  This is where You refine me.  This is where You melt away the dross and what’s left is that which aligns with You.  This is where I find peace in Christ, joy in the Lord, true fellowship , real love of the brethren and You.  This is where my emotions are refined and Your will becomes my will because I start to see things through Your perspective.

But I can choose to deny Your sovereignty over these circumstances of my life.  I can loose every benefit of the good You have planned for me in suffering.  I could even deny Your hand in my life, call You unfaithful, and turn away.  I can turn to evil, since I’m going to suffer anyway, right?  Only, fighting You, bucking at the pricks, just sours me more and I wind up pushing myself away from what You designed as the way to draw me closer.  Like a horse guided by its own fear, I strike out at the one who knows what I was created to be and who could take me there, and I run, never changing, never attaining my full potential.

Well, Lord, I have to admit that sometimes I really buck at You.  When my heart hurts, I don’t like it.  Sometimes I choose to have a pity party instead of letting You refine me.  Instead of submitting and understanding what You are enabling in my life, I dig my feet in and fight.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t want to miss out on what You want to do in my life.  I don’t want to miss out on growing in endurance.  I don’t want to miss out on growing in patience and love and aligning with You, seeing things the way You do, and responding like You . I don’t want just my thoughts aligned with You.  I want my actions and feelings aligned with You as well.  Otherwise, what I say I believe and what my life shows I believe, won’t be saying the same thing.  I want to be the real deal, like You, even if that means suffering at Your hands.  It’s better to suffer in the hands of a loving God than under anyone else’s hands.

David was a person like us.  Sometimes he suffered for doing God’s will, for just being His.  And sometimes David did what was evil in the sight of God and suffered at God’s hand for that choice.  David realized his two choices and the sovereignty of God for both.  And one time, for disobeying God in counting the army of Israel, the Lord was bringing judgment upon the people.  God gave David three choices of punishment:  three years of famine, flee three months before your foes, or three days of pestilence in the land.  David was distressed.  Suffering for any reason doesn’t feel good.  But he got it.  “I am in great distress.  Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”  The Lord sent the pestilence. 

Why did David and the people need to suffer?  He was the one who ordered the counting.  I wonder if we forget that what seems like a little sin, leads to massive, dire consequences for those around us and ourselves.  Maybe we all need suffering to wake us up to the truth.  What I choose matters.  Who I choose to follow won’t only lead me to life or destruction, but countless others.  That being the case, Lord, You are tremendously merciful to us as You walk us through suffering so we can understand.

 

Of Life and Good Days

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“For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.” 1 Peter 3:10,11

Who wouldn’t want to love life and see good days?  I do.  Do I want to find delight in life?  Do I want to delight in seeing good days?  Here’s what I need to do.  Do I want to see by experience?  Here’s the way:  I need to keep my tongue from evil and do good; I need to seek peace and pursue it.  These aren’t the only things, but these are two practical ways that Christ gives me the ability and strength to be able to fulfil my desire to love life and see good days, even when they don’t appear on the outside to be so wonderful.

I need to get this because Peter is talking to people who are under great persecution.  I’m not talking that someone just had a bad day and railed on you kind of day, or blew up for a moment.  I’m talking about constant pressure, like a slave under a bad master, a wife under a harsh-unbelieving husband, a husband yoked to a harsh, resentful unbelieving wife, or just the persecution of those in the non-believing community.  How do you love life when life isn’t seeming to love you?  How do you see good days when the days don’t look good at all?

Paul understood this too well and encourages us as well.  As a matter of fact, he was talking about persecution of believers to the point of death.  What am I overwhelmed by?  Someone put me down?  Someone belittled me?  Someone ignored me?  Someone said something hurtful?  Someone doesn’t regard me as they should?  Someone was short with me?  How does that compare to the persecution these early believers were suffering and bearing the attitude of the Lord under and continuing to rejoice in the Lord under?  It doesn’t, does it?

“Therefore, seeing we have this ministry as we have received mercy, we faint not…,” reminds Paul. (2 Cor. 4:1)  That’s what Peter is saying too.  Our life is bigger than this life we see and experience.  God has brought us into His ministry through Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Our life goes beyond this life, our eyes see farther than this horizon!  Seeing we are His ministers and heirs of a different kingdom, my joy, my delight is not determined by this world.  My joy is beyond this world.  My joy is in Christ, in God Himself!  I can rejoice with the Holy Spirit in the wonder of God when everything else is falling apart.   I suppose, if I really think about it, everything here is falling apart.  The only place it isn’t falling apart is where everything is in God.

So, if this is really what I believe, not just a credo in my life, then I don’t faint in my walk as a believer.  Here’s the wonderful confidence and power I have from my heavenly Father because of Jesus: “…[W]e have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.  We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.  For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh…While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:7-11,18)  If I won’t allow myself to model the life of Christ in my body for minor irritations, how could I ever model Your life if I was delivered unto death?  Every day, every moment, my goal should be to allow Your Holy Spirit to dwell in me and have Your way so that I am all about modelling the life of Christ.  So what’s stopping me?

I get so caught up in looking toward other things.  I look to someone’s behavior toward me or others.  I look to my feelings.  I look to the things I see instead of keeping my eyes constantly focussed on the One who sees me and everything around me and more!  Everything that I think I see here, it’s just fleeting, and it will go away or change.  But God is solid.  You will always be God; You will always be who You are; Your promises will always be true.  Your love for me never changes even when I disappoint You.  You are LIFE!  So if I say I love You, that I love LIFE, then let me walk my words out in truth in my life.  If I say I want to see good days, well, You are the only One that is GOOD, so let me continually look to You.  Let me take my eyes and thoughts off of lesser things and petty reactions, even off of persecution that might even be to the point of death.  Why?  Because even if I had to suffer disembowelment, (which I don’t even want to imagine!), it will only last so long, but the joy of eternity in Your presence has no end.  Shouldn’t I be able to look beyond a harsh word, a word mispoken, an unthoughtful or unkind action received, as well, and with less difficulty?

So, Lord, let me be the one to that chooses to refrain from allowing my tongue to speak unkindly or cruelly, though someone should speak so to me, or though they should have hurt me.  Let me not speak in ways that influence people to do things due to my persuasion or trickery.  I want to detest and stay far from everything that stands against You.  I want to do what You consider as good; those things that flow from Your Holy Spirit in me.  I want to seek real peace with people, with my spouse, family, friends, whoever, even enemies should there be any.  I want it to be an act of worship to You, that I would do whatever pleases You to seek that peace.  After all, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)  You’ve concealed peace in such a way, that if I want it, I need to search it out to show what it is really worth to me.  Isn’t that what You did with Jesus?  If Your will and our reconciliation, our peace with You, was not of great value to Him, would He have searched it out to the point of death for us?  What does my love look like?  Am I willing to search as deep as it takes to seek that peace for the sake of others, even my “persecutors” and to pursue it.  Funny thing is, that Greek word for pursue is like pursuing one you are persecuting, only you are not persecuting, you are pursuing them with peace instead. 

Does my life look like that, Lord?  For every time that I am reviled, or forsaken, or whatever, am I pursuing back with Your peace and love in my responses.  In all honesty, the answer right now is no.  But I want that to change.  I want to get my eyes back on You.  I want my heart to be wholly set on You.  I want to get my eyes off this world, off my feelings, off the stuff around me, and set my eyes and motivation on the reality of You.  I desire to love You, my LIFE, and to see good days, Your days.  And I don’t want to just wait for eternity, because eternity has already started that day You saved me.  (Well, that’s when it became alive for me.)  So, let my life be a model of the life of Jesus as I finish out my days here in this fallen world, my testing ground for growing in faith, not by sight.

“Though All Hell Endeavour to Shake”

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“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

I don’t obey for the sake of obeying.  That doesn’t mean that there are often times that I don’t find myself making myself obey when I don’t really feel like obeying.  I guess that’s part of what shows I’m more mature than some of my grandkids.  I say that, because they are here with me and I’ve seen lots of occasions of hearts winning out with their feelings over love of God and love of parents.  And that’s just human nature.  I have the same problem, but by God’s grace, I’m learning to be an overcomer.  They have that same hope.

It’s funny what we perceive as suffering.  Really, we turn anything that is the slightest frustration into suffering and persecution.  But we ought to realize the difference between discomfort and suffering.  It’s true, all discomfort is uncomfortable.  And let’s not forget that obviously, there is discomfort in our most personal relationships at times, especially if we are working under, or living with a non-believer, and even still when we’re both believers.  But we aren’t exempt even if those relationships are with other believers, are we?  Why would that be?

Maybe too often we forget to see things in the light of Christ because, like my beloved grandkids, we focus too much on ourselves so much of the time.  I want to know the remedy for not repaying evil for evil.  When someone or something frustrates me or belittles me or whatever, Peter tells me the remedy.  Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.  (1 Peter 3:15)  Be always ready as a testimony to why you can remain humble and fearless and full of hope, instead of bitter and angry and lashing back. 

Be careful of being self-righteous.  Peter says we have the same kind of blessing or state of bliss as Jesus talks about in those who live according to His values, His character He discussed in the beatitudes.  If we suffer for righteousness’ sake, that is, we receive that blessing of security and closeness in God.  I don’t think that’s based on my righteousness.  I don’t think that’s because I did what was right and now I’m suffering and that’s the righteousness this is based on.  I can look beyond the suffering because I’m not concerned with my righteousness, but with God’s righteousness.  If I am suffering because I sanctify the Lord in my heart and my life, then in the midst of that suffering I am still focussed on You and Your righteousness and it’s not about me but about You. 

Then, so what if I don’t deserve this treatment.  It’s not about me.  It’s about something and someone bigger than me.  Jesus didn’t deserve His treatment either.  But then again, even Jesus didn’t make it about Himself on the cross.  He sanctified the Lord and in so doing, sanctified us.  Even in the wilderness, Satan couldn’t lure Him to think otherwise by offering things that would build Him up.  He didn’t want to venerate Himself.  He wanted to venerate His heavenly Father.  So, what about me?

Peter wants me to know that God called me to be that same kind of blessing, just as Jesus was.  Why?  Because God has blessed me through Jesus Christ.  When He went to the cross and bore my punishment, the extremest of extreme persecution there was from man, plus the weight of the wrath of God upon Him for my sin, He did not render evil back to me.  He doesn’t sit in heaven now and rail at me for my cruelty and stupidity.  He invites me into intimate fellowship and blessing in the Heavenly Father!  And I am called to do the same to those around me.  How I respond in times of frustration and persecution shed light on my relationship with You, Lord, and how much I appreciate, how much I rejoice in how you have treated me and loved me instead of lashing back.

Are you suffering?  David Powlison says our need, “…is to hear God talking and to experience him purposefully at work.  That changes everything.  Left to ourselves, we blindly react.  Our troubles obsess us and distract us…You need to hear what God says, and to experience that he does what he says.  You need to feel the weight and significance of what he is about.  He never lies.  He never disappoints (though he wisely sets about to disappoint our false hopes).  Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil, for he is with you.  Goodness and mercy will follow you.  This is what he is doing.  God’s voice speaks deeper than what hurts, brighter than what is dark, more enduring than what is lost, truer than what happened.  You awaken.  You take it to heart, and you take heart.  You experience that this is so.  The world changes.  You change.  His voice changes the meaning of every hardship.  What he does— has done, is doing, will do— alters the impact and outcome of everything happening to you.  Your faith grows up into honest, intelligent humanness, no longer murky and inarticulate.  You grow more like Jesus: the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, the man after God’s own heart, who having loved his own loved them to the end.”

I’m so thankful to Peter for calling me out on my attitudes and behavior.  I’m thankful for other believers who do the same.  There is an unnamed believer who wrote the hymn How Firm a Foundation who thought on these things too.  You know, it’s pretty usual for song writers or hymn writers to write from their perspective towards praising God.  But this author writes from God’s perspective to us.  So as I listen to these words, taken out of Scripture truths, I can imagine You, Lord, reminding me of who You are and of Your promises to me.  If that doesn’t help me to respond rightly because of the hope I have, I don’t know what else will!  So let me end with some of those thoughts, from God’s perspective to us, out of part of How Firm a Foundation:

“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,

my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;

the flame shall not hurt you; I only design 

your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

“E’en down to old age all my people shall prove

my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;

and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to his foes;

that soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

Let’s Be Sympathetic

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Credit for photo to Beaba.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  1 Peter 3:8

Here’s the “definite point or goal” you’ve set out for.  That’s what “finally” signifies here.  We, as believers, have a point that was aimed at as our limit or the conclusion of our purpose here in life.  It’s not just Peter coming to a conclusion.  This is for us.  This is for me.  This is my aim as I identify as a believer in Jesus Christ,  “…all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

This is not just for slaves.  This is not just for wives.  This is not just for husbands.  Those were just some of the relations in life we have trouble knowing how to handle.  But this is to all believers, including slaves, wives, and husbands.  Actually, Peter is telling us that the relationship between believers goes oh so deeper than even that of a husband and wife, should the husband or wife be yoked to a non-believing spouse.  Why?  Because there is a oneness in Christ that pulls us all together here, a deepness in unity, that isn’t attainable outside of Christ. 

I’m not saying that a married couple can’t have the deepness and oneness of being “soulmates,” so to speak.  You can be like one even if both of you are non-believers.  But you can’t be like one if one is a believer and the other not.  Because believers have a unity of mind and spirit with Christ.   How could I be unified with You Lord, and learning to think like You and love the things You love the way You do, and be unified with loving the world and the things of it as a non-believer thinks?  It doesn’t happen that way.  There’s a lonely gap in the middle.  There’s a distance.  There’s misunderstanding.  There’s a hole.

But where there is a relationship in Christ, there is unity not only with Christ, but with other believers, no matter who they are.  So in a world where there are slaves and not slaves, or anything like that, we are not looking at people that way.  We see each other through the mind and eyes of Christ.  In Philippians 5, Paul goes more deeply into this.  Are you encouraged in Christ?  Are you comforted from His love?  Do you get to participate with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?  Do you receive affection and sympathy from His?  If you have put your trust in Him, then the answer is, “YES!”  Well, then don’t just basque in it for yourself!  Spread it to others!  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  So I must ask myself, “Are you unified with Christ?  If so, would I give like Jesus for the sake of others?  How does my humility look?  Do I draw a line on my humility?  Do I say, ‘God, You can ask this of me, but not that.  I won’t go that far.  That’s just too much.’?  Or, would I truly love You enough to empty myself in the same mind and humble myself in the same mind and become obedient even to the point of death if You so required?

“But we have the mind of Christ.”  That’s what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:16.  But it’s not for the purpose of instructing God, that’s for sure.  We don’t become little God’s knowing everything He knows.  But we are blessed to be able to see God and others through the eyes of Christ, to have His understanding through unity with the Holy Spirit who brings us to know His will, to have His heart, to share His love. 

Therefore, everyone who is a true believer, ought to be unified in thought, in compassion to one another, fond of each other as brothers and sisters love each other, sympathetic and tenderhearted to one another, and courteous or kind to one another.  That ought to be a no-brainer, right?  But is this what my life looks like for real?  That’s what Paul and Peter and most importantly, Jesus, want me to ask myself.

I mean, let’s just look at being sympathetic.  Have you ever heard of a story where a husband winds up having pregnancy symptoms along with his wife?  It’s an actual syndrome because it happens occasionally.  It’s called Couvade syndrome or sympathetic pregnancy.  The partner experiences some of the things the expectant mother is experiencing.  Really.  Sometimes the husband experiences some weight gain, altered hormone levels, morning sickness, and trouble sleeping.  That’s quite a level of understanding, isn’t it?

Noah Webster defines sympathy as “Having common feeling with another; susceptible of being affected by feelings like those of another…”  He also defines sympathy as “Fellow feeling.”  But here’s the thing.  Our deepest sympathy should be with Christ.  If my deepest sympathy is with another person, I could be affected by their affections, which could lead us both where we don’t want to go.  But, if we are living in the mind of Christ, in that unity, we will be living in the deepest sympathy of Christ together, which is always for us, and not against us; which is always compelling us toward that unity in Him which brings us all into unity.

May Peters words remind me to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Let me “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that [I] may not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Let me remember, that You have given me Your mind, this same mindset toward others and especially toward God.  Now let me live in it.