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 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 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.