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!

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.

The Worst That Can Happen Can Be the Best That Can Happen

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“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12

I want to just think about these four verses today, starting with the above.  Here it is, all together, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:12-15)  Yeah, I want to dig into this so it’s a solid part of my life attitude.

I want this to be my “go to” attitude when things aren’t going my way.  This isn’t about just when life is honky-dory, everything is fine-and-dandy, oh so sweet.  1 Peter is about being a slave, which is bad enough in itself.  It’s also about being a mis-treated slave.  It’s about being a wife, with typical misunderstandings in the relationship, as well as being a believing wife in a difficult relationship.  It’s about being a husband, with typical misunderstandings in the relationship, as well as being a believing husband in a difficult relationship.  It’s about little persecution for just being human or especially for being a believer.  It’s about big persecution for being a believer that leads even to the point of death.  Altogether, it’s about how to live like we belong to Jesus in tough situations.  It’s about how to be who God has made us to be, who we were created to be in Him, and not who the world rewired us to be.

And here’s the good news.  When Peter tells us that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, those who have put their trust in the Lord, and this His ears are open to our prayers, that is awesome news!  It’s not telling us that God is looking over, like a judge and saying, “Those are the good people, I will do good things for them.  Those are the bad people.  I won’t have anything to do with them.”  That would be bad news because we all start out as bad people because we are all sinners according to His word.  When would he ever turn His face to us?  Oh, Lord, if You never turned Your face to me, I would be lost forever!

Let me get on with the good news.  “…[B]ut God shows [not showed!] his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So, You, Lord are not looking for people who are already good.  He’s looking for the people who will and have surrendered to Him as Lord and Savior.  He’s looking with the eyes of a Father for the prodigal child to come back to Him.  This is the image of the eyes of the Lord.  His face is looking toward us with His compassion and grace, not a pointing finger, but with arms open to embrace us and transform us with a new robe and as His child again. 

His ears are open to our prayer even before we speak it.  Remember the prodigal son?  Remember the words he rehearsed?  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21)  But before he finished everything he had rehearsed,  His father had already restored him.  Actually, before the son ever spoke a word out loud, his father’s face had been turned toward him with ready favor, just bursting to lavish his love on him again and have him back in the family.  Remember the welcome before the words?  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”  And if you ever doubt that God has that kind of compassion for you and me, just look at how much farther he went when He gave Jesus Christ upon the cross to bring us back to Him.  Face it, God runs to us with open arms, He puts Jesus’ robe upon us, Jesus stepped up as the fattened calf for us, unlike the older brother in the parable.  Jesus welcomed us into His Father’s arms in the fullness of inheritance without regret and at the cost of His life because He lives by the power of His heavenly Father and He rose again to rejoice together with us and the Father.  Now, how is that for good news and a family reunion!  No dysfunctional family here.

So, God knows what is in our heart, even before we do.  He listens, He cares, He does something about it.  I can count on You doing the best thing I need, the best thing for me, even when I don’t know the answers. 

But why is Your face against those who do evil?  Is that what that really means?  Maybe.  But if so, how did I ever come to know You?  If I was a sinner, which You say I was, how did You ever turn Your face toward me, if Your face is against those who do evil?  What if it means that Your face is turned away from those who choose to continue in evil?  Not that You turn Your face away from them and have no compassion for them, but that they don’t want to see Your face.  They avoid Your eyes.  They turn away and run away.  What if I’m responsible for looking into Your face in order to understand Your compassion?  What if my fear of being judged or changed, my desire to keep doing what I’m doing, leads me to choose to avoid Your compassion like the plague? If I run the other way, I guess Your face would be against me, or opposite me, wouldn’t it?  And I wouldn’t ever know the love and compassion that was just waiting to be showered upon me.  How sad!

I can know that even in the midst of the junk and pain of persecution or hardships of life and serving the Lord, Your love and compassion for me can carry me through, if only I keep looking to You and expecting You to be my Father, and letting You be.  If I remember who my Father is, if I remember Who loves me, then I can remember “who can harm me?”  You know, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  (Don’t just take my word for it.  Go to Romans 8 and soak it in.  Live by it.) 

It’s not just about being zealous about good things or good works.  It’s about being zealous in God, letting Him have His will in You, just like Jesus, by His power.  I have to remember, only God is good.  Even if I’m saved, my works are not good, unless I’m letting the Holy Spirit lead those works.  The world’s not going to be upset about me doing good things by its standards.  The world is going to fight against me doing good works that demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s when it gets tough.  But that is when it’s best and I’m closest to You, Lord!

When I am doing God works, and people know it and fight it, and I’m persecuted because of it, I have the promise that I will be blesssed.  Blessed with what?  The blessings that come from knowing who I am in Christ, that my heavenly Father has me in His arms, that He is bursting with love and care for me, that this world is not my home, and should I be kicked out of this home, like they kicked Jesus out, I have a better home with my Father Himself.  Who cares if it has pearl gates larger than a person!  Who cares if it has streets made of gold!  Who cares if it has a mansion!  It has the love and light of my life, My Father, His Son, and His Holy Spirit!  I get to be 100% present in the fullness of their delight and love!  The worst that could happen is the best that can happen!

That’s why Peter said, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, or be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”  If the above is what I really believe, if that is my true attitude, if above all I honor Christ as my Lord, holy, above everything else, then all these other situations should become opportunities to share that good news with those around me. 

So I need to ask myself, is that what my attitude looks like in my baby trials, in my baby persecutions?  Because in all reality, no one is throwing me to the lions, roasting me on a post with tar on my body, or burning me at the stake.  I’ve read stories of those who have been.  There was an older pastor, burned at the stake, who before-hand told his people, “If the Lord helps me bear the pain, I will raise my hands over my head and clap.”  He was lead to the stake singing praise, worshipping his heavenly Father, His Savior, whose eyes were lovingly turned to him.  The fire was started.  He continued to sing.  His skin began to melt.  He sang, raised his hands over his head, clapped them together, and died.  He believed the word of God.  He walked in the words of Peter.  He had no fear of them.  He was not troubled by them in a way that distracted Him from the face of the Lord.  He was blessed beyond the end here.  He honored Christ with every part of his being.  With his last breath and last clap, he didn’t reprimand his persecutors, but He gave the most glorious defense to everyone around him, even those who didn’t ask, in the most gentle and respectful way.  Lord, help me love You so much, that I take to heart Peter’s words as well. 

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.