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!

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The Same Way of Thinking, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

“Though All Hell Endeavour to Shake”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,

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

the flame shall not hurt you; I only design 

your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

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

my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;

and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

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

that soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,

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