Suffering- Not for Sissies

Standard

“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13

Lord, let me take this thought in mind every moment of every day and any time that I am going through suffering, especially due to my walk in You.  I need to keep this word in mind and heart because, if I am a believer, I will share in Your sufferings.  And as it is happening in my life, how will I respond?  Like You?  As You command? 

How can You just command me to rejoice?  Is that how it goes?  Because Peter is inspired by You and commands me to rejoice in my suffering, I should obey and rejoice?  I just turn my feelings off and pretend to be happy?  I just bubble over in the midst of hardships?  It just doesn’t seem natural.

But isn’t that Your point?  It’s not natural.  This is all supernatural.  It’s not the normal reaction or response.  But then again, the normal reaction or response is for “man” to provide his own joy at all cost and to escape pain at any cost.  But the truth and reality is that you can’t go through life without experiencing pain.  So how do we rejoice always?  Well, the answer is in You and You alone.  As Paul says in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!”  Yeah, that was written from a man in a Roman prison.  If he could rejoice in the midst of sharing Christ’s sufferings, I think I can heed his advice.

I don’t get to just dwell on the rejoicing part only when I’m going through suffering as a believer as though that is the only part of this “formula.”  But if I learn to rejoice then, the result will be a beautiful and deeper relationship with God in Christ.  The more I can remember that Christ is in every aspect of my life, guiding and directing, molding and shaping me, and those around me; that this is not an accident but God-ordained for His purposes; that You have entrusted and equipped me to step into the “shoes of Christ” and live like him or even die like him- the closer that draws me to You so that, the result is, as I rejoice, I experience You even more and that revelation fills me with even more joy.

This isn’t about happiness because my pain has been removed.  It’s the whole knowing that everything begins and exists and is and will be because of You, God.  Because I know that “In the beginning, God…,” I can know that You are still “casting, producing and directing” things, even in my life.  You are sovereign.  Joy isn’t because I escape some oppressive experience but it’s the expression of my relationship with You that no oppressive experience can rob me of. 

This is what Paul learned and wanted us to see when he wrote, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)  Ultimate joy does not come in escaping this world or its troubles.  True joy comes from fellowship shared with You God and then with others who are Yours as well.  It’s a celebration of You and being Yours.

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12)  I need to learn to rejoice in You Lord because EVERYTHING comes from You.  There is nothing in this life that is not given by You.  Unless You give it I have nothing, “no money, no job, no status, no possessions, no family, no friends, no government or community…” (Skip Moen)  And life is so much more than anything this world can offer because You are LIFE.  If my desires and hope are set on You, losing things of this world, no matter how painful, won’t mean so much, won’t effect me so much, because this isn’t my final destination, my final home. 

Face it, no one, not my spouse or even my dearest friend can care for me forever.  Nothing in this world is forever.  But in You, in the world that is made of You, in that relationship, I am cared for and equipped for eternity.  And this is an eternity in You and for You and because of You.  I wish I would weigh out that reality more when I go through struggles, that I would place the reality of that struggle in one hand and the reality of You and Your presence and Your love and Your future for me (and even Your presence with me) in the other, and realize the truth of what I have in You.  When I do, it’s like this life isn’t even close to reality compared to what You offer.

What would I do to grasp fellowship with You, God?  Would I be glad to participate in the suffering of Your Son?  Would I gladly share in it for the joy of the relationship of fellowship with You and my brethren in Christ?  What would I willingly and gladly be denied of in order to make Your truth more real in my life and in the lives around me? 

Jesus, you weren’t joking when you said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  But I guess we are more Greek in our thinking than Christ-like.  It’s hard to deny our own immediate pleasure.  But I want to rejoice in You more than in any temporary pleasure I can find in this world.  I want to follow hard after You.  I want to be in You and You in me.  Help me to deny myself and join You in Your sufferings that I might be filled with the fullness of the joy that is found in following You, in knowing You, in being Yours. 

Be sovereign in my life.  Let me rejoice, always, no matter what, in You.  Let me understand the fellowship of You in Your suffering, and the fellowship that Paul and Silas had with You as they were beaten and thrown in prison, and even unto death.  Let me understand and live in the joy of Your fellowship always, despite the circumstances surrounding me.  Because the truth is, You will never leave or forsake me.  You walk with me through the shadow of death.  The truth is, Psalm 23 is not for sissies.  But it is for those people whose deepest desire is to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, to pursue that relationship with You as their very breath.  I can rejoice in that.

Advertisements

Surprised by Suffering

Standard

“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.

Living for the Will of God, Part 3

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a grace when the heart is under fire

Another way when the walls are closing in

And when I look at the space between

Where I used to be and this reckoning

I know I will never be alone

There was another in the fire

Standing next to me

There was another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

Of how I’ve been set free

There is a cross that bears the burden

Where another died for me

There is another in the fire

All my debt left for dead beneath the waters

I’m no longer a slave to my sin anymore

And should I fall in the space between

What remains of me and this reckoning

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

And I know I will never be alone

There is another in the fire

Standing next to me

There is another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

What power set me free

There is a grave that holds no body

And now that power lives in me

There is another in the fire, oh

There is another in the fire, whoa

There is another in the fire, whoa

There is another in the fire, oh

I can see

And I can see the light in the darkness

As the darkness bows to Him

I can hear the roar in the heavens

As the space between wears thin

I can feel the ground shake beneath us

As the prison walls cave in

Nothing stands between us

Nothing stands between us

There is no other name but the name that is Jesus

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

So come what may in the space between

All the things unseen and this reckoning

And I know I will never be alone

And I know I will never be alone

There’ll be another in the fire

Standing next to me

There’ll be another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

How good You’ve been to me

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

I can see the light

And I can see the light in the darkness

As the darkness bows to Him

I can hear the roar in the heavens

As the space between wears thin

I can feel the ground shake beneath us

As the prison walls cave in

Nothing stands between us

Nothing stands between

There’ll be another in the fire

Standing next to me

There’ll be another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding

How good You’ve been to me

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

Count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

I’ll count the joy come every battle

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

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

I’ll count the joy come every battle

‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Chris Davenport / Joel Houston

Another In The Fire lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

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

True Colors

Standard

“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

Standard

“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.

 

Tragedy Before Perfection

Standard

Image credit to theWallpaper.com

 

“As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Ezekiel 21:6

 
Imagine judgment so terrible that God cuts off both the righteous and the wicked. Imagine judgment so full that it is against all flesh. Once Abram said to God, “That be far from You to destroy the righteous with the wicked.” (Genesis 18:25) But just because Abram said that, does that make his thinking right? Is it not Your holy right and prerogative to do as You will and as must be done for righteousness? If that wasn’t the case, why would Paul be able to say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? Why would he have proceeded that statement with these words, “…with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death”?

 
Is this a hard realization? Yes. The hardest ever. It’s called faith, real faith. Jesus warned us about this kind of faith. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28) Was Jesus just joking? Or was he for real? Has God ever been joking? Or has He been for real like this since before time began? Maybe we’re the ones who have been living like jokes.

 
How is that fair, you ask? How is it fair that the righteous and the wicked would both be killed during judgment? Is it fair that all flesh, that all people everywhere would know that God is Lord? I think it is fair that the Creator of all flesh would be seen and glorified and known as the Creator, Sustain-er, and Redeemer of all flesh. I think it’s a hard bite to swallow for us prideful flesh-dwellers, but if we swallow it, it actually tastes divine.

 
Well, maybe that’s fine if I’m talking about someone else’s demise, right? Maybe some other people in some other country? But not here, not me, right? That’s what makes it easier to swallow? No. It could be me. I could fall by the sword because It’s been appointed for man or woman or boy or girl to die once, and after that—judgment. If I escape death by the sword, I won’t escape death by the hand of God. It is He alone that gives life and takes it away. When He says my days are done, He doesn’t need a sword to finish them, He just takes it back. After all, it was His to give and His to take away, isn’t that what Job said?

 
I don’t know where our rosy picture of life came from. It’s certainly not Biblical. I mean, life before the fall was beautiful and painless. But then, life-after-sin entered the picture, and repainted things. Jesus didn’t come and tell us everything was rosy again. At least not yet. In Matthew we hear Jesus warning us, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”

 
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” What does that mean? If Jesus is my teacher, my master, my mentor, and I am His pupil, His disciple, His child, then I follow in His footsteps and His ways. I eat like He eats and drink like He drinks and sleep like He sleeps and act like He acts and walk where He walks and talk like He talks and think like He thinks. His culture is my culture. After all, He originated the culture of God. If the sword was against Jesus because of judgment, the perfectly righteous One, why would it be against me, His disciple any less? Outside of Jesus, I have no righteousness and I’m rounded up with the wicked. But here was God’s righteous One, crucified under judgment for my sin and yours. If anyone didn’t deserve judgment, here is that One.

 
Let’s face it, anyone who is good by God’s standards can only be so by faith in God, by faith in Jesus Christ’s perfect provision and perfect sacrifice. For man, the righteous and the wicked are all sinners. But not so for Jesus. Am I above my Master? Am I more righteous than He? Absolutely not. To be angry at God is to deny God who He is. This isn’t paradise and I’m not called to live like it is. Paradise is only with God. Paradise is only where the will of God has come and is perfected. Right now, this is not the kingdom of God. This is still in control of the prince of the air. But Jesus showed us the way to bring in the Kingdom of God. But to do so, I have to be willing to count the cost. And I have to let God be God no matter what it means.

 
The truth is, we’re all Jobs. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t all in the same sentence. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.” (Job 13:14) Maybe I should start understanding that Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts than mine. (Isaiah 55:9) Job finally realized the error in his thinking. Maybe it’s time I realized the errors in mine and let You be God.

 
What does that even have to do with God’s words to Ezekiel? “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Whose heart is my heart lined up with? Is it lined up first and foremost with the righteous and the wicked? Am I stepping in as their advocates more than I advocate for You God? Or am I here as Your advocate? How did Ezekiel know how to feel? God felt it first and Ezekiel was so close to You, Lord, that he felt the groaning and the breaking of Your heart and the bitter grief. Ezekiel knew You and knew what His people were losing out on and that was the bitter sorrow for all.

 
See, the truth is that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Take this life from me by the sword or the hand of God and that’s all you do. You take this life. But You don’t take LIFE from me. I have it in Christ. I am a child of God. I am Yours and You are mine. It might be sad, or full of suffering and pain on the way out, but taking away the visible won’t rob me of what is invisibly mine, because what is invisible is far stronger and eternal. But what a tragedy for those who chose wickedness instead, who are the children of wrath and not of God. That makes me want to groan, and breaks my heart to think of what they will enter- an eternity of suffering outside of the will and presence of God. And it’s not like You haven’t been giving us a choice over all these thousands of years. That’s how much You care. What a tragedy to miss that.

The Good Life

Standard

Photo credit to Psyche Angelik Mendoza Villacillo-Zuhura.

“And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.”  Zechariah 10:9

Sometimes we think the life of being redeemed in You is a life of ease.  That’s anything but the truth.  Here, Zechariah and Israel are getting to be a part of a great thing- the rebuilding of the temple.  But let’s not forget that this is happening while being under the rule of a foreign nation.  All of prophecy has not come to pass yet for Israel or for us.  And even though this great thing was happening according to Your plan, God, there was more greatness to come.  Only that greatness would come through and after many more great trials.

How would the people of Israel wind up sown among other people?  Were they deliberately going out and sowing themselves of their own accord?  I mean, You did tell them that they were to be a light unto the Gentiles and that all nations would be blessed through them.  And if we go further back in Scripture to the very beginning, Your mandate to mankind was to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.  How do you do that if you stay in one place? 

Why were the people building the tower of Babel?  Because they were ignoring Your desire.  They wanted to accomplish their own greatness.  So You confounded their languages.  Was Israel doing the same thing for so long in their greatness?  Was there something they were missing about how to be a light to the world?  Is Your way of doing things radically different than the way we would choose for ourselves?

Israel didn’t sow themselves among the people.  You brought persecution that sowed them all over the world as it is today.  But You are still not finished.  They have yet as a nation of scattered candles to remember You in those far countries and be witnesses and return to You.

But what about us?  What do we do when our plans and desires are confounded?  What do we do when the mountains in our life seem insurmountable?  What do we do when the pain seems unbearable?  It’s not that the pain isn’t real.  Betrayal really hurts down deep.  The death of a loved one leaves a deep and lasting pain.  Losing everything leaves an emptiness.  Watching everything ripped from your hands, suffering through cancer or MS, being defamed, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure…The Israelites would experience things like this and have to continue living.  So will we.  But what will our choice be, to continue living by digging deeper into the God who can keep us?  Or will we dig deeper down into our selves and our self-preservatory ways?

If “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction , for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” (2 Timothy 3:16,17) then maybe we should take note of tough times more carefully.  Because it’s not like we don’t have a God who understands now, is it? 

We look at suffering and we think, “Oh, why am I being punished?”  Or “They must have done something bad.”  Or we just get really upset about it if we think it’s undeserved.  Our attitudes about suffering haven’t really changed much since Biblical times and probably before.  Jesus noticed the attitude.  “You think these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things?” But Jesus said, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”  And He repeated that twice.  You know, that word repent, metanoeo in Greek, means to think differently, to reconsider.  And I don’t think You are asking us to rethink what we think about the Galileans.  I think that You are trying to get us to rethink about who You are and how our lives line up with You.  Maybe we need to return to what is really important- our relationship with You and our focus on You.  Maybe that is what sustains us through the ups and downs and tragedies of a life made chaotic by the entrance of sin.

I mean, why do we think that we should be able to avoid suffering?  Paul suffered on numerous occasions.  Wasn’t he God’s man?  And God let him suffer?  God let him be beaten?  God let him be stoned three times and left for dead?  God let him be shipwrecked?  Where was God when he needed him?  Right there all along.  God is still God, even when our life is threatened or waining.  You know, we don’t hear Paul complaining about these things.  We here Paul telling others that this will be a part of our life so learn to suffer victoriously and well in the Lord. 

Paul, a sufferer, and physical sufferer too, stated “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…”   Why?  “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” (Philippians 3:8-10)  Because by faith, one day, when the end did come, he would experience the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life.  But the fellowship doesn’t start then.  The fellowship is already. 

The fellowship is already because Jesus suffered and we are not above our Master, are we?  On the walk to Emaus, Jesus reprimanded the two disciples.  “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”  Suffering was an imminent and necessary part of being the Messiah.  Because Jesus suffered being tempted, He is able to relieve those who are tempted.  By suffering, the Son learned obedience.  He suffered as a sacrifice for others.   So Peter tells us, “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) 

What was His example?  When he was reviled, He didn’t revile back.  When He suffered, He didn’t threaten the one inflicting the suffering nor did He threaten God.  But what did He do?  He committed Himself to God, to the One that judges righteously.  He trusted Himself and His outcome to God even though the results on this earth stunk, to put it lightly.  He trusted God to make it right in His time and in His way.  And that’s where our problem lies, doesn’t it?  We don’t want to let God do it in His way or His time.  We aren’t surrendered in that kind of trust.  We want it fixed now, now, now!  Who’s plan is it about anyway?  Mine or God’s?  Isn’t that what it comes down to?

But thank God that Jesus didn’t think like us or He never would have gone to the cross.  But He obediently suffered for us and now, in Him, no matter what transpires in my life, I am able to think just like Him and experience suffering as victoriously as Him.  But if I don’t finish the course, I can’t be victorious.  And Peter again reminds all those who are living their trust in Christ, “But the God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make You perfect, establish, strengthen, settle You.”  (1 Peter 5:10)

How do I make it through this suffering?  I trust.  I believe that God understands the bigger picture.  If Jesus believed that and obediently suffered all He did faithfully, and a mere man named Paul could have the strength to do so based on his trust in You, then what’s my problem?  Doesn’t it boil down to a lack of trust?  Because if You are the I AM, and You ARE the I AM, then it’s not an issue about You doing anything.  Whether You do or You don’t, You are worthy and You are bringing Your will to pass the way You see fit that is right and pure and true and holy.  And I need to trust You just because You are You.  I need to trust You when life is rotten or when life is grand, because though my life changes, You do not.  Am I striving for a good life or am I looking with all my heart at pursuing fellowship with You?  Because the truth is, You are the only Good Life.