Suffering For Christ

We’re delving into a subject we would all rather avoid, and that is the issue of suffering. The Bible teaches us that we all should expect to suffer, and not only expect, but we should rejoice in suffering. Now I can’t speak for you but I don’t recall a time when I ever looked forward to suffering.

First let us differentiate suffering for Christ, and that suffering which is just part of life. A headache brought about from a night of drinking is not suffering for Christ. The headache you got from hours of pouring over a Bible study so as to be prepared for your Sunday School class is suffering for Christ. The blister you got on your foot from walking the golf course in new shoes is not suffering for Christ; the blister you got from walking the halls of the hospital to visit the sick is suffering for Christ. Few of us are challenged today with the level of suffering endured by the apostles, the Christians of the first few centuries after Christ, or even that which most of our missionaries experience today. But if you have been ostracized by coworkers or family, if you have lost or been refused a job, if you have contracted some disease as you ministered to the unbelievers, all that is indeed suffering for Christ.

Which suffering is by God, what is by Satan, by man, by self? Suffering is not always by the hand of God (though we acknowledge His supreme sovereignty). Sometimes our suffering can be of our own choices in life, sometimes a byproduct of our neighbor’s actions, and sometimes by Satan. Ultimately we must understand that whatever the source of our malady or catastrophe, it has come upon us by God’s permission – most often not by His design. Even then He can use this unplanned (by God) tribulation for His glory, our personal enlightenment, and growth in our faith in Him.

The lung cancer we are afflicted with was most likely brought about by a choice we made to smoke – our incarceration in the local bastille resulted from unlawful deeds. Those kinds of suffering which we bring upon ourselves are not God honoring, but He can still use them to His glory. Once we have surrendered to Him, our past, including our mistakes, becomes part of our testimony as to His goodness, grace, and mercy. God then uses that testimony to reach others who have suffered similarly.

Likewise the suffering we endure at the hands of our neighbors is not always part of God’s plan for our life, but as we suffer, and hopefully overcome, that too becomes part of our testimony to God’s redeeming love for us. I would add to this category what is often referred to as “acts of God”, such as weather related disasters. Also diseases, war, and all that resulting from the ‘fall’ of man from grace.

Even when we don’t overcome or outlive these calamities, I would say that for the believer, God can and does use them for His glory.That is a hard premise to sell to those who are suffering. To say that God would use an earthquake, or a child afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, or the violent death of a loved one to the furtherance of His Kingdom doesn’t sound much like the loving God we have been promised.

The fact is though, that man and woman, are by nature prideful, self centered, and rebellious. We don’t naturally take discipline and conviction without some level of resistance. Paul wrote that, by nature we were objects of wrath [of God]”. (Eph. 2:3 emphasis added) Sometimes God has to ‘break’ us before we will submit to Him – sometimes His breaking is spurned, disregarded, and ignored.

Sometimes we can’t see the object lesson God has for us. Certainly Joseph did not immediately see God at work in his young life as he was first thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave by his own brothers, and later jailed in a foreign land. Joseph could not see the end of his story – God did; we cannot see the end of our story – God does – and He promises it will be a glorious ending if we trust Him.

Suffering by the hand of Satan is real, though I think he gets blame/credit for many of our own choices. For most of us Satan only whispers in our ear – enticing us, tempting us, seducing us to follow his lead. Satan’s powers on this earth, his realm, are limited, but he is not without abilities to indwell certain weak souls. We read of the limits God placed on Satan in the book of Job where he had to get God’s permission to afflict Job, and even that affliction was limited by God (Job 1:9-12). Yet we find in the New Testament where even the Archangel Michael would not confront Satan by his own strength, but by the strength of God. (Jude 1:9) Paul advised the Ephesians to “Put on the armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. He noted that our battle was “…against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Eph. 16:10-13) We should never think we can battle the evil one on our own – we must seek God’s power for such a battle.

And then we come to that suffering originated, generated, and ordained by God. This is often the hardest for us to understand. We want to think of our Father as a loving, forgiving, merciful God; and He is all that, praise be. But He is also a jealous and wrathful God and He warns us of His jealousy and wrath in His Word. (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 5:9; Rom. 1:18). The Old Testament is replete with occasions of God’s wrath, and Revelation alerts us of His wrath to come. (Rev. 14:10,12; 16:1)

Personally I choose to believe that God seldom inflicts us with whatever malady we may be facing. There is enough pain and malaise brought about by our own choices in life and by living in this fallen world to go around. I am also confident that God reroutes the vast majority of those maladies, calamities, and catastrophes that come knocking at our door.

And come knocking they will. Suffering for Christ is promised; John. 15:20; 16:33 – so why would we not anticipate it, expect it? 1 Pet. 4:12-13 – Paul says we should rejoice in suffering – Col. 1:24 – Jesus said suffering for Him is a privilege – Matt. 5:11-12; Jn. 15:18-20- and finally we find consolation as we reap the benefits and rewards of suffering for Christ – 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet. 4:13; 5:10.

There is no sharing in Christ’s glory unless there is sharing in His suffering.


Consequences

“Be sure your sin will find you out!”

Joe sat at his dying wife’s bedside. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Joe, darling,” she breathed, “I’ve got a confession to make before I go. I’m the one who took the ten thousand dollars from your safe and spent it on a fling with your best friend, Charles. And it was I who forced your mistress to leave the city. And I am the one who reported your income tax evasion to the government.”

“That’s all right, don’t give it a second thought,” answered Joe, “I’m the one who poisoned you.”

 

There aren’t very many free passes when it comes to wrongdoing.  The sinner often doesn’t ‘reap what he sows’ right away.  He may skate for a season, unaware, even uncaring of the wake his trespass has wreaked.  Sometimes it is years before he realizes the aftermath of his offense, how many have been affected, and how deep the hurt he caused.  But the fallout can be, and most often is both immediate and unending for the offended.  There are consequences to sin – both physical and spiritual.

Our best example of this is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Their sin was both immediate and unending.

The initial result of their sin was their awareness of their nakedness. They had lost their innocence. Close behind had to be the first impression of fear and guilt.  Never before had they felt the need to hide from God.  And once they were exposed God’s punishment was both immediate and unending for both they and all mankind that would follow.

They were exiled from the Garden; their sin had introduced physical death into the world.  In fact in order for God to have provided them with clothing made of skins, (Genesis 3:21) an animal had to have been slain.  Prior to that Adam and Eve, and all animals were vegetarians (Gen. 1:30).  Most Biblical scholars agree that man was intended to live eternally in the Garden.  But now God decrees that man shall return to the dust from whence he came.

Famine and pestilence were now introduced as God curses the earth, (vv 17-19).  Never before had there been disease, crime, storms, or evil of any kind.  No poisonous beast nor plant populated Eden. Man would now labor ‘by the sweat of his brow’ for his sustenance. Woman would now suffer greatly in child bearing, from morning sickness, through agonizing labor pains, to postpartum depression.  She would be subservient to her husband, though many women would rail against this natural law, it was God ordained.

But the most dreadful and wretched consequence of sin would be mankind’s separation from God.  God is holy, ans as such He cannot abide with sin, and now man is sinful.  There would be no more walks in the Garden with the Creator.

But God, in His mercy, would provide mankind with a ‘get out of jail free’ card, an escape clause from our contract with spiritual death.  In His omniscience and wisdom He had planned our opportunity for salvation before the beginning.

Though we are forgiven our trespasses, that does not erase the consequences. God does not, nor can those afflicted, erase the outcome of trespass. Families are torn apart, lives are lost, relations are shipwrecked. I can personally attest to this.  Mistakes, self-serving attitudes, and selfish pursuits years ago by your author caused permanent scars for my family and friends. Though I have been the recipient of undeserved forgiveness, the wounds are permanent.  We need always remember that forgiven sins retain the repercussion. . . the fruit of that which we sowed.

The physical consequence to sin will vary with the sin that is committed. However, the spiritual consequence remains the same; for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The solution to the spiritual consequence of sin is revealed in the completion of the verse. . . “BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord“. Salvation from our sins does not remove the physical consequences of sin. If you drank too much and developed hardening or cirrhosis of the liver, it won’t go away. If you committed sexual sins and picked up a disease or became pregnant, those problems will remain. However, the long term problem, our separation from God and eternal life can be cured. In addition, learning to live life God’s way will give us the tools to handle the results of our past mistakes

I would encourage you to be quick to forgive those who have wronged you,.  You must know that you have wronged someone in your past and we all pray for grace regarding them, just as Christ Jesus provided forgiveness for our own sins.  We pray for their forgiveness and we trust the Holy Spirit has led us to repentance from those wrongdoings.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.  May the Lord God bless you abundantly, and may you be a blessing to those around you.

God bless,


Heavenly Rewards

God created the earth and all that’s in it and the universe that surrounds it in six days.  Now think about this – All that we know or can dream of He made in just six days.  Since the end of that sixth day, He has now had five thousand years to prepare our home in Heaven with Him.  Can you just imagine what lies waiting for us?

In the book of Revelations, Chapter 21, John relates what was revealed to him as a description of Heaven; streets of gold, walls decorated with precious gems, and each of the twelve gates made of a single pearl.  Don Piper, in his book ’90 Minutes  in Heaven’ tells of lights and sounds that were (are) too wonderful, too exquisite to put into words.  I personally wonder if the physical sights and sounds will begin to compare with how our hearts will burst with joy at the sight of our Savior.

I am reminded of Mercy Me’s song “I Can Only Imagine”:
“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine”

But what are the rewards awaiting the faithful?  Scripture is clear that not all will receive the same rewards.  “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matt. 16:27.  See also Romans 2:6, 1Cor. 3:8, Hebrews 6:10, 2 John 1:8, Rev. 2:23 and 22:12

Whether or not we will be aware that some receive greater or lesser rewards is not clear but Jesus did promise that “…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” (Rev. 21:4)

I have asked the question before – Will we be aware of the fact that our reward is not as great as it could have been had we been more fruitful, more charitable, or more obedient?  Will we recognize that others in Heaven have greater rewards than we?  And if we are aware will we be saddened for our lack of charity and obedience while on earth?

I find it hard to believe there would be anything even related to sadness in Heaven, so then the question becomes, if we won’t know the difference when we get there, what’s the incentive or motivation to do our best now?  Obviously some people are better equipped financially to give, but then Jesus was only impressed by the woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21:1-4).  Some people are by nature more compassionate; God created them that way.  Does that mean that He created some people to have greater rewards in Heaven?  Again, I think not.

I am reminded of David’s words to Araunah, the owner of the threshing floor where he was to build an alter to God.  Araunah offered to donate the site including the oxen, but David told him, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)  God isn’t impressed by the size of our offering.  God is impressed by our giving our last two coins, by our sacrificing something of ourselves, something that cost us.

I remember a story of a very poor couple who at Christmas had no money with which to buy the other a gift.  The man loved to smoke his pipe, which he had carved himself.  It was a wonderful pipe, but he could rarely afford the sweet smelling tobacco he preferred.  His wife had long beautiful hair and she loved to brush it, sometimes hours at a time, but recently the old brush had broken and she found it very difficult to use the now handle-less brush.

On Christmas morning they arose to find on the kitchen table two gifts wrapped in plain paper, each gift marked with the names of the husband and wife.  She opened her gift first.  It was a beautiful new hair-brush, adorned with mother-of-pearl and other small gems.  She smiled at him curiously with a small tear in the corner of her eye.  It was the husband’s turn now to open his gift.  As he did he laughed out loud upon seeing a brand new tin of pipe tobacco.  He asked his wife where she got the money for such a gift.  They had no money.  She very coquettishly took the scarf off her head to reveal that her long beautiful hair was gone.  She had sold her hair to buy her husband the tin of tobacco.  He then had to tell her why he had laughed at seeing his gift – he had sold his beautiful, hand carved pipe to buy her the hair-brush.  Each had sacrificed something so very dear so that the other might be blessed.

Let me sum up what at first glance would seem to make some more likely to receive the ‘greater’ rewards.  It isn’t what you have been able to give of your finances, your talents or natural abilities, nor of your time.  It is that you have given till it hurts.

That is the kind of giving that impressed our Lord God.  That we sacrifice in our giving.  Our sacrifice determines our reward, and oh, how great those rewards are.  Paul borrowed something from Isaiah when in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9 – Isaiah 64:4)

I recall my first visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  My wife and I had traveled down from Reno and arrived at the canyon very late in the day.  I had seen many different photos and videos of the canyon and was sure it was going to be spectacular.  In my years in the U S Navy I had been privileged to visit much of God’s great blue marble.  I remember waking up and stepping out onto deck when up in Puget Sound and being impressed by how very green green can be.  I had the occasion to climb Fujiyama in Japan and remarked at its beauty and how beautiful yet different that mountain was from Mitre Peak on the South Island of New Zealand which rises to a height of one mile straight up from the coastline.  None of this prepared me for the Grand Canyon.  As I noted, we arrived around sundown.  I remember like yesterday my first view.  GASP!!  I could not have spoken if my life depended on it.  The beauty was just overwhelming.

The beauty of Heaven I foresee will be an eternal GASP.  The spectacle, the peace, the joy, the relationships will all combine to bring us everlasting days of GASP.  Let us all be ‘storing up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.’  God’s cash register is ringing up for us with each act of kindness, charity, and love.  Jesus tells us that “even a cup of cold water”, is counted as a reward; “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Be blessed.

 

 

Self Control

Some years back several different Country and Western artists recorded a song titled “Stop the World and Let Me Off”. Often we all feel like things are so out of control that we’d like to just get off the merry-go-round for a minute or two, to sort out the craziness in our world. “If it’s not one thing it’s two,” I can remember my mother saying. Our time, our finances, our talents, and our emotions are all strained to the breaking point by a “I must have it – and I must have it now” mentality. Out of control.

Too many of us are like a runaway train on a downhill track with no brakes. I am reminded of my one and only attempt at downhill snow skiing. I found I could stand up – I started down the hill – and then I lost control – I could not stop, and was afraid to just bail into a snowbank. Of course when I finally did bail, it wasn’t where and how I wanted the adventure to end – quite unceremonious, embarrassing, and, oh yes, quite painful. Out of control.

Did you ever stop to think where such a breakneck mentality comes from? Who in Hollywood or on Madison Avenue came up with the “Keep up with the Jones” idea? Who told us to consider the sports figure more valuable than the teacher or the soldier, the screen actor more exemplary than the nurse or the fireman? Who decided that rock stars are more worthy of emulation than our pastors? (As I write this I find I must battle the temptation to be judgmental and intolerant of those who solicit and believe our adulations. It is we who have established their fame; we have contributed in building their thrones.)

Who would put such self-absorbing and often ideas into the head of mankind? Who? I don’t think we need to look very far. Don’t you think that perhaps Satan has had a hand in it all? But take heart my friends, God has not lost control.

He has for the present time appointed Satan and his demons, the principalities and powers of this age, to rule over earth (Ephesians 6:12). Satan has designed ways of life that are fast-paced, spiced by a complicated array of sense-appealing entertainments, fashions, and gadgets, and filled with a confusing mix of educational, economic, religious and political systems. These lifestyles are in a constant whirl and lived on the edge of disaster. No one has time any more to meditate on how to gain control over his or her life.

We will never control some things. We cannot stop the tides from going in or out. As much as some would like, we cannot control the weather so that it will not rain on our parade or that it will water our gardens. We must admit that there is far more over which we exercise no control than that which we do. God does not require that we try to control what is beyond us or that we fret because they are beyond us. Some things in life we must learn to accept peacefully, yield to and work our way through. Otherwise, we could find ourselves “beating our heads against a wall” and driving ourselves into the psychological imbalance of always seeing ourselves as victims.

Peter wrote that self-control was one of those characteristics that we are to add to our faith, (2 Peter 1:6) and he noted three times to “Be self-controlled.” (1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, & 5:8) We know self-control to be part of the Fruit of the Spirit, which when exemplified in us is testimony to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and our growth in Christ Jesus.

Ok, so now we’ve acknowledged that we’re often lacking in self-control. We’ve identified manifestations and sources of that lack of self-control. We’ve noted scriptural exhortations to “be self controlled”. So how do we gain control of this runaway train? Where are the instructions for applying the brakes?

Where else but in the Word of God. There are numerous verses but two come to my mind immediately – not to say that I have already obtained all this! The first verse is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal“. (Matt. 6:19 NIV) We all need to pare our ‘want’ list down to a ‘needs’ list. The second verse is 2 Corinthians 10:5; “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In her book “Battlefield for the Mind”, Joyce Meyer says we need to “think about what we’re thinking about.” Think about what is coming between you and your family and more importantly between you and God. Another most appropriate verse would be Luke 9:23. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (emphasis mine)

Self-control is more than saying no to sinful desires. It is denying the worldly traps that Satan has wrapped as beautiful and desirable packages. He never warns you that his gifts of wealth, recognition, acclaim, and abundance will cost you joy, peace, contentment – and yes, self-control. Your denial of Satan’s benevolence must be an emphatic and purposeful “NO!” That NO is founded in your trust and faith in God’s providence – He will see to all you needs – maybe not all your wants.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:11-12

May our Lord God abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

The Week Before Easter

How will you spend this week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday? This week, the week we refer to as Holy Week, should be a week spent deep in meditation, prayer, and fasting as we remember the corresponding week our Lord lived through some two thousand years ago. The about-face by those who initially welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem is a sobering reminder of the human tendency to want God on our own terms.

How will this week go for you? In this span of five days from today to Good Friday, will you be betrayed to a group who hate you for a fistful of coins? Will your friends deny they know you and run from your presence rather than admit knowing you at all? Will your church fabricate testimony about you and hand you over to an unjust and unmerciful court? Will your church elders stand before that court and scream lies about who you are and what you represent, and demand you be horrifically murdered?

In this interval of just five days will you find yourself enduring the bloodiest of beatings, will common people spit on you, will you be insulted, mocked, and ridiculed? On Friday will you ultimately be put to death in a most sadistic and brutal method? Who will you sacrifice yourself for this week?

I think of how Jesus spent the week. Within this one week His stature will be traded from rock star to the ridiculed; from the promised Messiah to a convicted blasphemer. Scorn will replace reverence.

He will find that His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem will be rerouted to Golgotha; to Death on a Cross. Yesterday they carpeted His path with their coats and palm fronds and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. This Friday they will drive spikes into His hands and feet and jeer, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.”   How is your week going?

In chapter 12 of the book of John we learn that on the Saturday before Jesus had stayed with at the home of Simon the Leper, (how would you like to be stuck with that moniker?) There too were Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, who it would seem were among His dearest friends, aside from the apostles. A feast was given in His honor and Mary had washed His Holy feet with oil and dried them with her hair, and in similar fashion He would, in days to come, wash the feet of His apostles to impress on them the magnificence of humility. This day with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha was His last day of peace before a week of betrayal and denial by friends, unlawful and prejudicial trials, beatings, ridicule, scorn, and mocking. A week where Jesus would pray the Father would find another way to save all mankind. You think you had a bad week?

In the Garden of Gethsemane Our Lord would ask three times, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” That cup, my friends, was full to overflowing with my and your sins. In the end He declared, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Here most of all we see the humanity of Jesus. He knew His mission, and was obedient, but He did so with human trepidation.

A sacrifice had to be made to atone for the sins of the world. According to the Law blood must be shed to atone (cover over) the sins (Heb. 9:22), and the blood must come from a pure and unblemished source. Jesus was pure, He was unblemished, He was sinless. By taking that cup of sin – our sin – he took on to Himself our sin. He wore our sin to the Cross.

Robert Lowry said it most succinctly –

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the Blood of Jesu

“What can make me whole again? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

“O! Precious is the flow that makes me white as snow;

“Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.”

What kind of week to you anticipate? It is my prayer that as we prepare to celebrate His victory over death this Easter Sunday, (and by extension, our victory over death), you will give thought to the week Jesus endured on His way to Calvary; a trip He would have made were you the only person on earth.

May His peace and forgiveness bring you to a better understanding of His love for you.