Christianity 201

July 11, 2017

With the Eyes of Christ

Today we’re paying another visit to the site Weeping Into Dancing | Overcoming Difficult Trials. There have been no new posts on this page for several months, but we’ve always found this to be a source of great insights and today’s selection was no exception.

A Godly Perspective

A person’s perspective is an attitude and viewpoint. It can be positive or negative. A positive perspective sees the good in even the most painful and darkest of circumstances. A negative perspective will eventually lead to a hard heart, a root of bitterness, and a stagnant spiritual walk.

Perspective is an understanding that events, people, and circumstances are interrelated, and a positive perspective means we have the ability to see things from a larger frame of reference. A positive perspective means we are looking through the eyes of Jesus.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

With the eyes of Christ we see the good in all people, even when confronted by rude, abusive, and angry people. With a Christ-like vision, we are less apt to judge and more likely to adopt a compassionate attitude. We will consider why actions and behaviors play out and hold our tongues and judgments for later.

When we consider the life of Jesus, we see he was a friend to prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. He was able to look past their mistakes or employment choices and see into the heart of the person. His love looked past all rebellion, greed, and lust and saw the desperation and need for acceptance and love in man’s heart.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”       Luke 7:34 (NIV)

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32 (NIV)

As sinners, at some point we will act out, saying or thinking things that cause our Savior grief. One of these things occurs when we doubt the love of God. During difficult trials, our flesh cries out under the pressure and pain. Too often a man thinks, “If God loves me why must I suffer?” It is because of our sin and our need to be sanctified. The pressure of difficult times will bring the dross of our sin to the surface, enabling the Holy Spirit to remove it for our benefit. We are called to be like Christ.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5 (NKJV)

Sometimes we feel like mishandled clay in the hands of The Potter. Under intense pressure, we cry out and protest at every squeeze and pinch He makes. Then, when The Potter places us on His spinning wheel, life seems to spin out of control. No longer can we see clearly, for the world has become a blur. When the turning slows and comes to a stop, we feel the Creator’s hands lift us from the wheel. In fear, we tremble. Why? Because the heat of the kiln awaits us and we can not look past the future discomfort.

With the eyes of Christ, we see how The Potter has carefully placed us in just the right spot on his spinning wheel. As it whirls us around, we take note of how The Potter places both of His loving hands about us, molding us into a vessel of beauty and usefulness. We understand that our life is under His control, so we worry and fret not. When our Creator lifts us from the wheel and places us in the kiln, we welcome the heat. For it is in the fire that our beauty is enhanced, free of imperfections and strong.

Perspective helps when we are faced with adversity. Perspective was one reason Jesus was able to endure the cross. Without perspective, we follow our own natural inclinations. May God grant us eyes to see the good in every person and in every circumstance.

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV)

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

July 5, 2017

When the Flood Waters Run High

Just two months ago, we introduced you to the website Dust off the Bible, which contains news, reviews, quizzes and a daily devotional. We thought we’d give you another opportunity to explore this excellent website. Click the title below to read this at source. (Often the passages are covered by two writers, which is the case today.)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional [Psalm 69:7-18]-June 28, 2017

Psalm 69:7-18

69:7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

69:8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

69:9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

69:10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

69:11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

69:12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

69:13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help

69:14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

69:15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

69:16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

69:17 Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

69:18 Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.


Much like yesterday’s reading, this passage calls for the Christian to stand up for the name of Christ. This however, is a prayer that God would give strength to those who are enduring persecution and mocking for the sake of following after God. We cannot live this Christian life alone and we are not meant to. Jesus is always there to give us peace and strength, especially when are facing hard times.

The Psalmist here is recognizing that yes, there has been some very hard times for being a follower of Christ. He names how family no longer cares for him, the people around him gossip, even those who are at the lowest form of the social ladder, are making fun of him. The sacrifice to follow after Christ is great and costly. Yet, there is no cry about frustration and bitterness. There is a cry for strength and a means of being sustained as he goes through this.

Whenever we are mocked and questioned about our faith, let us remember that Jesus Christ endured the greatest form of mockery in spreading the Gospel. He was beaten, humiliated, spit upon, mocked and killed. Our strength comes from the one who has endured it all and we can rest assured that He will answer us during times of persecution and hardships. He gives strength to the weary, peace to the anxious heart and joy to the sad.


Sometimes, the storms are what make us seek God the most. They are times where we need to seek something outside of ourselves and our surroundings. We need a supernatural event. While we should encourage others to call on God daily, know that it’s normal to call on the Lord more in our times of need. In fact, this is what King David often did and that is why so many Psalms are written from a place of despair. However, there is no need to despair. God is listening to us already. He is listening before we even speak.

If you are in a place of need at this moment, go find a quiet place and pray the words of King David;

With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me.

 

 

June 12, 2017

It’s Not An Easy Road

NLT Deut 31:6 So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

I thought of calling this “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden;” a song which one speaker once said should be in our hymnbooks!

Today we’re paying another visit to Paul Burleson at Vital Truth Ministries which also contains a poem written by his son who is also in ministry. This appeared on his blog in May; click the title to read it there. (Again, as we said last time, Paul likes capital letters and we decided to leave it in the original form.)

THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT THE LIFE OF FAITH WILL BE EASY!

For as long as I can remember some Christians, especially television preachers, have emphasized “victory, success, healing, and material blessings” as the path for EVERY believer who truly lives “by faith!” The only problem is that not only misses reality, it misses the emphasis of the scripture entirely. According to the Biblical materials the ONLY guarantee any of us have IN THIS LIFE is that God LOVES us and He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us. A Christian may be healed, but they might NOT be. A Christian may be materially blessed, but they might NOT be. A Christian may have a successful marriage, but they might NOT have one, because they have a partner that chooses, for whatever reason, to leave the union. Christians suffer at the hands of a brutal criminals. They sometimes find out they have a disease for which there is NO CURE or one that IS NOT cured. It isn’t that God can’t or even doesn’t heal some, but, the point is that He doesn’t do so EVERY TIME, even for those living by faith. They may receive bad news about their children. And on and on I could go.

But here’s the deal, our lives “in Christ” are built upon a much more solid rock than any circumstance that makes us comfortable with health, wealth and happiness being undisturbed. That rock is CHRIST HIMSELF and He will NEVER LEAVE US nor FORSAKE us and is coming to establish His Eternal Kingdom with a New Heavens and a New Earth!

What an eye-opener it would be for ANY of us as American Christians to be magically transported overseas to live among radical Islamists, massive poverty, and barren wastelands of dry, dusty earth. It might help us realize that when our Christian message of comfort revolves around material things as evidence of God’s blessings and favor, the way we’re thinking has been “materially” corrupted and no longer represents the true message of the Bible. [We have been blessed with ALL spiritual blessings IN CHRIST JESUS!] Just remember that if a message or truth any preacher brings CANNOT be lived out in ANY nation on earth, it isn’t scripturally true for this nation either.

A few years ago our son, Wade Burleson, wrote a poem and sent it to a family in the fellowship he pastors that was facing some horrible circumstances at the time. I found it yesterday and thought you might enjoy it as well. As Wade said back then,”Maybe God can use this poem to encourage you as these things happen in your life, or worse, as the answer to your prayers is exactly opposite of what you have requested.”

My Lord’s Guarantee

There are days you’ll hear news that burdens your soul.
Words will come that cause you to feel less than whole.
Those times are planned by Me for a special reason,
To give you My comfort in your particularly dark season.

I may not always make things perfect and secure,
But I will show you two things that are absolutely sure.
My unconditional love for you will never change or abate.
And your life is not in the hands of earthly chance or fate.

I have taken hold of you and supported you by My hand,
To ensure the evil around you will not forever stand.
Assurance of My love is found not in what you can see.
It is established in the personal faith you have in Me.

It may be that I designed this affliction to end with death.
For this reason you must trust Me with your every breath.
You came to this world with nothing but My love for you,
And it is this unfailing love that will see you through.

May 23, 2017

Paradoxes in the Upside Down Kingdom

We’ve linked before to the blog Don’t Ask The Fish at our other blog, but this is the first time for this devotional site, written by Dr. Tommy Kiedis to appear here at C201. There is some really great content waiting for you there. Clicking the title below will allow you to read this at source, where you can then navigate to some other great articles.

The Upside To Down Times

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.  — Charles H. Spurgeon

The New Testament is full of paradoxes:

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul shares another anomaly for those who walk with God: There is an upside to down times. This is a truth Paul discovered while walking through some very difficult circumstances.

We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 The Message)

What happened to Paul in the province of Asia? Was there an attempt on his life? Did he suffer some punishing malady? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that Paul said, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” Why? Because God used the trying time to deepen Paul’s faith.

As Paul trusted God, he discovered that God (who raises the dead) would employ that power to rescue him again and again—as many times as he needed rescuing.

Amazing!

Where are you experiencing a “downer” in life? There is an upside to it. Like Paul you can say, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” This change in perspective occurs as you learn to trust that God really is working in your life in the midst of your challenge.

Sometimes it is hard to think of God at work when difficulties arrive. Anxiety, like some swashbuckling pirate, is making too much noise. But Spurgeon is right, “anxiety . . . only empties today of it’s strengths.” My task is not necessarily to fight the anxious thought, but to look to God through all the dust of emotions, to learn to rest in the fact that is there and that he is at work on my behalf — because he is!

Here’s an idea. Why not take something on your desk or work space and turn it upside down today as your reminder that God promises to bring an upside to your down times.

He has that kind of power. He loves you that much.

 

November 30, 2016

God’s Providence for His People

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to the blog No Condemnation. Click the title to read at source. (This Psalm appears in your Bible just a couple before the one we looked at yesterday, and is quite different.)

Let the redeemed tell their story

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe …

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
Psalm 107:1, 6-7, 19-20 (NIV)

Read: Psalm 107

Consider: A few days ago we looked at the problem of praying when the words just won’t come. This can be because the problem we are facing is so enormous, or potentially life-changing. It is in times like these that the Holy Spirit takes our unspoken words and groans, and intercedes to God on our behalf. Prayer in difficult times is generally more heart felt than prayer in easy times.

The story of the people of Israel is one of bringing their troubles before God and, once the immediate danger had passed, they promptly forgot and rebelled against Him. As a Christian you are unlikely to go into open rebellion against God, but do you remember or forget God’s providence once the danger you have been facing has passed?

I love the opening verses of Psalm 107 where it says: ‘Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story …’ (v2). It speaks to me of the providence of God and how he cares for and loves us, but it also speaks to me about my response to God’s goodness in my life. When God rescues you in your trouble (note: not from your trouble) are you forgetful, or do you want to thank God so much that your can’t stop talking about it? Are you willing to share details of God’s rescue with your close relatives, home group members, the wider church membership? I’m not advocating being so talkative about yourself that you very quickly become a bore. What I am advocating is the willingness to recognize God’s hand in your circumstances and thanking him first and foremost for this. As the psalmist puts it : Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever (v1). Having first thanked God, we should then be willing to share with others what God has done for us.

Look again at Psalm 107 and some of the words the psalmist uses to speak of God’s providence for his people. He uses words like redeemed, delivered, led, saved, healed and rescued. All these speak so clearly of God’s love.

Don’t let the fact that the immediate danger has passed prevent you from thanking God and telling others about his providence in your life. You never know who is going through similar circumstance to yourself, who needs to hear your words of encouragement.

Pray: Father, forgive us for being so quick to forget your goodness to us. May we remember to thank you and also to share with others what you have been doing in our lives. Amen

Every blessing.

 

September 10, 2016

God is not the Author of Hurt and Pain

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of Justin Petrick Ministries. Although he doesn’t seem to be writing frequently at present, there are some great articles there on file. As always, don’t read the posts here, click the title below to read at the author’s website or blog.

God Doesn’t Author Hurt and Pain

I do not know about you, but it can be easy for me to attribute hurtful and painful past experiences to the hand of God. Why do you think that is? Why do we blame God for our hurts and pains? Why is it easy for us to derive a perverted sense of peace when something happens to us that causes us hurt and pain, by saying that God is the author of it or even that He has ‘allowed’ it?

When we look back at God’s original design, the Garden of Eden, it is perfection. The Garden of Eden, also the place of perfect relationship with God, was not only a garden of perfect provision, but physical, emotional, and mental stability, or peace. Why would we think that God deviated from this plan of His or reverted to a plan B, when man chose to sin rather than to stay in perfect communion with Him?

I don’t think He did. And being that God’s original design was perfection, I do not believe that God orchestrates pain and hurt for us to experience or to grow and mature us. There is a drastic difference in our hurts and pains turning out for our good or God using hurts and pains to grow and mature us (Romans 8:28) compared to believing He is the author of hurts and pains. Let us look at this Biblically:

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV): For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Harm is emotional, mental, or physical distress, so to speak. God would never put you into a position to harm you mentally, physically, or emotionally. It is not His original plan of perfect love, nor is it in His perfect, loving nature for He is a God of love (1 John 4:8).

raThe Hebrew word for ‘harm’ in Jeremiah 29:11, is ‘ra`’ (רַע), and means “bad, malignant, unpleasant, displeasing, worse than, sad, unhappy, hurtful, wicked, misery, calamity, distress, adversity, injury, wrong, etc.”.  To many of us, these characteristics fit experiences that we believe God orchestrated or allowed to happen.

But what is interesting, is that this word “harm” comes from the root word ‘ra`a`’ (רָעַע), which means “evil”. And we know in James 1:13 that God will not test or tempt us with evil, or with ‘ra`’ (רַע) (experiences characterized as bad, malignant, unpleasant, displeasing, worse than, sad, unhappy, hurtful, wicked, misery, calamity, distress, adversity, injury, wrong, etc.).

Evil is the absence of a loving God, it is the absence of love; a void of love. Being that God is love (1 John 4:8), evil is the absence of God or His presence, ability, character, or nature. Evil is the absence of His plan. There is no hurt and pain in God’s love nor in His plan for you. It is not in His nature. He is not the author of evil. He is the restorer. He is the rescuer, the shelter, the rock. He builds up what has been broken down. He takes our hurt and pain and turns it into wholeness and victory, confidence, wisdom, and knowledge.

The things in our life that bring us hurt and pain are characterized by the plan of Satan, not God:

John 10:10 (NIV): The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Satan comes to steal health, marriages, families, jobs, security, stability, etc. He wants you to doubt God, doubt the power and design of His love for you and your life. He wants to steal the Truth and the Life, the Word, from your heart. In fact, he wants to speak lies into you about God’s nature, His very heart.

Another reason we know God does not orchestrate hurts and pains, is because He is moved by our hurts and pains, or infirmities.

Hebrews 4:15 (KJV): For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

God is moved by how you feel. When you feel hurt, manipulated, lied to, cheated on, let down, bailed on, forgotten, etc., it moves the heart of God! He feels your pain!

In fact, God is so moved by our iniquities that it is what killed the body of Jesus. Jesus died of a broken heart. One of the greatest verses that gives us physiological, medical insight into the death of Jesus is John 19:34:

John 19:34 (KJV): “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.”

When you think about someone being stabbed, one would expect to only see blood come out similar to a deep cut, just more of it.  John obviously thought it was important to mention that not only blood flowed from when the solider speared Jesus, but water as well.  And he was correct.  This small piece of information is very important.

We know that when blood sits, the red blood cells naturally separate from the plasma, which looks like water or is the watery part of your blood, giving the appearance of blood and water flowing as John stated. So, where was this blood and water able to sit? The heart, which is what the solider punctured when he speared Jesus.

There is a membrane that surrounds the heart called the pericaridal sac.  When a heart ruptures, blood leaks from the heart and fills the pericardial sac and while it sits, blood will separate from the plasma.  Jesus did not die of asphyxiation, but of a broken heart when He took the sins and sickness of the entire world on Him (John 1:29).

Isaiah 53:4 (KJV): Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

This is how much Jesus loves you, to willingly take on so much sin and pain that it literally broke His heart.  This is why He is moved by the feelings of your infirmities. He bore what you are going through today when He was crucified on the cross. This is the nature and love of Jesus Christ.  He has literally sacrificed His body and heart that we might have life with Him for eternity.

This is the magnitude of His love, and it blows my mind when I really think about it, about how much pain and agony is in the world that was placed in Him, all for the simple reason of Him justifying us through this selfless act of love, that we might be conquerors over everything that caused Him to die of a broken heart.  This is how much He loves YOU.

God is not the one that orchestrates pain and hurt. He is the one that gives you the ability to overcome hurts and pains so that you may live life in His fullness and joy (Psalm 16:11).

 

September 8, 2016

When Things Go From Bad to Worse

clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

Ever get the feeling that it is all downhill? That things are going from bad to worse? Or that life could be captured by an expression I grew up with, one said best with an Irish accent: things are “worser and far badder.” It might be health, it might be finances, it might be anything or seem like everything. Whatever it is, it is not good and not getting better. Ezekiel chapter 17 captures a time when God’s people are experiencing things going from bad to worse. It is a “riddle,” or allegory, so let’s quickly cover some of the key moments:

  • In verses 3 and 4 there is an eagle which takes a top branch of a cedar from Lebanon and plants it in a different land. This represents the Babylonian control over Judah and Jerusalem with the resulting deportation of about 10,000 people to Babylon, among whom was Ezekiel himself. This was done to weaken God’s people in order to keep them under Babylon’s thumb.
  • In verses 5 and 6 we find the planting of a vine which stretches toward the eagle. This represents Babylon letting the people of Judah carry on with life, though weakened, so long as they remain loyal to Babylon.
  • In verses 7 and 8 the vine stretches instead to a second eagle. This represents the rebellion of Judah under King Zedekiah, and the seeking of help from Egypt against Babylon.
  • In verses 9 and 10 we learn that the vine will be easily uprooted and destroyed. This represents the utter destruction of Jerusalem and a second and much larger deportation of its people.

This is a bad to worse moment for God’s people. It is bad enough when they are under Babylon’s thumb. Much worse that Jerusalem is to be destroyed and the people exiled. This was “worser and far badder.” Perhaps you can relate.

As we learn from verses 11 to 21, this story could have turned out better. Had the people listened to the prophets who encouraged patience as Babylon’s subjects, they would not have faced such destruction. Things would not have been great, but they would not have gone from bad to worse.  And had the people been listening to God all along, things would have turned out much better from the get-go. There are times that things get “worser and far badder” for us because we are not listening to the Lord. Things can go from bad to worse because our decisions go from dumb to dumber.

But there are also downhill moments not caused by any particular spiritual or moral failure, but rather because of a general spiritual and moral failure. Since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden we have been humans living in a fallen world. A lady once told me that she thought the devil was out to get her, and her faith must be so terribly weak because no amount of prayer would touch her sore feet. I asked if perhaps her feet were sore as a result of walking on them for 95 years. We Christians are prone to the aging process along with the rest of the world. We do share in our humanity which means sometimes things go from bad to worse though the troubles can not be traced to any specific bad decision on our part.

With all this negativity and “worser and far badder” thinking, is there any good news? Yes, it comes in verse 22:

22 Thus says the Lord God:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
23 On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.
24 All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it. Ezekiel 17:22-24

Here God Himself plays a role in this allegory. This story is not over until God intervenes to write the final chapter. Whatever eagles were swooping around threatening to be the undoing of God’s people, God is the last and greatest eagle. Though God’s people seemed to be at the mercy of the seemingly more powerful powers of Babylon and Egypt, in fact all powers are at the mercy of the Lord. As our passage says “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.” This represents all the nations which of course would include Babylon and Egypt. The once mighty eagles have had their wings clipped and sprouted leaves. They will know their place.

Whatever powerful eagles are swooping around us, God Himself is the last and greatest eagle. We tend to think that history is written by the powerful, and that our own lives are at the mercy of the powerful. Cancer is powerful. Ageing is powerful, addictions are powerful, hurtful people are powerful. These and the like seem like soaring eagles and we feel like mere twigs in their presence. God Himself is the last and greatest eagle. He sets the story according to His sovereign and loving purposes:

I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it. Ezekiel 17:24

Most importantly, Ezekiel 17 points to the reason for our confidence in God and His love. It points to Jesus. He is the sprig from verse 22. He is the topmost branch of the line of David. He is the one who ensures a future through his death and resurrection. So when if feels like things are going from bad to worse, whether it is you own doing or not, with Jesus it is not your undoing. Because God in Christ kept His promise of Ezekiel 17, even death when it may hover over us like an eagle, or rather like a vulture, does not write the final chapter for us. A diagnosis of cancer may feel like the end of the world. It is not, it is a different world, and a temporary one. Parkinson’s may feel like the end of the world. It is not, it is a different world, and a temporary one. Alzheimer’s may feel like the end of the world. It is not, it is a different world, it is a temporary one. Death itself may feel like the end of the world. In Christ it is not, it is the next step toward the world our Lord has prepared for us. Take your pick of diseases or troubles, they all seem like mighty eagles now, but the Lord is returning, they will find their proper place. Such things as threaten to be our undoing now, He will undo! 

I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it. Ezekiel 17:24

Are things “worser and far badder?” In Christ the best is yet ahead.

all scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Ontario, Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 24, 2015

Having a Plan of Attack

Today we’re introducing Carol Hatcher who we’ve linked to at Thinking Out Loud before, but not here at C201. We’ve borrowed not only her writing today, but also a graphic image; nonetheless we hope many of you will send her some link love by clicking the title below to read this on her blog, Sheep to the Right.

Preparing a Plan of Attack

There are two ways to do just about anything – carefully plan or wing it.

Most of the time, I’m a carefully-plan-it kind of girl. I love making lists. I used to write out menus by the month. When planning a vacation, I’ll spend hours online finding the best places to stay, recommended stops along the way and highest rated restaurants. When my kids have a birthday, you can be sure I will create a Pinterest board and hunt the Internet for the cutest party ideas.

When I’m presented with the opportunity for a date night, I search movies and read reviews. I poll Facebook friends for best places to eat and search my closet for just the right outfit.

But somehow when it comes to my prayer life and dealing with those situations that seem impossible, I find myself winging it. Satan will throw me a curve ball, and I wildly swing my bat hoping to make contact.

Today, as I was reading in 2 Samuel about David trying to defeat the Philistines, I found good advice for creating a battle plan to overcome the obstacles in my own life. First David asked God, not his friends on social media, for direction. (Ouch. Let’s move on.)

“…so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered…” 2 Samuel 5:23 NIV

David asked God first IF he should attack the Philistines and then HOW he should attack. God responded, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.” (2 Samuel 5:23) The Hebrew word used in this verse for “circle around” is sabab. It means, “To go around, surround, encircle, engulf.” It can also mean, “to change direction, to be surrounded, to change.”

FullSizeRender 3

God gave David a plan of attack, but he gives us that same plan. When trials come our way, often we come straight at them and are knocked backwards from the blow because we aren’t prepared. Instead, we need to establish a plan of attack for any obstacle – for your failing health, for your marriage that grows stale, for your mounting bills and empty bank account, for the addiction you’ve been hiding, for the loss of your closest friend.

Friends, it’s time we fight back God’s way. We need to sabab our issues with prayer. Circle them. Engulf them. You see, because its only through prayer, praise and thanksgiving that we can “change direction.” You are not defined by the series of events that have happened in your life.

You are not defined by your diagnosis, your divorce, your size, your upbringing, your financial status or your education.

You are who God says you are. And He says you are chosen. (John 15:16) You are an heir. (Galatians 4:7) You are part of a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)

Satan will try to distract you and get you off your game. Don’t let him. He’ll tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t believe his lie. Be ready, friends. Arm yourselves for the battle by preparing your plan of attack. You see, in the woods that day when God told David to sabab, or circle around, He also told him to listen for the sounds of marching in the tops of the trees, “because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:24 NIV)

Don’t be shaken. Don’t be afraid. The Lord your God, the Sovereign Creator of all things will fight for you. Put on your armor and sabab. The battle has already begun.

October 23, 2015

The Weeds in Our Souls

dandelions

Today we pay a return visit to Donna Wood from the blog Food For the Journey. Click the title below to read this at source and then look around (we had a tough time choosing which piece to use for this re-visit!)

The Dandelion Says….

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” ~ Matthew 13:24-26

About two weeks ago, I attended the annual retreat for spiritual directors.  The topic was Soul Gardening, so we meditated on the soul plants we had been given as gifts from God and weeds in our garden which might need to be eliminated. I thought about weeds.  What if the weeds in my soul are gifts, too and not something to pulled up or sprayed dead? Maybe, we should listen to them before we decide.

I love happy yellow dandelions.  About the first plant to bloom in the spring, dandelions are the first food available to bees.  Children make bouquets from them for their mothers and bracelets, necklaces and crowns for fun.  When dandelions go to seed and we blow on them, fluffy seedlings float into the sky to spread the joy.  When young, the leaves can be good for eating, and dandelion blooms make fairly good wine. I read that if we kill all the dandelions, the population of bees will be greatly reduced which would be disastrous for our food supply.  In spite of this, most often, we get rid of them.  We don’t want them were they are, because they are weeds…. Or are they?

Perhaps, the weeds are in my soul, along with spirit gifts, to give me something or teach me something—for my benefit and the benefit of others.  If I sit with my dandelions and listen to them, what might they tell me? I’ll share one story. I have listened long to it.

I have a genetic tendency to clinical depression and panic attacks. I don’t have them, now, but there is always a possibility if I don’t pay attention to my life.  There was an extended period, as a young woman, when I was almost totally incapacitated by fear. I couldn’t leave the house; sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed, and I was afraid of everything including God.

It is very unfortunate, I believe, that this weed growth took place when my children were little.  I wasn’t available to them when they most needed me. I drank too much to mask the fear and pain because I didn’t know what else to do. God was eventually able to break in, providing a diagnosis and assuring me of his love, and healing began. I believed that the best thing I could do for my children, first of all, was to get healed myself and so I began the long journey of recovery. I needed medication and therapy for a time and our Christian community was available to pray for me and help when I was ready to panic. So – Gift or Weed?

Rather than zapping me well, God impelled me to become well. I wanted this weed to be pulled up or killed immediately, but it wasn’t time for that.  There were lessons to be learned about me and about God that I would have missed.  The ensuing healings, redemption and transformation are part of my story. Some healing still needs to happen in my family, but God isn’t finished with us yet.

Perhaps, the point of the weeds in our souls is to get us in touch with the One who grows and heals and who turns what appears to be supposedly noxious weeds into lovely trees. Do I love this process?  No.  But I’m so, so grateful for it.

We are the broken,
you are the healer,
Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save.
You are the love song
we’ll sing forever,
bowing before you, blessing your name.

~ Lynn DeShazo; Gary Sadler

June 19, 2015

When It Doesn’t Make Sense

In theory at least, collecting and preparing these C201 pieces constitutes my own personal devotional and Bible study time; but on the days when some devos have been pre-scheduled I still need something just for that day. My own default devotions come from DailyEncouragement.net, in fact I try to make that the first website I click on when the computer is warmed up.

Today’s thoughts appeared this week at the site in a longer version. Click the title below if you want to read it there.

“When It Just Doesn’t Make Sense”

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2).

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

…Years ago Dr. James Dobson wrote a book titled, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”. That’s sort of a titillating title, but for many of us it does express well our own experience in the mysteries of God’s providence.

Sometimes circumstances are very personal for our family and close friends. Virtually all of our readers can scroll back through their memory and recall such a time. My first exposure was as a child when one of my cousin’s was in an accident and his wife died. I so poignantly recall my grandfather wailing. But there have been many “It Just Doesn’t Make Sense” experiences since then and of course in regard to our pastoral and chaplaincy ministry we console frequently those going through various traumatic situations when it just doesn’t make sense.

The most recent national news that is senseless is the mass murder of six women and three men during a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina [Wednesday] night. The gunman came in and sat down among the congregational members. Those of us who attend church are always welcoming to a visitor, but we would never expect that visitor to draw a gun and randomly shoot those who are there to worship Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

People, at any given time, are experiencing a heartache of some type that just doesn’t make sense. Due to the size of our planet many never make the news or at most only the local news. I’m so glad there’s a newsline to heaven not just at the instant the news takes place but even before we are to experience it.

For many, events like this either becomes a crisis of faith (for believers) or an excuse not to believe (for unbelievers).

Consider Stephen who stood boldly for Christ and was stoned. Afterwards, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2). Have you ever really pondered this verse? Surely the emotions were no less intense for them than they are for us in our losses. To “mourn deeply” has the sense of great lamentation. The literal Greek meaning is “to beat the breast in grief”.  Did they “understand” any better than we do? Surely they did not.

Consider John the Baptist.  He was specially called to serve God from his very conception. He had prepared the way for and even baptized Jesus.  He had taken a bold stand for truth and righteousness before an ungodly king and was beheaded as a result.  Consider his disciples. They had the grisly chore of taking his body and burying it.  What were they thinking?  What a great test of faith they endured. Surely, like us, they wondered, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

Above all, consider the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured such opposition from sinful men and murdered on our behalf.

Some of you have experienced great loss in your life.  I myself have had some deep hurts and disappointments in life that I still simply don’t understand. The life of faith is tested, sometimes greatly.  Jesus forthrightly told us, “in the world you will have tribulation” although we are generally surprised when we do experience tribulation!

But at times of tribulation like this, faith is also demonstrated in such a powerful way. I saw a news report concerning the first Sunday the church in Reading gathered after the accident that killed their pastor’s wife and seriously injured their pastor. Already some amazing things are happening in the aftermath of this tragedy, although perhaps not reported beyond our area as the “newsworthiness” of the event passes.

Today, may those of you impacted by situations that “make no sense” find great peace in these words from the apostle Paul, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).  He is indeed “the God of all comfort.”

Finally let us again recall the great statement of assurance many of us have memorized in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” In some cases we’ll just have to wait for the other side to see how it works for the good. Through it all, let us stay faithful and have a rich assurance of God’s steadfast love!

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

 

June 6, 2015

Proper Responses to Crises Build Character

VOICE Acts 13:22 After God moved Saul aside, He made David king in his place. God had this to say about David: “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after My own heart. He’s the kind of king who will rule in ways that please Me.”

NRSV Acts 13:36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors…

Today we return to the writing of Dr. Don Lynch. Read more about his ministry at the website freedomhouse.rocks, or click the link below to read the article at source.

Interpreting Your Tests

Interpreting Your Tests

Perhaps David’s rejection became his open door to seeking God’s acceptance.

Key thought: A kingdom leader’s greatest battles prophesy his greatest destiny.

One thing is certain: the pathway of preparation for reset leaders is not peaceful, pretty, or panacea. Kingdom leaders face crucibles of intense personal pain, rejection, misunderstanding, abuse, solitude, and hopelessness.

Kingdom leaders learn to interpret their tests instead of cursing their tests, so the tests move them into maturity. Reset leaders often experience these tests uniquely as God teaches them proper responses to crises, responses that build character.

God positions Saul to contrast with David and reveal true kingdom leadership; what God saw in Saul was a heart short of passion for purpose. Israel demanded a king “like the other nations” when Israel had a purpose, so God gave them a king that answered to their perversion of purpose as a means of exposing that fatal flaw.

When the final harvest came for Saul’s reign, those seeds would be separated from planting for the next season. The people welcomed David’s new spirit of leadership. The days of Saul were forgotten.

What tests provided opportunities for you to develop character? I speak of the imperfect, brutal, abusive, terrorizing experiences through which God made a way for your development. Did you learn to curse the test or interpret the test?

David was not a coddled royal but a fledgling reject sent to watch sheep to get him out from under foot. When Samuel shows up to anoint a king, David’s own daddy doesn’t even invite him to the dinner. David appears to have been a problem for the family, perhaps because he was illegitimate. At any rate, he spends a great deal of his time in solitude.

In all this, David develops excellent character by passing tests he interprets instead of repeating tests he curses. And, David turns to worship and prayer in these long hours of solitude. His passionate expressions of prophetic intercession mature his spirit, and he shares God’s heart for nations while sharing his earthly father’s heart for his sheep.

Risk Your Life for Someone Else’s Lamb

Key thought: Passion for principles and protocols shapes David’s heart so that he steps into a kingly anointing filled with spiritual understanding of kingdom.

David lives out the consequences of his values and beliefs. David responds to his challenges with the passion for Father’s principles.

When a lion comes into the valley, David could have said, “No one expects me to risk my life for a lamb.” David knows well that many ewes give birth to twins, that the loss of one lamb could easily be explained away, and that his father or anyone else would never know about the loss of one lamb. But David’s passion for principle says, “This my valley! No lion will conquer this kingdom!”

David responds to the roar of lion and bear with a sense of spiritual passion. When he later tells the story, he has the lingering sense of God’s enabling courage, strength, skill, and passion. He rises up as a shepherd the way a kingdom leader rises up for God’s dominion. He risks his life for someone else’s lamb.

Challenges to his assignment call up passion for principle: “I will do this because this is right.” David kills lions and bears on principle. He later responds to a giant with the same passion for principle!

Take care about jumping to the conclusion that David knew he was to be a king and acted out that anticipation. Nothing of that appears in the story. Because you know the rest of the story, you might say, “Well, David knew he would be rewarded, knew his destiny, so he responded to the lion and bear because of what he would gain someday.” Nope. David anticipating his kingship would more likely think: “I can’t risk my destiny as king of Israel over a few little lambs that no one will miss.”

David risks his life. Center on that thought. David takes that risk because of a principle for which he had passion. “No lion will take a lamb while I’m shepherd.” No reward seems forth coming from Jesse or his brothers. No shout sounds from heaven. David simply says, “Lions and bears will go to some other valley if they are hungry. They aren’t getting any lambs here.”

David quarantines the valley of sheep of lions and bears. Because he had passion for principle: “It just ain’t right that lions and bears eat my daddy’s lambs.”

The question, “From where does David’s heart come?” may be the wrong question. It doesn’t necessarily come from somewhere or someone in the sense that it is received or imparted. A heart like David’s is developed. It matures by the priorities it chooses, priorities that crowd out other considerations leaving room only for passion.

April 11, 2015

Surrender Entails Pain

A year ago we introduced you to Jennifer, one of the writers at the devotional blog Get Along With God. Choosing a selection for today wasn’t easy; there were many to choose from. Click the title below, then click on ‘home’ to visit other articles at the site.

Our Pain Belongs to God

I was reading Jeremiah when I was struck by the following passage.

Your words were found, and I ate them.
Your words became a delight to me
and the joy of my heart,
for I am called by Your name,
Yahweh God of Hosts.
I never sat with the band of revelers,
and I did not celebrate with them.
Because Your hand was on me, I sat alone,
for You filled me with indignation.
Why has my pain become unending,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
You truly have become like a mirage to me—
water that is not reliable.

Jeremiah 15:16-18 HCSB

There’s a great deal going on here, but I was pierced by two things in particular. First, Jeremiah is telling the Lord just how much joy he’s had in being His. Yahweh is a delight to Jeremiah’s heart. Second, Jeremiah is in great pain because he took God’s side. So why isn’t God taking his side by healing him? Jeremiah didn’t forsake God when he was wounded, but he absolutely took his pain and doubt and anger and bewilderment straight to the One he loved. Why? Because our pain belongs to God.

If our pain belongs to God, why am I always talking?

I once took great satisfaction in sharing not only my pain, but in broadcasting the pain and injustice I’d encountered or learned from the news as well. I even attempted to make it entertaining. There was nothing benign about this either. The spirit behind it was a malevolent hatred of God.

I can see so clearly now that I used my pain and the pain of others to campaign against God. “God is NOT good. Look what He did to me! Look what He’s done to the world!” My tales of woe were an underhanded, cowardly blame-game that invited the listener to pity me in my pain and tried to inflame them with righteous indignation at the uncaring God who let it all happen. Was I really wounded? Yes, but my desire to be free of the pain was not stronger than my anger at being hurt in the first place. I wanted to fight God far more than I wanted to be healed by Him.

Because I have seen so clearly just how vile and septic my hatred and blame of God was, I am very aware when I share my pain with others. I realize that, in fact, I share very little of it any more, but until I read Jeremiah, I didn’t know why exactly. I was beginning to wonder if I was trying to parent myself and keep myself from backsliding into old habits. Instead the Spirit showed me a picture, in Jeremiah, of how God wants us to deal with our pain.

Our pain belongs to God when we do.

Jeremiah gave God and God alone his burgeoning doubt and frustration and suffering. He took his hurt directly to God, and God responded to Jeremiah’s cry with the solution to his pain. Jeremiah belonged to God, and so did his pain. Jesus in Gethsemane is another picture of this. Gethsemane isn’t just about surrender; it’s a picture of what surrender entails: pain. Jesus was in the last stretch of His race, and He begged the Father to spare Him the unspeakable agony that dawn would bring. He brought the anguish of His heart directly to God. And the Father DID respond. Jesus wasn’t spared Calvary, but when the soldiers came for Him, He’d been given the grace to meet them.

I don’t belong to myself anymore—I belong to Jesus. So my pain belongs to God, too. The pain that I share with other people now is usually the tip of the iceberg, because the hidden bulk is for God alone. I reserve the highest of my love and joy for Him, and the lowest and most agonizing pain is His, too. The deepest recesses of my heart and the wildest bliss and exhilaration of my spirit are the most intimate parts of me. And I want to give them to my Lord.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Psalm 51:17 KJV

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

October 26, 2014

Why Trials Come: Two Reasons

Today’s article was submitted by Kimberly David who blogs at Excellent Way and is part of a women’s blog collective called The Loft. To check out her blog, read today’s article at source by clicking the title below, and then look around at other entries.

2 Reasons for Trials and Suffering

“Life is pain…Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”
-Westley, The Princess Bride

We all know life hurts.  While at times we may enjoy the sunshine of the mountain peaks, we are bound to spend some time in the dark valleys too.  Thankfully we have a promise:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

God promises to bring everything together for our good, for our benefit…if we love Him.  But what benefit can be derived from pain?  How can trials and suffering be good?  What reason does God have to bring difficulty into His children’s lives?  This past week or so, I’ve been contemplating two key reasons for trials and suffering.

1. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prove Us

The book of Job is an amazing case study for trials intended for proving us.  In Job 1, we see Satan coming to account for himself before God.  While he is there, God offers up a challenge of sorts:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Job 1: 8

And thus the gauntlet is thrown, for Satan is sure no man would serve God without ample compensation.  After all, Job was wealthy, healthy, and happy.  Why shouldn’t he serve God?  But what would he do stripped of all the fruffery and “extra comforts” of this life?  Would he still serve God?

The next eighteen verses lay out the destruction of all that Job held dear.  In these few verses we read about the loss of Job’s livestock, his children, and eventually his health.  His reaction in Job 1:21 still amazes me:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

The rest of the book is a revelation of hearts.  We see Jobs heart as he grieves in silence with his friends.  We see his friends’ hearts as they strive to encourage Job to a just life.  In the end, we get a rare glimpse of Heaven, as God speaks to Job himself, revealing His heart and His power.

God-uses-the-trials-and

The book of Job is a prime example of God using trials and suffering to prove us.  The trials put in Job’s life revealed/proved the nature of Job’s heart.  Job’s heartache proved that his devotion to God was not dependent upon pleasant circumstances.

Trials and suffering have a unique ability to bring out the true nature of our hearts.  Pressure and pain reveal the hidden darkness and sin, or the deep foundation of a true dependence on the Lord.  When we know the true state of our heart, we are better prepared to submit to the cleansing, perfecting guidance of the Lord.

In the midst of all the turmoil, Job presents some of the most comforting and encouraging words about trails that prove us.  Job 23:10 says:

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

Just as gold is refined, God uses trials and suffering in our lives to burn off the dross and purify our hearts.

 

2. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prepare Us

The book of Job has 42 chapters dedicated to the story of Jobs trials, but another Bible character’s woes are summed up in a few simple words. 1 Samuel 1 introduces us to a man, Elkanah, and his wife, Hannah.  Verse two brings us to the heart of the trouble:

“But Hannah had no children.”

As our family read through this passage recently, I was touched by three small words in verse 7:

“Year by year.”

Elkanah was a godly man, and he went to worship the Lord as was required of the Jews.  He went up for an offering to the Lord “Year by year.”  You may be wondering why I felt this was significant.  It wasn’t for Elkanah’s faithfulness; rather it was for Hannah’s suffering.

Job tells a hard tale: the loss of everything precious.  Job has a whole book dedicated to his suffering.  We watch his journey.  We see the proving of his heart.

Hannah’s story is similarly heart wrenching.  She hasn’t lost the desires of her heart, she simply cannot attain them.  But her story is not the focus of an entire book.  Instead, her suffering and trials are limited to a few scattered words: year by year she had no children.

So why did Job’s story get a book while Hannah’s was barely cliff notes?  I think one very important reason is the purpose of their suffering.  Job is the poster child for proving trials.  But that isn’t what God had in store for Hannah.  Hannah’s trials weren’t focused on proving her.  God was preparing her.

In 1 Samuel 1:10 we see Hannah leaving her husband’s commemorative feast for some time alone with God.

In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.

Hannah’s heart was constantly, painfully aware of her childless condition.  However, this time of worship and praise was particularly painful for her.  Her husband’s second wife (I know, bad idea) constantly goaded Hannah about her lack of children.  But when the time of worship came, jealousy goaded her to provoke Hannah even more.

In her distraught condition, she made a vow to God:

And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life...”
1 Samuel 1:11

Her desire for a child drove her to an extreme sacrifice.  If God would give her a son, she would give him back.  He would work in the temple and be a full time servant of the Lord from his youth.  She was willing to sacrifice the special moments she would have had raising him, if the Lord would simply be willing to let her have him.

Hannahs-trials

Now let’s imagine we could erase a few words from Hannah’s story.  What if we could remove the trial, the year by year that Hannah had no children.

  • Do you think this new, un-suffering Hannah would have begged for a son only to give Him up?
  • Do you think this new, pain free Hannah would have been willing to dedicate her unborn child to a life of service far away from her?
  • Do you think this happy wife would have even thought of such things?

Hannah’s trials were necessary, because they prepared her for what she needed to do.  Her trials put her in a place to offer her greatest treasure in service of the Heavenly King.  Her suffering gave Israel one of it’s greatest prophets: Samuel.
Sometimes the pain, the suffering of life, can seem senseless…meaningless.  After all, where is the sense in the death of ten beloved, adult children or the loss of all you own?  Where is the meaning in year after year of the same devastating bareness?

When we face these questions, when we are drowning in the pain, we must remember, God has promised to work all things for our good if we love Him.  Sometimes the trials will prove us.  Sometimes they will prepare us for the path ahead.  But they will always propel us in the way God has planned for us.

March 28, 2014

Did Jesus Experience Spiritual Formation?

Nearly two weeks ago, we asked the question, Was Jesus Ever The Recipient of Grace? The purpose of that question, and the one today is not to go off on tangents or formulate some weird doctrine, but simply to get us thinking about the implications of certain scriptures.

Spiritual formation is a term that some find particularly upsetting; probably because the term went into widespread use with a particular movement they object to, The Emergent Church. But the term spiritual growth — or it’s aim, spiritual maturity — has been around much longer and means the same thing. In a familiar passage we learn that,

Luke 2:52 …Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (NIV)

The purpose of this sentence is to provide narrative structure linking a passage showing Jesus in the temple at age twelve — Luke is the only gospel writer to include this — and the beginning of his ministry in chapter 3.

But in Hebrews, the King James introduces the idea of Christ being ‘perfected by his sufferings.’

Hebrews 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

I can hear some of you asking, “Wait a minute! He was already perfect wasn’t he?”

Yesterday, someone suggested to me that this is analogous to the rest of us being formed and shaped through testing, trials and tribulations. But was this true of Jesus? If so, is this referring to unwritten things that happened between age twelve and age thirty; the period Luke sums up in a single phrase? Or is it saying that Jesus experienced ‘sufferings’ even as he pursued his earthly ministry; trained disciples; healed the sick; taught in parables; and challenged the Pharisees?

The answer is probably neither.

Rather the ‘sufferings’ of Jesus almost always refer to his suffering in the humiliation and pain of his death on Calvary.  The NLT renders the same verse,

Hebrews 2:10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

The last phrase doesn’t occur at all in the KJV but introduces the idea that the perfection of Christ is in the atonement; that Christ becomes our perfect sacrifice, but this can only take place after (i.e. through) his suffering and death.

The NIV blends the two. In this he becomes perfect through completing God’s ultimate plan and purpose:

Hebrews 2:10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

So how do we resolve this? Was Jesus spiritually formed by the hard times in his life?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that this was part of the whole humility of Christ, to be found in the human condition (i.e. “found in like manner as we”) and coming as carpenter and an itinerant rabbi and not a king (i.e. “taking on the form of a servant.”)(Both ref.’s Phil. 2)

But no in the sense of what is happening here is that we’re confusing two different ideas and we think the text is talking about something that more often applies to us not Him, namely that we are perfected by our sufferings.  We get that from:

Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

II Cor. 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

I Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

I Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

For the Christ-follower, this is simply the way it is; these are life principles.  But while the language is the same, I don’t believe the Hebrews passage fits the same pattern, and therefore I don’t believe that Christ was being shaped or formed by his circumstances or challenges the way we are. This seems to rob him of the divinity he possessed, at the very, very least, at the outset of his public ministry. (I phrase it that way only because some do not ascribe to Jesus an awareness of his divinity at earlier stages. I’m only making a concession here, I personally believe the Luke 2 passage is included to give us an insight into his full knowledge of his unity with God the Father.)

Some of the less common translations flesh this out to various degrees.  The Amplified Bible:

Hebrews 2:10 For it was an act worthy [of God] and fitting [to the divine nature] that He, for Whose sake and by Whom all things have their existence, in bringing many sons into glory, should make the Pioneer of their salvation perfect [should bring to maturity the human experience necessary to be perfectly equipped for His office as High Priest] through suffering.

This ties in well with Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.

The Voice Bible seems to suggest a perfecting taking place,

10 It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation.

But in a narrative section that precedes it, states,

Here is God’s Son: Creator, Sustainer, Great High Priest. Jesus has to take on our feeble flesh and suffer a violent death. He suffers for what we need.

So again, he is our perfect sacrifice; he is not being shaped by things taking place in his earthly ministry, but he is becoming — as the writer will say in the verse from chapter four above — our perfect High Priest in death.

Jesus was the perfect man already. He didn’t need to be refined the way we do. His earthly existence did not shape him but it did make him perfectly able to identify with our condition. His submission to death made him the perfect sacrifice and thereby he is the perfect completion of God’s plan.

 

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