The sufferings and comfort of Christ are ours.

praying in the garden

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”

– 2 Cor 1.3-5

Jesus, our Lord and King came to the world to be our savior and lived a life of trials and suffering, moreso than any your or I could imagine.  His heart was so burdened and given to the glory of God and the salvation of His people that He was called the “man of sorrows” (Is 53.3).

But He found peace and solitude from God the Father, the God of all comfort.  He regularly went away to pray by Himself, where He communed with God, was comforted, encouraged and directed by Him.  Jesus, the only God who submitted Himself to flesh and was crucified for our sins, drew His strength and peace from God the Father.

He would get up before the sunrise to go pray (Mark 1.35).  He would sometimes pray all afternoon (Matt 14.23), or all night (Luke 6.12).  He prayed for others (John 11.41-42), and He prayed for Himself (Luke 22.41-44).

We, as Christians, are to be Christ-like.  We are Christ-imitators.  We are little-Christs.  And in following Him, we should expect to receive the same kind of treatment that Jesus did.  Jesus promised that many would be killed for their faith (Matt 10).  And Paul teaches us clearly that all who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”

– 1 Peter 4.12-13

We will be called to share in the sufferings of Christ.  It may not be physical torture, but it may be religious persecution.  It may be hatred from others.  It may be discrimination, mocking, loss of job, family or friends.  But when we suffer for our faith, we are joining in the suffering of Christ, and because of that fact we can rejoice.  We might not rejoice in the moment, because suffering hurts.  But we can take comfort and find joy in the promise that we are following Christ’s example.

And as His suffering is ours, so also is the comfort that He experienced from God in the midst of His trials.

God has promised to comfort you when you are suffering for Christ.  Are you experiencing persecution today?  Is someone hating or hurting you today because of your faith?  If so, follow Jesus’ example of turning to God.  He is the God of all comfort, and spending some time with Him in prayer will bring that needed healing to your soul.  As much as Christ’s sufferings are ours to share, so is His peace.  Find your peace in Him today.

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This Too Shall Pass

this too shall pass

Have you ever stopped with a group of friends, or family members, or after taking a personality test to consider your personal outlook disposition?  Are you a realist?  A pessimist?  An optimist?  Do you naturally see the cup half full or half empty?  I personally tend to see situations for what they are and adapt.  Circumstances can feel overwhelming at times and while I know that there is always a “best course of action” or solution, it takes mental discipline to look for the potential.

While walking through one of the darkest hours of my life, an elder at my church encouraged me one day simply saying,

This will end soon.

It struck me profoundly, as I had been adapting for nearly six years to gradually worsening circumstances and had decided to persevere, make the best of it, and pursue God through it.  In my mind it would last forever.  I was neither considering nor planning for the end.  But almost as prophetic, just a few days later, it ended.  Yes, ramifications continued, and occasionally they even still rear their ugly heads, but a situation of that intensity had reached its climax and could not continue.  It came to its natural end.

When we are children, time passes slowly.  We count down to holidays, to summer break, to adulthood, and every major event.  As we get older, time seems to pass more quickly.  And Scripture teaches us that in light of eternity, our lives are just a moment:

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

 – James 4.14

There may be situations in your life from which you need to flee.  There may be situations in your life to which you need to adjust.  There may be situations in your life that are daunting and heavy.  But nothing is permanent.  Nothing.  Some things may last the rest of your life, some things may last for many many years, but everything will come to an end one way or another.

And beyond it there is hope.
And through it there is hope.

Jesus came to the world as a Jew during a time when the Jews did not have control of their land, but were living under the oppression of the Romans.  Jesus received a variety of responses, and while He was loved for the miracles and benefits He gave to people, He was also hated and ultimately He suffered the most intense of persecutions and death.  But He took on our sins in His death and offers us forgiveness and hope of eternal life with Him if we believe in Him and submit ourselves to Him as Lord over our lives.

There is temporal hope:

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

 – 1 Cor 10.13

No temptation or situation in your life is uncommon to humanity.  God knows it all, and He has successfully maneuvered your circumstances before.  There is always a way of escape, even if it is the Spiritual discipline to endure for a lifetime the circumstance.  He gives grace to the weary and He will give you the ability to persevere if you rely on Him for strength.

There is also eternal hope:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

 – Rom 8.28

We often cite this promise for temporal hope as well, however it can be misinterpreted.  The “good” that God promises is not necessarily success or gain.  It is a promise of our Spiritual maturity and well being.  Almost all of the apostles died as martyrs.  Much of the early church was persecuted and scattered across the known world because of their faith.  But God used that persecution and dispersion to spread the Church like wildfire.  It was for everyone’s good and maturity that they were persecuted and scattered.

We may not see the end of a situation in our lifetime.  But it will end.  We may not see the end result or the fruit of our efforts.  But God promises to work everything for good for those who love Him.

What is important is to remember that God will always ensure our Spiritual well being and orchestrate every situation to His glory and our eternal good.  We may not get exactly what we want, but He will give us what we need.  God will always provide us with a way of escape from sinful situations and a way of glorifying Him in any circumstance.

So if your disposition is pessimism, or realism, or glass-half-empty, just remember God and eternity.  You do not have to see the potential in the situation or the person, but believe the promises of God.  If you are an optimist or chronically positive, remember that God is working all things to an eternal good.  Do not just take pleasure in seeing the temporal and worldly successes and events, but give glory to God for the Spiritual and eternal ones too.

This will end.  One way or another.  God is working out His perfect plan and everything is happening for His glory and our good, if we love Him.

So love Him today.  And trust Him.  Seek the path He has laid before you – for escape, for perseverance, for His glorification, and you will find that your Spirit is renewed and revived as you await that glorious meeting.

Joy in spite of…

 joy

JOY
noun \ˈji\
1.  a :  the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires :  delight

 b :  the expression or exhibition of such emotion :  gaiety
2 :  a state of happiness or felicity :  bliss
3 :  a source or cause of delight

 We all want to be happy.  We consider it our God-given right here in America to pursue happiness, and many blur that into a belief that we have the right to be made happy.  Happiness is entirely circumstance-oriented.  The opposite of happy is sad.  If things are going well, if you get what you want, if you are enjoying what you are doing, you are happy.  If things are not going well, if you do not get what you want, if you are not enjoying what you are doing, then you are sad.  Typically.

Joy can be misunderstood as a synonym for happiness.  Webster even defines joy, in point 2 as “a state of happiness”.  And yes, the two can be intermingled and misunderstood, but there is a deeper root to joy, and it is a peace and satisfaction within the soul.  Joy can see the big picture.  Joy takes comfort in unpleasant situations by being able to see the end result.  Thus we have verses which sound ludicrous at first glance:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 – James 1.2-4

Do you consider it joy when you encounter trials?  Paul and the apostles actually rejoiced when they were imprisoned, beaten, and persecuted for the name of Christ:

“…and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.  So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

 – Acts 5.41-42

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

 – Col 1.24

Here’s the deal:  God uses persecution, suffering and trials to test our faith and to produce endurance.  You cannot build endurance if you do not run.  Likewise, you cannot build faith if you never have to exemplify and rely on it.  God offers us the free gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.  When we come to faith we are made a new creation, given a new heart and brought into the family of faith, and then God sets about the task of sanctifying us:  making us more like Jesus.  That means removing the sin, and replacing it with righteousness; removing the flesh and replacing it with Spirit; removing worldly desires and replacing the with eternal desires.  The path of sanctification can be painful, but it is full of joy because we can see the big picture.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

 – Rom 5.1-5

We can understand it, then, that our joy will always be “in spite” of something.  If we can cultivate a truly Godly perspective, we may come to the point in maturity that we truly do rejoice in our sufferings like the apostles and like Paul did, but while we are still growing, we can strive to have peace, comfort and joy in our eternal salvation while our Earthly situations are difficult.  If your joy is not being tested and never has been tested, then I would get on my knees quickly because God promises that He will discipline and test us to produce sanctification (Heb 12.6, Prov 3.12, Rev 3.19).

What is the will of God for your life?  To be sanctified and made like Jesus.  Period.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification

 – 1 Thess 4.3

And our sanctification results in eternal life, eternal salvation.  Freedom from pain, suffering, sorrow and loss.  Seeing and knowing God as fully revealed, for eternity.  And in order to get us there, we go through trials, tribulations and sorrows.  If you are growing Spiritually, your joy will be in spite of something.  Embrace it today.  Embrace Him today.  And look to the future.

Jesus did not want to go to the cross.

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’  And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’  He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’  Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.

– Matt 26.36-44

Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus did not want to go to the cross?  In reflecting on the authoritative statement of Scripture that all who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12), our command to be satisfied and content while actively pursing a life of eternal significance (Col 4.2-6), and the temptation to glorify suffering in an ascetic mindset, I am remembering the fact today that Jesus Christ, our Savior and greatest example of a godly lifestyle, despised the cross and asked God for another way out.

Jesus asked God for another way out.

Do you feel un-spiritual when the trials get too intense?  Do you think, “Someone with stronger faith wouldn’t think this or feel this”?  One of the most godly and mature men I know told me a part of his story:  after over twenty years of a happy and godly marriage and working with his wife in the ministry, she walked away from everything – her faith, the family (him and two children) and their life.  There was never a reason given, she simply fell in love with the things of the world and no longer wanted the life that they shared, or the faith she proclaimed for so long.  Much like Demas in 2 Tim 4.10.  His life was rocked, his support system crumbled and living out on a farm in the country, he said “I could have hung myself in that barn and not been found for weeks or months”.  And the thought crossed his mind.  I know few people of deeper faith and conviction than this man.

Paul and Timothy suffered such hardships on their missionary journey to Asia that they despaired of life.  They “had the sentence of death within themselves” – they longed for death (2 Cor 1.9)!  And God used that to teach them to trust Him for deliverance and hope (2 Cor 1.9-10).

Suffering is not fun.  The vanity and hardships of life are a curse of God because of sin (Rom 8), and while we can rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ when we are persecuted, it is normal to be sad, grieve and even despair at times (James 1.2).

And it is not a sign of lack of faith or spirituality if you ask God for another way out.  Jesus did that.  But it is essential that we immediately put our emotions and desires in check.  Jesus prayed for an entire evening that God would allow the cross to not happen – so intensely that he sweat drops of blood.  But He submitted to God’s will.  He knew the Scriptures, He knew His role and the fulfillment of prophecy.  He knew that the next few days of tribulation would result in the salvation of all who believe.  And even though He despised the shame, He endured the cross (Heb 12.2).

Are you in a life situation where you never expected to be?  Is there something looming on the horizon which you dread?  Are you tired?  Or despairing of life?  You are not alone.  The King of Kings walked where you are walking.  The patriarchs and forefathers of the faith wished and longed for death at times.  Many of your brothers and sisters have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and have come through with hope on the other side.  If you cannot rejoice today, you will someday.  If not here on this earth, in eternity.  Cling to your hope.  Cling to the promises God gives us in Jesus Christ.  Join in His sufferings and endure persecution.  Walk through dark valleys knowing that God has it all under control.  He loves you.

Life is hard. And then you die.

“Life is hard.  And then you die.”

– My Dad

On Saturday I wrote about contentment.  The fact that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1.3).  That Jesus is the bread of life and living water, and whoever comes to Him will not thirst or hunger anymore (John 6.35, John 4.10)  But those truths do not mean that we will have lives of ease.  That there will not be trials, that we will not suffer, or that we will not despair.  Paul, the author of much of the New Testament said that there were times that his suffering was so severe that he “despaired even of life” (2 Cor 1.8).

I grew up singing a song called “Sunshine and Roses”:

I used to sing a sad song filled with gray skies and rain.
I used to sing of no future sad days with only pain.
Now as I look back upon them seems to me that I find
They were days of in the valley now I’ve left them all behind.
 
And now it’s sunshine and roses, only a thorn now and then.
Cool streams warm breezes, since Jesus took my hand.
Green meadows and laughter, hope within a crumbling time.
And now it’s sunshine and roses only a thorn now and then.
 
I never miss the old ways yet think back from time to time.
To those days of no purpose, when my life had little rhyme.
Though the water drops be bitter they much sweeter make the taste
Of one drop of God’s blessing, blessing given by His grace.

In theory this is a possible experience of God in your relationship with Him and in your new nature as a child of His.  However, I have never known someone for whom this is the case.  And if is it your life story, praise God that He has saved you from the heartache that life can bring, or given you the fortitude of Spirit and faith to keep all suffering and hardships in perspective. We have all heard the stories of those who faced cancer, loss of a loved one, persecution and death with admirable strength, and if we all had that continual perspective, we could sing “Sunshine and Roses” truthfully.

But unfortunately, most of us have experienced life to not be that.  That is, in fact, the result of the fall and the curse.  God promised that life would be hard.  And then we would die.  Jesus himself was mourned and broken for the lostness around Him.  He did not want to die on the cross.  He agonized over it, in fact, praying to God that there be another way.  David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote most of the book of the Psalms, many of which are songs of despair – begging for death or relief from his suffering.  Jesus even affirmed those who are mourning:

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”

– Matt 5.4

There are many interpretations of the beatitudes and this verse, but regardless of the content of what is being mourned by the believer, the result is that he who mourns will be comforted.  Paul acknowledges that we do mourn, but not as those who do not have hope (1 Thess 4.13).

And that is the key.  There will be days of sorrow, trial and pain.  And to whatever depth the pain grips our hearts, there is always a deeper reality established in the heart of the Christian that this is all to a good end:  God’s glory and our eternal benefit.  There is always a deeper hope that this suffering will not last, but we will have everlasting life and joy in eternity with Christ.  We have confidence that God will redeem the time, He will make use out of the suffering – all suffering – and we have peace.

Therefore, do not place too high of expectation on your circumstances.  If you are mourning, then mourn.  If you know someone who is mourning, mourn with him (Rom 12.15).  God does not promise that our lives will be a walk in the park, He promises to walk with us through the valleys.  He promises the strength to endure suffering until the end.  Like Jesus did.  He comforts us in our weakness and He carries us through the trials.  Walk with Him.  Cling to Him.  He alone will get you through.  And when you are experiencing sunshine and roses, praise Him for His grace that got you through the last valley!

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

God has a wonderful plan for your life.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’.”

– Jer 29.11

If you are a Christian, if you have ever been around Christians, or if you have ever seen any Christian paraphernalia, chances are high that you have seen, heard or have memorized this verse.  This is a promise of God; a direct quote from His mouth (to the people of Israel, while in captivity to Babylon, but generally applied to God’s goodness and intention for His people).

Yes, it is true.  God has a perfect plan for your life.  He is sovereign, He is in control, and He will work everything out for your good and His glory (Rom 8.28).  However, often times that does not look how we think it will look.  I saw this cartoon online and it was too perfect not to share:

God has a wonderful plan for our life

His will is our sanctification, that we be more like Jesus (1 Thess 4.3).  God wants to prosper our Spirits in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23).  He does not necessarily want to prosper our bank accounts.  Our good might be the trials of this life that cause us to persevere, and praise God because perseverance produces “proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5.4).

Think on that today.  As our traditional day of giving thanks as a nation rapidly approaches, let us rethink those things for which we give thanks, those things about which we complain, and those things which we overlook.  Because God is working all of those things for His glory and our good.  Our hope, Christian, is Jesus.  Our future is eternity.  Keep your eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).

Is self-deprivation Biblical?

Monasticism has long been a temptation for the devout amongst us…to prove our piety and devotion to religion (or God) by setting ourselves apart from the world and withholding worldly pleasures from ourselves.  There is an appeal to self-deprivation and temptation to believe Eastern/Buddhist tendencies that teach that freeing one’s self from desires, pleasure and pride is the path to enlightenment.  The core of Eastern religious belief is that life is suffering and the goal is to free one’s self from suffering and that end is attained by eradicating all desires and consequent feelings from one’s life.  Enlightenment would then be the freedom from such bondage to reality that there is no effect on one’s essence by suffering, pleasure or temporal situations.

Christians can unintentionally interpret our call to be separate from the world as this type of lifestyle (John 15.19).  That we must be un-engaged from what is happening around us and just look to God and trust in God and be satisfied in a Spiritual, ethereal experience of Him.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, calls this a doctrine of demons:

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”

– 1 Tim 4.1-5

God formed creation and man for His pleasure and enjoyment.  And we were created to enjoy and glorify Him.  And we can do that through that which He has created!  Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10.10).  The key, as Paul outlines in this passage, is that all things are sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.  Everything in the world was created by, is continually sustained by and is made clean by God (Eph 3.9, Heb 1.3, Rom 14.12).  And if we enjoy anything in His creation, within the standards as outlined in Scripture and with thanksgiving in our heart to His glory, we are fulfilling our created purpose by glorifying God always and giving thanks in all things.

Christians are often considered sticks-in-the-mud, who do not know how to have a good time.  While I would argue that the fundamental problem here is our worldview: assuming that life’s greatest achievement is entertainment, comfort and/or success, Paul says, in his letter to the Church at Ephesus, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5.18).  He parallels the experience of being filled with the Spirit as drunkenness.  Admittedly, I have never been drunk.  But I have heard accounts of the experience: losing inhibitions, losing control and just loosening up to be who you really are.  Have you ever been so filled and so satisfied in the Spirit of God that you no longer care what people think about you?  That you are freed to say and do what you think and feel?  That your true personality shines through to the glory of God?  This is what He promises to us!  We can be so fulfilled with our identity in Christ that another person’s opinion loses all sway over us.  We can speak freely of Truth and we can express ourselves openly because we know that Christ has redeemed us, made us clean and set us free to enjoy Him and His creation.

I do think it is of highest importance that we reflect on the unusual nature of the 21st century American Christian experience in this discussion.  Throughout the centuries, it has been the norm that Christians are persecuted, alienated and killed for their religious convictions.  From Jesus’ ascension up until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313, the Early Church was heavily persecuted.  Then the Church was secularized and used for personal gain and true believers were quickly persecuted again.  Around the modern world people regularly have to choose between life, security and community or Jesus.  But there is joy unspeakable and full of glory in choosing eternal life (1 Peter 1.8).  And the Scriptural example is that we, by being filled with the Spirit, can count persecution, poverty and suffering as our blessing because we join with Christ in His experiences (James 1.2, Phil 4.12, Acts 5.41).

Corrie ten Boom gives an exceptional example of this.  A Dutch Christian who helped Jews escape during the Holocaust, she was caught, imprisoned, sent to a concentration camp and then a death camp.  Her father died in prison and her sister in the death camp.  While in the Vught Concentration Camp, the sisters were held in barracks that were completely flea infested.  A Bible was miraculously smuggled into their camp and the women began studying it together in their barrack.  They read together the exhortation to “give thanks in all things” and Corrie’s sister Betsie declared that the women should give thanks, even for the fleas.  Corrie said that was too much, that she could not give thanks for the fleas but because Betsy insisted she tried to be thankful.  Over the months they realized that the guards never entered into their barrack and the women were saved from assault and also free to study the Bible and have prayer meetings together.  Countless women came to faith in Jesus and they were sustained by His goodness.  At the end of the imprisonment they learned that they were only spared from the brutality of the guards because they did not want to come in amidst the fleas.

Betsie famously stated, “There is no pit so deep that [God] is not deeper still”.

God promises joy, peace, satisfaction and fulfillment in all of life.  Let us seek to know and serve Him always.  Regardless of our circumstances or situations.  Let us enjoy Him forever, in prosperity, in poverty, in sickness, in health, in religious freedom and in persecution.  Let us make His name known among the peoples, and let us strive such that when we see Him face to face we will hear those glorious words,

Well done, my good and faithful servant.

 – Matt 25.21