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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Fighting Sin: The Battle within the Mind

this means war

When we become aware of our sinfulness and the consequences of those sins and in response turn to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness of those sins, we begin down the path of eternal life.  Sanctification.  Salvation.  God takes out our heart of stone that is dead and opposed to Him, and gives us a heart of flesh on which is written His perfect law, and we feel convicted of sin and long to obey Jesus out of love.  We begin the difficult battle of dying to ourselves and killing our sinful desires in order to grow in Spiritual maturity and holiness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us, in quite simple vocabulary:

“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

John Owen, upon reflecting upon the book of 1 John warned us,

“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Scripture teaches us that our bodies and our desires are at war with the Holy Spirit that now indwells us:

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Fighting sin is a difficult discipline.  We speak little of it within the church and amongst believers because we are afraid to define sin and potentially hurt someone’s feelings.  We also have made peace with much of our own personal sin and are not interested in vetting it from our lives.  Sin is dirty, it is something that we keep hidden from one another, and without strong discipleship, we will not develop the disciplines of defining and seeing sin within our own lives and fighting it.  But we must!  If we are comfortable with sin then we are denying Jesus.  We, as Christians, must learn to see sin, identify it, and take steps to remove it from our lives.

Once we have entered into relationship with Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit within us whose job is to convict us of sin and righteousness.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

He will inform us what sin is, and it will always be aligned with Scripture.  The Spirit is sent out into the world to remind us and convict us of what Jesus taught.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

– John 14.26

Therefore, we must study the Scriptures to know what Jesus taught.  The Bible unashamedly teaches us the desires of God and what He defines as sin.  When we understand what sin is, the Holy Spirit reminds us and convicts us of sin in our own lives.  And then we begin the battle of fighting it.

Where does this all begin?  It begins in the mind.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Rom 12.1-2

Our goal, as believers, is to present our entire selves to God as a living and holy sacrifice.  Holy and acceptable means that we are fighting sin and making our lives reflect the worth and value that we believe God to have.  In order to not be conformed to the wold, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We learn the Scripture, we understand what God says – and by daily getting into the word and knowing God, we are able to discern the will of God.  We understand what is good, acceptable and prefect.

Then we have to put it to action.

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

– 2 Cor 10.5

Once we are relatively comfortable in our Christian walk, many of our sins will be on the heart and mind level.  These – in my opinion – are the most difficult sins to fight because they rarely come to a fruition that others can see.  Pride, lust and envy are things that we can mask and maintain without ever having another notice and call us to accountability.  This is why Paul teaches us that we need to take every thought captive.  The moment that a proud, lustful or envious thought runs through our minds, we must stop that thought and replace it with one that honors God.

Our goal in sin fighting is not simply to stop sinning, but it is to grow in holiness.  That means taking the sin out of our lives and replacing it with something that gives glory to God.  Therefore, when an envious thought enters our mind, we should squash the thought and replace it with thankfulness for what we have, and praise God for blessing that other person.  When an arrogant thought grips our mind we must stop and humble ourselves before the Lord, purposefully dying to ourselves and acknowledging the worth and value of the person who is the object of our wicked thoughts.

Peter says that we need to “gird our minds for action”:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

– 1 Peter 1.13

During these days people wore long flowing robes with a belt tied around the waist.  In order to run or moved quickly, the men would grab the back of the robe and pull it up between their legs and tie it to the waistband.  Essentially they would turn a dress into running shorts.  This would give them mobility and the freedom to run and move quickly.  Peter says that this is how we are to prepare our minds – put running shorts on our minds so that we can move and be agile.  We are to keep sober in spirit and look completely in hope to our coming salvation.  That means remove distractions and sin.  Do not numb your mind with TV, with the vanities of life, with sin – but instead renew it daily with the Scripture and the promise of the coming end.  Live daily with the intention of making an eternal impact and storing up treasures in eternity.

When we do this, when we understand what sin is, and when we develop the discipline of identifying it in our lives and hearts, and when we replace the sin with a thought that glorifies God, then we have one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

– Is 26.3

When we set our minds on God, and keep sin out, even on the mind/heart level, God will keep us in perfect peace.  Do you have a lack of peace in your life?  Examine your heart to see if you are allowing any sin of the mind or heart to take root.  Bitterness.  Envy.  Anger.  Lust.  Pride.  Few will be able to see these sins until you verbalize and act on them.  But the Spirit within you will reveal it to you if you ask Him, set your mind on God, and learn what God defines as sin within His Word.

Set your mind on Him today and experience that perfect peace that passes understanding.

When there’s nothing to say.

gloves

Sometimes you have said all that you can say and done all that you can do, and the outcome seems murky at best.  Few times in life is the battle anything short of a thousand-year war, rarely is the race documented by splits.  Yes, splits are important, and yes battles ultimately win the war, but the reality is that more often than not, even the minor victories can be be overshadowed by the ongoing struggle.  You might kill one mile, but the task of many more ahead can damper your spirit.

“…and he said, ‘Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s”.'”

– 2 Chro 20.15

We certainly play a role in the big picture.  But our role is obedience.  We hear the Word of God and we submit to it.  We fight sin.  We are active in the Church.  We share the Gospel with non believers and we train up new believers, holding them accountable and helping them to obey God.  But the battle is already won.  The end has already been written.  And God causes the growth.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to keep silent.”

– Ex 14.14

Sometimes we need to get out of the way for the Lord.  We can beat a dead horse but it will not run.  But God is sovereign over salvation, maturity and everything that happens on this Earth.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.7

And quite frankly, the reality is that before growth can occur, the seed must die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

– John 12.24

God causes growth through dead seeds.  This is a mystery, both in agriculture and in Spiritual matters.  Scripture teaches us that we are all dead, spiritually, until God gives us a new birth:  a Spiritual birth.  And the outplaying of that Spiritual birth is our surrender, when we die to ourselves and let God take over to bring about new life.  Spiritual life.  Life that honors Him and is life in the fullest.

We will never persuade someone to follow Christ.  And if we do persuade someone, then they have been won on a superficial level only.  Only God gives true life, and true growth.  So let us not be surprised that the World acts like the World; that Spiritually dead people disobey the mandates of God.  Let us say all that God has to us to say, let us fight the good fight, but let us rest well in the fact that God has every step of this planned.  Jesus promises us that the world will devolve into chaos ad tribulation before the end will come.

“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.6-13

But the one who perseveres until the end will be saved.  Push on.  It will all be worth it in the end.  Be on guard lest your love grow cold and lest you be led astray.  It will all be worth it in the end.  And the battle belongs to the Lord.

Do you have a peace about it?

gethsemane

Decision making can be difficult at times.  For those of us who put our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, we know that God has plans for our lives, we know that we are supposed to pray to seek His guidance, but knowing which path to take can sometimes be difficult to discern.  My small group was discussing last night how exactly we are supposed to ascertain God’s will in a decision between two good options.  God gives us very clear outlines in Scripture about right and wrong, and defines parameters for us when it comes to decisions like who to marry, ethics and morality.  But what about when doors 1 and 2 have no moral implication?

My dad used to tell me that as long as we are abiding in Christ, if we are one with Him and seeking Him, then we can rest confidently that God is molding our hearts to be like His, He is making our hearts desire what He desires, so when it comes to this kind of a decision, we can do what we want!  We can trust that God has affected our hearts and one decision will not lead us down a path of destruction since it is not sinful.  We should not over-spiritualize the good/good decisions.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

– Ps 37.4

This verse is often misunderstood and misapplied to lead people to believe that God will give us whatever we want.  Rather, it is teaching that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will transform our hearts to desire what He wants us to desire.

That being said, we are often advised – or we just think – that God will give us a “peace” about the right decision.  Peace.  We contemplate minor and major life decisions, pray about them and wait for peace.

Why?

Where in Scripture does it say, “God will tell you which path to take by giving you peace”?  Let us consider the last great journey of Paul.  After he had completed his missionary journies, the Spirit led him to go to Jerusalem to report to the Apostles everything that had happened amongst the Gentiles.

“Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'”

– Acts 19.21

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”

– Acts 20.22-23

Paul knew that the Spirit was taking him to Jerusalem.  He said that he was “bound by the Spirit”.  He had no other option but to go.  And he was unsure of what would happen, other than that it was probably going to be bad.  It was a long trip to Jerusalem and Luke records the stops along the way.

When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo.  After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

– Acts 21.3-4

While Paul and his crew were staying in Tyre, the Holy Spirit told the disciples to urge Paul to not go to Jerusalem.  The Spirit was telling Paul one thing, and telling others to tell Paul the opposite.  Paul knew the voice of the Spirit and was unwavering in His decision, but consider what your level of peace would be heading out on a journey when the Spirit was compelling people to tell you to not go!  Later they came to  Caesarea and stayed with disciples there.

“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

– Acts 21.10-12

Each step closer Paul got to Jerusalem, the Spirit’s warning grew stronger.  Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound and turned over to the Gentiles if he went on to Jerusalem.  And what was Paul’s response?

“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

– Acts 21.13

Now, one might argue that Paul had peace from God and had made peace with himself that he would be obedient no matter what happened.  And the only true knowledge of Paul’s heart condition that we have is that he himself said that the disciples were breaking his heart by pleading with him to not go.  But my point is simply this:  it is possible that God will give us convictions and callings and will Himself test us by telling other Christians to oppose us.  Will peace be the driving factor when someone opposes us?

But let us now examine the example of Jesus.

“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

Jesus, as He neared the end of His life on Earth, as He approached the very reason He had come to Earth, was grieved and distressed in His spirit.  He spent the last few hours before it all began begging God to find another way, to let him avoid the cross.  Three times He prayed, for at least an hour, pleading with God for another way.  He submitted Himself to the ultimate plan of redemption and salvation by dying on the cross, but Jesus most certainly did not have that peace we often require in making our decisions.  He even told the disciples that His Spirit was willing to obey, but His flesh was fighting against it; His flesh was weak.  He did not will for it to be, but He was willing to submit to God’s will.

Jesus Himself, before the single most important event in history, did not have peace from God, but rather was distressed and grieved, with weak flesh fighting against the decision that had to be made to assure salvation for everyone who would believe.  Why, then, would we expect God to work differently for us?

Let us consider our decision-making tactics.  God has given us extremely clear instructions for life on Earth through His written word.  We understand morality, ethics; we even understand His heart for us (our sanctification, 1 Thess 4.3) and His heart for the Church and the world (to make disciples of all nations, Matt 28.18-20).  We can test every decision before us by those standards:  does it glorify God?  Are we making disciples?  Are we growing in maturity and Christ-likeness?  If those three things are met, then we can and should trust that God is making our hearts to be like His – desiring what he desires.  But we must also recognize that there are times when He will test us by placing roadblocks in our way.  Sometimes He will straight up refute our decision to test our obedience and determination.  And there are times that our flesh will fight against that to which He is calling us.  Peace is not the standard.  Calling is.  Obedience is.  Let us ask God for wisdom, because He promises to give it freely to anyone who asks, and let us rest on His word, regardless of our emotions.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

– James 1.5

There is a peace

Come weary and tired, worn out from life
Step out of the shadows and walk into the light
Come sinner or saint, slave man or free
Bring blessings and offerings then you shall see

There is a peace to settle your soul
There is a peace that is calling you home

You’ve been tempted and shaken tested and failed
You’ve been so far from Jesus and too close to hell
Your vision’s been clouded by this world’s delight
But I tell you you’re not of this world so stand up and fight!

There is a peace to settle your soul
There is a peace that is calling you home
There is a peace perfect and true
The Prince of Peace is calling for you

 – Sojourn Music

peace

 

Play Nice

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

 – Rom 12.18

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

 – Rom 14.19

Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

 – 2 Cor 13.11

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 – Eph 4.1-3

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

 – Col 3.15

 

He gives a greater grace.

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

 – Annie J. Flint (1866-1932)

Life is hard.  But God’s grace is so rich, so deep, so redeeming and freeing.  He knows the plans that He has written for us.  He has every one of our days numbered, and each of our steps established.  And he pours out grace as and when we need it.

We have all experienced the dichotomy and reality of seasons of trial versus seasons of peace.  We long for peace and comfort, and that is a godly yearning which will ultimately be fulfilled in eternity.  But when we walk in peace and comfort here on the Earth, without the physical presence of God amongst us, we get comfortable.  Our prayer lives shrink back.  We forget our desperate Spiritual state and live to please our physical bodies.  But when trials come, when life falls apart, when the bottom drops out we run back into the arms of our Savior who gives us the strength and mercy to go on.  He leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, He directs our faith and hearts to eternal glory and we grow.  Spiritually we grow.  And we fall more deeply in love with Him.

No one enjoys trials.  But if we look at our Spiritual walks objectively, we will all note that we were closest to God and grew the most in the midst of dark times.  And that is because:

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’.”

 – James 4.6

He gives a greater grace.  He meets us in our times of need.  He provides the strength.  He loves us.  Rest in His grace and mercy today.