No Disappointment

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My Musings – There’s a lot packed into these few verses.  Today, I want to focus on the linkage between peace and suffering.  How is it that some people can be subjected to so much suffering and yet still experience a “peace that surpasses all understanding?

Like a good mystery novel, you need to unravel the clues.  Follow the trail of evidence to wherever it leads.

Faith – We gain access to faith through God’s good graces.  Without faith it is impossible to please God, and yet we only have it because He gives (a gift) it to us.

Justification – Only by exercising the faith that God has given us, through His grace (also given), can we be justified (by grace we are saved – justified – through faith).  While exercising our faith is an action, it is not a work, because we know we are not saved by works.  It (salvation) is a gift.  Yet we do not have the gift just because it is offered.  We have to accept it.

Peace – We can only have peace (not as the world gives peace) if we have been justified (reconciled to God).  Genuine peace with God can only happen through reconciliation, which means eliminating the differences that separate us.  These differences would otherwise be irreconcilable if Jesus had not died to satisfy (eliminate) what caused the differences in the first place.  Caused by us (our action), eliminated by the cross (God’s action through HIs Son), offered to us as a free gift (God’s grace), and accepted through faith (our action).

Hope – Hope in the hereafter, where “we shall be like Him,” (“of the glory of God“).  Hope is desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.  Just like peace is not as the world give peace, hope is likewise not as the world experiences hope.  For the world, hope is a desire for something but no assurance.  For the believer, there is belief and expectation (assurance) because of Him who made the promise.  A “hope that does not disappoint us” because of Him who pours it out in love.

Suffering – Curiously linked to both peace and hope.  For the world, peace and suffering rarely coexist.  And hope seems almost futile.  For the Christian, suffering need not destroy hope.  If often magnifies it.  And while suffering does not bring peace, the Christian can experience peace while suffering.  That is what we can rejoice about.  Not that we are experiencing it, but that it magnifies hope and need not rob us of our peace.  Something that truly surpassing understanding.

And All The Rest – A Christian’s hope and peace are not merely intangible feelings.   They have tangible results – perseverance, character and (more) hope.

Another Gift – The Holy Spirit, who lives (and so much more) within us.

And where does the trail of evidence lead? To God. The faith we have is from God.  It is His grace that justifies us through the gift of HIs Son’s death and resurrection.  It is Him who gives us peace and backs up our hope.  The trail of evidence clearly points to Him.

My Advice – Don’t give up hope.

Find The One Thing

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My Musings – “Do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean %@$&*!.” This quote is known as Curly’s Law, from the movie “City Slickers.”  Curly is a hardened and grizzled cowboy leading a trail drive for urban “city slicker” cowboys on vacation.  When asked what that one thing is, Curly smiles (probably the only time he smiled in the movie – I don’t remember for sure) and says, ” That’s what you have to find out.”

Paul found out. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).  What was behind?  Originally, a life obsessed with persecuting Christians.   What lay a head?  His reward.  Such a prize, such a reward for faithful service to Christ that Paul considered that “to die is gain.

In between “what is behind” that Paul was forgetting and the prize that Paul was “straining toward” lay another obsession of “fruitful labor.”  But it came with a cost. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  Ahead of all this was chains and martyrdom.

But He stuck to his obsession with “the one thing,” because he considered everything else “a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8, NIV 1984).  All of these things (imprisonment, floggings, beatings, stonings…) could have been “stopping stones.”  Instead, Paul used each one as a “stepping stone” “of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11).

All of these things that happened to Paul “served to advance the Gospel” and encouraged many others “to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” from the first century until now.

My Advice – Your “one thing” can only be found in “one person.”  “That’s what you have to find out.”  Be obsessed until you find Him, and once you find Him, be obsessed with serving to advance the Gospel more courageously and fearlessly.  The cost of these obsessions might seem too high, but Paul also said, “therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [yes, he really said light and momentary] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV 1984).

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21, NIV 1984).

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon “Fueled Relationships” on September 15, 2019. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.

 

 

 

 

Take Heart and Overcome

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My Musings – To overcome is from the Greek NIKAO, which means to overpower, or to be victorious over. When we accept Christ, though we remain in the world, we are no longer of the world.  As a result, we are able to overcome (gain victory over) the world.  If He had not overcome the world (evidenced by His resurrection), then neither could we.

Because we remain in the world, the world will hate us.  Because they hate Him.  And this hate grows stronger very day.  But we do not lose heart, rather we take heart because He did overcome the world.

In this world you will have trouble . . .

For Doing What’s Right – “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17, NIV 1978).

For Being A Christian – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:12-16, NIV 1978).

. . . but take heart! I have overcome the world.

My Advice – How then should we respond to suffering imposed on us by the world?  “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12;21, NIV 1984).

 

Don’t Get Cocky Kid!

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My Musings – Going to battle requires preparation.  Being properly prepared involves at least three key elements:  knowing your enemy, surveying the battlefield, and choosing your weapons.

Knowing Your Enemy – “So that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” Ephesians 6:11, NIV 1984).  In the movie “Patton,” on the eve of battle, actor George C. Scott who portrays General Patton is seen reading Field Marshal Rommel’s book “The Tank in Battle” (actually “Infantry Attacks”), a book on battle tactics.  In a following scene, Patton has Rommel on the retreat and as he gleefully exclaims “Rommel…you magnificent %@$&*!, I read your book!”  I don’t know how historically accurate this is, but it nicely illustrates how knowing your enemy can help you defeat him.  This is especially important in Spiritual warfare “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11–12, NIV 1984).

Surveying The Battlefield – “So that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13, NIV 1984).  An army would not willingly go into battle without knowing a little about the “lay of the land.”  Choosing the “high ground,” would provide a definite advantage.  Avoiding positions that would make your army vulnerable, is another example.  When Adam and Eve were tempted, they were in the worst position they could be in to avoid temptation.  They were hanging around the forbidden tree.  At the time of the year that kings go to war, David stayed behind.  His first mistake.  Then he “found” himself where he should not have been, watching Bathsheba bathe and inciting lust.

Choosing Your Weapons – “Therefore put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13, NIV 1984). Spiritual battles require Spiritual weapons.  “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3–4, NIV 1984). In a classic fight scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones had just fought a fast-paced battle against a dozen attackers.  Already weary, he is confronted by one final ninja-type adversary wielding a samurai sword. Somewhat nonchalantly, Jones draws his gun and shoots the warrior. Moral of the story: don’t bring a sword to a gunfight.  Corollary: don’t bring worldly weapons to a Spiritual battle.

My Advice – Know your enemy, survey the battlefield and choose your weapons wisely.  Lest you think these make you invincible, one final movie quip from Han Solo to Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” – “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky”   To avoid this “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10, NIV 1984).

Mission Accomplished!

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My Musings – Been thinking a lot about the aging process here lately.  In my adult Sunday School class yesterday, we talked about the various age groups in the Body and how they relate to each other, noting that older does not always equate with more mature in the faith.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we matured as fast (at least it seems fast now that I am in my mid-sixties) as we aged?  I confessed to the class to being older (it was quite obvious, of course), but not old (some denial going on?).  I also told them I aspired to being the oldest in our Church, but was willing to be patient about it.

Back to aging, versus maturing.  In the above text, as John speaks of three ages of men (children, young men and fathers) he could just as well be speaking about the three stages of salvation and Christian maturity (justification, sanctification, glorification).

Dear Children (Justification) – A judicial act of God, by which he pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law. In addition to the pardon of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled – Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.  This is a past event that is accomplished through the work of the Son.

Young Men (Sanctification) – In Christian theology, a distinction is made between justification and sanctification where justification refers to having saving faith and sanctification refers to the process of gradual purification from sin and progressive spiritual growth that should mark the life of the believer – The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.  This is an on-going process that is accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Fathers  (Glorification) – In the Scripture the idea of glorification deals with the ultimate perfection of believers.  It is ours by inheritance – Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.  This is our future destination through the work of the Father.

Interestingly, while these three aspects of salvation occur in the past (“have been justified through faith“), present (“are being transformed into His likeness“) and future (“we shall be like Him“), John speaks of them all as having already taken place (“have been forgiven“, “have overcome“, “have known Him“).  How each of us progress is different, and all of us experience our ups and downs, but that first act of faith guarantees the ultimate perfection of them all.  It kind of looks like this:

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My Advice –  Do not be discouraged.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6, NIV 1978).”  It’s a done deal.  So, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily [those ups and downs] entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1, NIV 1978).”  And one day “we shall see Him as He is.”  What a glorious thought!

Learning From Failure

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My Musings – This was a familiar pattern in the Old Testament.  God delivers the promised land into the hands of the Israelites.  They get complacent and fall into sin.  God brings judgment through their enemies.  The Israelites call out to the Lord.  He provides a deliverer (called a Judge).  And the cycle starts all over again, and again and again.  They seem to never have learned from their failings.

Are we any different?  Are there cycles of failure that we repeat time and again, never seeming to learn from prior experiences?  Of course it is better to not fall into sin in the first place. But when we do, once we are delivered and restored (following confession and repentance), we should learn from the past failure and be on guard lest we repeat it in the future.

Of course, not all failures are the result of sin. “Failure in and of itself is not a bad thing. But failing to learn from it is inexcusable.” (Alison Levine, On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership).  In our journey of discipleship, God will take us through failures (not sin) so that we will learn from them.  For it is on the journey that we learn the most and see our character develop the most. “The journey is where we find perspective.” (Alison Levine, On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership).

My Advice – What are we learning?  It would be a pity to go through the struggle and not reap the benefit of learning from it.  So pay attention.

Take Heart!

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My Musings – I wrote in my book “Got Spiritual Milk?” (see Store), that justification is a one-time event (the starting line), sanctification is a life-long process (the journey) and glorification is our ultimate destination (the finish line).  In the verse above, Jesus states that if we would come after Him (the justification part) we must take up our cross daily (the sanctification part) and follow Him (the glorification part).

While the justification part is a free gift, taking up our cross daily is a graphic illustration of the cost of becoming like Jesus. Crucifixion was one of the cruelest and barbaric forms of execution ever devised.  A medical doctor provides the following  physical description:

The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet.

As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.

Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.

It is now almost over—the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level—the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues—the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.

He can feel the chill of death creeping through is tissues. . .Finally he can allow his body to die.

All this the Bible records with the simple words, “And they crucified Him.” (Mark 15:24).

What wondrous love is this?

— Adapted from C. Truman Davis, M.D. in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8

Somehow, the crosses we have to bear in our journey of sanctification here below, do not seem so awful after all – no comparison to what Jesus had to go through, and which bought our justification.  Paul also tells us the they are not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed (Romans 8:18) — our ultimate glorification.

My Advice – Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV 1984). Jesus had the ultimate victory (overcame) over His cross.  Because of this, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome ours as well.  So take heart!