Suffering With Christ

Screenshot (1348)

My Musings – Trials and suffering are an inevitable fact of life for the Christian. Just like a newborn baby, it seems like no sooner are we born again than we are being slapped around just to make us to cry. Or so it seems. Certainly, our new adversary the devil will do everything he can to discourage us, keep us from growing and just make us cry. But Satan is not the source of all the “slapping.”

Sometimes God will also permit difficulties in our lives. These may involve some crying too, but that is not their real purpose. God wants us to take that first breath of spiritual air. He wants us to learn to live the new life we have begun in Him. He wants to instruct us, train us, develop us, and yes, sometimes discipline us. To learn to walk in faith, He knows that we will have to take a few spills along the way. Just like our physical parents, He is there to make sure we do not hurt ourselves, to pick us up and to help us along our way. But that is not all.

Just like our physical parents are there to protect us from actual harm from bullies, our heavenly Father is also there to protect us from any real or lasting harm from that ultimate bully, Satan. While God wants us to learn how to stand up for ourselves, He is always there to make sure things do not get out of hand. With the insights that we gain by fixing on eyes on the unseen, perhaps, we can better understand and appreciate why we must encounter so much trials and suffering in our earthly lives. In so doing we will be in a better position to endure “the fellowship of sharing in His suffering,” which are “light and momentary,” by focusing on the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Maybe we will even stop seeing the cloud in every silver-lining.

Trials and suffering should not catch us off guard. Nor should we consider it strange when we do encounter them. For Jesus very clearly told us we would encounter persecution in this world, simply because we were His followers. In fact, He said if we are unwilling to “carry our own crosses” and follow Jesus (“a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief“) we could not be His disciple. These are hard sayings, but we must understand that Jesus not only willingly carried Hs own cross; He was nailed to it and died on it for us in order to give us eternal life. It is the promise (His promise, sealed by His blood) of that eternal life that makes the suffering and trials here on earth bearable. In fact James tells us it should be more than just bearable, we should “consider it pure joy,” while Peter said we should rejoice that we “participate in the sufferings of Christ.” These were not idle words or casual observations by mere spectators of the Christian life. Both men encountered their own persecutions because they were followers of Christ that eventually led them to give their own lives as martyrs rather than abandon their faith in Jesus.

But there is more to suffering than “it’s going to happen so get over it” que sera, sera attitude. Much more. For even when “bad” things happen to Godly people, God (in His own way and in His own time) cause them to work out for good. And in the process we are being made over into the likeness of His Son, “an eternal glory that far outweighs” all our temporal pain and suffering. As stated before, Jesus said that in this world we would have persecution. In His very next breath He added, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Because His Spirit lives in us, we can overcome too.

Trials and suffering are not merely something that we must endure as we look with hope to the “eternal glory” awaiting us in Heaven. For God does not waste any experience that He, in His infinite wisdom, permits in our lives. Some things He will allow, knowing they are necessary for us to become more like His Son, others He will not, knowing that they would be more than we can bear.

So, what should we do as we endure the crosses that we are called to bear for His Kingdom and His glory? We can try to understand why we are experiencing painful trials, although there will be many times when the why is not for us to know at the present time. But even if we cannot fully understand why, there are other things that we just might be able to understand and learn from. For example:

  • How does this experience identify me with Christ?

If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear the name.” (1 Peter 4:16, NIV 1978).

Of course we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” When we suffer because we are a Christian, it not only helps others to identify us as a true believer, it helps us identify with Him all the more.

  • How might my response to this experience prove the genuineness of my faith?

These [trials] have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes though refined by fire-may be proved genuine.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV 1978).

Jesus assured us that in this world His followers would have troubles. So if we never suffer for our faith, then we need to question the authenticity of our faith. How we respond to trials also prove the quality of our convictions.

  • In what ways might this experience be training me for future service?

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV 1978).

Whether we care to admit it or not, we learn from our difficulties. In fact, the lessons learned in adversity reach down deeper into our souls and are more lasting than the lessons we learn from our good experiences.

  • Can this experience teach me to be more patient with God?

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:10, NIV 1978).

Patience is learned best during the times of our lives that try our patience the most. In contrast, our lack of patience sometimes causes us to undergo difficulties that we might have avoided had we been more patient.

  • How might my perspective need adjustment as I face this experience?

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NIV 1978).

Ten thousand years from now, none of the pain or sorrow will be left, or even remembered. But the character that it develops will last on into eternity. This is why an eternal perspective is so important.

  • Has the experience of God’s faithfulness through past trials helping me to persevere through the current trial?

You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3, NIV 1978).

We need not be joyful about the suffering itself, but we can be joyful about what the suffering is producing in our lives and in our character. Knowing the certainty of this helps us to push on through the difficulties and persevere.

  • What do others see in how I deal with this experience that might be a witness (good or bad) for the Kingdom?

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Corinthians 4:11, NIV 1978).

People are watching us. They see how we respond to trying times. They take note of how our reactions differ from the rest of the world and to what (or to whom) they can attribute it. What we do is often more important than what we say as a testimony.

  • How can this experience make me more spiritually fruitful?

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2, NIV 1978).

The pain of pruning is not without a reason. For it is by cutting away the “dead growth” from our lives that real growth occurs. Growth that nurtures us and develops into spiritual fruit.

  • Is this experience causing me to dive down into despair or soar higher in my faith?

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, NIV 1978).

We are called to be faithful even in the face of suffering so extreme that death threatens. But it is under these conditions that we learn to be faithful.

  • Through this experience am I relying on God’s faithfulness or worldly “wisdom?

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV 1978).

It is hard for us to conceive of strength coming from suffering. But it is during adversity, when we are too weak and helpless to help ourselves that we learn to rely on God and the strength that He provides and that is sufficient for the circumstances.

  • Is there something in my life God is correcting and for which I need to repent?

Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5, NIV 1978).

In addition to the discipline used to train us, the Lord also disciplines us to bring correction. A parent who really loves a child will not let habitual misbehaving go uncorrected. It really is true that discipline is for our own good.

  • How can I use my experience to help others in similar circumstances?

Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NIV 1978).

We are better able to help others with their burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (do to others what you would have them do for you) when we have borne our own burdens.

As we consider these questions, perhaps we can move from a why me attitude to a why not use it attitude. In any event, we must learn to trust Him and take Him at His word – what we are enduring is necessary and will somehow work out for the good.

My Advice – I do not know how many times I have read the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water. But for many years I missed a subtle point. When Peter cried out for Jesus to save him from sinking, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him. But it was not until they were safe in the boat that the wind died down. So it is with our walk here on earth. There will always be wind and waves. God is teaching us to walk on and through them. There may be times of calm, but they will never cease forever until we reach Heaven, until we are “in the boat.”

Until that time, Jesus is right there (“nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”) to catch us if we are in danger of sinking. He would prefer that we learn to walk in faith, so He continues to allow the wind and waves as each time we are able to take a few more steps before sinking. And as each tribulation subsides we are learning more and more to be conquerors of fear rather than being conquered by fear. You see, trials and suffering are inevitable, but how we respond to them is up to us. How are you responding?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Even If He Does Not

Screenshot (1070)

My Musings – “If you can?” My doubt rarely manifests itself  this way.  I am usually confident that God can, but I am not always confident that He will.  I don’t know if this is a worse kind of doubt or not.  Is it because I believe I am not worthy of God’s help?  Or is it because I acknowledge that God might have a higher purpose?  I wish I could say  it was a faith like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who facing the fiery furnace told King Nebuchadnezzar, “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Let our faith be like the three Hebrew children – yes, God always can, but there may be times that He will not.  Even in those circumstances, let’s stand firm in the faith that God is sovereign and that it is not because He does not love us.  Sometimes He will remove us from it, whatever it may be, but there will be other times that He will take us through it.  It may be as dark as the “valley of the shadow of death,” or as threatening as the fiery furnance, but no matter what “thou art with me.”

 

Worthy Conduct

Screenshot (914)

My Musings – How does one go about living a life worthy of the Gospel when we are so unworthy?  The secret is contained in the last part of the first chapter of Philippians and the first part of the second chapter.  Living a worthy life is all about humble conduct. Attitude drives conduct and humility drives exaltation.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5, NIV 1984).

Jesus has the very nature of God.  And we are united with Christ.

He took the nature of a servant.  So we look to the interests of others.

He humbly obeyed His Father. So, in humility we consider others better than ourselves.

God exalted Jesus to the highest place. And made us shine like stars.

So what does it look like?  Encouragement from being united with Christ. Comfort from his love.  Fellowship with the Spirit. Tenderness and compassion. Complete joy from being like-minded. Being one in spirit and purpose. Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

My Advice – Do you want to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ?  Be like-minded in attitude.  Do you want to share in His exaltation?  Humble yourself under His mighty hand and He will lift you up.  Do this “without complaining or arguing.”  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do both. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29, NIV 1984).  But this is the price we pay to become “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which [we] shine like stars in the universe as [we] hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15–16, NIV 1984).  That, my friends, is living a life worthy of the Gospel.

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Nate Miller’s sermon “Fueled Living – Focus & Unity” on September 22, 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.

 

 

 

No Disappointment

Screenshot (855)

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

Screenshot (820)

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

Screenshot (737)

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).

 

These (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly) Have Come

Screenshot (712)

My Musings – According to the above text, there are at least two reasons that Christians encounter trials:  to prove that our faith is genuine and bring praise to God.

For someone whose faith is not genuine the fire becomes a consuming fire.  For someone whose faith is genuine, the fire becomes a refining fire, consuming only the impurities of our sin nature.  When Christians endure trials it brings praise to God.  For as the impurities are consumed by the fire, what is left reflects the glory of God.

There are at least two reasons that this faith worth more than gold: “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8, NIV 1984).”  For though all else is consumed by the fire, if love and joy survive, that is indeed priceless.”

So priceless that “even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12, NIV 1984).”

Screenshot (714)

My Advice – Give praise “to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV 1984).”