Worship in Suffering

Do you find it difficult to worship God when life is difficult? If yes, then you are not alone. When reading the Psalms we observe that at least one-third are songs of lament. They teach us an honest and raw worship of God when things are falling apart or when we experience suffering.

Peter’s letter is no different nor does he skirt around the subject of suffering, rather he has straight talk for those who are suffering. What we learn from Peter and the Psalms are how to worship God in suffering.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” – 1 Peter 4:12-19, ESV

God has a plan for suffering so don’t be surprised by it.

There are two scenarios of suffering we shouldn’t be surprised by: when we suffer because we sin or we suffer because we follow Jesus (vs.12, 17-19). Both types of suffering are meant to draw us near to God for either repentance or reliance. It is far better to suffer for following Jesus than for doing wrong. And suffering, especially for the gospels sake allows us to share in the suffering of Jesus and that worships God.

Peter knows what it is like to suffer for wrong and feel the shame of it. When Jesus was imprisoned he denied Jesus three times. Jesus restored Peter afterwards and from then on Peter joyful suffered for the sake of Christ.

God is most glorified when we rejoice while suffering.

Rejoicing seems like the opposite response while suffering. More often people become bitter against God or to complain against God. However, when we complain or become angry we miss out on God’s primary means of draws us to himself.

Our deepest worship of God occurs is when we rejoice in him in spite of pain, trust him in the trial, surrender in the suffering and love him when he seems distant or unclear. No matter how difficult the situation may appear God is still good and he is good to us. Suffering has it’s good purpose and therein is a reason to rejoice because God is trustworthy (vs.13-16, 19).

Peter says that when your life is difficult and people are making fun of you for being a Christian it is more important than ever to trust God. This includes trusting that he exists, loves you, will help you, is ultimately in control of your life, and in eternity will sort everything out and make it right. When suffering we can worship in three ways: through honest lament, a resilient hope in Jesus, and a stubborn trust in God.

 

Questions for Reflections:

  • How are suffering and worship interrelated?
  • When you can expect suffering how does it prepare you to suffer well? How did Peter fail in suffering when Jesus was imprisoned? How does shame play into suffering?
  • Why does Peter tell his readers not to be surprised by suffering? What is the difference between suffering for good and suffering because of sin? How are the consequence of sin and following Jesus different?
  • How can you rejoice in suffering? Why is rejoicing in God harder when life is tougher? What reasons do you have to rejoice in God in suffering? How has suffering drawn you to God?
  • How do you see God a trustworthy and faithful? What does it look like to entrust your soul to God?
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Helping Hand of Suffering

There is a suffering common to all—suffering in the flesh. In other words, we suffer from an onslaught of temptations that our hearts are drawn to like a magnet. Our hearts are bent towards the flesh. C.S. Lewis described the heart inside himself as, “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.”

Suffering is not something to be done in isolation or at least it shouldn’t be. Suffering, especially in the flesh is best fought in community where there are many helping hands to lift you up. If you are suffering it is a time to allow the community to serve you. Here is how to suffer well from 1 Peter 4:1-11:

Be Prepared

Suffering is normal for Christians because Christ suffered. Therefore, we must not be surprised by it, but be ready to for it. Christ knew when he came into this world that he would suffer. He prepared for it. He fought through it with spiritual weapons (cf. Ephesians 6:10ff). And if he did, so must we.

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” – 1 Peter 4:1, ESV

Break from sin

Sin is essentially idolatry. In other, words sin substitutes God with a greater love. Often idols are good things that turn bad because we love them much and love God less. In times of suffering our hearts cling to either our idols or God for security (vs.2-3). Many will ease suffering by sinning rather than break from it. Sadly, idols don’t keep you safe nor do they love you in return. God is the only one that truly loves you, serves you, and will bring you lasting joy.

Ready yourself for rejection

It surprises the world when Christians don’t participate in their wiles (vs.4-6). Sometimes we think we are missing out by not participating, but what we miss out on is greater misery. While rejection is a consequence for not participating, it is better to miss out on a little fun this side of heaven than to miss out on the great feast the other side of heaven. And though the world rejects you, God accepts you.

Give grace to others

When we suffer we don’t first think about others. We think about how we can get out from under suffering or how others can serve us. However, suffering is an opportunity to help and be helped by the community of Christ. There are many ways to express grace to one another while suffering and Peter shares a few: First, pray maturely (v.7). Second, love earnestly (v.8). Third, show hospitality (v.9). Fourth, serve with your gifts (vs.10-11).

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:7-11, ESV

Suffering is a part of the will of God because Christ suffered. Suffering is a precious gift from God that he uses as a helping hand to pull you toward himself. It also an opportunity for you to push yourself toward others who are suffering and offer a helping hand.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Jesus give you an example of suffering in the flesh? What does it mean to suffer in the flesh like Jesus?
  • How is God’s will less about where you live, who you marry, what job you take, and more about what kind of life you live? How does this help you understand God’s will? Why is it best to listen to God’s will?
  • What is our temptation as Christians when it comes to our ‘old ways of living’? What parts of culture and society do you need to reject? How will this set your apart from your friends or family? How can you do this in a loving way?
  • How does love cover a multitude of sins? (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) Why does Peter command us to love one another?
  • How will those who malign you be held accountable for their actions?
  • How does your understanding of the gospel inform your condition about community with other Christians? Is community optional for Christians? Explain.
  • How does hospitality show grace? How is God hospitable? (see Isaiah 25:6-8) What does it mean to be hospitable without grumbling?
  • Why does God give us spiritual gifts? How is God glorified when we serve one another? Why does serving bring joy? Where are you serving and helping in the community?

classroom of suffering

Suffering happens. It happens to all of us. However, it is in the suffering that we draw near to God and understand Jesus own sufferings. Jesus didn’t come into the world as an insurance salesman offering safety and security from suffering, but he shows us instead how to suffer well. While in the classroom of suffering we have a lot to learn.

See and study the suffering of Christ

‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey” – 1 Peter 3:18-20a, ESV

Jesus suffered once—for sins. When Jesus suffered once, it didn’t mean that he only suffered onetime in life, but that his suffering was unrepeatable. In other words, his sacrifice for sin was only needed once. What is interesting is that Jesus didn’t suffer for his own sins. He didn’t sin or bring suffering upon himself as a consequence of his sin. He was righteous and perfect, and died for the unrighteous and sinful. His suffering was undeserved. Rather Jesus is the hero and example.

See and study the suffering of Noah

“when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” – 1 Peter 3:20b

Like Jesus, Noah was rejected by people. For 120 years, he built an enormous boat believing God would send rain even though he lived in the desert. Could you imagine the ridicule? The flood eventual came and only Noah and his family were saved.

When you express faith in Jesus coming to save people from their sins, you express a faith many think is unfounded, foolish and farfetched. So if you are rejected by others for following Jesus, you’re in good company.

See and study your baptism

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 3:21

Baptism itself is a symbol. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from death to cleanse us from our sins. The symbol of baptism is your salvation. Through baptism one shows their belief in Jesus that he cleanses them from sin like water cleanses one from dirt. And since Jesus resurrected from the grave this guarantees that those who believe in him will one day be free from all suffering as Noah was safe in the ark.

See Christ as your victor

“[Jesus] who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” 1 Peter 3:22

In order to ace the exam of suffering we need Jesus. It is impossible to pass tough times or survive without him. Jesus suffered greatly and he was victorious over evil. Today, Jesus is seated in heaven at God’s right hand. Everything is subject to him and nothing can thwart his power.

By remembering these lessons and learning them well you will be able to bear under the brunt of the suffering. When you suffer with Christ you are not suffering alone. The Master suffered for his students too.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How is Jesus the greatest hero of all time?
  • What was the result of the suffering of Jesus?
  • What does it mean to be ‘put to death in the flesh’ and ‘made alive in the Spirit’? What does this look like in your life?
  • What is the connection between the Noah story and baptism? How is baptism connected to Christ’s suffering? (See Romans 6:2-4) How does baptism remind you of Jesus? Does baptism make you a Christian? How does Jesus cleanse you from sin?
  • How have you faced ridicule or reject for your faith like Noah?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is at the ‘right hand’ of God? Who and what is subject to Jesus? What are the implications of this? How does your life reflect the fact that Jesus is on his throne? What other things compete for the throne in your life?
  • How does the resurrection give you hope in the face of suffering? How does the victory of Jesus encourage your faith?
  • How does verse 22 inspire you to worship God?

blessing in suffering

Have you ever been slandered, bullied, or made fun of for doing the right thing? For being a Christian? Suffering for doing good or not being like for being a Christian is normal. The hard part is responding well to this kind of suffering. This is why Peter shares some ways to bless to others while suffering.

Respond in the way others least expect

Sometimes people are mean, they say mean things and do mean things. Even people in the church may treat you wrongly, but contrast their meanness by expressing a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart and humility (vs.8-9). When you respond this way it will deflect evil and show others the attitude of Christ.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV

Responding by blessings those who inflict suffering doesn’t come natural to us. However, you are called to bless, even in suffering. Our suffering is a picture of Christ’s suffering. It is an occasion to proclaim the gospel, not always in words but in the way you walk through suffering.

Remember what God has already said

The Scriptures are chalked full of promises, even in the midst of suffering (vs.10-12). In Psalm 34, David pens a song while he was on the run from from King Saul. The song helps us to reflect on truth and promises already spoken over us. They are good reminders to rest in while suffering.

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12, ESV

Expect suffering for being a Jesus follower

It is not if, but when. The world currently and historically makes fun of Christians (vs.13-14a). It is normal. It started with Jesus and continues with his followers. The reason for this suffering is that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t know Christ.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, ESV

Answer suffering with grace

Grace offers others what they do not deserve. When we respond to suffering and slander with grace, it puts our enemies to shame (vs.14b-17). The answer is not heaping more coals onto the fire, but to snuff it out with grace. It is God’s will that we suffer, but also that we suffer graciously. One who has received grace himself can freely give it to others too.

“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:14b-17, ESV

The blessing of suffering is not suffering itself or getting even with those who cause your suffering. When you become a follower of Jesus you put yourself in the way of ridicule and rejection. However, as a Christian you are in good company. The blessing in suffering is helping the world see another way. The way of Jesus and his followers.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How can suffering be a blessing?
  • How do people tend to respond when hurt by others? Why would Peter contrast repaying evil with blessing? What does repaying evil with blessing look like? How is this so countercultural? Why is it important to suffer well? How does our response put others to shame? What is the difference between shaming someone and letting your behavior put them to shame?
  • Which of the characteristics in verse 8 do you need to grow in? What are the opposites of these characteristics? How can the Holy Spirit help you to grow in these areas?
  • What does it mean to have unity of mind with other Christians? Does this mean you agree on everything? How is living with others, even in the church an exercise of unity of mind? What important things can all Christians agree on? How can we have unity of mind and what should we do when we don’t?
  • What is the relationship between doing good and suffering? Who receives the blessing for suffering for righteousness? How have you suffered for righteousness sake?
  • What are some temptations you face when suffering for righteousness? What are the consequences of giving into those temptations?
  • How does the gospel help you to understand and deal with suffering for Jesus?
  • How have you received blessing through suffering?

How to Respond to Evil Authorities

How do you respond to injustice? There is within everyone a yearning to speak up, to take action, to retaliate, and to seek justice. However, when taking justice into our own hands the injustice, violence, and troubles only prolongate. Jesus provides the example and inspiration for enduring injustice and hardship.

Here we learn a lot about Peter’s audience. Some are servants working for mean, hurtful, and unjust bosses simply because they are worshiping Jesus (v.18). They are enduring much sorrow, suffering unjustly (v.19), and being sinned against for no good reason. So Peter explains how they as Christians are to live with authorities, even evil ones. Peter knows what it was like to live under a corrupt, power-heavy, god-complex emperor and his underlings. He too faced persecution and hardships from their hands, yet he says the way you respond can have a good affect on the way they rule.

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” – 1 Peter 2:18-25, ESV

You will be rewarded by God for endurance and silence. We shouldn’t stop being Christian when someone is being mean or unjust by seeking revenge or resorting to violence in return. Praise God for groups like International Justice Mission and Slavery No More who are doing great work to help those who can’t help themselves. Yet, at the end of the day, it is God who sees injustice and judges the unjust (v.20).

You are a servant of Jesus above all. The bottom line is that enduring injustice is equal to following Christ. You should expect the world to applaud that you are a Christian, in fact, most Christians around the world are suffering persecution for following Jesus. It is through that persecution that the church grows in faith and numbers and the world sees the example of Christ in you (vs.21-24a).

You are safe with Jesus. He is your example and sin-bearing Savior. He was falsely accused, harassed by an evil regime, faced extreme injustice, yet through it all he did not sin.  Through Jesus suffering on the cross we see a great mercy. It was your sin that nailed him to the cross, yet Jesus willingly died in your place so that by his wounds you can be healed (v.24). Miraculously, you are dead to sin and alive to Christ. Jesus is our Shepherd in times of distress (v.25). Run to him. You are safe with him.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How do you normally respond to injustice? How does injustice often breed more injustice and violence in response? How does Jesus respond to injustice done to him? How is his response often different than yours? Why did he respond this way?
  • What do you learn about Peter’s audience from this passage? Where in your life are you subject to unjust authorities? What does it look like to entrust yourself to God in the midst of injustice?
  • What does it mean for a Christian to endure? What are some things you want to give up on or quit over because they are difficult? What can you do to endure better?
  • Is it okay to be sad or sorrowful over injustice and suffering? How did Jesus express sorrow? How is it a comfort to you to know that Jesus in “a Man of sorrows”? (cf. Isaiah 53:4; John 11:35)
  • What is the difference between suffering unjustly and suffering for sins we commit? Why does God call some to suffer unjustly? How did Jesus suffer unjustly? How did he treat those who made him suffer? How did Jesus injustice bring about justice?
  • How has Jesus healed you by his wounds? How is Jesus your Shepherd and Overseer? Read Psalm 23. Where in your life do you need to entrust your life to Jesus and die to sin?

Scripture, Trials, and What is to Come

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars movies you are familiar with the chronology of the story and the films. When the original three films were made the producers started in the middle of the story. Then they made three prequels—how the story began. Now they are making numerous sequels—how the story continues. As the franchise has grown there are parallel stories like Rogue One that follow a unique character all within the original Star Wars plot.

The Bible is similar in that the Old and New Testaments aren’t two different stories, they are groupings stories with the same plot. The Old Testament begins with the world spinning into chaos, but it ends with the prophets foretelling and anticipating a Messiah who would come to save the world. The New Testament picks up with the Messiah coming into the world and ends with a promise that the Messiah will return again to finish off once and for all evil in the universe. We are still awaiting the sequel.

The wait for the next installment of the story is not easy. In fact, the wait is hard. The wait is full of trials because the story continues and we are characters in the story. The world is full of evil, the villain still lurks, and wreaks havoc. Yet the Bible promises that grace and glory will come (vs.10-12).  There will be a day when Jesus will eradicate trials. The Bible was written to remind us that Jesus was promised, came, will come again. Wait for it. The wait will be worth it.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” – 1 Peter 1:10-12

The Bible from cover to cover has been about Jesus. Everything said or prophesied about Jesus so far has come to pass. Therefore, you can believe what is yet to come will come to pass too. Only God knows the future, controls the future, and tells the truth about the future. The truth you need to know about the future is written for you in the Scripture.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How is the Bible one great story? What is the story about? What is its plot?
  • How does our perspective of history, in particular redemptive history, affect our faith?
  • What was a prophet? What were the prophets trying to discern? How do we see clearly now what the prophets could not see?
  • How were the prophets serving us not themselves? How have you been served by the writers of the Bible?
  • What is the good news that has been revealed to you by the Holy Spirit? Why is it such good news?
  • What is the meaning of “grace that was to be ours”? What are the implications that we have been given more grace than the prophets?
  • What is the significance that angels long to look into the things spoken to you?
  • When facing trials, where do you look first for comfort?
  • How does understanding the Scripture give you hope during trials or suffering? How have the Scriptures brought you peace and comfort?

Jesus, Trials, and Joy

There are days when our joy skirmishes into the shadow of trials and hardships. Trials can steal our joy and cause doubts or questions as to the possibility of joy.

Trials come to all of us, even Christians. They don’t come when it is convenient. They can come without warning. They don’t necessarily come one at a time but can come as a barrage. They can repeat over and over again. They can even range in severity and duration from momentary annoyance to lifelong anguish.

Feeling encourage yet?

Peter says joy is possible even in our darkest situations. Joy is possible because Jesus. Peter share at least three ways how Jesus completes our joy under trials.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:2-9, ESV

Jesus is the source of joy, even under trials.

Jesus endured the greatest trials known to man. He endured the cross for a greater joy—our joy. Jesus is our joy because he alone saves and raised from the grave (v.3). The resurrection of Jesus secures our hope and joy. He has reserved for us joy, guards it, and will complete it (vs.4-5). Despite our circumstances, we can have confidence that Jesus is for our joy.

Jesus is a light that eclipses the temporal trials of life.

A glorious day is dawning when our trials will be no more and we will be free from the pain and brokenness in this world (v.6). This is really good news.

Trials have their good purpose. Under trials we learn about Jesus and grow to be more like him. How we respond to trials shows our closeness to Jesus. If we embrace trials as an opportunity from God, they will sift our faith and the result is the glory of Jesus because faith that shines more stunningly than gold (v.7).

Jesus knows our trials very well.

Jesus walked into our shoes. He lived in this broken world. He knows what it is like to be rejected, falsely accused, abused, abandoned and persecuted. And even though we have not seen him we are drawn to him, we love him, we trust him more and more, and he fills us today with an inexpressible joy and hope of the complete salvation of our soul (vs.8-9).

Jesus is our joy today and forevermore.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Jesus been your joy?
  • What is the “living hope”? How does this hope transform the way you live?
  • Why is the resurrection so important? To Christianity? To our own hope? To understanding Jesus as God?
  • Did people know Jesus was going to die and resurrect?
  • How does the Jesus resurrection change people? Compare John 20:19 to Acts 4.
  • What is an inheritance? What is the inheritance that Peter talks about?
  • What is the significance of the words “imperishable,” “undefiled,” and “unfading”?
  • What is unique about Peter’s use of the word “salvation” in this passage? Do you see past, present and future aspects of salvation in this passage?
  • What is the purpose of trials in our life? Do you think about this in the midst of trials?
  • What is the connection between faith, joy, and salvation?
  • How do you express your love for Jesus?
  • What things in your life subdue in expressible joy?

under trials

Jesus was everything to Peter. Peter longed to follow Jesus and for three years he did. He walked with Jesus saw his miracles, heard his preaching, and was there when Jesus rose from the grave. Peter wasn’t always a cooperative follower. In his early years he was brash and impulsive. His lip got him into messes, but Jesus was tender and tough with Peter. He forgave Peter, appointed him to service, empowered him, and helped him endure a trial-ridden life. No wonder Peter endured so much for Jesus.

Peter made it his mission to love Jesus and shepherd the flock. You get a glimpse of Peter’s heart when reading his letters. Peter was a pen pal pastor and counselor to many Christians who faced trials for following Jesus throughout modern-day Turkey (v.1). As Peter begins his letter do not skip over the salutation. Packed within are three hopeful promises for Christians under trials.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” – 1 Peter 1:1-2

First, even under trials God has chosen you, saved you, forgiven you, adopted you, loves you, and you are his from before time (v.2a). What precious gifts to remember in a time of persecution or hardship. God is with you and for you. He won’t fail to be good to you.

Second, the Holy Spirit is sanctifying you under trials (v.2b). No body likes trials. In fact, we try hard to avoid them. Yet trials are unavoidable. They follow us. Not that we are to embrace trials, but we must see how God uses them to draw us to him. Trials are part of God’s sovereign plan. God doesn’t just want to save us; he wants to change us. Trials tend change us to make us more like Jesus. This is God’s holy work of sanctification.

Third, remaining obedient to Jesus is vital when under trials. Jesus is acquainted with our trials. He has been there. He knows the full weight of being under trials. He was under trials to the death, but it was by his blood and sacrifice that our sins are forgiven. Jesus blood was the signature of his covenant between God and man. As Jesus remained obedient to God under trials the result was global blessing, so must we remain obedient to Jesus under trials for the result will be great blessings.

Peter writes to early Christians, but he also writes to you so that you would see trials under the lens of God’s grace. Grace is God acting and working on your behalf for your good. Peters points to the possibility of grace and peace in the midst of trials. Don’t panic. God is with you, for you and at work within you under trials.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Who was Peter? What do you know about Peter’s life?
  • What do you know about the people to whom Peter is writing? How are we like them?
  • How does Peter start his letter? Why is this important?
  • How did Peter know Jesus?
  • What is election? How does election show God’s love? How is election like adoption?
    Why are the “elect” called “exiles”? (aka: stranger or alien) What is the purpose of our election?
  • How are we citizens of a different kingdom? Where have you become to “at home” in this world?
  • How do you see the Trinity in verse 2? How do you see the Trinity working together in this verse? What do you learn about God from these verses?
  • What is the significance of “sprinkled with his blood”? (see Exodus 24:1-8)

Spurgeon’s Sorrows

Is sorrow bad?  How does God use sorrow or depression?  What does the Bible have to say about sorrow?

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http://a.co/5IdWTpw

In his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, by Zach Eswine, he colorfully aims to offer realistic hope for those who are suffering from depression. It traces the life of Charles Spurgeon and his own struggle with sorrow and depression. It might be unknown to many that Spurgeon struggled for much of his life with depression. The author digs into his writings, sermons and teachings and the Scripture to form a practical understanding of sorrow.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 – Trying to Understand Depression.
  • Part 2 – Learning how to help those who suffer from depression.
  • Part 3 Learning to Daily Cope with Depression.

Reflections

Sorrow is allowed by God and at times comes from the heart of God. Therefore, it has its good purpose. As the author concludes the book by saying,

“Sorrows are caused by ugly things. But Jesus adopts them as it were. He brings them into His own counsel. The One who loves even enemies puts our sorrows on probation. He gives them His own heart and provision and house. Living with Him they reform and take on His purposes to promote His intentions. In Him, they reverse and thwart foul tidings.” (Kindle Locations 1847-1849).

The author dives into the life of Spurgeon and the Scriptures to help us understand one who suffered sorrow. The author adequately and sufficient dissects Spurgeon’s life and the Scripture to offer one who is walking through a season of sorrow hope.

In my opinion, here were some helpful tidbits and quotes from the book.

Sadness is not laziness nor sin.

“Contrary to what some people tell us, sadness is neither a sign of laziness nor a sin; neither negative thinking nor weakness. On the contrary, when we find ourselves impatient with sadness, we reveal our preference for folly, our resistance to wisdom, and our disregard for depth and proportion.” (Kindle Locations 274-276).

Sadness doesn’t always have a cure.

“In this fallen world, sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.” (Kindle Locations 283-284)

“Conversion to Jesus isn’t heaven, but its foretaste. This side of heaven, grace secures us but doesn’t cure us.” (Kindle Locations 382-383)

The grace of Jesus is our greatest medicine.

“It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us. So, we declare this truth. Our sense of God’s absence does not mean that He is so. Though our bodily gloom allows us no feeling of His tender touch, He holds on to us still. Our feelings of Him do not save us. He does. Our hope therefore, does not reside in our ability to preserve a good mood but in His ability to bear us up.” (Kindle Locations 392-395)

We are weak.

“The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” (Kindle Locations 218-220)

God has not deserted us.

“We plead not ourselves, but the promises of Jesus; not our strengths but His; our weaknesses yes, but His mercies. Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us. Our hope is not the absence of our regret, or misery or doubt or lament, but the presence of Jesus.” (Kindle Locations 578-580)

Find Scriptural language to describe your sorrow.

God is gracious to give us language for sorrow. The author dips into the metaphors of the Psalms to find language for sorrow. For example,

  • Psalm 88 – ‘depths of the pit’, ‘trouble’, ‘regions dark and deep’ ‘overwhelm me with all your waves’
  • Psalm 69:15 – ‘flood sweep over me’, ‘deep swallow me up’

“Even Charles’ sermon titles began to utilize the metaphors that Scripture offers for the sorrowing; titles such as “the frail leaf” (Job. 13:25)16 , the “wounded spirit” (Prov. 18:14, kjv), the “fainting soul” (Ps. 42:6)17 , and “the bruised reed” (Isa. 42:1-3). Jesus is “the man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). He does not quit us amid the agony of a fleshly thorn (2 Cor. 12:7).” (Kindle Locations 864-867)

Understanding sorrow helps us to understand the sorrowful.

“we should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison.” (Kindle Locations 952-954)

Jesus’ sorrow offers hope.

Jesus himself is the man of sorrows. Spurgeon agrees,

“The sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice.” (Kindle Location 1092) Also the author says, “To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.” (Kindle Locations 1114-1115).

“To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.” (Kindle Locations 1114-1115).

The promises of God fuel our hope.

“The promise isn’t a bare word, but the word of God.” (Kindle Locations 1292-1293) Again, “Promises aren’t magic. They resemble love letters more than incantations, statements of truth more than immunity passes. They often forge, not a pathway for escape from life, but an enablement to endure what assails us.” (Kindle Locations 1321-1322) (also see Psalm 138:7; 73:26; 145:14)

Good comes from sorrow.

“I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, – more stars, most certainly, – more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1799).

“I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, – more stars, most certainly, – more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1799).

The chapter that I would like to see expanded or further explained is chapter 10 on Natural Helps. The author dabs into laughter, retreats, medicines, stimulants and teachings. While there is not one thing there that is meant to be the cure-all, there are a myriad of helps available to try. They aren’t meant to stand alone, but dependent on grace of Jesus.

Chapter 11 on suicide did not leave any stone unturned. It was a difficult topic to address, but a necessary one. Most authors would skip over the subject, yet the desire to die often comes with sorrow and depression. Even some of characters in the Bible expressed this. In the end, we are meant to choose life. I am glad the author touch on this topic and brought with it so much hope.

Personal Response

First, the book helped me understand a struggle my wife has had from time to time, even during our marriage. My wife has had seasons of depression that sometimes come without warning or cause. This book helped me understand that sometimes the causes to sorrow or depression aren’t so obvious nor the cure so plain. In the past, I’ve tried to understand my wife in order to fix or find a solution for her, but that hasn’t always been helpful or what she has needed. She’s more often needed a friend who seeks to understand or an encouragement from God’s precious promises.

Second, the book has helped me understand my own seasons of sorrow.  Even recently, I’ve been a season that has required endurance and trust in the promises of God. These were difficult seasons and I had looked at them in a new light, as I’ve read in this book. I gain a lot of hope in “the Man of Sorrows” and his grace that is sufficient for all seasons. As I look back, I see God’s goodness. This helps as I move ahead.

Third, the book reminded me to be more sympathetic and understanding to those who are suffering from sorrow or depression. Using the example of Jesus and others from Scripture it is clear that there is a purpose and example to follow. God offers real hope as he walks with those living within seasons of sorrow.

Conclusion

The book is an easy yet hard read. It is easy because the chapters are short and well illustrated. It is hard because of the content. If you are one acquainted with sorrows it may rub some old scars, but may offer some deep healing in the process.

I strongly recommend this book to any pastor or counselor who works closely with people. I also recommend this book to one who have walked through the valley or one who is walking with a friend through the valley. My wife and I read this book together. She says it is one of the best and most hopeful books on depression from a Christian she’s read. The book doesn’t give claim to having all the answers, but it does help one to get into the mind of a sufferer and the mind of God when suffering.

Stand Firm

We are in a war and it is real. The enemy is relentless. The battle does not get easier with time and it can be exhausting. Yet in the Bible we learn that the battle is not uncertain, the turf is not individual, the enemy’s schemes are not unknown, nor is our strategy a mystery.

It is natural when under attack to fight or flee, yet what we discover is that we cannot hide from the attack and we are often too weak to fight on our own. There is another option—a better option. God’s primary battle strategy for trials, suffering, doubt, discouragement, and spiritual warfare is to “stand firm.” There are more than a dozen situations in Scripture where God or his messengers told those in difficult circumstances to stand firm. Within each of these real life stories we learn about the multifaceted battle and God’s strategy of standing firm.

Moses and the Red Sea

After the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh had lost his firstborn son. Egypt was swimming in a sea of sorrow. Moses didn’t have to beg Pharaoh to leave; Pharaoh asked Moses and the Israelites to leave in a hurry (Exodus 12:29-33).

When the Israelites arrived at the shore of the Red Sea they were stuck. Pharaoh knew this and he had a change of heart. He recruited a revenge army and chased after the Israelites.

In their rearview mirror, the Israelites saw the dust clouds from chariots and the glistening swords from Pharaoh’s army barreling towards them. They feared greatly and they cried out to the Lord. Moses responded,

“Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13)

It sounds like odd advice. The Israelites had no weapons. They were slaves. They had no place to run. They were pinned between the army and the sea. However, God had a plan. God asked Moses to put his staff into the sea, the sea split and the Israelites passed through on dry ground. When Pharaoh and his chariots tried to pass, the sea closed and drown them. That day the Egyptians saw who was the Lord and the Israelites learned to trust the Lord. The Lord won the day.

Jehoshaphat’s Prayer and Interruption

In a similar situation to Moses and Pharaoh’s army, king Jehoshaphat was being hotly pursued by a vicious horde. He was afraid. He knew his army was powerless. So he sought the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah to seek help from the Lord.

Jehoshaphat stood before the men, women and children, not knowing what to do other than call upon the Lord. He said,

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.” (2 Chronicles 20:6)

The king knew who God was. He heard stories told by his father’s how God fought for his people. He recalled from Abraham to the present day how God had driven out their enemies and they built altars to praise God. With a fierce army at their doorstep, he said no matter what they would stand before the house of God and before God (v.9).

As Jehoshaphat was speaking, the Spirit of the Lord came upon a man in the assembly named Jahaziel. He interrupted the king by saying,

“Listen everyone, including you King Jehoshaphat, Thus says the Lord, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (vs. 15-17)

After Jehoshaphat heard this he bowed to worship God knowing only God could save them. The next day the king went out before the people and charged them to believe that they heard. They sang a song to the Lord before the army, “Give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love endures forever.” (v.21) At that exact time God set an ambush upon the enemy armies. Again, God won the battle that day.

Job’s Friend Gives Good Bad Advice

Job lost everything: his family, his home, his herds, and his health. Job’s friends came to him to offer their advice and were quick to point to his sin as the result for his calamity. In other words, you must have done something bad to have all this bad happen to you. They didn’t have great theology nor did they know God was allowing Satan to sift Job. Even though Job’s friends didn’t understand and missed the diagnosis they did give some good advice,

“Yet if you devote your heart to [God]
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.” (Job 11:13-16)

In the right place with the right proof, it would have been good advice. Job may have lost everything, but truly he had everything. He stood firm in what he knew about God,

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that You can do all things,
and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”” (Job 42:1-3)

Indeed, God was with Job, even in the middle of such great loss and evil. His story is written for our example, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11)

Ethan the Ezrahite’s Song

In Psalm 89, there is a beautiful song about the steadfast love of God. The song was written by a wiseman named Ethan who lived sometime after King David. There isn’t a lot we know about Ethan, but his song captures God’s forever faithfulness from creation through to the generations of David. A time when God crushed many enemies for his people. Speaking for God and his promises to his people, Ethan writes,

“My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.” (v.28)

Here God is the One who stands firm (cf. Psalm 33:11; 93:5). He is a covenant keeping God who always keeps his end of the deal. He is unchanging, immoveable, and steadfast. He is compared to as a Rock, a fortress, and a strong tower.

David also wrote a song similar to Ethan,

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

David who was in many sticky situations surround by armies and headhunters knew the steadfastness and faithfulness of God. He saw firsthand how God fought for him and kept his promises. Like David, Ethan believed God was a covenant keeping God even in catastrophic circumstance. He trusted that a Promised One would rule and reign from David’s lineage.

Solomon’s Wisdom

Solomon picked up where his father David left off. When God offered Solomon anything he wanted (cf. 1 Kings 3) all he wanted was wisdom. This pleased God and God made Solomon the wisest man ever to live. In his book of wisdom, Solomon says, “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)

In other words, tempests of trials will come. The wind will gust, the rain will pour, the lightning will crack, and the floods will rage. The wicked will be swept away because they have unsure and untested footing, but those who are firm in God will endure forever.

Notice the proverb doesn’t shirk from the reality that life has storms or the consequences of not standing firm God. This small proverb offers hope and assurance as an anchor for the soul during the storms life brings.

Isaiah and the Sign of Immanuel

In the reign of king Ahaz, when he was marching to fight against Jerusalem to no avail, the Sovereign Lord gave a promise, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9) So the Lord gave a sign to Ahaz whether he asked for it of not.

By his messenger, Isaiah, God spoke and he said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (v.14) What might have sounded like brief word then, was chalked full of meaning. Isaiah foretold a time when a Messianic hope would come and make all that’s wrong in the world right.

For king Ahaz and Israel the call was to stand firm in the faith that God who would deliver his people. Whether that was to happen immediate or not in their lifetime was unsure, but what was sure was God’s promise.

Isaiah and the Idols of Babylon

What Isaiah saw was horrific. He saw Israel ransacked and taken into captivity. Although he prophesied and warned Israel to turn back to the Lord, they ignored him and sadly what said came to pass. The people of Israel were shackled as slaves and ushered to Babylon. God was using a wicked nation to punish the apple of his eye. Yet in the midst of the chaos and confusion, God bring a clarifying promise,

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all My purpose” (Isaiah 46:8-10)

God promised to accomplish his purpose, which was to purify his people. A remnant would remain that would not bow to foreign gods, but would trust in the Most High God as in the days of old. As the people were walking from the rubble and destruction of Jerusalem to an unknown land Isaiah was calling the people to remember God, his unchanging character, his wise counsel, and stand firm because,

“I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.” (v.13)

Ezekiel’s Warning

Ezekiel the prophet had just as difficult a job trying to convince the people of Israel to listen to God. He was alone standing against the flow of humanity. The other prophets of God had scattered and become scavengers in the land. They, like the people, turned from trusting in the Spirit of God. Worse yet, they led the people astray and into captivity. The Lord didn’t have good words for them,

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 13:3-5)

When the prophets should have unified to help the people fortify their faith and prepared the people to stand firm they acting as the enemy. In reality, they were playing into the hand of the enemy. It was a hard lesson for the people of God. In the end, God would win the day, “I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the Lord.” (v.23)

Jesus Prepares His Disciples for Persecution

Jesus ministry on earth was short. He came as the Messiah, but not to fulfill that role completely. He came to prepare his followers by saying the last days will be difficult. Nations will be at each others throats. Wars will be commonplace. Creation will be in upheaval. Persecution will be escalated. Families will be torn apart. Believers and followers of Jesus will be hated as they hated Jesus. It will not be a pretty picture.

Yet in the midst of the doom and gloom Jesus promises that not one hair will be missing from the heads of his followers. He says, “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19; cf. Matthew 10:17-22; 24; Mark 13) And continues, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (v.36)

Paul Encourages the Young Churches

Paul knew that following Jesus was difficult. He experienced firsthand the physical, emotional, and spiritual battle from the front lines. He also knew the joy of walking with Jesus in the most wretched of circumstances.

Paul was pastoral and cared deeply for the young church. Paul would encourage these first generation Christians was by writing letters as he traveled. The letters were sent throughout the Roman Empire from modern-day Turkey to Greece to Rome. The beauty is that we still have these letters today and can be encouraged by them generations later.

Writing as one who had been-there-and-done-that, Paul frequently encouraged the church to stand firm. As Pastor Paul shepherds struggling souls of the young church allow him to shepherd your soul.

On the resurrection:

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

On rapid-fire commands and last words:

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

On a change of plans:

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come… Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-24)

On the freedom we have in Christ:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

On the armor of God:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

On a life worthy of the gospel:

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,” (Philippians 1:27-29)

On straining towards the goal:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1)

On one’s identity in Christ:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1:21-23)

On encouraging gospel partners:

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Colossians 4:12)

On the responsibility of the community of faith:

“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)

After reading through these snit bits from Paul’s letters, we find our faith being bolstered too. If Paul encourages the early church this way, how much more should we be encouraging one another to stand firm?

Peter Encourages the Persecuted Church

Peter’s early life was a rollercoaster. He was impulsive, his mouth and temper often got him into messes and he blew it bad. As difficult as it is to read Peter’s life we can easily relate.

It is beautiful to watch Peter’s relationship with Jesus. Through it all, Jesus never give up on Peter. He loved Peter. He worked with Peter where he was at.

Later in the book of Acts, we see a new Peter. A Peter who has repented, redeemed from past shame and is restored with God. Peter grows bold in his faith, shares it unashamedly, and becomes a conduit of grace. Peter went on to write two letters still in the Bible. It is clear from his words he became a counselor and pastor who deeply loved people (aka: sheep). From a pastoral heart he writes,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pt. 5:6-11)

The audience to whom Peter wrote were experiencing persecution from outside the church, inside the church and within their very souls. Peter doesn’t encourage the hard-pressed to fight or flee, but to simply crawl under the mighty hand of God who promises to crush their foe at the proper time. God is the safest haven in times of suffering.

James Eyes the Lord’s Coming

James was the younger half-brother of Jesus. According to James, growing up next to Jesus was a little over-the-top, but as he grew older he realized that Jesus was who he claimed to be. His brother, Jesus, became his Savior too. Just read how he writes about him,

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:7-11)

James’ tells his brothers and sisters in the faith to stand firm. If Jesus said he will return surely he will keep is word. Jesus has kept all his words and promises and hasn’t gone back on any of them. Just as he waited for the right time to reveal God’s plan, he endured the cross despising the shame and the result was the salvation of our souls. Perseverance through pain, trials and suffering promises great results.

It is waiting that is often the hardest, especially if in the waiting one faces hardships. One can question, “When will it end? When are you coming?” Or like the Psalmist, “How long, oh Lord?”

Application: How to Stand Firm

Surely you can find yourself somewhere in the stories above where God’s people are encouraged to stand firm in difficult situations. The scenarios and the enemy is universal. These stories are a goldmine for the soul. They are bricks for fortifying the faith. Yet applying the charge to stand firm can be easier said than done. How do you stand firm?

Standing firm is active.

Standing firm is an act of readiness. Think of a soldier who has a shield and sword in hand, even when asleep his weapons are at his side. When awake his feet are firmly planted in the soil. The weapons of warfare in Ephesians 6, all but one (the sword), are weapons of readiness. The weapons ultimately focus on Christ and what you have in him, not what you have within yourself.

Standing firm is an act of endurance. Standing firm is not the same thing as standing still. To stand firm means you embrace faith while you wait out the storm of trials and suffering or while you await the coming of the Lord. In your relationship with God, he is the strongman. He does the fighting for you. He gives and grows the faith. When you stand firm you get a front row seat to see how God acts on your behalf.

Standing firm is directly attached to belief in the character and promises of God.

Standing firm is founded on what you know about God and his Word. God’s character is sure. His promises are kept. The two are not to be separated. For example, if we believe in the promise that God will deliver we must also believe that God is good, merciful, and loving while we wait to be delivered.

Standing firm is the opposite of fearing. When we are not standing firm we are freaking out. We have the same response as Israel when they saw Pharaoh’s army or Jehoshaphat in hot pursuit. When the odds seem stacked against us and defeat seems inevitable we are tempted to fear by fighting or fleeing. Both responses show our eyes are on what we can do and not on God with us.

Standing firm is never done alone.

Standing firm is only possible by the power of Christ. On our own we are weak, but with the Spirit of Christ we have the power to stand. Jesus knows the full weight of temptation, suffering and hardships. He endured through the power given to him by his Father. That same power is available to us who are in Christ. If we stand alone we will will falter, but with Christ we will have victory.

Standing firm is best done with other believers. An army of one does not mean one soldier, but an army of one is a massive global community of soldiers standing firm together under the banner of Christ. The life of Christ is meant to be lived in community with other followers of Christ. Standing together is better than standing alone. It is so encouraging to know that there are others who are enduring with you. Timothy calls this life the “good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12) One day the enemy will face his certain demise, but until then standing firm against the enemy is necessary.

Standing firm adamantly resists the wiles of the world.

The enemy is cunning, crafty, and relentless. Yet God is sovereign, powerful, and wise. God has Satan on a leash. God has his purposes for Satan in the world. This does not mean Satan is not powerful and good at what he does. He is, therefore we must be adamant about resisting the enemy (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7), refusing to give him an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27), and standing firm against his schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” (James 4:7). It is interesting that as we stand firm by resisting it is the devil who flees not us. Again, the power to resist is not our willpower, but the power is in the blood. Look at Revelation 12:11, “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Victory is possible in Christ by his blood. The blood of Jesus conquered the grave and wiles of Satan. It is by the blood of Jesus that we have power to resist too.

As this world keeps on spinning and Satan keeps raging, Jesus calls us to wartime prayer, “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Also, Peter encourages a similar end-time prayer, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

Jesus himself battled against the devil on our behalf with the weapon of prayer. He said to his friend Peter in Luke 22:31–32, “Satan has asked to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Isn’t it powerful to know that Jesus intercedes this prayer on our behalf?

Summary

The call to “stand firm” appears throughout the entire Bible from cover to cover, especially in critical moments of battle, temptation, persecution, or societal decay. It is a powerful and encouraging little phrase.

We are in a war and the war is real. The question is not whether you want to be in the war. You are in it. Everyone is in it. Either you are living defeated fighting in your own strength and fleeing in fear or you are standing firm.

Standing firm in faith has good results. Paul, a man who knew a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ, encouraged his younger colleague, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), and “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). Did you notice he called the warfare ‘good’? Why would he use that adjective? You might think of a million others words other than ‘good’. Yet Paul is on to something true. As Paul looks back, he sees how God used all the hardship, discouragement, endurance, suffering for good, particularly the good of his faith.

Jesus was the champion of Paul’s faith. He is also the champion of our faith. Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of Paul, Moses, Peter, Job or Jehoshaphat. So I call you as God and his messengers did: Stand firm in your faith as willing soldiers fixing your eyes on Jesus the Prince of Peace and the King of kings.

walking with others

In our first year of marriage, my wife and I took a hiking trip together in the Rockies. We got new packs and packed light. We planned our trip well. When the day came to walk the 6 miles up the mountain we knew it would be a difficult climb. It was a good thing that we were together because it would have been much more difficult to walk alone. We were able to encourage each other steps and help carry ones pack when tired.

Walking with others in the church is both beautiful and arduous. Those two characteristics cannot be separated. As we struggle to do life with one another the old adage is true—it’s hard to live with them but we can’t live without them. The way we walk with one another demonstrates the beauty of Christ and the hard work of striving to make him famous.

There are three encouragements the author of Hebrews gives for walking with others. First, love like a brother. Brotherly love is a family-like intimacy (v.1). A family member shares blood and dirt. You know things about one another that most do not. In the community of faith, we have the blood of Jesus in common, we are adopted into the family of God, and we share a level of intimacy that is otherworldly. It is a relationship we will share into eternity. This is good reason to get along in the here and now.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” – Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV

Second, show hospitality. Typically hospitality provides room and board to strangers, but it also demonstrates a willingness to place someones needs above your own. Jesus is our example of what hospitality looks like. He came to serve not to be served. Like Jesus we are all strangers in this world. Showing hospitality can surprise those we serve with a bountiful meal inside out and in the process we might even entertain angels (v.2).

Third, remember the persecuted (v.3). You may know brothers and sisters who are suffering for the Name of Jesus. By ministering to those who are mistreated you are pouring on them encouragement and strength (cf. 11:25,37). We will all suffer for the sake of Christ. That is a promise from the mouth of Jesus himself. It is our badge, but we’re in this together. It is a mutual blessing to carry your brothers burden, especially when he is facing mistreatment for the Name as he will likely carry yours one day too.

Walking with others is hard because walking with Jesus is hard. Yet walking through the fire together produces a beautiful Body that you are a member.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What makes people hard to love? What makes you hard to love sometimes? Who is someone that is hard for you to love? How can you demonstrate brotherly love to them?
  • How does Jesus demonstrate brotherly love? Who are some hard to love people he loved well? What do you learn from him about how to love well?
  • What do you think of the you think of hospitality? Does hospitality natural or unnatural for you? When is it hard for you to show hospitality? What is the battle to serve and be served like within you? Can you think of a time you were shown hospitality? How did that bless you inside out?
  • Do you know someone suffering right now for Christ? How are they being mistreated? How can you minister to them? We are a Body, so as they suffer how are you suffering with them?
  • As you walk with others this week, which of these characteristics do you want to grow in most? Why?

God’s Work in Faith

To melt gold a goldsmith needs to stoke the furnace to over 1,000 F. However, in order to remove all the impurities and to make 24k gold the heat of the furnace is doubled to nearly 2,000 F. The hotter the purer and more valuable.

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God is like a goldsmith. He takes his creation made of dust, full of impurities and at times puts it into the fire to make it pure and beautiful. Nobody likes being in a furnace, but everyone like the result. It is in the fire that God does his greatest work. It is in the furnace that our faith grows.

Pain and suffering are unavoidable, but is it fruitful or beneficial? There is no doubt they get our attention. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain, it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In the midst of suffering it is helpful to remember that Jesus is our example. See how he suffered and faced pain. He was not immune to it. As horrific as Jesus’ sufferings were they are for our benefit (v.3). It was his pain for our gain. His sufferings are far greater than any suffering we will ever face (v.4, cf. John 18-21). Take heart!

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:3, ESV

We must understand that suffering can come from the hand of God. That might mess with your theology, but it is true. Now, God doesn’t inflict pain and suffering for fun like a mean ogre or an abusive father, but God is likened to a father and God will discipline his children. The difference between God and earthly fathers is that God always disciples out of infinite love (vs. 5-6; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12). It is his parental prerogative (vs. 7-9). If God didn’t discipline us and allowed us to get away with every evil thing we wouldn’t have any respect for him nor would we say that he is truly loving. God’s discipline stems from love because he desires to see his children learn from the heat of the furnace rather than to get away with sin and suffer even greater in hell. The discipline he gives lasts only a short time but the effects can last a lifetime (vs.10-11).

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11, ESV

Just like nobody likes to be in the furnace, no child likes to be discipled and no parent likes to discipline their children, but it is a necessary practice to help children grow up. God always has the right discipline to produce the right character within our heart, particularly a pure heart full of faith.  A faith that is rich and valuable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does God have a plan for our suffering and trials? Why is our fight against sin much lesser than Jesus’?
  • How does “considering” the sufferings of Jesus encourage you not to grow weary or lose heart in similar sufferings? What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings?
  • How does God discipline from genuine love? How is discipline a hard but good thing? How does discipline grow our respect and confidence in God?
  • How is an earthly father a picture of our heavenly Father? What are the limitations of this picture?
  • What is the holiness of God? How does God’s discipline produce holiness? How are you sharing in God’s holiness now?

Encouragements for Christians When their Faith is Under Fire

God never promised that this life will be easy, but he promises to be with you in the fire.

The consequences of saying that you love and worship Jesus can be real and hurtful. Those who are close to you may even turn their back on you.  For many around the world there is pain and suffering.  There is ridicule and rejection.

Peter knew what it was like to experience persecution, hardships, and suffering for Jesus Christ. This gave him a raw, yet real palate for encouraging other Christians who are walking through the same fire.

1 Peter is an excellent book to read to be encouraged.  Here are a sampling of encouragements for Christians when their faith is under fire:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:6-7)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2:2-3)

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (2:7a-8)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (2:9)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (2:13-15)

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (2:20-21)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (3:13-18)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (4:8)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:12-16)

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (5:5-7)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (5:10)

what God asks of you

A good friend recently asked me, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide it?”  That is a good question.  How would you answer that?

I paused for a long moment before answering.  At first I responded by answering, “Yeah, he can hide, but not for long if he really is a Christian.”  Then I followed up by sharing some of Christ’s words about shining the Light within a dark dark world,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus said many interesting and hard things, especially to those who followed him (see Luke 14:25-33; 9:57-62).  He knew if his followers really would follow him it won’t be easy.  In fact, he said if you follow me you will still face temptation and inevitably you will face fierce suffering.  For the light shines into hidden places that most people would rather fight to remain hidden.

The idea of a light shining in darkness is a theme in Scripture.  Israel was chosen to be a light to the nations.  God chose them from among all the nations of the world to show all people his purposes.  He just asked Israel to trust him, to walk with him, and not mingle with the gods of other nations.  It wasn’t easy for Israel.  And their story isn’t secret.  It’s recorded for you and I to read today.

When Isaiah was called to be prophet of Israel, they were already on a downward spiral away from God.  They forgot everything God had done for them.  They already adopted the gods of other nations and prided themselves on what they could do with their own hands and minds.  Their light was dimming.  And Isaiah’s task was to bring Israel back to God.  That was no easy task.

Are you starting to catch a theme here?  What God asks of us is not easy.  In the final verses of Isaiah 6, God gives Isaiah both a command (what he is to say) and a consequence (what will happen if the hearers don’t listen).  If you were in Isaiah’s shoes would you do what was asked of you?

The Command: “Go and Tell”

“And [God] said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive. ’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Within God’s command he gives three imperatives that will characterize the Israelites: they 1) do not perceive, 2) do not understand, and 3) render hearts insensitive.  In other words, God says, “Tell my people that they will be just like the idols they love: blind, deaf and dumb.”

G.K. Beale in his book, A Biblical Theology of Idolatry says, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.”  It’s true, you become like what you worship.  As kids you learn to mimic parents, actors, singers, or whoever we idol.  Children see. Children Do.  From Simon says to being a Copy Cat.   The question is what do you imitate and resemble?

In high school, I really wanted to have a Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students.  So I took one out for a test drive.  The sound system was thumping and the accelerator had some get up and go.  I not only wanted one, but the car dealer convinced me that I needed to have one.   I couldn’t afford one as a poor college student, but my desire to have a Jetta lingered.  That was until a family member offered to sell me their 10-year Jetta.  It was within my budget so I bought it.   As I drove away I though I was hot stuff.  But you know what?  In a matter of months the luster wore off, I had maintenance bills, and newer models of the Jetta rolled off the line.   My desire to drive a Jetta wasn’t sinful, but my identity tied to a Jetta was.  I became the Jetta guy.

Isn’t that how idols work?  They disguise themselves as needs, but when you have it they become yesterdays news, even nuisances.  You love idols, but thy never love you back.

John Calvin was in tune with the problem of idols.  He said,

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.  Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Institutes, 1.11.8

The heart longs for what only God can completely fill (e.g. approval, control, success, pleasure, security, knowledge, relationship, comfort, entertainment, etc.).   Idolatry is whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God.  Often idols are really good things, but they take the place of the greatest thing.  They seem tangible, when God is invisible.   Yet they rob us of a heart reserved for God.  In fact, they make us blind to God, deaf to God, and dumb to God.

Think about the command to go and tell.  God tells Isaiah to go to his people–his family, friends, neighbors, tribe–and tell them about their hearts that are like factories pumping out idols.  On top of that God let’s Isaiah know ahead of time that nobody will listen or respond.  Sure, they will recognize Isaiah as prophet from God, but for 40+ years Isaiah would preach without a response.  Talk about difficult and discouraging ministry.  Yet it isn’t that much different than the world you and I live in?  Isn’t the command God gave us to make disciples of all nations just as difficult and at times discouraging when people don’t see a need for God because they think that they are fine on their own?

Isaiah is no Debbie Downer.  Yes, his message is grim; if the Israel won’t turn back to God their judgment will be to become just like the idols they worship.

Many get in a huff when God dishes out judgment, but one must consider God’s character.  All his characteristics are balanced and he never ditches one to feed the other.  In Hebrews 6:1-3, it teaches how God’s grace and justice are in balance.  God is both gracious (slow to anger) and just (character demands consequences for sinfulness).  God never makes snap judgements.  He doesn’t go through middle school mood swings.  Rather he is slow to anger and patient.  However, Isaiah’s generation broke the last straw and His patience finally ran out.

  • Isaiah 1:29-31 “Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away or as a garden that has no water. The strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together And there will be none to quench them.”
  • Isaiah 2:12, 17-18 “For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning Against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up, That he may be abased….The pride of man will be humbled And the loftiness of men will be abased; And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, But the idols will completely vanish.”
  • Isaiah 3:8-9 “Jerusalem is about to fall. And so is Judah. They say and do things against the Lord. They dare to disobey Him to His very face. The look on their faces is a witness against them. They show off their sin, just as the people of Sodom did. They don’t even try to hide it. How terrible it will be for them! They have brought trouble on themselves.”
  • Isaiah 5:13  “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge.”
  • Isaiah 43:8, 10 “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears… “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He.  Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
  • Isaiah 42:18-20  “Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears.
  • Psalm 135:14-18 (cf. 115:3-8) “For the Lord will judge His people And will have compassion on His servants. The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; They have eyes, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them.”

When it comes to the the first and second commandments, God is serious: Don’t worship other gods or make imitations or substitutions of him.  If so, you will become just like them: deaf, dumb, and blind.  This is the message God commands Isaiah to go and tell Israel and if they don’t turn back to God there will be a consequence.

You might be thinking, “Wow, Isaiah doesn’t have an easy task.”   Yeah!  You’re right!  It would be as if you are a manager and you are given the task of turning around a failing company, but the company is bound for bankruptcy anyway.  Or you are a teenager and you given the task to stand against the flow of peer pressures even though you will be outcast.   Or you are a carpenter and you are given the task of fix a fixer upper, but the house is doomed for foreclosure.  Who wants a job like that?  What reward is there in that?  What is in it for Isaiah?  The benefit is that he is doing exactly what God asks of him and he does it willingly because he has seen who God is and he has come to know how sweet his forgiveness tastes.  Faithfulness to the command is what God asks of you, even when it is hard and no one around responds and everyone things you’re nuts.

The Consequence: Become “Stumps”

stumpsIsaiah thinks for a moment about what God is asking him to say to the people and he asks an honest question, “How Long?” (v.11a)  Could he be wondering if this is a short-term job assignment or a career?  How will he know when the job is done?   God’s response is grave, “until there is complete devastation.” (v.11b)  He goes onto say that Israel—His chosen people—will be like stumps.

What comes to your mind when you think of a stump?  Can you think of a so-called follower of God who is now stumps?  Why would God call them stumps?  Isn’t that a little harsh?  A stump is a memory of a tree.  It shows you where a tree once stood, but now it’s gone..  In essence what God is saying it that Israel will be an illustration to all nations of a ruined life because idolatry is wasted worship and God is jealous for his children to worship him.

shutterstock_205490491_stump_sapling_1920x1280_39percentDid you catch the glimmer of hope in the midst of the smoke from the chainsaw.  With God there is always hope.  There is hope of a remnant (v.13).  Although God judges, burns, purges, prunes, chops; the stump will sprout again.  God promises restoration.  In the chaos there is always Cosmos.  God is a Restorer.  He is a Redeemer.  See the glimmers of hope God gives Isaiah,

  • Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [God with us].”
  • Isaiah 9:6  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
  • Isaiah 11:1-2  “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
  • Isaiah 53:5  “But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us.”
  • Isaiah 53:8  “He was arrested and sentenced to death. Then He was taken away. He was cut off from this life. He was punished for the sins of my people.”

Remember, as G.K. Beale said, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.”  Idols ruin, but God restores.  Idols blind, deafen, and dumb, but God heals.  Idols enslave, God forgives.  Idols stump, but God sprouts growth.

The stump would sprout.  That young sprout would be none other than Jesus Christ.   He displays for the world what it looks like to be loyal to God.  He models what it looks like to love God and have no other God’s but God Himself.  He even came to heal the blind, deaf, and dumb and free you from the idols of our hearts.

Isaiah is a warning to us all: don’t become a stump, run to the sprout.

Today the same truth rings true.  While God may not send a prophet to warn you, you do have a community called the church.  Just as Israel was asked to be a light to the nations, God also asks you to shine the light and encourage one another to shine through the church,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest. ’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:7-13)

God is seeking followers to send into a dark world on a difficult task.  He doesn’t promise it will be easy.  But he does promise to go with you.  Will you go?  Will go and tell the nations to turn back to God?

Going back to my friends question, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide?”  Yes, but not for long if you you follow the Light of the world.”  Stand in the light.  Shine the light.  Go and tell about the Light.  Warn others the darkness.  Encourage one another to be in the Light.  This is what God asks of you.

 

Previously in this series: God is and what is your response to who God is?

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

What did God ask Isaiah to say or do?  How did God say the people will respond?  Would you be up for this task if you were Isaiah?  How does Jesus ask Christians to do a similar task?

What is an idol?  How is the heart an idol factory?  How do people become like what they worship?  What examples of this have you seen?

As you read verses 8-13, how does it describe the spiritual climate of the people?   How is this same spiritual climate often seen in your community or church?  What hope is there to overcome this spiritual state?   How can you encourage or help your fellow brothers and sisters?

Cover photo from: http://signafire.com/

 

purpose of pain

thorns

The deepest pain we experience is often inflicted by people, especially those who we care for the most. The closer we are to people the more vulnerable we are to be hurt and wounded. Not just physically (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), but emotionally (11:28-29). People can disappoint, reject, abuse, slander, fail, betray, or turn on you. These type of wounds go deep and hurt. Have you ever felt pain from someone close to you? A spouse? A parent? A child? A friend? A church?

Jonathan Edward, a pastor through America’s Great Awakening, was voted out of the church where he pastored for 22-years over a disagreement about who takes communion. The pain caused by this lead him to live meekly among Native Indians, a broken man until his death. Charles Haddon Spurgeon—some would say the greatest preacher the world has ever known—was voted out of the Baptist Union for standing strongly for the Scripture. He was crushed and his health was never the same.

Paul experienced this kind of pain too. He loved the church at Corinth immensely. He spent 18-months with them. He saw many come to Christ and he nurtured them. He invested his life to the church. He thought of himself as their father and them as his daughter. And yet he also experienced his greatest pain and heart-ache from this church. False teachers came into the church and spread lies about Paul cutting down his credibility as an apostle therein cutting down the credibility of the gospel. They called into question his integrity, character, leadership, wisdom, honesty, motives, love and loyalty. Many in the church bought into the lies of false teachers. And Paul was left assaulted, crushed and hurt deeply.

Pain is universal. Every human experiences pain at some point. It’s the problem of pain. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Pain is part of life. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Pain is never pleasant, until we understand what God is accomplishing by it. Often the greatest times of spiritual development happen in times of great pain. Paul teaches us how to see the hand of God in the midst of pain. No text unfolds this in greater detail than 2 Corinthians 12. It is set in one of the most emotionally charged portions Paul had put pen (See Chapters 10-13). Paul lays his heart wide open and we see what God endeavors to accomplish in our pain and where we find strength in the deepest pain.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7)

First, Paul described the pain was like “a thorn.” Have you ever got a thorn stuck in your foot? In Chad, there are thorns everywhere. Just yesterday I was raking our yard and I literally pulled out over 10 thorns from the bottom of my flip-flops. I was immediately decommissioned from any further work until I pulled each thorn out of my foot. The word “thorn” as Paul used it can refer to a small thorn or an object as big as a stake. Imagine that. It is as if he says “a stake was driven right through my flesh.” Ouch.

We understand the word “thorn” was used metaphorically, like when we say, “He is a real thorn in my side.” So what was Paul’s thorn? What was bothering Paul? There are dozens of speculation as to what the cause of the thorn could be (ex: headaches, lust, eye problem, malaria, epilepsy, loss of hair, hysteria, gastritis, leprosy, lice, deafness, stuttering, etc.). In all, these trivial speculations miss the what the text says itself about the thorn, they miss the debilitating and humiliating depth of Paul’s pain and it misses God’s purposes for the thorn.

Second, Paul said the thorn was “given” to him. Satan inflicted it, but ultimately God allowed it for he pleads with God to take it away (v.8; cf. Mark 14:32-41). In Greek, the phrase reads “a thorn for the flesh was given me.” What we know about the word “flesh” in Scripture is that more often it doesn’t refer to the physical flesh, but the home of human impulses and sinful tendencies. The thorn poked Paul deeper than the surface of his skin. Paul goes on to tell what the thorn is. It is a “messenger or Satan to harass me (torment, punch).” It is a messenger (angel); a demon sent to inflict Paul.

Now it is interesting because a demon would not want to humble Paul, but to exalt him. A demon would not want to drive a stake through his flesh, but his spirit. The context gives light to this messenger being false teachers who are controlled by a demon as they reject Paul’s authority, ministry and integrity (cf. 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Like Satan, these false teachers are so close to truth that the people buy into it and it is crushing Paul because he can see the angel of light twisting the truth against him.

There is a question some would ask here. Why would God allow Paul to be tormented? Does God really allow pain? In short, yes. God has used demons, even Satan, and pain for his purposes in the lives of believers. Job is a great example. The moment God allowed Satan to test Job all hell broke loose. Everyone in Job’s family was killed except his wife. All his crops and animals were destroyed. His own body became ravaged by a skin disease. A Middle Eastern mogul was reduced to rubble. Job was in deep pain. And it was compounded by his wife and friends giving him bad advice. Notice, in the end, God never tells Job why all this happened. God never apologizes. God never blames Satan. God simply praises Job for his persevering faith.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” In other words, “Peter, you would make a good prospect for Satan. I think I will use him for my purposes in you.” You could hear Peter say, “Jesus, You said ‘no’ right?” Jesus knew this would be a defining moment for Peter. He would move from being a great denier to becoming the great defender.

While Paul’s thorn was a thing that his opposers used as a means of showing other that God was not with him. It had the opposite effect. The thorn was proof that God was with him. God was with him, keeping him humble when he could be the opposite because of all that God did through him.

Third, Paul said the thorn was to “keep [him] from becoming conceited.” Paul became a figure head. Everywhere he went two things started: a church and a riot. The work he accomplished in his lifespan is staggering. He had all the reasons in the world to be be proud: he had visions, wrote revelation, planted churches, brought the gospel to the gentile world, but this thorn was crushing him, inflicting pain to keep him humble.

Why was God allowing this mess at Corinth? Why was God allowing Paul to experience deep pain? God was teaching him and the church deep truths about Himself that they might not learn otherwise. God’s purposes for the Paul are made clear,

“But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs.9-10)

Like Paul, we learn much about God through pain. First, God uses pain reveals our spiritual character (vs.5-6). We are like a sponge and pain squeezes out what is really inside. Second, God uses pain to humble us (v.7). Third, God uses pain to draw us to Himself (v.8). Going to God is the right place to go. Fourth, God uses pain to display his grace (v.9). God answers is often “no” to removing the pain, but God gives the grace. We will have trouble, God never promises to remove it, but he promises enough grace to endure it. God increases grace to those who are broken. Fifth, God uses pain to perfect his power (v.10). When there is nothing left within us—no pride, no glory, no strength, no ability to fix it—then there is room for the power of God. This is power in our weakness.(Romans 8:18).

Paul was burdened beyond strength. He was left broken, beaten, battered. He could not fix the situation. He was at the end of his rope. He hurt deeply because of what others had done. Yet it was here that the power of God was displayed in his weakness (cf. 4:7-12; 6:4-10).

Power in weakness is most vividly seen in the cross of Christ. Jesus, the man of sorrows was the strongest man to ever live because at his weakest earthly moment he did not use all the power he had to stop the pain or avoid the pain, rather he embraced his own thorns so that the plans of God could be accomplished through him. In God’s plan of redemption, there had to be weakness (crucifixion) before there was power (resurrection). Paul came to understand and embrace the fact that his thorn in the flesh was essential to his ongoing weakness and the experience of Christ’s ongoing power. Through Christ’s temporary pain we have eternal gain.

If you are doing ministry in Jesus name you need to expect stakes to be driven through your flesh. Pain is a part of life as a follower of Christ (outside and inside the church). Christ in us! That is the reward of those who serve him with their weakness. As Isaac Watts wrote,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”

Emily’s Journey

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She had a spark the first time I met her.

Emily Ristau was a young seventh grade girl when we first met. Our first encounter was in the church lobby. It was memorable mostly because I opened my mouth and out flew a Freudian Slip (and no, I won’t go into those details). So, I was introduced to Emily alongside her two older brothers and parents. Her family soon became a favorite. I heard somewhere that you’re not supposed to have favorites in the ministry. “Shh! Don’t tell.”

Emily’s dad would frequently say, “My girl is a walking miracle.” Indeed she was. Emily was born with half a heart, also known as HLHS. When I found out for the first time I thought of little Laura from Little House on the Prairie and modified it to fit Emily. From then, on I dubbed her “Half Tank.” She didn’t seem to mind.

If you did not know Emily, you would not know there was anything wrong with her inward parts for outwardly she appear to be a ordinary teenage girl with an extraordinary faith in God. Though she often struggled with her image and what others thought of her, she would wander back to the truth that she was crafted in God’s image.
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What impressed me most about Emily was her spunky and everyone’s-a-friend-attitude. It was a huge asset to our youth ministry at BGBC. I wish I could have cloned a few Emily’s, although the awkwardness factor would have certainly multiplied exponentially. Just thinking about Emily now makes me laugh. I can hear her say, “Sup?” with that cheeky grin and that faint bob of her head.

When Sarah and I began our courtship, Sarah stayed with Emily’s family. Following Sarah’s first visit, I sought Emily’s approval of Sarah. She said, “She’s a keeper, Justin.” That was enough. A few weeks later Emily help me to assemble a sock monkey for Sarah named Patch. He’s still held together by the Emily’s threads and needlework.

The spark she had was ignited by the Spirit of God.

Emily, left a mark on me. Though I wasn’t her youth pastor for a very long time,  she was used by God to shepherd my life by her example. Emily preached a sermon with her life. Emily may have had half a heart, but she really had more heart than most because her real heart was possessed with the One who gave her life and ordained her days.

Emily went to be with Jesus on May 14, 2014. She was 21.

Emily’s Journey is not over, it’s just begun. Emily is a hero in the faith and now with the champion of her faith! Lucky!

“God as you used Emily in this life to be a ginormous blessing to many, may you use her testimony and ‘new life’ as a continual testimony of Your fame. Until we meet again. In Jesus name.”

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18