Thursday, July 24, 2014

When the righteous suffer, part 2

"And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented —  of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." ~ Hebrews 11:32-12:1

God is at work in us and through us.  Listen to Paul as he writes from prison: "But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." ~ Philippians 1:12-14

Job wrestled passionately with God, but he did not forsake Him, and through his trials God drew Him closer to Himself.  Jacob wrestled with God and God blessed Him.  We do not have to slap a smile on our face and pretend suffering does not really exist.  Wrestle.  The theme of crying out to the Lord is an oft repeated one...crying out in faith, trusting God is a Deliverer, a Comforter, a Mighty God who is able to vindicate us when we are wronged.
Psalm 56:8-11
"You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book? 
When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me. 
In God (I will praise His word),
In the Lord (I will praise His word), 
In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?"

It can be very hard to believe God is for us when circumstantially so many things seem to be against us...commands to "not fret" and to "count it all joy" are impossible without faith in the Living God and the strength He supplies.  It is a minute by minute exercise for many of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and it may be for you too. May the One who spoke this world into existence give us the grace to believe He is for us, and let us cry out to Him while doing the next right thing He sets before us, trusting that He will provide and deliver according to His wisdom and goodness.

"My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful." ~  James 5:10-11

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When the righteous suffer...

Heb 11:4 tells us "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks."  Abel was murdered by his brother.

Job 1:1 makes it clear that Job "was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil."  He knew very well degrees of suffering most of us never come close to.

Genesis 6:8 announces that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."  Noah's ark is often depicted as a cute little Sunday school story, but think about it...Was it easy to build that ark in the face of the evil and mockery of his day?  What about living in the confines of the ark while everything outside of the ark that he'd ever known was being destroyed by floodwaters? What about the work that followed the day when the waters finally receded?  Do you think Noah's view of salvation by God, in whose eyes he found grace, had anything to do with the tenets of the health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" preached today? 

The Apostle Paul was a faithful servant of God, spending and being spent for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he tells us in 2 Cor 11:23-28 that in the course of his service, he suffered stripes above measure, was put into prison, was beaten with rods, stoned, was shipwrecked three times, faced the trials of much travel, faced the perils of robbers and so many other kinds of difficulties that it is hard to list them all.

My friends, as we suffer let us be encouraged by Peter who tells us:
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." (1 Peter 4:12-16)

And James who reminds us:
"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." (James 1:2-6)

We can do that only when we know our God is sovereign, He is good, He is wise, He loves us, He is compassionate and just.  Our pastor preached a very helpful sermon on this last Sunday called the Patience of the Prophets and Job, and I highly recommend it.  May God help us to endure, to walk by faith, and to trust He is not wasting our pain. And may we grow in our ability to weep with those who weep.  God help us!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

That We May Obtain Mercy

Some adversities harden and embitter, and others produce covetable beauty and grace in the lives of those who suffer them.  William Secker pointed out so poignantly that whether friend or foe of God, suffering will have an effect:  “Suffering seasons have generally been sifting seasons, in which the Christian has lost his chaff and the hypocrite his courage.” 

Thomas Watson makes the point that God’s mercies and their fruits are also arranged by God when he said, “The mercies of God make a sinner proud, but a saint humble.” 

As true as these sentiments are in general, they are not formulaic.  We like formulas…we like predictability.  Yet, it is not that simple.  Just ask Job...the advice of his friends was full of formulaic misapplication of truths.  Let's be careful to appreciate the general truth that God is indeed at work to mold and shape us via the varied circumstances He ordains for us to walk through, but not in a formulaic fashion that is ready to judge oneself or others based on a particular event or time of life. 

God is FREE, He’s sovereign, He’s got all power and wisdom and authority, and He is good, merciful, kind, gracious and abounding in love towards His children.  And if we are in Christ, we need to entrust ourselves to the One who has told us unequivocally that we are His workmanship and that He will complete the good work He has begun. 

Our transformation is not complete in a day.  Our Father conforms us over time to be like Jesus.  Be patient with yourself and with others.  Sometimes I find myself losing courage, feeling hardened and embittered or proud rather than resembling the beautiful, grace-filled, humble child I know I ought to be as one of God's kids in response to both suffering and His mercies. Do you? He is still at work.  Tell the Accuser to go jump in a lake, and continue to entrust yourself to your Father who will help you get back up.  A righteous man that falls seven times, gets up eight.  Our Father is not finished with us yet.

I know from repeated experience that when we see ourselves falling, it is a mighty good time to cry out to the Living God who is rich in mercy and gives us this encouraging word:
"Seeing then that we have a great High Priest 
who has passed through the heavens, 
Jesus the Son of God,
let us hold fast our confession.  
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, 
but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, 
that we may obtain mercy 
and find grace to help in time of need." 
~ Hebrews 4:14-16