Tag Archives: Pain & Suffering

The Ultimate Sufferer will put our frustration & futility to an end

“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” (1 Peter 3:13–18 ESV)

Peter zooms out to give us a big picture vantage point on life.  He is not saying that we won’t suffer – his reader’s already were suffering.  But, ultimately all things will work for their good (Romans 8:28-31).  Peter reminds them of the Lord’s words:  ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 ESV).  Peter urges them to dwell on Ultimate realities, on the bigger picture.  When we suffer, we can either be driven to God and His bigger eternal work or inwardly and bemoan our own personal hardships.  Peter calls us to run to God and see that He is work in the arc of eternity.

Peter argues here to be able to give a winsome response to people when they ask about our hope.  Hope is interesting here because the real pivoting point is where is our hope really found?  Is our hope really in Jesus or some other idol?  If our hope is really in the Lord, then people will notice the poise and ballast in our lives when they are squeezed and pressed by hardship and suffering.  Only grace soaked people will be able to endure with hope – for they know this is not all that there is.  Hope is the expectation of good as the Christian is confident & joyful that he has an inheritance that is certain & secure.  Some of the time, Christians will suffer for doing good – even though the claims against them be baseless.

Peter links the power to suffer well to our identity in Christ – He suffered on our behalf so that one day we wouldn’t have to.  This is a major verse on the atonement – Christ, the Righteous, suffered for us, the unrighteous, so that we may be brought to God.  He died in the flesh so that we could be made alive in spirit.  So regardless of where you find yourself today and regardless of the suffering that you face – financial, relational, emotional, physical or familial – set your eyes firmly upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  He was the Ultimate Sufferer so that one day our suffering would end.  Remember your inheritance as a child of God; there is coming a day when He will make all things new.  Our lives will be truly lived as they were designed to – no more frustration and futility.  We will live in perfect paradise in the presence of our glorious Father.

Only grace soaked people are able to walk in joyful obedience

“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.  For
“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 3:8–12 ESV)

Finally.  Peter transitions now from instructions aimed at specific groups to general godly virtues that should accompany all believers.  The Greek word for “finally” is also translated “end” or “goal.”  So the end goal should be behavior that encompasses these characteristics.  These are internal, heart level traits that are Holy Spirit wrought.  Peter mentions:
• Harmonious (unity of mind) – sounds like meekness; willing to press God’s agenda and not our own.
• Sympathy – sensitivity or sorrow for the hurting, broken & down trodden.  Even for those who are depressed and suffer mental ailments.  For it is the grace of God that we don’t suffer the same way.
• Brotherly love – more than just love, but love like a brother – permanent, covental, familial.
• Tender hearted or compassionate – We have to see the bigger picture of our ultimate inheritance in order to be truly tender hearted towards others.
• A Humble mind – Thayer:  “the having a humble opinion of oneself; a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness of mind.”  Humility is knowing one’s place in creation; we are created, He is Creator.

Peter ups the the ante by telling his readers not to repay evil for evil, not to keep score.  People who keep tabs mentally are miserable people, let us not be numbered among them!  On the contrary bless those who curse for you are a blessing.  Only grace soaked people will be able to execute this.  It seems to be imbedded in the human psyche to get even and keep score and unless God rebuilds that we always will.

As believers, there will be a longing for the word of God because we have indeed tasted & seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8 & 1 Peter 2:3).  If there is an absence of desire for the word of God, the person has to ask if they have ever really tasted & seen that the Lord is good – does he really have a regenerated heart?  Peter connects his thoughts to the truths in Psalm 34:12-16).  Do you a desire to love life & see good days?
• Then don’t speak evil & deceitfully.  A life of daily obedience to God yields the blessings of God.  But our obedience must be a joyful obedience, a glad submission.  If we obey to get the blessing then we don’t love God, we love ourselves!
• Turn from evil & do good.  Obedience, in glad submission, yields the blessings of God (not always external) while disobedience yields the discipline of God, for the Lord is against those who do evil (Psalm 34:16, 21 & Hebrews 12:4-11)
• Seek & pursue peace.  Peace with God & peace with others.  Sounds like the words of our Lord:  ““Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 ESV)
• The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous & his ears are open to their prayers.  Wow!  The sovereign Creator of all things has open ears to hear the prayers of the righteous!  That is amazing.  But, who is righteous – none are, no not one (Romans 3:10).  The righteous live by faith (Galatians 3:11).

As Christians, these should be growing in our lives.  It is interesting that Peter highlights the blessings of God while writing to suffering Christians.  How are they blessed while suffering, how are we blessed while we are suffering?  We are chosen children of the Creator with an inheritance beyond our wildest imagination.  That should produce wow and worship in our souls.  We should meditate upon and be moved by the fact that the divine, holy, perfect, sovereign Creator would determine before He formed the world to adopt you.  We were His enemies, objects of His holy wrath and He chose to make us new: He chose to regenerate us, forgive us and adopt us.  We weren’t good, we didn’t seek Him – He sought and saved us.  That is the fuel to suffer well.  When we have this perspective we begin to sound like Paul when he wrote:  “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 ESV)

Being like Jesus involves believing like Jesus

“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. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
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 2:13–25 ESV)

If the gospel has transformed us internally then it will necessarily transform our social interactions.  We are to submit to governmental authorities which promote order & justice.  It is interesting that Peter is telling a group of dispersed (and likely persecuted) people this.  For as we submit (in attitude in action), God is glorified and the accusations of others become increasingly baseless.  We are free people and should live that way – not as a license to sin, but rather as an expression of good for God’s glory.  We don’t have the need to make ourselves into something in this world because God has already made us His chosen children; therefore, we are free to trust in God’s goodness and sovereignty.  The fuel for living free is tied back to our identity as sojourners in this world.

We are to honor, revere, glorify and respect everyone, even those who persecute us.  This honor is to be extended even by slaves to their masters – whether good or harsh.    It is a gracious thing to endure suffering while being mindful of God.  Enduring harsh treatment is viewed as a credit to the account – a credit that will be redeemed in the life that is to come.  God’s grace (which includes His favor and blessing) are what enables & empowers us to suffer graciously.  Jesus is the greatest example of suffering – unjust suffering at that!  We normally don’t suffer unjustly because we often times bring on our suffering by our own sinfulness.  Regardless of the cause of our suffering, Jesus is our example.  Jesus endured to redeem us, so too should we endure.  When Jesus was reviled & suffered, He did not retaliate.  Instead He entrusted that God was a just Judge, who is able to bring about ultimate justice.

With Jesus as our example of how to suffer graciously, it seems that our ability to suffer graciously is not tied to our own steady resolve or strong willed effort.  It seems that it is directly connected to what we believe about God.  Our endurance is connected to whether we really believe that God is capitol “S” sovereign and capitol “G” good.  Is He able to bring sense to our suffering, Is He able to deliver?  Only those who say “absolutely”, with no hesitation, will find true endurance to suffer well.  We should be like Jesus, but the way to be like Jesus is to believe like Jesus.

God will justly judge all sinfulness so let us leave vengeance to Him.  All people will have to give an account for what they have said and done.  All sin will be paid for – either at the cross of Jesus Christ or by the sinner himself.  Justice will be served.  This enables the saint to persevere when he suffers injustices.  Jesus takes our sins and gives us His righteousness.  It is by His wounds that we are healed.  We die to sin and live to righteousness.  We were straying sheep and now we have returned to the Shepherd & Overseer of our souls.  Let us rest in our identity in Christ and our inheritance in glory.  This life is brief and glory is forever.

Exiles with an Inheritance

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12 ESV)

Remember that this is not your home – we are sojourners & exiles – therefore abstain from the passions of your flesh.  The way to beat fleshly passions is to know (remember and believe) that we have an inheritance coming.  An inheritance that is far greater than anything the world has ever seen.  When we foster fleshly passions, they do harm to our souls.  We cannot foster fleshliness and holiness simultaneously.  We tend to think that we can have both, but we cannot.  You will be growing in one and the other will be loosing strength in your heart.  They are divergent paths.  What are you fostering?

Peter views believers as the new Israel and views non believers as Gentiles.  We have indeed been grafted in by the Vinedresser.  Live uprightly so when they accuse you of wrong doing, they will have no evidence to support their charge.  They will see your good deeds and glorify God for them.  This sounds like Matthew 5:16.  Though, not all will glorify God, some will come to repentance.  The way to walk in obedience is to dwell upon the goodness, mercy and grace of God – Who has adopted us.  We must remember our identity in Christ – a chosen people, adopted children, objects of His affections, co heirs with Christ.

Joy mingled grief

“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 1:3–9 ESV)

Peter is writing to the elect exiles of the dispersion (v1).  We are exiles in a foreign land that long for our true home.  Our hearts cry out with all of creation for the day when all things will be made new; redemption has happened – restoration is sure.  Just as Israel was God’s chosen people, now, Christians are God’s chosen people – His elect inheritance according to His sovereign choosing.

It is because of God’s great mercy that we have been born again (see also Ephesians 2:4-5).  He is the one that has caused this in us.  We now have a living hope, one that will not fail us!  We have been raised from death to life!  This living hope is our inheritance.  What we will one day inherit will not spoil or be spent.  Our inheritance will not be exhausted and it is guarded by the Creator Himself!  This inheritance language conjures up in one’s mind the OT saint’s inheritance of the Promised Land (Num. 32:19; Deut. 2:12; 12:9; 25:19; 26:1; Josh. 11:23; Ps. 105:11) which is really a picture of our return to Eden – the new heaven & new earth.

Our inheritance is secure, nothing can destroy it – quite different than our lives today!  We toil at making life secure, safe & comfortable, only to have things tarnish & break.  Our hope is that one day, all sad things will be made untrue – all things will be made new.  It is God’s power that guards not just our inheritance, but our faith as well.  God is guarding our faith and salvation.  What a relief that it once again does not depend upon me and my faithfulness, but upon God’s.  God will guard us by His sovereign power; He will sustain our faith until the end of time.

We rejoice in God’s mercy towards us.  We rejoice that there is a living hope – our inheritance.  We rejoice, despite the trying difficulties of the trials that we are facing.  These are real & pressing, but when they are COMPARED with the glory that is to come, they become light & momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).  This is joy mingled with grief.  Real, difficult, toil, but hopeful joy that one day this will all be made new and that He is bringing us in to the true Promised Land.

Our suffering is “necessary.”  Regardless of the flavor of the trials that you face, it has been filtered through the loving, sovereign hands of the Almighty and He deems them “necessary.”  Even though we can’t always see the purpose of our suffering (Job’s reason for his trials were never revealed to Him), we have to trust our good & sovereign Father!  They are necessary to develop our faith, which will not fail us at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Trials & suffering produce an enduring faith in us.  Father, help us to see your glory and set our minds on the things that are to come so that we can see our current sufferings as “light & momentary.”

The Satiated Soul

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.” (Psalms 63:1–11 ESV)

This psalm of David is not just a corporate song, but is intensely personal as well.  David writes this when he is a refugee, on the run for his life either from Saul (1 Samuel 23:14-15, 24:1) or from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23-28).  It is more likely that it was written during his time fleeing from Absalom because He refers to himself as king in 63:11 and he also uses the same Hebrew word here as in 2 Samuel 16:14.  The Hebrew word (key 5889 }aœyeœph) means “weary,” “exhausted,” or “faint.”  Regardless of the time, he is hard pressed on every side, oppressed, tired and constantly looking over his shoulder.  Simple pleasures and luxuries are nowhere to be found.  David sees that the presence of God supersedes all earthly comforts & concerns.  So much so that he uses language that displays a desperation for God’s presence more than his deliverance.  He needs God as much as he needs food or water.  The question is, why don’t we desire God this way?  Is it because we are so distracted and have never really tasted His goodness?  Is it because life is so good that we don’t really see a need for Him?

David finds profound confidence in His times of trouble, a confidence that every soul longs for.  When life is difficult, it has the ability to push aside the periphery things that distract and cause us to have laser focus on ultimate things.  David sees that being in the presence of God, in His sanctuary, is a gift that He eagerly longs to partake in.  He knows that the steadfast love of God and being in His presence is better than life itself.  David recalls corporate worship as they are called to behold the power and glory of the LORD.  As we behold God’s glory, we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18) and he shone with the glory of the LORD because he had been in God’s presence (Exodus 34:34).  There is something about being in the presence of the LORD when He reveals His glory to us that changes us; it marks us, it enables us to say (with David) that His “steadfast love is better than life.”  We should do everything that we can to get in His presence.  It is only through beholding the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are transformed over time into more accurate image bearers.  As we see Him more clearly, the Spirit sanctifies us more completely (Gen. 1:26–27; 2 Cor. 4:4; 5:17; also 1 John 3:2)

We have to ask, “do we have an insatiable hunger and thirst for God?”  Why not?  Is it because we’ve not partaken of Him in a way that has touched our souls deeply?  Is it because our faith has been largely intellectual?  Is it because we have rarely or ever seen His glory?  Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to believe.  Show us your glory, fill us with your Spirit, give us believing hearts!  We don’t have the power to do this on our own – we are utterly dependent upon you!

Only an abiding relationship with God provides complete soul satisfaction.  David likens his satiated soul to that of being full after a fine meal (verse 5).  David remembers God and meditates upon His goodness not just in the sanctuary, but everywhere in His life.  What a gift, Lord please give us this gift of seeing you more clearly and desiring you more fully.  Satisfaction & safety are found in the presence of God as David proclaims “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalms 63:8 ESV).  God’s purposes always prevail, He wins.  We can trust in that!

God is enough

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalms 73:1–28 ESV)

I love the honesty of Scriptures – the writer acknowledges the reality of how it seems that wicked people often times seem to have relatively few problems and walk in relative ease.  “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalms 73:3 ESV)  This can even cause us to be envious.  This is a psalm to push us to contentment, even when it seems like those who do not follow God are walking in prosperity.  It cautions us not to be tempted to follow their lead.

Verses 4-12 reveal some of the ways that their lives are prosperous & easy – they have plenty of food & resources and seem to be spared the futility & troubles that the rest of humanity walks in.  Verse 6 is a turning point:  “therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.” (Psalms 73:6 ESV).  Because their lives have been relatively easy, because they have had few difficulties they become prideful – as if they had spared themselves from these difficulties due to their own abilities.  This is like Romans 1:28-31 where there is a failure to acknowledge God and His goodness.  When we take credit for the good in our lives and don’t give it to Him we become glory thieves.  We have natural abilities that we did not generate on our own.  We did not choose the families that we were born in or that we were exposed to the gospel.  We could have just as easily been born in complete poverty where the gospel is not preached and anarchy is the law of the land.  We did not choose that.

There is a point at which we have to ask ourselves if difficulty & suffering that ultimately strengthens our faith is worth it or do we really just want an easy, comfortable life.  Do we want comfort, security & ease or Jesus?  They seem to be mutually exclusive.  The psalmist’s logic goes like this:  because their lives have been relatively painless & prosperous they have become prideful at their circumstances & now they walk in all sorts of hard hearted “follies.”  They look down upon others, oppress them & pridefully brag against God & others.  ““How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”” (Psalms 73:11 ESV).  The writer concludes like this:  “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Psalms 73:12 ESV).  We have to begin to see some of the difficulties in our lives as a gift of grace to us because it causes us to see Him more clearly.

Why is it that we seem to think that we can have prosperity & fail to see how prosperity can create problems in our pursuit of Jesus.  You can’t chase both at the same time (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).  If you have a life of relative comfort, ease & prosperity be grateful, but be aware of its power to draw you away from singular devotion to Jesus!

There is a tinge of bitterness and jealousy at the prosperity of the wicked – it doesn’t seem right or fair!  “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” (Psalms 73:13–15 ESV)  A true heart of bitterness is revealed.  Who hasn’t felt this way when life seems to be going so unjustly?  Our bitterness in situations like this spill into all areas of our life – and is normally rooted in a bitterness towards God.  Honesty & bitterness at what seems to be unjust is welcomed by God.  Is He not the Sovereign omniscient Lord of all?  He knows what’s in your heart, you might as well tell Him!  Jesus’ death bought you the right to confidently approach God as Father and share what is really going on inside of you.  There is no more hiding or pretending for the Christian.

What we see revealed was the psalmist’s real motives.  “All in vain have I kept my heart clean.”  The singer reveals that what he really wanted was God’s blessing.  Isn’t this true of us – don’t we desire God’s blessing & protection more than we desire His presence?  This is especially true when life is difficult; don’t let the bitterness sit in your heart, let it diagnosis your idolatrous desire for God’s goodness and protection more than His presence. The bitterness in verses 13-15 are really aimed toward God if you peel the layer of the onion all the way back to its core.  Life has not gone the way that we wanted, expected or planned and we are mad at God because He has not given us what we really think that we need or deserve.  The beauty of the gospel is that we get reconciled with God – that is it.  We get God, nothing else is guaranteed which frees us from bitterness and anger.

We feel like the psalmist when we believe that God has abandoned us?  Brutish ignorance is the result of a bitter heart that feels like it has been treated unfairly (verses 21-22).  And yet, the psalmist is careful not to let his bitterness spill over onto others so as to undermine their faith (especially the faith of the next generation, see verse 15).  This is wise counsel, but it still does not deliver us from bitterness.  Trying to understand this is a wearisome task on our own; it is futile, meaningless.  We can mull it over, try to figure it out and weigh it on all sides, we can wear ourselves out trying to understand, but the answer is not in us; the answer is not found under the sun.

It is wearisome, futile & meaningless until we come in to the presence of God.  Perspective becomes clear in the presence of God, we get above the trees in order to see the forest, we are comforted at His presence, we see that there is a larger & grander plan than just us.  In His presence, trusting God doesn’t seem meaningless any longer.  The psalmist starts to sound like Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 3:17-19) as his perspective shifts.  The smallness of creation becomes apparent when we are in the presence of the infinite Almighty.

The Psalmist turns the corner as a result of being in the presence of God (v23).  He realizes that he is with God because God is his sustainer, protector & guide.  Whom do we have in heaven besides God (more specifically Jesus, who is interceding at our right hand)?  The heart has shifted from dwelling upon the horizontal to seeing the vertical realities as it proclaims “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalms 73:25 ESV).  Is this your singular affection?  This is what happens to the heart that has been in the presence of God – to gaze on the beauty of majesty, albeit veiled, always produces a peace that surpasses all understanding & a heart that sees Him as the supreme treasure worth trading everything for.  Sanctification involves us getting ourselves to the sanctuary and begging God to reveal Himself.

Regardless of what happens in this world even though our heart & our flesh fail us, we find that God is our strength and our portion – He is enough, regardless of what is happening around us (v26).  Tough marriage, difficult child, physical ailment, financial stress, relational breakdown, overall futility in life?  Go to the sanctuary and beg God to reveal Himself and stare until you see it.  When He reveals His majesty, your perspective will begin to change.  Things end badly for those who don’t desire God, “but for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalms 73:28 ESV).  This life is brief, pursue Him as the supreme Treasure that He is!

Deconstructing Religion

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5 ESV)

Two seemingly obscure events are mentioned in this text that we find nowhere else in scripture.  In the first event, Pilate had apparently murdered a group of Galileans who were trying to offer sacrifices.  The second event involved what appears to be an accident at the tower of Siloam which was probably part of the wall in Jerusalem near the pool of Siloam.  Jesus, after each event, asks “do you think that they are worse sinners than you are?”

What is He doing?  He is deconstructing the popular idea that accidents, tragedies, sickness & suffering is directly traced to personal sin (see John 9:2).  Our common logic is that bad people get bad things and good people get good things.  Jesus deconstructs that belief with this story.  He presses on us to evaluate if we really are deserving of the good in our lives as we tend to look down on those who are experiencing hardship and travesty in their lives.  This is the same logic that Job’s friends used on him, “Job, you obviously have unrepentant sin in your life or else you would not be suffering like you are.”

We seem hardwired to look down on others who are going through difficult circumstances and reckon (though we’d rarely say it) that they probably deserve it.  Conversely, we think that we deserve to be spared from difficulties because we are pretty good people; we cry “foul” when things go badly, because we didn’t deserve that turn of events!  This belief is cancerous to our souls because when things are good, we become puffed up & self righteous, and when things are difficult we feel condemned (or unfairly treated) and jump on the treadmill of good works to remedy the situation and earn some of God’s blessing & favor.

Jesus shatters this thinking by saying, “no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  What?  Were those people blatant sinners?  They were no worse than His hearers and no worse than you or me.  Jesus connects this with the broader truth that a final judgement is coming and that we should be prepared.  This is jarring & sobering and should cause deep introspection because not all who proclaim Jesus as Lord are really redeemed (Matthew 7:21-23).

Nothing that you can do will earn God’s favor or affection.  Jesus earned that at the cross when He cried, “It is finished.”  When something is finished there is nothing else that needs to be done.  The beauty of grace is that we get what we do not deserve (and could never earn) based on the performance of Another.  Religion says, “you must work hard to keep the approval of God.”  Grace says, “there is nothing that you can do to keep the approval of God, it was secured at the cross and can never be lost.”

The goodness in our lives is not because we are awesome & obedient, the goodness in our lives is because God is gracious

““Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” (Deuteronomy 8:11–17 ESV)

When we are in times of relative prosperity, ease, comfort and blessing, we must be aware that we don’t forget the Lord, who benevolently gave us all that we have.  Our hearts run the risk of being “lifted up” and forgetting the Lord.  Remember, remember remember that God delivered you, led you, provided for you, loved you – even in your rebellion.  Beware and remember the benevolence of God and your weak, frail, depravity, “lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” (Deuteronomy 8:17 ESV).  We deserve nothing, not EVEN breath!  Everything is a gift from on high, it is not because we unlocked the secret spiritual code, executed better than others, worked harder, were wiser or did something on our own to deserve the good that we have.  God’s grace is the reason that you have any of these things.  REMEMBER AND BE OBEDIENT OUT OF GRATITUDE FOR GOD’S GOODNESS AND PROVISION FOR YOU!

The people are warned not to say in their heart, “‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’” (Deuteronomy 9:4 ESV).  If the Israelites were prone to forget God’s miraculous provision even though they had experienced profound miracles, how much more are we prone to forget.  The Lord is the One who thrust their adversaries out of the land because of their wickedness and because of His covenant to Abraham.  It is “not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land” (Deuteronomy 9:5 ESV).  These people are the recipients of God’s grace – unearned, undeserved, unmerited.  They are not receiving the land because the followed well enough, trusted deeply enough or were more spiritually attuned.  No!  They were being given the land because of God’s righteousness, glory and grace.

The goodness in our lives is not because we are awesome & obedient, the goodness in our lives is because God is gracious – we deserve nothing except wrath because of our rebellious nature.  The Israelites would have viewed their military victories as a result of their righteousness and God rewarding them for that – this is the same way that we think today, but God completely obliterates that thinking.  “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6 ESV)  He reminds them of their rebellion every since He had delivered them from Egypt.  We are cut from the same cloth as these ancient people.  We readily take credit for the good in our lives as if we deserve them and quickly cast blame (often times on God) for hardships in life.

We must work to remember & believe that God is good, does good and is able to accomplish His purposes.  When we believe this then we are able to handle good & bad things because we know that our good Father is sovereignly reigning over all things – even things that we can’t understand.  We no longer have to carry the weight of being god in our world because we know that there is a God who is on the throne.

Honor Mom & Dad

“‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
(Deuteronomy 5:16 ESV)

This is the beginning of human authority which ultimately points to God’s authority.  Honor respects the role and the person.  Some of the time, the person is harder to respect because of some of life’s decisions that they have made, but we should strive to honor them nonetheless.  Jesus & Paul highlight this command as well in Mark 7:1–13; Ephesians 6:1–3; 1 Timothy 5:4.  This commandment is the only one that offers the follower a reward if obeyed:  a life filled with God’s presence and favor.  Authority is central in the scriptures because it is central to life – we are a people under authority.  That was the reason for the tree in the garden, to remind Adam & Eve that they were not ultimate or autonomous, to remind them that they were under God’s authority.  Parents are to protect, provide & teach their children to love and obey God.  Parents are to provide a picture of redemption – a little Eden on earth.

For some, mom & dad were absent, disconnected or just plain wicked.  How do you honor them when there is very little in them that seems worthy of honor or when the wounds & scars that you carry are deep & debilitating?  There are no simple answers to this – for some it might be a life long struggle.  It is important to remember that most (though not all) parents try to do the best that they can, though they fall woefully short and their sins scar those around them.  The real power to forgive & honor those closest to us that have wounded us is found in the cross of Christ.  The more deeply that we understand and embrace that there was nothing good in us that inclined God toward us (or that inclined us toward Him); the more that we deeply understand & embrace that before He formed a star, planet or carved out a river He determined to love you and made a way for you to be reconciled with Him.  The more deeply that we understand our own depravity, rebellion & self-centeredness and see the beauty of grace in the cross, the more empowered (supernaturally) we are to forgive, honor & love.