Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why Must We Suffer

Why Must We Suffer
  • Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
  • John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
  • Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
What beautiful promises and words of truth. Our Heavenly Father loves us and has promised us wonderful things.
Then why do we have problems? Why do we suffer?  
God blesses us in so many ways. Some of these blessings don’t look or feel like blessings when they come in the form of pain and problems. But God has a plan and is accomplishing His purposes in our lives.
Here are four primary reasons God either causes or allows His children to experience suffering.
  • Perfecting – As Christians, we are subjected to a process called sanctification. This is a growth process whereby we become more and more like Christ over time. We never achieve perfection this side of heaven, but God is working in our lives to shape us into the person He wants us to be. Part of sanctification is suffering (we learn by going through difficult experiences).
    • James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
    • 1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
  • Proving – God tests us: not because He doesn’t know the outcome, but so that we see the results of faith in our lives. Each time we ‘pass’ a test, our faith is increased and we are reminded of our dependence on Him. Some tests are very difficult and are revealed in our lives in the form of suffering.
    • Psalm 11:5 The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
    • Psalm 26:2 Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
  • Punishing – We all sin. As our loving Father, God punishes our sin for several reasons: to show His perfection and intolerance of sin; to show His love for us; and to show that there are consequences for our sin. Suffering is often a result of sin (sometime ours, sometime those we love).
    • Proverbs 3:11-12 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
    • Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
  • Participating – In some situations our suffering is a great honor. The world hates Christ. The world subjected Christ to tremendous suffering during His life on earth. As His disciples, as His ambassadors here on earth, sometimes we have the privilege of sharing in His suffering. Although this is actually a reward, it is still suffering and can be very difficult.
    • John 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
    • 1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
Reflecting on these truths may bring some perspective during difficult times. However, suffering is never easy (if it isn’t painful, it isn’t suffering). Trusting in God’s sovereignty and knowing He loves us and desires only the best for us can help us endure during these tough times. No matter how bad it may seem today, God promises that we have rewards in this life and a wonderful future in Heaven with Him.
  • Mark 10:29-30 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
Dear Lord, may I never forget that any suffering in my life is within Your control and part of Your plan for me. Your plans are perfect. Help me to remember this when I feel sorry for myself and want to give up. Give me strength to endure. Yet beyond enduring, help me to learn and change and grow and appreciate as a result of my suffering. You suffered and died for me. May I suffer honorably as Your child. I pray in the name of Christ my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leaving it All on the Field

Leaving it All on the Field
I have a good friend who often uses the phrase, ‘I’m leaving it all on the field!’ when talking about his work for the Lord. Although echoing sentiments from his younger days while playing soccer, my dear brother in Christ uses this phrase to proclaim his unwavering commitment to give his all for Jesus (to completely exhaust himself of the talents and abilities given to him by God).
While awaiting his execution in a Roman prison, Paul makes a similar statement looking back on his life since the time of his conversion.
  • 2 Timothy 4:6-7 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Paul is basically saying, ‘I left it all on the field.’
  • In verse 6, Paul tells Timothy that he is prepared for his impending martyrdom.
  • In verse 7, he clearly speaks of his:
    • Commitment to Christ
      • Giving God his all regardless of the circumstances or consequences he faced.
    • Completing his Calling
      • Finishing every task God assigned and engaging in every opportunity He presented.
    • Continuing in Confidence
      • Trusting in the truth of God’s Word and faithfulness to His promises.
Christ clearly tells of us about the priorities, commitment and sacrifices required by His followers.
  • Matthew 10:37-39 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Whether we are contemplating our thoughts and actions in the moment or looking ahead to future opportunities, our goal should always be to give all that we are and all that we have to honor, glorify and serve Jesus Christ. Then, when we look back on our lives, like Paul, we can say, ‘I left it all on the field.’
Dear Lord, I recognize that fear, and selfishness, and self-centeredness, and pride, and so much more stand in the way of me truly giving all that I am and all that I have to You and for You. May Your Word and Your Spirit guide and empower me to leave it all on the field for You. The suffering, perceived inconveniences or temporary sacrifices cannot be compared to the glorious fulfillment of Your promises in the future. Use me Lord. I love You and praise Your Holy Name by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Giving or Taking

Giving or Taking
The words of Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35)
We know these words. Many of us strive to live out these words. In our daily lives, we often see others demonstrating and experiencing this truth.
But being very transparent, lately I have been convicted of my attitude in this area. I give of myself; but do I give joyfully? Sometimes I put others needs ahead of my own; but do I do this without expecting something in return? 
What I keep asking myself is, ‘Are my actions truly motivated by feelings of indebtedness, or is my attitude one of entitlement?
Giving of ourselves in a way that honors Jesus Christ requires an understanding of, and appreciation for, our debt.
Our Debt to Others
  • Romans 1:13-15 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. 14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
    • We owe it to those who are blinded by Satan to preach a sermon every day: by sharing the gospel; and by the way we live our lives (2 Corinthians 4:3-5, Matthew 5:16).
    • We owe it to other Christians, particularly those less mature than us in their faith, to be patient, loving and self-sacrificing (Romans 14). 
Our Debt to God
  • Romans 8:11-13 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
    • We owe God everything for our salvation, we are His (1 Corinthians 6:20)!
    • We owe it to God to submit our lives to the leading of His Spirit that indwells us (Romans 8:5-8)! 
Recognizing, admitting and addressing our sense of entitlement only comes from examining who we really are in the mirror of God’s Word.
  • James 1:22-24 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
This dilemma slaps me in the face daily:
  • When my ‘needs’ conflict with the needs of others.
    • ‘I would tell them about Jesus, but I just don’t have the time right now.’
  • When I see a need that God has blessed me with the means to satisfy, but I am not willing or ready to give.
    • ‘Why should I give them my money? They need to get a job!’
  • When I am more focused on the impact my giving will have on me and my life than on the life of the one I am giving to.
    • ‘What will others think of me if I start talking about Jesus in this setting?’
  • When I feel I have already given all I can, should or want to.
    • ‘I’ve done enough already.’
  • When I feel someone else doesn’t deserve what I have.
    • ‘I’ve worked hard for what I have.’ 
There are some tough questions in my life that need to be answered.
  • Am I praising God and thanking Him for the opportunity to bless others through sharing the truth about Christ and/or sacrificial giving?
  • Am I resentful about the obstacles I face each day and expecting God to make life easier?
  • Am I giving, or am I taking?  
Honestly, sometimes I am not sure. But one thing is for sure, the One who sees my heart, He knows.
Lord, there is more need in this world than I can comprehend. And yet You have blessed me far beyond what I could ask, imagine or expect. I pray dear Lord, whether it is sharing the truth about Christ, or whether it is giving of my time, talents and treasures, You will give me the love, grace, humility and generosity to joyfully share with those in need. Forgive my selfish nature. Forgive my laziness. Forgive my sense of entitlement. My debt is every before me; may I not turn from it. All this I ask through Your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The War Within (Part 2 of 2)

The War Within (Part 2 of 2)
Last week we covered the basics of the battle that rages within every Christian – the battle between our spirit and our flesh. This week we take a deeper look into the three major battles we face and the God given strategy for victory over our fleshly desires.
  • 1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Verse 16 clearly identifies the three primary battles we face. Our Spirit is constantly battling against our flesh to avoid:
The Lust of the Flesh – I Need
  • We all battle with the sense of need brought about by our flesh – whether it be food, drink, clothing, peace, comfort, etc. In and of themselves, these are not bad. It is our warped sense of what constitutes a need and how we go to extremes to satisfy them (gluttony, drugs, anything we use to dull our senses or escape from reality).
  • Scripture is clear, seek God first, and all your needs will be met.
  • Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

The Lust of the Eyes – I Want
  • We all battle to some degree with desiring something different, better or more than what we have. We look with longing eyes upon the possessions, relationships and/or status of others. Then we start to feel like we deserve what they have.
  • True satisfaction comes from a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. God has commanded us to be satisfied with what He has given us (not to lust over what others have).
  • Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

The Pride of Life – I Am
  • Look at me! See what I did!! I am so ________!!! You fill in the blank with whatever makes you feel better about yourself – holy, smart, strong, beautiful, wise, righteous, forgiving, humble …
  • Pride got Satan (see Isaiah 14:13-15). Pride will get you!!
  • Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
For more on how the works of the flesh are revealed in a life, see Galatians 5:19-21
So which is stronger? The Spirit of God that lives in you? Or the flesh that struggles with sinful desires?
Make no mistake; the Spirit of God is infinitely stronger than the weakness of our flesh!
Then why do so many Christians struggle so mightily with fleshly desires? Simply put, whichever part of yourself you feed the most will dominate your life!
  • Feed your flesh more, and your unredeemed flesh will dominate your life.
  • Feed your spirit more, and your Godly spirit will dominate your life.
How do we win this war between our Spirit and our flesh?
  • Romans 8:5-6 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
  • Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
How do we feed our Spirit (Walk in the Spirit)? We read our Bible, pray, love God, love others, serve, go to church, fellowship with other Christians …
How do we feed our flesh (fulfil the lust of the flesh)? We are consumed with gluttony, lust, lying, cheating, gossip, envy, covetousness, adultery, hate, intimate friendships/fellowship those living an ungodly life …
We get victory by focusing our time, attention and efforts on the things of God. See Galatians 5:22-23 for a description of how the fruit of the spirit is revealed in the life of a Christian.
I stated above that the Spirit of God is infinitely stronger than the weakness of our flesh. Which leads to the question, why don’t all Christians experience victory over the lust of the flesh. The answer, spiritual immaturity.  
Spiritual immaturity has many causes. A few examples are: recently converted and just haven’t had time to grow; not willing to put in the time and effort to learn about God; not willing to break away from ungodly habits, commitments, friendships, etc.; a rebellious or disobedient attitude; and on and on and on.
Never forget – any victory we have over our flesh is a testimony to God’s love, grace, mercy and the power of His Spirit dwelling in us. To think or feel otherwise is pride.
  • Philippians 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Dear Lord, I know my flesh is weak. I know that there is ultimate power and victory in Your Spirit that indwells me. Grant me the repentance, humility, obedience, surrender, wisdom, courage, and strength to overcome sinful desires. May my life bring glory to You. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The War Within (Part 1 of 2)

The War Within (Part 1 of 2)
One of the topics that causes much confusion and debate among Christian is trying to understand how we can be indwelled with the Holy Spirit of God but still struggle with sinful desires.
The Bible is clear that when we become a Christian, we are made into a new creation:
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
But we are also told that as Christians, we still struggle with the sin nature:
  • Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
However, the Bible is not contradicting itself! Here is one of the verses that helps us better understand the whole truth:
  • Galatians 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
From these three verses (and the entirety of scripture), we get a clear understanding of the battle that rages inside every Christian. Here are some key points:
In the context of this discussion:
  • Spirit means our nonphysical essence, our heart and soul, created and given by God (see Genesis 2:7)
  • Flesh refers to a person’s sinful desires, passions and hungers. These longings result from our sin nature, residing in a fallen world and temptation from Satan (see Galatians 5:19-21).
When we are spiritually reborn (saved, born again, converted ...) we are permanently indwelled with the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16, 23). And as 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us (above), we are given a new nature. It is important to understand that this verse is telling us that we are given a new spiritual nature. At our very core, we now long to know God, to please Him, to seek Him and to love Him. In spirit, we become one with God (see John 17:20-21).
Yet in His infinite wisdom and love for us, as Paul tells us in Romans 7:18 (above), God has not removed from His children the struggles with the flesh. Even with the Spirit of God prompting us (see Philippians 2:13), as Galatians 5:17 clearly explains (above), our flesh entices us to do the exact opposite of what the Spirit of God is convicting us to do.
Now that we have covered the basics, next week we will examine the war within at a deeper level. We will look specifically at the three major battles we face and the God given strategy for victory.  
Thank You Father for sharing the truth in Your Word about the war within. In my weakness, I long for the battles to end. However, in my faith, I trust that all You cause and allow are in my best interest. Therefore, I pray, that in each battle, I give You praise and that Your Name is glorified. I thank You for my salvation! I praise You for working in my life every day to draw me closer to You. Forgive me when I fail. Sustain me when I get weary. Enable me to live a life that is pleasing in Your sight. In the precious name of Christ I pray, Amen.