SUFFERING: PERSEVERANCE, CHARACTER & HOPE

October 20, 2017

Let us rejoice in our sufferings because we know that our suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

If you study the original language in which these verses were written, you will discover that Paul is saying essentially this: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces the quality of character that will not run when things get difficult.”

The Greek word Paul used for character conveys a meaning similar to various patches military people wear that show they have been tested and proven. Paul told us suffering produces endurance, and receiving from the Lord the grace to endure our suffering produces proven character. When you have been tested and proved, the caliber of character that testing produces is often grown in the soil of suffering.

Paul also writes that proven character leads to confidence and hope. When you have developed character that perseveres, you will not be put to flight. While visiting missionaries on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, I learned that one of the most important abilities for missionaries is stickability. Can you go to a foreign culture, and stay for fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years?  Can you live out your life there as a fragrance of Christ, an irrefutable statement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who are hostile toward Jesus and His followers?

Most missionary work is living Christ until the people you desire to reach “see Christ in your mortal flesh,” to borrow the words of one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church. (2Corinthians 4:11)

Perseverance is stickability: the ability to hang in there, and keep hanging in there. That is how an orange gets to be an orange; it just keeps hanging in there until it becomes an orange.

Dick Woodward, from 30 Biblical Reasons Why God’s People Suffer


When to Look Up

September 7, 2013

“My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.”  (Psalm 5:3)

In one sentence in this beautiful psalm David twice emphasizes the reality that he will pray to his God in the morning.  There are three directions of life we must master.  We must learn to look up.  We must learn to look in until our Lord shows us things we need to know about ourselves.  Only then are we prepared to look around in all our relationships.

Anytime we are having difficulty in our relationships with spouses, children, parents or those who are outside the home we should always ask ourselves if we have looked up and looked in sincerely.  Knowing ourselves as God wants us to know ourselves is crucial preparation for relating to others.

Smart people are very often right and so they sometimes think they are always right.  It is very difficult to live with those who think they are always right.  In the same way it is difficult to relate to those who think they never sin.  When God helps us look in and see ourselves as He sees us it gives us a humility that is a tool we need to face our relationships.

What would you think of a concert violinist who plays a beautiful concerto solo and then instead of an encore comes out and tunes her violin?  In the same way we should not play the concert of our day and then tune the instrument of our lives.

We should begin ‘in the morning’ tuning our lives through our prayers to God as the Psalmist directs us, so that we can look up, look in and then look around.


Metamorphosis

July 30, 2013

“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”          . (1Corinthians 15:50)

Another arresting statement made by Paul in his great resurrection chapter is that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, because corruption cannot inherit incorruption.  What Paul means by this statement is that we cannot go to heaven with a physical body.  When God decides that He wants us in heaven, He must perform a metamorphosis on us that prepares us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.  God works that miracle metamorphosis through our death and resurrection.

As Paul describes the resurrection of believers at the time of the second coming of Jesus Christ he also tells us that those who are living when Jesus returns will be changed.  They must be changed because they cannot enter into heaven with their physical bodies.  They, too, must experience a miracle metamorphosis to prepare them for heaven.

Here Paul is declaring a sixth eternal value:  our heavenly bodies will be so much greater than our physical bodies we must experience a metamorphosis to live forever in heaven.  This is just one more way the Scripture consistently tells us that heaven is greater than earth and the best things in life for believers await them in the eternal dimension of life.

The Shepherd Psalm of David tells us that God makes us lie down to discover the green pastures and still waters of life.  But, then we get up again and the green pastures turn brown and the still waters become disturbed.  Many see a metaphor of the believer’s death as the Great Shepherd coming into our life making us lie down in death that He might give us the green pastures that never turn brown and the still waters that never become disturbed in heaven.


Little Clay Pots

July 24, 2013

“Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”   (2 Corinthians 4: 16)

Many years ago when John Quincy Adams began crossing a street, he was in such poor health it took him five minutes to approach the other side.  A friend who was passing that way asked, “How is John Quincy Adams this morning?”  He replied, “John Quincy Adams is doing just fine.  The house he lives in is in sad disrepair.  In fact, it is so dilapidated, John Quincy Adams may have to move out soon, but John Quincy Adams is doing just fine, thank you!”

John Quincy Adams was no doubt acquainted with the verse of Scripture I have quoted.  Paul writes that we have an outward man and an inward man.  In two of my favorite translations the outward man, or our body, is referred to as a common earthenware jar and a little clay pot (JB Phillips and the Living Bible Paraphrased.)

Paul declares a fourth eternal value: Our inward man is a greater value than our outward man. These verses Paul wrote to console those who were persecuted at that time are also a consolation for persecuted believers today or those who may be in the final stages of cancer that is causing their physical bodies to perish.  When they have prayed for healing and it appears that God is taking them home, their inward man can be renewed while their outward man is wasting away.

As some believers study the resurrection chapter they want to believe they will hold on to their physical body.  The great news is God is going to replace our little clay pots with spiritual bodies.


Wait on the Lord

June 10, 2013

“Then he blessed him there.”  (Genesis 32:29)

THE TENTH STEP:  Learn to wait on the Lord.

It takes more faith to wait than it takes to be active.  God’s guidance prescription for what we call Type A personalities like Jacob is to wait on the Lord.  Jacob was missing God’s will for his life because he was always running ahead of God.  He was a make-it-happen, mover, shaker and doer.  Read the story of Jacob in Genesis, chapters 25 through 32, and Paul’s commentary on that story in chapter 9 of Romans.  As you read how God crippled Jacob so he could crown him with His will for Jacob’s life, you will see what I call, “The Cripple Crown Blessing of Jacob.” When a man is crippled what else can he do but wait on the Lord?

Sometimes on our journeys of faith, God puts us in a holding pattern.  We are like commercial airplanes when they are directed by the control tower to circle the field while waiting their turn to land.  In the book of Psalms, the word Selah is found in 73 places.  The Amplified Bible’s paraphrase for that word is, “Pause, and calmly think of that.”

As He leads us God frequently places Selahs in our lives. Sometimes what God does in our life while we’re waiting can be more important than what we’re waiting for.  He may want us to pause and calmly think about our priorities, our vision statement and mission objectives and other issues as we experience His will for our lives.  When you encounter one of the Lord’s Selahs and find yourself in one of His holding patterns, ask yourself what God wants you to pause and calmly think about.  And, never put a question mark where God places a period in your walk of faith.


Doing Leads to Knowing

May 20, 2013

“If any man wills to do, he will know.”  (John 7:17)

STEP NUMBER TWO:  Be willing to do the will of God. 

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He taught them to say, “Your will be done.”   When Jesus modeled this, He sweat drops of blood as He prayed, “Not My will, but Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10; 26:39; Luke 22:42-44) Jesus gives us a principle that shows us how we can know His teaching is the teaching of God.  This principle also applies when we are seeking to know the will of God in the marketplace.

The principle is simply this: If any man wills to do, he will know.

The Living Bible paraphrases Psalm 139: 16 to say God had every day of David’s life scheduled before David existed.  David writes there that God is with him in such a way that it is impossible for David to escape God’s personal interest in every move he makes.  This intimacy with God is obviously not only the experience of David, but can and should be the experience of every child of God.

According to Jesus and Paul, knowing the will of God for our lives does not have to be complex.  God does not deliberately obscure His will.  The complexity is not in the will of God, but in your will and my will.  As Paul tells us how we can know “the good, acceptable and perfect will of God,” he begins his prescription for knowing God’s will by telling us to throw up our hands and offer an unconditional surrender of our wills to the will of God (Romans 12: 1-2). Our unconditional surrender to God will significantly un-complicate our quest to know the will of God.

 


A Banquet of Consequences

May 7, 2013

“So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”  (Exodus 32:24)

After the greatest miracle in the Old Testament delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt they went around in circles of unbelief for nearly 40 years.  Moses went up on Mount Sinai several times interceding for them with God.  While he was there the people became so corrupt they made a golden calf, which was an Egyptian idol for God.  They were going to return to Egypt behind this idol proclaiming that this God deserved the glory for bringing them through the Red Sea and out of Egypt!

Moses confronted Aaron who was the spiritual leader responsible for them.  He asked Aaron, “What have these people done to you?” I quoted the reply of Aaron.  While Exodus 32 tells us Aaron skillfully created the golden calf, his response to Moses was that he threw their gold in the fire and out came this calf!

Life is a banquet of consequences and every one of us must eventually sit down and eat the banquet we have accumulated.  Our capacity for following the example of Aaron is almost infinite.  We can rationalize until we convince ourselves that we put a lot of gold in the fire of life and somehow there came out this calf.  Denial (‘de Nile’) is not just a river in Egypt.  We often elect to swim in denial until we are far from reality.

We need to deny our denial, confess and be mature enough to accept the responsibility for what we have contributed to our personal banquet of consequences.

Will our choice be reality and responsibility or to swim in denial?