Tag Archives: calling

The Cosmic Value of Suffering

The Cosmic Value of Suffering | BaptismForLife.wordpress.comOne of the most perplexing questions we can ponder is, “Why does God allow us to experience so much pain and suffering in the church?” We all know someone in the churches of God who is really going through an agonizing health trial. Some are relatively short term trials, but others go back decades, and have caused years of intense pain and suffering. I know one man who has had Rheumatoid arthritis for 35 years, and has endured seven joint replacement operations. He is now on the strongest pain medication made, and even with that, he can barely endure it. The side effects of the meds are taking their toll too. He’s had two strokes, congestive heart failure, Chronic Obstructive Asthma, and has almost died of septic shock at least 3 times in the past two years. In spite of all of that, he’s one of the most inspiring examples of humble, unselfish service to the church I’ve ever known.

But every time I’m with him, that nagging question comes into my mind. Why him??? Why so much pain and suffering for so nice a guy?

This is one of those deep cosmic questions that men and women have been crying out in the darkness for an answer to since the time of Adam. Only the One who created the Cosmos has an answer that provides any comfort at all.

The Suffering Body

We all were advised to “count the cost” Luke 14:28, as we considered baptism into the Body of Christ. In Romans 8, we’re told what it costs to become glorified with Christ. … what it takes to join with Him in the family of God. Here, we find the Greek word sumpascho translated as “suffer with”. It refers to an intimate sharing within a Body made up of the called out ones (the ekklesia, the church). The next verses indicate that the reward for doing this will be well worth it.

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Rom. 8:17-23)

So, we “suffer together, with Him” and with each other. How does that happen? We don’t endure crucifixion, scourging, and crowns of thorns – – so what do we go through together that equates with this word “sumpascho” — to experience pain jointly or of the same kind.

We find a clue to the answer to that question in the only other place in the New Testament where sumpascho is used, and that is in the description of the functional Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. This whole chapter tells us how we are to function as a unified Body. Verses 1-11 tell us the purpose and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the common good. Then verse 12 begins to instruct us about joining together in one unified Body devoted to the well-being of every member.

That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:25-26)

“Suffer with” is this word sumpascho again, “to experience pain jointly”. Notice, it says ALL of the members suffer with the one enduring the trial. So we can begin to see at least one purpose for some of the things some of us are enduring. All of us in the Body are to learn real EMPATHY for others.

Christ’s Sympathy

The book of Job teaches us about the natural human reaction to the suffering of a fellow Christian. the way Job’s friends reacted to his trials and affliction is typical — “It’s God’s punishment for something YOU did wrong, Job.” But God didn’t see it their way, and neither did Jesus agree with His disciples when they made a similar statement.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

How might the “works of God” be made manifest among us today?

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)

This is how personal Christ wants our lives “IN HIM” to be … everything about us, completely open and honest … nothing withheld, and … KNOW HIM intimately as we walk through life at His side, with His words to guide us.

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. (Heb. 4:14-16)

Jesus  went above and beyond the call of duty to show Himself as a sympathetic companion to us in life. The word “sympathize” here is another sum- word. We covered sumpascho (to suffer together with, to experience pain jointly), and here we have sumpatheo (to commiserate with, have compassion, to be touched with our feelings).

When we “come boldly to the throne of grace” God learns a lot about us … what our prayers are focused on, how much “like His Son” we are becoming”, and how much empathy we have for our suffering brethren who are enduring unimaginable trials. In the pain and suffering in today’s Body of Christ, you and I can learn from the example of Christ Himself to FEEL and EXPRESS sumpatheo, as He so often did during His encounters with people who were dealing with serious illness.

Our Metamorphosis

After missing a post or two because of the death of a close friend, I’d like to resume a series of posts (loosely) based on a fine book called “In His Image” by Dr. Paul Brand with the whole process of life, and death, in mind.

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die (Ecc. 3:1-2)

Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything, including times to be born and to die. To help facilitate the divine plan for mankind, even The Word was required to go through the full life-process as a human being. For Him as well, there was “a time to be born” as “the One Sent” who provided an exact pattern to show us how we can be changed to His image. He had a time to live to show us how to live — to teach us how to submit to the will of both He and His Father.

There was also for Him “a time to die” and spend 3 days and 3 nights in the grave, and then there was a time of resurrection when His physical body was changed into a glorious Spirit body again. His experience in the flesh taught Him EVERYTHING about what it is to be human. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He also “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” in the flesh (Heb 5:8).

During His physical life, “The One Sent” showed and told us what is expected of us in our physical lives, how to relate to our Father in heaven, how to communicate with Him, and how to use His example to arrive at real life. If we follow this template, Romans 8:16-19 tells us exactly what the future holds.

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:16-19)

Our Metamorphosis | BaptismForLife.wordpress.comWhen we take the Great Baptist Jesus Christ up on His promise to “baptize with the Holy Spirit” (click here to review the “Baptism For Life” posts), He plants the “earnest of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 1:22) within us. It’s like a little bit of God’s own DNA, and we spend the rest of our lives going through a process of spiritual “DNA replacement,” growing little by little “from GLORY to GLORY” in a Biblical/spiritual metamorphosis from the old man to the new.

When we then die, we become like a chrysalis – – resting, waiting to burst forth into a glorious new life! For all of our remaining years after conversion, we are like a voracious feeding caterpillar devouring God’s word and “growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

In our “caterpillar stage,” we should be “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) — living as though our actions have eternal consequences. Studying the word and living it so that when we die and come to that “chrysalis stage” of life, we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” as it says in Ephesisans 1:13.
And when God seals a promise, there is no force in earth or heaven that can stop it!

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Psa. 116:15)

This verse from the Psalms gives us an assurance about good men and women who live their lives well. Those in the “chrysalis stage” awaiting their transformation into a spiritual “butterfly” are precious to God. And so, the death of a close friend who has “fought the good fight … finished the race … and kept the faith” as Paul said he’d done in 2 Timothy 4:7 serves as an inspiration to re-commit ourselves to the REAL goal of life — being re-created in God’s image.

Children of Our Father

Remember the young guy in Matthew 19 that asked Christ what he could do to inherit eternal life? Christ told him to keep the commandments, and this young man was elated because he was already doing the lightweight stuff … the letter of the law things that human beings think make them “good people.” But then Christ gave him a heavy weight, and everything changed. “He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:22). Isn’t that the way most of us are???

To Be Like Him

Christ used the example of the rich young man to teach His disciples that it is hard for a rich man to enter His kingdom, saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” This caused the disciples to ask a question that has often come to my own mind, “Who then can be saved?”

 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:18-22)

Do I want to lift that weight? To really be like Him? Verse 21 tells us the the reason we were called is to follow Christ’s example … not just to see it from afar and marvel at it!

who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:23-25)

Verse 23 has always been a killer for me, brethren, because I was raised to hate injustice. It’s almost automatic when somebody hits you, you want to hit back … only harder! When they yell at you … to yell louder … to hurl a more cutting insult … a more penetrating jab. But to follow Christ’s example, we have to give up the smart comebacks, the “reviling in return,” and the threatening. There’s only one reason I’d want to do that … to follow His example, and in so doing, to return to the Shepherd, Overseer and Guardian of my soul.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:43-44)

This seemed so easy when it was just those faceless people out there in the mainstream persecuting us for keeping the Sabbath. It was more impersonal back then. During the last 20 years though, things have radically changed in the churches of God. We are a divided house, and the situation being what it is opens the door for some things to be said and done that we should never participate in.

Bless means to speak well of … to wish good things for. Curse means to give one over to ruin … to wish evil upon them … A natural, human, and easy thing to do when someone is cursing you!

A Prayer Request

BaptismForLife.wordpress.comWe all hear many urgent prayer requests, brethren. There is much illness and suffering in the churches of God today, and many prayer requests each week, but I would submit to you that Christ Himself is giving us an urgent ‘prayer request’ here in the last sentence in vs. 44.

What Christ is doing here with this ‘prayer request’ is presenting us with a great opportunity to prove something to His father … that we want to be His sons and daughters enough to do whatever He asks us to do. Let’s look at verse 44 again, with the rest of the sentence going on into verse 45.

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.(Matt. 5:44-45)

I’d like to examine this phrase a little more closely. “That you may be children of your Father” — The words, “you may be” G1096, ginomai mean: to come into existence, be made, to be ordained to be, turned into.   We are to be “formed in the image” of His firstborn son, who reviled not nor threatened, but committed His cause to the Father.

For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. (1 Cor. 11:18)

You see, there have been divisions and abuses and heresies in the churches of God from the start,  but it has always been allowed to happen for a purpose. It’s so that those who want to be children of their Father can rise above it and be made in the image of Christ.

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

The first words He spoke after the scourging, and after the excruciating pain of being actually nailed to the stake were, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Brethren, in the midst of the turmoil and conflict that exists in the end-time churches of God, God is offering us an opportunity to distinguish ourselves as his children by answering a simple ‘prayer request’ from Jesus Christ: “Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The reward for doing so is very great indeed … that we may be the children of our Father in heaven.

The Things That Be Of God

Self reflection is such a big part of the Christian life, it can come to actually dominate our lives at times. Especially during the Passover season, we all are admonished every year to examine ourselves with the intent of taking the symbols of the Passover in a “worthy manner”. Then during the days that follow the Passover, I always wonder if I took the Passover seriously enough. Because I always could have taken even more time to study and pray … even to fast.

This year seemed to be an even more intense time of reflection because this winter and spring marks the 20 year anniversary of the events that took place in 1995, when those of us in the Worldwide Church of God were faced with some really serious life-altering spiritual choices, and not just passive choices you can make between yourself and God in your prayer closet, but open public choices that effected friendships and family.

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” (Joshua 24:15-16)

Joshua himself is quoted as making this very public choice in the hearing of the children of Israel. The people agreed to follow his lead in this and they did … until Joshua died. Then they forsook the Lord and began to serve false Gods.

Two Choices

In Matthew 16, Jesus, the Christ of God, drew a very sharp contrast between two mindsets, and two very divergent ways of life for the disciple Peter. Let’s begin with a question Christ put to His disciples.

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:13-19)

Peter must have been on top of the world at this moment. He may have briefly been the first believer in the “Primacy of Peter” doctrine, because he had been praised and exalted by the Master Himself here. But that’s not the end of the narrative here. We’re in the middle of the story.

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matt. 16:20-23)

Peter, fresh off the experience of identifying the Christ of God, under the verified inspiration of God Himself … was pretty self-confident. The word “rebuke” here is a pretty strong word, epitemao in the Greek. It means to censure, admonish, forbid, to straightly charge. Not something you’d expect a student to do with his Master. Then in verse 23, Christ lowers the boom. So much for the “primacy of Peter” doctrine.

BaptismForLife.wordpress.comThere are two distinct directional attitudes, or mind sets evident here that are as different as the east is from the west. And we’ve all heard messages based on the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”. “Two paths diverged in a yellow wood … I took the one less traveled by … and that made all the difference!

I like the wording of verse 23 in the King James version: “you SAVOR not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” The word “savor” is phroneo in the Greek, and means, to exercise the mind, to intensely interest oneself in with concern for obedience. In this case, “the “things that be of GOD” were coming to Peter directly from the mouth of Messiah God, but he had his own thoughts on the matter.

Brethren, I don’t know if there has ever been a time in church history when it’s been more difficult to be sure what we savor. It just seems like there are distractions everywhere. The pace of life is becoming more and more frantic. There’s economic pressure, social pressure, societal dysfunction, increasing violence, and persecution as we’ve never seen before. I read an article last week on the most persecuted religion on earth today, and this author concluded it was Christianity! Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it likely that there would be this level of active persecution in this country.

What Do You Savor?

So how can you and I be sure we are “savoring” the things that be of God? Peter was after all saying something here that we would all have agreed with. It was not his will that his Messiah would die — “I don’t want that to happen to you, Lord!” The innocent Messiah of God having to die for the guilty? That didn’t make sense to Peter, and it probably wouldn’t have to us if we were in his shoes. But really, what Peter wanted was for his own human will to be done.

Sentiments like that , even if they make perfect sense to us, are “the things that be of men” if they aren’t in line with the will and plan of God. The only way I know of to be “savoring” the things that be of God in times of increasing persecution is to have our noses in His Holy Book every day with an attitude of submission to GODS will.

Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. (Rev. 3:10

These words in Christ’s letter to the Philadelphians are easy to savor, aren’t they?  It is very easy to submit to God’s words when they align with our own will. As Peter found out though, it isn’t always that easy.

So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Rev. 13:4-10)

These too are the words, the things, that be of God. Do we savor them? Do we savor all the words of God, even the ones that are hard to hear? If we keep reading in Matthew 16, we see that Christ knew savoring God’s way of life isn’t always easy, but He assures us it is well worth it. We will receive a positive reward.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matt. 16:24-27)

A Prophecy YOU Can Fulfill!

In my 35 years of church experience, it seems like no subject creates more excitement than Bible prophecy, particularly prophecies that speak of the second coming of Jesus Christ, and His rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That really is a beautiful thing to contemplate, especially as the world around us becomes more and more violent, and ungodly with each passing day.

A Prophecy You Can Fulfill | BaptismForLife.wordpress.com

There are many prophecies in the OT that have already been fulfilled, and thoroughly documented in the pages of history — events foretold hundreds of years before their actual fulfillment in the lives of flesh and blood people, kings and their kingdoms who were actually used by God to make it all come true. In some cases, the rise and fall of kingdom after succeeding kingdom covering centuries of time can be seen in single OT chapters.

We usually think of prophecy as something that is fulfilled by God and God alone, and view ourselves as powerless beings swept along on a virtual tidal wave of God’s mighty will … and to an extent, I suppose that is true enough. We are unable to have much of a personal effect on the major prophecies that will effect end-time events in this world.

But what if I told you that YOU can BE the fulfillment of at least one major prophecy in God’s Word of life. It’s a prophecy that is of great importance to God, and one that is very important to the coming Kingdom of God. That prophecy is found in Isaiah 55.

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Is. 55:10-11)

At first glance, most of you might not think these verses are even “prophetic” as we usually think of “prophecy”, but I’ll just ask you to take a closer look. Think about one very major ingredient required to make up the Kingdom of God: PEOPLE! There will be people — people converted to the ways and thoughts of the God-Kingdom through the study of every aspect of God’s Holy word.

So I would challenge you to take a good look at what you are doing every time you pick up the Book that God sent into this world. Each and every day as you study its precepts, I challenge you to implement them into your daily walk with God, following the pattern and example of Jesus Christ, Himself “the Word of God.”

This “prophecy” of God says that His Word will “accomplish” His will, and “prosper” in what He sent it into the world to do. He sent His Word into this world to transform the lives of human beings … not “other” human beings, but YOU and ME … through study, prayer, meditation and interaction with God the Father, and God the Son.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9)

We “think” of prophecy in terms of great earth-shaking, history-altering events, but God doesn’t think on the same plane as we do.    In His mind, the greatest fulfillment of prophecy might just have something to do with … YOU!