Tag Archives: Trust in God

Our Theology of Suffering: Where does it come from?

 

Our Theology of Suffering: Where did it come from?

Suffering is part of life

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but suffering is part of living in this fallen world.  Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As humans, we continually look for every possible way to either avoid suffering or move through suffering as quickly as possible.

As we discussed last week, Satan introduced sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-19). Suffering is a natural consequence of sin.  However, we often direct our frustration, not at its source, sin, but instead we ask, “Why did God let this happen?”

However, if we look behind the pain, distress, or hardship, we will discover “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  These things make up “the world system” that is at enmity with God.    Take a moment and reflect on the latest sufferings.  Even the extreme weather can now be attributed to man’s abuse of the ecology.

Our theology shapes our view of suffering

Our theology of suffering is shaped by our understanding of who God is.  It is important to know who God is and conversely, who He is not.   While God IS all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present, God does not exist to act as our Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Batman—running from here and there stopping evil.

God is the rightful ruler and authority over His universe (Col. 1:16). His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.  God is the sure foundation on which we can stand in times of uncertainty and times of suffering (Hab. 3:17-19).

Our trust in God shapes our view of suffering

Trust in God is another key factor that shapes our theology of suffering.  In review of the biblical record, there are many incidents of suffering—pain, distress, or hardship.  Incidents which required the Lord God to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.  Sometimes God would remove the object of suffering.  More often, however, God allowed the suffering to continue to grow the believer’s trust and faith in Him (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

In his letters to the new churches, the Apostle Paul often spoke of the need to trust and believe God, regardless of their current suffering.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Rom. 8:28, NLT)  

 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Cor. 4:15-17, NLT) 

Our worldview shapes our view of suffering

Our worldview—our beliefs, values, and behavior—also influences how we view suffering.  Many of us believe that we are in control of the events and circumstances in our life.  We go to great efforts to manage and manipulate those things, which we feel, are in our control.  That, however, isn’t always true. Remember COVID 19?

The Preacher (King Solomon) makes this assessment of “control” in Ecclesiastes 9:11. Regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness, or skill, “time and chance” happens to us all.  Suffering nullifies both personal capacity and ability.

Believers operate from a different worldview.  We operate from God’s “Kingdom” worldview.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, though we “temporarily” reside on earth (Phil. 3:20).  This view acknowledges the reality of sin and suffering but offers an “alternate” response to the suffering we face.

The kingdom view recognizes that:

    • God always loves and cares for His children (Ps. 23).
    • God sovereignly rules over the universe (Ps. 103:19).
    • God is always with and for us (Gen. 28:15; Matt.28:20).

Holding this view, we are able to persevere and live confidently even amid suffering.

Conclusion

Suffering is a reality of living.  We will be better equipped to deal with suffering when our theology is correct.  It begins with: (1) the correct view of God, (2) placement of trust in the “right” Person (The Triune God), and (3) an “eternal” Kingdom worldview.

Next week we will look at suffering:  its purpose and possibilities.

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

No suffering please

How do you feel about suffering? What are your beliefs about its cause and effect?  Its purpose and possibilities.  I, for one, am not volunteering for any unnecessary pain.  However, if it hasn’t become evident at this point in our life, suffering is part of our journey as human beings.

Suffering was not part of God’s original divine plan.  However, Satan’s introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden resulted in its creation (Gen. 3:16-19).  As humans, we continually look for every possible way to avoid suffering.  And if we can’t avoid it, we try to move through suffering as quickly as possible.

That’s why it is important for our spiritual growth and development to understand the what and why of suffering.  This includes learning to best strengthen our resolve and focus when suffering occurs.  Because “I guarantee you” that we all will suffer in the future.  But the question is, what is your response to suffering?  How well do you manage your pain?

What is suffering?

Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As we look around, we might conclude that we are living in a continual state of suffering.

Pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional is evident in our society by the number of individuals seeking relief through food, drugs, and alcohol.  Distress is extreme anxiety and sorrow.

Anxiety disorder is the class of mental disorder in which anxiety is the predominant feature. This disorder, an illness characterized by constant and boundless worry that interferes with the daily life, is the most common psychiatric illness in the United States, affecting 40 million American adults.[1]

Hardship (deprivation) is caused by any number of reasons:  acts of nature resulting in loss of life and property or man-made (political/social/economic agendas and policies).  Hardship presents itself in the growth of the lower economic class, which is one-third of where Americans are today.

The lower economic class, also known as the working class, is the socio-economic group with the least income. They are often categorized as families whose income falls below poverty line. These are the people who live hand to mouth, or paycheck to paycheck. They barely earn enough to cover their expenses and a huge expense often sends them into debt.[2]

What do we learn from the definition of suffering?  Suffering affects more than our physical well-being.  Suffering is not just episodic.  It occurs more frequently and “routinely” than we want to admit.  We have, unfortunately, accepted it as “part of life”.  And to some degree it is part of life BUT how we respond and manage it, makes the difference between successful living and thriving OR stressful living and surviving.

Pain management

When we experience pain that cannot be alleviated with medication, surgery, or rehabilitation, our physician will often prescribe pain management treatment.  The intent is to teach us strategies which will help us maintain control or influence over our pain.  This might include for example, breathing techniques or mindfulness-based therapies.

Key to successful pain management treatment is the realization that the pain will not be eliminated, however, we can exercise control over the degree the pain will hinder or disrupt our life.

For believers, our pain management for suffering lies with our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (2 Pet. 1: 3-4).  Since we live in a fallen world, suffering will continue.  However, armed with knowledge of God, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness (Ps. 27:1-3).

This is especially true during difficult times—times of suffering—when fear and doubt challenge our faith.  When this happens, we can stand firmly on what we know about God and those things which He has revealed to us as His children (Rom. 8:17).

Knowing these things can not only help us better respond to the suffering happening in our life but also react appropriately to the disruptions in the world around us.  How we respond to things revealed become the entry point for God to provide His power, His provision, and His presence.

Next week, we will continue to discuss and develop our theology on suffering.

[1] Pew Research Center

[2] Ibid

 

When Life Happens

 

When Life Happens

How was your day?

You rush to the bank to make that critical deposit on Friday afternoon.  Your watch shows you have five minutes before closing.  As you pull up to the bank window; instead of the teller, you see the “closed” sign.  Your watch evidently was running slower than you knew.  Life happens!

You go for your annual mammogram examination.  The technician finishes with a smile and a promise to be right back.  She leaves to share your pictures with the attending physician.  She returns and somberly informs you that after dressing, the physician would like to meet with you.  Life happens!

Majoring in misfortune?

From minor irritations to upsetting reports, life happens.  These interruptions catch us unprepared for the inevitable. They are unexpected and usually, unfavorable circumstances that come to take “the wind out of our proverbial sail.”

In Ecclesiastes 9:11, The Preacher (King Solomon) makes the assessment that regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness or skill, life happens.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He uses two words, time and chance, to create a figure of speech that represents “life happens moments”—we call it misfortune      (Ecc. 9:11b).  Misfortune nullifies both personal capacity and ability.  No one is exempt from misfortune.  We all have our day when it gains our full attention.

What is our response?

What is our response to misfortune?  “Why me?” We try to do the right thing, make the appropriate preparation, and make the best choices based on “what we know at the time.” So what happened? Life happened.

As inhabitants of fallen world, we are not immune to the affects and experiences which life presents. But while believers live “in the world”, we do not have to respond as the world when life happen moments occur.

A better way!

I’d like to recommend 3R’s that will help us manage life’s misfortune.

#1. REMEMBER our position. We are not our misfortune. Our hope and security lies in our position in Christ Jesus. In Christ, we are heirs of God and therefore, the object of His love. Therefore, in spite of misfortune, we stand firm on God’s promises and His power (Eph. 1:19).

#2. REFRAME our situation. We are not blind to misfortune but we know who controls all circumstances. Nothing happens to us that does not first pass God’s examination. Reframing begins with accepting God’s sovereign rule over our lives (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

#3. RECAST our response.  Recasting is accomplished by trusting God and looking for ways to transform misfortune into opportunities that enrich our spiritual life. These opportunities may be more time in personal witnessing, intercessory prayer, fasting, and Bible meditation.    We respond with confidence times of misfortune because we are assured of who will be with us until the end (1 John 4:4).

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to memory a time when “life happened” to you.  How did you respond?  Using the three (3) principles listed in today’s teaching, journal how that moment or situation can now be understood differently.  Feel free to share your thoughts.

The next time you have a “life happens moment”, read Ecclesiastes 9:11. Better yet, commit to memorizing this scripture for future reference. Why? Because life happens!

When life turns left

 

When life turns left

Bad news

The morning headlines reads: “Man Loses Everything in Bizarre Disasters.”

Breaking News at 5 shares this update: “Doctors were seen leaving the victim’s home.  It is believed that now, even his health is beginning to deteriorate due to the shock of these tragic turn of events.  However, bad as things might be, he is currently being supported by his church and close friends.  While our victim was unavailable for comment, his wife was said to be angry and unsupportive.  Some even heard her tell her husband, “You ought to curse God for all that is happening to us.”

Well, as you can tell the “he” in this news event was Job.  He was described in Scripture as “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1) Job was a tribal chieftain, like Abraham who suddenly incurred total disaster—his wealth lost, children dead, and his health ruined.

Suffering in Faith

The book of Job analyzes the question how a righteous person like Job can encounter such enormous troubles.  Of course, as we read Job, we better understand why Job’s situation came to be (Job 1:6-12). More importantly, by the end of the book, we understand that, like Job, we cannot always understand why we suffer but we must endure our sufferings in faith.

What does it mean to “endure suffering in faith”?  In faith believes that despite our circumstance, we know that God is with us (Is. 43:1-2).  In faith we remain steadfast, even during tragedy (1 Pet. 4:1; 1 Cor. 15:58).   In faith our trust is anchored to Almighty God who is in control of all that is happening to us (Hab. 3:17-19).

One thing we must always remember (and never forget):  We live in a fallen world.  It is a place where everything is not always perfect nor is it always fair.  Life happens!  Sickness, disease, misfortune, and other “stuff”.  That’s reality.   But only ONE reality.

Reality when life turns left

If we lose everything we own, will we still love God?  Suppose we lose our only child, our family home, and our health.  Will we still serve God?  If everyone turns their back on us, will we still obey God?  When God is silent, can we still trust Him?   Such are the questions we ask ourselves when life turns left.  What, why, how?

As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in a reality based on “who we are” and “Whose we are”.  First and foremost, we are children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Secondarily, we are in Christ (Ep. 1:3-14).  In Christ, we have the security of God’s presence, His power, His provision, and His protection.  Bad things may happen in our life (remember we live in a fallen world) but in Christ we are able to overcome the world.

This month we will spend some time on the theology of suffering.  Why? Because these times of uncertainty will often lead to suffering and pain.  We need to believe that regardless of our circumstance, we can live victoriously even during our suffering (2 Cor. 4:17).

To begin our journey, we invite you to read The Clue to Life’s Maze,” F.B. Meyer’s perspective on Job and life lived in the context of a fallen world.

Although and Yet: A Prayer of Faith

 

Although and Yet: A prayer of Faith

Wickedness leads to judgment

Last week we were introduced to Habakkuk the prophet.  Habakkuk lived and prophesized in the reign of king Manasseh, when wickedness abound.  Destruction by the Chaldeans was imminent.  God would use them as an instrument of His judgment.

If God were to assess the moral condition of our nation, would we be prepared to receive His punishment?  Last week, we listed the “sins of Judah” that resulted in its fall.  Disobedience is a slippery slide that leads to a continuum of sins (James 1:13-15).

What’s in a name?

Before being taken into captivity, Judah would experience the loss of all its material wealth and property.  All the blessings of God (Deut. 28:1-14) would be eliminated because of the wickedness and rebellion of Judah (Deut. 28:15-68).

How was Habakkuk to respond to God’s pending punishment on the nation of Judah? Habakkuk is an unusual name which means “to embrace or cling”. In the final chapter of this book, his name becomes apparent as Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

Although and yet.  These two conjunctions reflect how devoted Habakkuk was to his God and the trust he would need to navigate through the dark days that lie ahead.

Habakkuk’s declaration

In the final chapter of the book, Habakkuk concludes with a prayer confessing his continuing trust in the rightness of God’s dealing with Judah (Hab. 3:17-18).

Though the fig tree may not blossom,

Nor fruit be on the vines;

Though the labor of the olive may fail,

And the fields yield no food;

Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,

And there be no herd in the stalls—

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

May I digress and spend a moment on the grammar Habakkuk used in this prayer.  Though is a conjunction meaning “in spite of the fact that”.   When used at the beginning a phrase, clause, or sentence, it offers a contrast to the main sentence.   Yet is also conjunction that means, in this context, “nevertheless.”  What are you saying, Habakkuk?  Put it in 21st century language we can understand!

In spite of rising costs and inflation,

And drought burned crops and dying cattle in the fields,

In spite of fires, floods, and ravaging storms,

And our shrinking GNP and personal investment accounts,

In spite of doing more with less

And receiving little in return

Nevertheless, I will rejoice in my Lord!

I will be joyful and trust in God.

He is my salvation!

That is the kind of faith we need today. Our world continues to shift from the familiar to the unrecognizable.  These lead to uncertainty and fear.  How will we respond?  Take a moment and write your own declaration of faith.  What is your “in spite of” and your “nevertheless”?

Habakkuk’s faith

Habakkuk concludes his prayer by living up to his name.  He praises God’s wisdom even though he doesn’t fully understand God’s way.  Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

That faith and trust is captured in his closing statement (Hab. 3:19, NLT):

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights.

In the King James version of this verse, two different words are used for “make”.

  • “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet” or “to transform into”.
  • “He will make me to walk upon my high places” or “tread, bend, or march”.

The deer in this verse was not the domesticated goat we see on farms today but was a wild mountain goat that was equipped the move through the rugged terrain of the mountains.  Narrow openings and ledges, crooks, and jagged rocks.  This is where the deer lived, yet they moved confidently knowing they were created for that world.

Application for us.  Our sovereign God has created us for such a time as this.  He is transforming us and bending us so that we will be able to not only survive but thrive.  But our ability to walk upon “our high places” is dependent on our faith and trust in God—even if we don’t understand His ways.  We must live by faith (Hab. 2:4).  If we do, then we too will be able to walk on our high places (Hab. 3:19).

What’s Going On?

What's going on?

What’s going on?

One of my favorite songs (past and present) is by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye.

It was released on May 21, 1971, by Motown Records.  The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent (Mercy, Mercy Me).[1]

As I look around our nation and world, I ask the same question. What’s going on?  And I even ask where is God in all this confusion?  And why doesn’t God intervene?  Such was the case with the prophet Habakkuk as he looked upon the nation of Judah.

The consequence of sin

The prophetic book of Habakkuk shares the dialogue between a “gracious God” and an “anxious prophet”.  As is true with both the major and minor prophets, we are given great insight as to how a holy God deals with an unholy and rebellious nation.

Although the nation of Judah was God’s “covenant people” (Deut. 7:7), God was now prepared to meter punishment on them like they had never experienced. The prophet Habakkuk has been chosen for “such a time as this”—a time when time has runout!

Judah was guilty of extraordinary sins.  Habakkuk inquired of God how long He would allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished.  They would not go unpunished.  God would use the nation of Babylon as His “chastening rod”.

We often think that our wrong behavior is not being seen by others.  While that may be true for a moment, the fact is, God sees!  What is done in the dark, will always come to light (Luke 8:17).  Many of our ousted elected officials and fallen religious leaders can attest to that truth.  However, there are always consequences for sin and it’s usually not good.

The cost of sin

God lists for Habakkuk the sins of Judah in five (5) “woes”.  God “had” indeed taken notice of Judah’s crimes (Hab. 2:5-20).  They included:

      • greed and aggression (vv. 5-8)
      • exploitation and extortion (vv. 9-11)
      • violence (vv. 12-14)
      • immorality (vv. 15-17)
      • idolatry (vv. 18-20)

We live in a world like Judah.  Look at the woes!  We sin both individually and collectively, as a nation.  God’s standard for righteous living has not changed (Micah 6:8; Mal. 3:6). Does God see what we’re doing?  Of course, He does (Ps. 33:13-14; Ps. 139:8-12).  The question is, are we willing to deal with the consequences of our sins?  Are we willing to accept the cost?

The cost is being realized as we see the immediate impact sin has on our children, our families, and our communities.

    • The hungry. Hunger is a very real issue for 12% or 41 million people in the United States.
    • The homeless. Why are people homeless? Because of “lack”!  Lack of affordable housing, income, employment opportunities, and healthcare.
    • The abused. Domestic violence.  Sexual abuse.  Human trafficking.

But what do these impacts have to do with sin?  Re-read the “five woes” and see how they fit in our 21st century culture.  If we are not guilty by “commission”, perhaps we are culpable by “omission”—by what we don’t do to make life better for others (Prov. 3:27).

The just shall live by faith

Although God’s judgment was hard for Habakkuk to accept, he recognized the only “proper response” in the midst of this dilemma.  He was “to live by faith, not by sight” (Hab. 2:4).

As we look at the world we live in, it is easy to be disillusioned and in despair.  Just like Habakkuk, we may question how long God will tolerate sinful and evil behavior from both individuals and nations.

Regardless of who sits in the White House or State House, we as believers in Christ are to do our part to speak truth and justice.  We are to engage in our world to represent Jesus as He ensures God’s will is accomplished (2 Cor. 5:15).  We are to live by faith.

Like Habakkuk, we have an ordained purpose to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).  We are to pursue our purpose trusting that God sees and is always in control.  He is constantly, through every historic event moving us to His divine plan of salvation for mankind.

Knowing that, our purpose should not focus on our personal agendas.  But instead let us join God in His plan.  Like Habakkuk and Esther and all those who have gone before us, we were created for such a time as this.  Let us not be in despair but let us “go forth” in the strength of the Lord (Ps. 71:16).

[1] Wikipedia

Two Boats and a Helicopter

 

Two boats and a helicopter

The choices we make

I’m sure you have heard the story about the man who faced imminent danger as a result of a flood that begun to ravage his community.  The flood waters became higher, forcing him to retreat to the roof of his house.  On two occasions, individuals in boats beckoned him to climb into their boats and save his life.  But he refused and shouted back from his roof, “I’m a Christian! God will save me!”

Finally, the waters rose to the edge of the roof.  Suddenly a helicopter appeared and begged the man to grab the dropped latter and be saved.  Well, you know what happened!  The man refused and ultimately died.  When he entered heaven, he demanded to see God.  “Why did you let me drown?”  Instead of striking him down with a lightening bolt, God calmly replied, “Hey, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

As we face the challenges and problems in our life, we often fail to watch and follow the leads that God sends us.  Many of these are given to us before we enter our trial.  However, when we’re in that dire situation, so is God!  God is there AND He wants us to use the resources He has provided for us.  Such was the case with Moses as he faced his first hurdle upon leaving Egypt for the Promise Land (Exodus 14).

After Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, Pharoah had “seller remorse”.  God hardened his heart and caused him to regret letting the Israelite slaves leave (S).  He probably felt like he had been duped.  Who would do the work that the Israelites did?  Egypt’s economy would probably suffer, not to mention their quality of life—who would cook, clean, and serve them?   So much for Pharoah right now, let’s return to Moses’ dilemma.

The dilemma

As Pharoah and his army approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The complaints escalated.  Moses tried to reassure the Israelites that everything would be alright.  He tried to coach them to “stand firm” and “be still”.  God would fight for them! (Exod. 14:13-14).  Moses told them that they would see the salvation of the LORD on that day.  But all they could see were Egyptians bringing up the rear fast.  They could not see God!

As I read this passage, I saw myself when facing hard times and challenges.  I tend to see only what I can look at with my physical eyes—loss of health, injustice, change in relationships, economic uncertainty.

It’s even harder for me to “be still”.  I need to fix this situation and now.  I see only me standing before the Red Sea.  But all is not loss—I’ll tell you why in a few.  Back to Moses.

“Any old help will do.”

I’m sure Moses cried to God.  Exactly what he said is not included in the scripture text.  But the Lord used this moment to speak directly to Moses.  Was God going to tell him that help was on the way?  Was He sending two boats and a helicopter?

The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exod. 14:15).

Moses probably thought, “Really?  Red Sea before me and Egyptians behind me.”  Sometimes when we pray, God’s answers don’t always make sense to us at first. But that’s where our faith in God—His greatness and His goodness—reinforces the need to obey His instructions (Heb. 11:1).

God gave Moses an answer he didn’t expect: “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exod. 14:16)  

Moses had the answer to His dilemma “right in his hand” PLUS the power of God.  Moses and his staff would be the conduit God would use to not only deliver the Israelites but also glorify God.  This act of deliverance would spread throughout the countryside including to the potential tribes in the Promise Land whom the Israelites would need to conquer (Exod. 14:18).

When you need help…

From this study, I came to the following conclusions about what to do when I need help.

    1. Assess what I currently have available to address my problem. I will not only inventory what I have with my “physical eyes” (my mind and my intellect) but also with my “spiritual eyes”.  When I read God’s Word, especially His promises and follow that with prayer, I can expect God to show me what to do.  I have learned that God’s ways, methods, and timing are not the same as mine (Is. 55:8-9).  THEY ARE BETTER!
    1. “Lift up to God” the resources He has already provided for my solution. Moses failed to remember that God had told him that He would go with him on the journey to the Promised Land. He had forgotten how God used Moses’ staff in the court of Pharoah (Exod. 4:3).  Sometimes I refuse to move forward until I have “all the information and answers”.  When that happens, it is important for me to call to remembrance (Is. 46:9,10) where God has stepped in to join me in my battles (2 Chron. 20:6-7, 12).
    1. Move forward. I am still learning each day to move forward when directed by God.  I guess it’s part of being human.  I am learning to move “more quickly” when God directs me and learning to trust Him more.

In my moments of prayer and meditation, I ask God to show me those areas of my life where I sin by being prideful or self-reliant.  He uses that time together to gently redirect my attention away from my problems and look to Him.  God is greater than any problem we may face and better equipped to solve them.  Only God can guarantee our success!

When God created us, He not only placed His purpose within us but also placed the ability to complete that purpose (Phil. 1:6).  As God prepares our path, He also prepares us for the path.  It is our responsibility to believe, to trust, and then obey.

Conclusion

The next time you need help, deliverance, or an answer for life’s challenges, don’t always look for a miracle from God.  He doesn’t need to come to our rescue.  God is always with us.  We daily live not in God’s miracles but by His lovingkindness and grace.  He is there to help us see the resources He has already provided for our escape (Eph. 1:17-20).

Prayer:  O Heavenly Father, grow within us the faith we need for the challenges we face.  Train us to look at our problems as opportunities to partner with You in their resolution.  Forgive us when we lean on our own understanding.  Place in our heart an expectation that You are with us and will always act on our behalf.  Lord, finally, help us to “Go forward” in Your name and by Your power.   Amen

Opportunities in Uncertainty

Opportunities in Uncertainty

 

Josh’s opportunity

Josh had experienced much turmoil and strife during his current job assignment.  There was frequent upheaval among his peers against current management.  Those efforts, fortunately, had been squelched.  As a result of that effort, many of his team members suffered great loss and were not allowed to move forward with the organization.

Earlier in his career, Josh was chosen to be part of a special team to evaluate next steps for his organization.  Because of Josh’s loyalty and his credentials, he was now a candidate for a new opportunity.

Because of the earlier “coup attempt”, many of the older, seasoned members were no longer there.  What remained was a young and inexperienced group, who needed guidance and support in moving the organization to new heights that had been promised to them.

And now, he was being offered a promotion as head of the organization.  But was he ready?  What did he need to move forward?  Was there an opportunity in this uncertainty?  These were possible  questions asked by Moses’ replacement, Joshua (Deut. 31:7).

Ready for an opportunity?

How would we respond if offered the opportunity set before Joshua?  That was the question I asked myself during my morning devotion as I read Deuteronomy 31:1-8 and Joshua 1:1-18.  In both scripture texts, Joshua is repeatedly told several things that would prepare him for his new leadership role.

The first dealt specifically with his reaction to the opportunity.  What were the emotions he felt knowing what lie ahead of him?  Joshua was told to “be strong, fear not, and be of good courage” (Joshua 1:6-9).   But how was he to do that?

He had seen Moses as he dealt with this group of stiff-necked and disobedient people.  He remembered the frustration that Moses often felt in trying to keep them faithful to God and His commandments.  Moses was the great mediator between these people and Yahweh, Almighty God.  Would he be able to do the same?

Fear or dismay?

As I studied these texts, I asked myself (and my husband) this question.  Which is worst—fear or dismay (discouragement)? Is there a difference? Fear is anxiety caused by approaching danger—real or imagined.  Discouragement is described as depression of one’s spirit.  It can be caused by a heavy burden, defeat, an apparent failure, or even sickness.

Both fear and discouragement would be unique challenges that Joshua would need to manage as he moved forward.  Both could potentially lead to failure in Joshua’s assignment to take the Israelites into the Promise Land.  And not only entrance into the land that God promised, but to also conquer the current inhabitants.

Fear or discouragement?  Which one is our biggest threat as we face the challenges of living in these times of uncertainty?  How are we to manage the stresses of life that come both rapidly, continuously, and often violently?

Fear and discouragement are Satan’s “weapons of choice” to hinder and even stop us as we move into God’s purpose for our life.  Satan will often focus on the largeness of the problem and/or the smallness of our ability to stop us in our tracks.

That’s why we need the intervention of Someone who is bigger than the problem and able to do exceedingly above all that we can ask or need (Eph. 3:20).  That Someone is God our Father, made available through His Son Jesus the Christ, and made manifest in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

God’s Promise

In his new leadership role, it was critical that Joshua remembered what God had promised:  It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you or forsake you (Deut. 31:8). 

Despite the difficult times experienced living in the Wilderness, Joshua saw firsthand God’s love and faithfulness to His people.  God had chosen Israel to be His treasure (Deut. 7:6) and He would make good on every promise He made to them (Joshua 1:5-7).

Joshua had seen God’s great power as evidenced through His miracles and works:  The ten plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and God’s provision during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:3-4). God’s promise to Moses was the same promise He now made to Joshua:  God would go before him and with him.  God would not fail nor forsake him.     

We daily face changes and challenges, turmoil, and threats.  They are as great and as real, for us, as Joshua’s new leadership opportunity.  But like Joshua, we can rest assured that we can depend on and trust in the promises of God.  God goes before us and with us, wherever the circumstances of life may lead us (Heb. 13:5).

God is more than able to handle whatever may come our way.  He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the ending…which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).  It is in His presence, and under His authority that all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).   So be not afraid nor be dismayed, we are not alone.  There is always opportunity even amid uncertainty when God is with us.

What is God revealing?

 

Revealing Hidden Things

As stated last week, secret things belong to God.  Revealed things, however, belong to us and to our children so that we may follow God’s law.  They are truths which God has communicated through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. These also include those things revealed through the whole counsel of God.

This truth, found in Deuteronomy 29:29, falls in the fourth address to the children of Israel by Moses.  It is a summary of the covenant demands and an appeal for covenant obedience (Deut. 29:2-29).

For the Israelites, the secret things of the LORD probably referred to future details that God had not revealed to Moses.  Yet what He had revealed (e.g., future judgment for disobedience, future blessing for obedience, His requirement for holiness, etc.) was enough to encourage the Israelites to follow all the words of the Law.[1]  

Is God’s revealed truth enough to encourage 21st century believers to trust and obey the LORD?  To answer this question, let’s consider four (4) tenets of faith currently revealed by God in His Word and through His Spirit.

These are not meant to be exhaustive, but have proven to anchor one’s faith during tumultuous times (Heb. 6:19).  As we look at our current world situation, it is easy to become weary.  Hopefully, these revealed truths will encourage us not to “lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

What has God revealed?

Our Knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 1:3-5).  Jesus came not only to acquire our salvation but to also manifest (reveal) the Father’s name (nature) to His children (John 17:6; 26).  Armed with that knowledge, we believers have access to divine power and precious promises.  God has also provided us with spiritual wisdom and insight through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

Our Identity (Eph. 1:3-4). Identity is defined as the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognized or known.   God chose us to be adopted as sons, heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Our identity also connects us with other believers in God’s universal Church.  Because of our identity we have access to everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and His kingdom. (Eph. 2:10)

 Our Salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures in Christ.  Because of Christ’s substitutional death on the Cross, we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin in our life.  This freedom will be fully experienced once in heaven where we will be delivered from the presence of sin (Rev. 21:4).

Our Hope (Rom. 4:18-21).  Hope is simply defined as the expectation of future good.   “Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”[2]

What keeps us from trusting what God has revealed?

One reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we fail to recognize it.   In the 2020 Barna study, Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith”, it is noted that there are fewer “faith engagements” occurring among both believers and non-believers.  These include Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance.  These activities are critical to gaining an understanding of what God has revealed in the past and what God is revealing in the present.

The U.S. population is undergoing major religious, social, demographic and digital change. The rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes about social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some of the factors that are likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.

Another reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we choose not to believe.  One’s disbelief may be tied to the feeling that religion and the Bible are no longer relevant to 21st century living.  Such beliefs are not new.  The Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-5).   People are choosing other forms of spirituality that “better accommodate” their chosen life style and worldview.

Finally, we may not trust what God is revealing because we choose not to obey God.  Have you ever noticed that when a person is auguring over a specific teaching from the Bible, it is often connected to a personal obedience challenge they are facing in their life?  Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God would want and then seeking that outcome.

So where do we go from here?

As we discover things revealed (and the list is infinite), we gain access the very mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36).  Things revealed may be answers to those persistent questions concerning God’s purpose for our life.  Our receptivity to things revealed may be our entry to God’s power, presence, and provision.

Our life and the current challenges of 21st century living may seem impossible, but with God’s grace and favor, nothing is impossible.   In the midst of this health pandemic, strained human rights, and cries for human justice, we need only to seek Him in the things revealed.

[1]  The Bible Knowledge Commentary , Old Testament

[2]  Holman Bible Dictionary

The Holy Spirit: Our Resurrection Power

Resurrection Spirit

Preparation for ministry

We are currently in the season of Easter known as Eastertide,  which is the 50-day period following Easter Sunday.  This season gives us the opportunity to reflect on the power and the presence of the resurrection in our lives.  It culminates on Pentecost Sunday (June  5th ) which marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on man.  In discussing the resurrection, we would be remiss if we ignored the source of “that power”.  That source is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus directed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem “for the promise of the Father, which, they had heard about” from Him” (Acts 1:4).  That promise was the Holy Spirit.  With His arrival would come “power” needed to fulfill their commission.  This would not be temporary nor external power.  But this power would come from the indwelling of the Spirit within each of them (John 14:17).  For God’s kingdom to grow, the Disciples would need the power of the resurrection Spirit.

The Disciples laid the groundwork for the spread of the gospel message after Jesus’ ascension.  It would later be the work of the New Testament writers, like the Apostle Paul, to teach the Church how that gospel would be lived out in the believers’ daily life.  That would include the work of the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s teachings in the book of Ephesians gives us great insight into the power of the resurrection Spirit in those who are in Christ.

Role of the Holy Spirit

In Ephesians 1, the Apostle Paul focuses on the work of the Triune God in fulfilling the work of salvation.  God the Father provided the way to redemption (Eph. 1:3-8).  He chose believers and predestined them to adoption.  Jesus Christ the Son offered Himself for the redemption and forgiveness of sin for those who accept Him by faith.  He paid the righteous demand for sin (Heb. 9:21-22).  The Holy Spirit’s role in the work of salvation would be to seal those in Christ until eternity future (Eph. 1:13a-14).

A seal, in biblical times as today, is used to guarantee security or indicate ownership.  Ancient seals were often made of wax, embedded with the personalized imprint of their guarantor.  In both the Old and New Testament, the significance of the act of sealing was dependent on the authority of the one doing the sealing.  It would authenticate the guarantor’s ability to “make good” on that which was promised within the sealed document.  In this case the promise of the believer’s salvation and future inheritance.   

Sealing of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit not only endows the believer with power to accomplish the purposes of God (Phil. 1:6; 4:13) but He also gives assurances that God will do and can do all that He has pledged—promises and blessings for today and an inheritance in the future (2 Pet. 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).   

The Holy Spirit seals those who trust in Christ (Eph. 1:12, 13).  His presence is God’s guarantee that believers are owned by Him and secure in Him. Since the Holy Spirit’s task is to apply Christ’s work to God’s people, He anoints those in Christ the moment they believe (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

The believer is then secured as a member of God’s family, not in their own power, but because the Spirit is applying the promises made possible by God through our relationship with Christ.  His sealing comprises the initial down payment or the earnest of the full redemption of God’s possession in eternity future (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 

Resurrection Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the power of God for the people of God.  Our position in Christ makes resurrection power available to us.  It is our responsibility to access it (Eph. 1:18-20).

I leave you to consider these thoughts from preachers, past and present, who speak clearly on the power made available to each of us through the resurrection Spirit.

Smith Wigglesworth, British evangelist, influential in the early history of Pentecostalism, wrote this about the Holy Spirit:  

Enter into the promises of God. It is your inheritance. You will do more in one year if you are really filled with the Holy Ghost than you could do in fifty years apart from Him.

Charles Stanley, Pastor, televangelist, and theologian, offers this insight:

The power of the Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in believers’ lives for the purpose of righteous living and fruitful service. When we walk in the Spirit, we’re relying on His strength to accomplish God’s will. When we do God’s work by His strength, in His way, and with His wisdom, we’ll be blessed no matter what goes on around us. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean life will be easy—but we never have to walk through it alone, because our Helper is always with us. 

Is it time to access the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit?  Absolutely!  Today, take hold of God’s divine power living within you.