080: Struggles and trials may be better than expected.

I have been reading through 1 Peter as of the last couple days, and the thing I’ve been coming across over and over is suffering. It’s not an uncommon thing for me or for any human being for that matter. Suffering is part of life for every human being on the this planet. And to be honest, one of my greatest stuggles with God, or with Christianity as a whole is this very subject, struggles. Why doesn’t our awesome God just fix it? He can do anything. When we read about Jesus’ ministry, He heals hundreds of people, feeds thousands, saves billions with his death and resurrection. So, “let’s do some of that now,” is my thought. However, I’ve yet to see me healed miraculously or fed miraculously. I guess what I’m getting at is this: why doesn’t God do miracles now? Why doesn’t He overcome struggles in our lives with miracles? Is that a selfish desire? I feel like it’s legitimate to some degree.

As I read 1 Peter, however, I cam across something interesting. “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19, NKJV). When I first read this, it didn’t mean anything. But, the second time I read this, I was perplexed: “let those who suffer according to the will of God.” What the heck? Suffering is part of God’s will? I’ve never heard this before. Peter says it fairly clear here in 1 Peter 4. We do suffer according to the will of God.

I meditated on this for a while. I wrestled with this. The church doesn’t teach anything about suffering as being part of God’s will. Yet, it says it here in 1 Peter. Thus, either I am wrongfully interpreting this verse and scripture or the church is missing something in its teaching.

I re-read the chapter over and over, and I got fixed on verses 12-14. I think they give us some insight into the mystery of verse 19.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14, NIV84

I have been taught all my life that happiness and health and psychological wellness and comfort are God’s design. I like the thought of that, don’t get me wrong. However, looking across the world, outside my quasi-middle-class life, I see a lot of suffering. I see a lot of war, death, poverty, disease. And this world I live in is God’s design. Thus, the happiness, health, and comfort that I have been taught is God’s will for my life cannot be the paramount purpose of God’s will.

This is where verse 12-14 come into play. Peter says in verse 12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why am I surprised when trial comes my way? He says, “do not be surprised.” Clearly, he is implying, “it’s normal to go through suffering. Don’t be surprised by it. You will have suffering in your life.” Then, moving to the next sentence, verse 13, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” He says, “do not be surprised…but rejoice.” Interesting. I feel like we are so quick to fix the suffering. Sometimes, we fix it with drugs, or we fix it with food, or with sex, or with blame. The fact is we immediately try to alleviate and put an end to suffering. However, Peter challenges us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.” I can’t say I was happy to read this verse. I do not want to be happy about suffering. I do not want to participate in Christ’s suffering. However, to be honest, I do want the benefit of His suffering. I believe that Peter is telling us to be glad and thankful when we suffer; remember Christ’s suffering, what He gave up, what He did for us. As we participate in His suffering, the benefit becomes all the more amazing. And when the benefit becomes more amazing, the benefactor is so much more appreciated. As a result, our appreciation and admiration for the Lord is increased.

One final word, just a thought about suffering “according to the will of God.” If it was God’s will that His Son (who, in fact, is God in the flesh) would suffer, for it was according to God’s will that Christ suffered. Then, we (who are not God) are called as well to suffer “according to the will of God.”

078: Big changes need more God

So my life has taken a big turn. There’s been tons of change. The number one biggest thing is that I am now the Interim Director at CFL Wesley. It’s exciting and new, something I would have never imagined doing, but I am glad the Lord has given me this opportunity. I feel like the Lord has me here for a reason, preparing me for something, giving me this chance to grow as a leader.

I’ve been trying to read more stuff. I’m not much of a reader. I grow tired of reading. Nevertheless, I was reading Psalm 69 today, and I found it to have some encouraging things.

First off, Jesus was so dedicated to the Lord. He was so zealous for the Lord, for the Lord’s house even. It says that, “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Jesus had such a passion even for God’s house. The house of God is not actual the person of God. It’s like me being overwhelmed with passion for my house. I’m not. If I was, I would probably be adding more beauty to it. But Jesus is consumed with zeal for His Father’s house. He knows that His Father’s presence dwells there. And what is cool about this is that the Lord’s Spirit dwells in us, in our hearts. Huh? If Jesus is zealous for the place that God’s spirit dwells, then zeal for our hearts (where the Holy Spirit dwells) consumes Him. What an awesome picture! He is zealous for our hearts. He longs to see our hearts made right. The corrupt things of our inner-man made new and clean. Thank you, Lord.

So, I also am working on a hymn based on Psalm 69. Here’s what I got:

I am broken and in need
Where can I find my peace?
The Lord is my salvation
A rock that is high, all my fears will cease

Jesus, your name be praised
My God, I magnify your hand of love
With thanks and melody
You will not despise my song

The Broken hear your praise and smile
Those who long for you shall breathe your life
For your mercy, it is great
And you restore the captive dwelling in great strife

077: Sometimes I’m not in the mood to write

It has been ages since I’ve written anything significant, other than journal entries–prayers, really. But, I felt an urgency from the Lord to start writing, to expose truths in my life, to exclaim discoveries about the Lord, to explore the life God has given me, which, to be honest, has been pretty good lately. I often tell my friends that it’s too good; something is bound to go wrong soon enough. However, I’ve been saying it for a while, and God has been helping me stay connected to Him, by no power of my own. When I look at how far the Lord has brought through struggles, sin, attitudes, and desires, I’m amazed at His faithfulness. If it weren’t for Him, I would be hopeless. Much of His faithfulness has been shown through my wife: she’s always there for me, keeping me to the man I want to be. She’s the greatest blessing in my life.

I was reading today in Psalm 53 and Mark 1. I’ve been going through Psalms, 53 was up next, and I felt like I should read through Mark, because it has been 10 years or more since I read through Mark. Some interesting things I discovered that really showed me some things about God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son of God.

In Psalm 53, it says, “God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Ps. 53:2; NIV). God, the Father, is looking at us, looking at everyone to see if we are looking for him. He wants–no, desperately desires–to find someone who is seeking Him. If you look at it this way, what good father does not want his children to seek him for wisdom, affection, or provision? God is “Our Father” and “Hallowed be [His] name.” But what we see in verse 3 tells us that God did not find anyone who sought after Him: “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” What the heck? Not a single person is good; myself included.

However, the story doesn’t end here in Psalm 53. When we look forward to Mark 1, we see that God’s search is over. He looks everywhere across the whole earth, and what does He find? Himself, as a man–Jesus. Jesus is the one whom God had been searching for all along. Jesus was the only one “who [understood]” and “who [sought] God.” We know this, because God says this to Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; NIV). God makes His claim, “I love You, Son. I am so pleased with You.” (That’s my translation.)

As we continue in Mark 1, Jesus jumps right into the thick of things. (Or so it feels that way, because of Mark’s writing style.) Anyway, Jesus does perform miracles: casts out an evil spirit, heals a sick woman, and cleanses a leper. Furthermore, when He is teaching in the synagogues, the people realize that preaches differently: He preaches with authority. I believe that Jesus was living in the full belief, full trust, and full faith that He was, indeed, the Son of God. When He heard the Father say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” He believed one hundred percent, not a doubt in His mind. He believed the Father when the Father said that He was loved, that He was the Father’s son, and that the Father was pleased with Him. By holding to the character and title claimed on Him by the Father, Jesus gained authority as the “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). That is why whatever He does from the point of baptism and later, He does with authority as “the Holy One of God,” a pretty awesome title.

So what this means for me, I have been given authority as well. God has called me good, righteous by the blood of Jesus, his adopted son. If I live in these titles, with faith, then I will gain authority over many things, not for my own good, but for the good of the Kingdom. Thus, I need an attitude change, really. I lose focus, lose sight of the titles God has given me. God is the one who gives us the titles and the authority. It’s our job to trust in His word and have faith in the character He has claimed over us.

074: Dodging the bullets of my own desires to spend time with the Lord

I have been lacking, as a result of my own complacency and apathy.  A man, Tom Tanner, I know him only through other people, said this once, “If you don’t intentionally increase, you will unintentionally decrease.”  He spoke these things pertaining to our relationship with Jesus.  And, to be honest, I have not been increasing.  Thus, well…you can fill in the rest from the quote above.  I have been declining.  And I know it.  I read my bible and pray every other day.  I used to read my bible once week in high school and felt fine, felt like life was at a high point.  However, now, I skip a day and I feel like my life is tearing at the seams.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I do feel a significant difference in my life, just the way I feel about things, about what’s happening around me, about where life is going.

So, I want to commit myself to truly seeking out the Lord, always!  Not letting up one day, to pick up another.  But, as anyone knows, it’s hard to keep up.  All the distractions of life–work, school, family, spouse, pleasure, recreation, entertainment, insecurities–take their aim at all your vulnerable time slots–Jesus time, small groups, church.  Thus, I am dodging the bullets of my own desires to spend time with the Lord.  I know this sounds dramatic and all, that’s because it is, on paper (or on the screen, in the internet’s case.)  Nevertheless, I have to be committed to something more than passions an desires, because, as it is clear to all, they fade and falter just as the flesh does, but the Spirit is willing.

I spent time today meditating on the Lord’s prayer.  It is not something I have never done before.  However, I made it a point to be very intentional about listening to the Spirit while meditating.  I guess, I should always do that, really.

First off, I was reminded of the scripture, “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Lev. 20:26 NASB).  If I want to dwell with the Lord, if I want to speak with Him, if I want to call upon His holy Name, then I must be holy as well.  In fact, in this Leviticus passage, God is commanding me to be holy, because He is.  And, in all reality, I am aware that true holiness is unattainable, because I am human.  (You could ask my wife that: she’s seen how human I can be.)  I think the part about being holy that grabbed my focus the most is that I expect the Lord to come be with me whenever I please.  And probably nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, I am asking Him to rest with me while I am an unholy devil.  However, God, in his great mercy, still sits beside the ragged, sinful, selfish man I am.  And from that, from the multitude of His mercies, I am thankful for His holiness.  (For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. — Ps. 103:11 NASB.)

And the other cool thing I got when meditating on the Lord’s prayer is this: Pray expectantly everyday for the Lord to provide “the daily bread” for all parts of life.  I found that “daily bread” is all kinds of life giving substances, whether it is physical bread for the day to nourish my body, or the Word of God to nourish my soul, or spiritual questions for my wife and I to discuss to nourish our marriage.  I guess, ultimately, I can expect that God will provide for all parts of life, for He has come to bring “abundant life.”

073: Okay, I am trying to keep up with my posting

It has been a while, I know. I have a lot of time consuming tasks that I have been doing. As result, my blog has been suffering. Marriage takes a lot of effort and time and intentional living. But it is…

Well, I actually had written a whole lot on here.  But somehow it all got deleted.  Thanks wordpress.com.

I wrote about Isaiah 44-45.  Some interesting things that I have been thinking about.  The main point I made was that God creates all things, even righteousness, goodness, and salvation.  So I cannot seek things in my life that will bring me a false righteousness, goodness, and salvation.  But, rather, seek the Lord–just as Matthew 6 says.

066: A thought about turning back

Why is that there always remains a traitor within us all? In myself, I have to face in him day after day. It is a frustrating fact of my life. This is the old man that Paul talks about.  This old self tries to save himself, holding on to the sins of my youth.  I found myself, today, crying out to Jesus for help.  “Jesus, put to death this false-self with in me.”  In Romans 8:12-14, taken from The Message it reads:

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

In the verses before these verses, it speaks of how we were once under the old law, and there is no longer any condemnation for us, and we have life by the Spirit, now.  That’s summing it up very quickly.  But as I read this today, I just pleaded with God to put to death this old self, who seeks only for himself pleasures and earthly delights.  I hate it.  I want freedom from it all.  And that is what I was begging Christ to help me with.

One of my prayers lately has been this: “Jesus, teach me how to love.  Teach me how to repent.  Teach me how to seek Your face.”  I was reading Isaiah 55 the other day and came across these two verses, 6 and 7:

Seek God while he’s here to be found,
pray to him while he’s close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life
and the evil their way of thinking.
Let them come back to God, who is merciful,
come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness. — The Message

I saw how God wanted Israel–well, the wicked of Israel–to come back to Him, and He would lavish them with mercy and forgiveness.  And I thought to myself, if I am turning back to God, then to whom am I turning the rest of the time?  That made me think about repentance.  I can see how in the old testament there is a large importance for repentance; in reality, Jesus said the same message, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matthew 4:17 NASB).  Thus, whether old or new, both testaments speak about repentance, so it must be important.

I thought about repentance.  I thought about turning back to Him, for in my life, I have had to do that a lot.  But what if I needed only to turn to him?  Why am I turning to all these other places?  Usually, it is to my own ways and my own desires, which never really satisfy.  I like how The Message translates the Isa. 55 passage: “Let the wicked abandon their ways.”  I think that is so rich.  That gives me such a vivid picture of repentance.  Repentance = abandonment.  Not abandoning Jesus or loved ones or family, but abandoning the false-self, the old self–my own selfish ways and ideas.  It painted a picture of me having all this stuff and seeing that I was pleased to have it all but still without peace and love, I left it all behind, for life with less things, for a life with greater love, for a life made of a more excellent way.  I could be wrong about the whole repentance thing.  But I like to think of it as abandoning.  I have to leave something behind.  Something that may be comfortable, or something I have done for years.  No matter what though, it always works out in the end.

062: Back from Africa

I have actually been back from Ghana, in West Africa, for about two weeks now.  I haven’t written anything, because I have been processing, thinking, “what am I to say?”  Frankly, I feel like there is so much that has happened in my heart and in my mind, but how do I spill it all out?  One helpful thing has been journaling.  I find that journaling clears things up.  But here, in this blog, I am finding it difficult to express something worth a person’s read.

The thing that keeps throbbing in my brain is the 5th or 6th day I was in Ghana.  The team was at an orphanage in Obuasi, an old gold mining town.  The orphanage, called Adullum, in fact, was my favorite part of the trip; it showed me the best of God’s love, maybe even the simplest form of God’s love.  But that is not only what stood out, or what is coursing through my mind at this very moment.  On this, let’s say, 6th day in Ghana, the team arrived at Adullum and had the opportunity to meet with the owner, creator, and operator.  She had been out of the country with illness, so we were very lucky to get the chance to meet with her.

Her name was Louis.  She was fifty-ish, Australian, and radical.  She looked like something was after her; I later called that something, the Devil.  But she didn’t seem scared in the least.  In fact, I thought she looked quite confident.  She told us with boldness and confidence about how the orphanage had been created.  My hope for the children was made alive.  I felt like they had been placed in this very place by God himself.  He was creating warriors and worship leaders and shepherds for the country of Ghana.  What an amazing sight, to see a sea of future bond-servants, dedicated to each other and to the will of God.

Now, to get to the finale, after speaking with us for an hour and a half, she concluded with this simple prayer: (I paraphrase a bit because it is hard to remember exactly what she said) she prefaced it with this. “Now, only pray this if you really mean it, because if you ask for it, He will do it,” then the prayer began, “Lord, take your cross and drive deep in my flesh, so that I die, but You remain.”  The last words spoken with tears.  This had been her prayer for so long.  And I thought to myself, dying every day is not easy, but I want it.  I want Him to be the life.

I have actually been singing this prayer in almost all of quiet times since I have been back.  I sing it like this:

Take your cross and drive it in my heart: I die; You live.