I had to stop, be still for a moment. I had to catch my breath and unplug. Bog after blog about politics, God, God and politics, Republican, Democrat…and I felt the tug to enter the un-winnable war and to alienate some of my friends, hurt some of my brothers and sisters, not for the sake of the Kingdom, but for the sake of what?? Really...
So, back to scripture and to the fixing our eyes on Jesus. Which reminds me of this verse at the end of Hebrews after the preacher has told us why Jesus is superior in every way to the Old Testament ways and teachings…
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
I often forget that Jesus is not only above and beyond the Old Testament system, but every system of any age, people, place, and nation. Sometimes I get so caught up in Jesus fitting into the system that I forget to ask if the system needs to fit into Jesus. Let’s Consider some of the major aspect of Jesus’ way:
We are surrounded, not by champions or victors, but by witnesses to the faith whom Jesus has made victorious in their death…and it is this group who encourages us in our battle against sin and evil.
Jesus stands as the focal point, being the founder and perfecter. How So? Not through election or a power play, but through enduring the cross and its shame.
Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, earned through endurance and faith. To be with God is the reward for all those who endure and are faithful; first Jesus, then those before us, and now us.
Consider this as we go through life (may want to add the hymn in Philippians 2 as well) for our struggle has not led us to the cross and we have not shed our blood.
The way of Christ is paved through discipline and endurance, Jesus has walked this road before us, others have too and they surround us. So, chin up and chest out, let us not lightly regard the people God wants us to be.
Christians are called to focus on Jesus, to go through life with endurance and faith, and to always remember that God has not forsaken us in times of trouble…for people who go through trouble are often made better through it. They are disciplined. And at the end of the day, I think the world could use a few more disciplined Christians…I’m asking Jesus to make me into one. Not sure what all it means, but I have to trust the one I have made my Savior and Lord. You want to join me?
Reading and studying Revelation, especially during a heated presidential election and in the middle of an election year across our nation, has really been challenging to me. From a historical perspective, there is a clear movement away from the influences of culture as perpetuated by the governing authorities. Through the imagery of the “beast” who are empowered by the “Great Red Dragon” we should read and see an attitude toward all things Roman and thus be cognizant of the dangers that threaten the church through all oppressive ideas, structures, and actions.
Of course, the book of Revelation is also clear that churches should not at all participate in the oppression that Rome represents. In the opening chapters, Jesus is seen speaking to churches who have given into the pressures and have begun to put hope into economic securities, easily acceptable teachings regarding sexual practices, and syncretism of the Roman way of life and the Christian way of life. Revelation uses strong imagery of churches that are acting in such unfaithful ways when it calls them “lukewarm” and Jesus is seen as one standing outside and knocking at the door of the church. So, why such a strong contrast between the empire and the church?
Because people have died. One of the most blaring differences between the original recipients of Revelation and those I am teaching on Sunday mornings (including me) is the situation in which we read and study this communication from God. It is a difference of comfort; for the first recipients of the book there was very little acceptance and some marginalizing consequences for those who would choose to live for God because it was regarded as an assault against the throne and the government of Rome. This played out in the social, religious, and economic aspects of Roman culture. From a social perspective, Christians were at best seen as a threat to the peace and stability of Rome and thus shunned and marginalized. From a religious perspective, Christians did not worship the gods of Rome nor the emperor; and thus, were seen as the mysterious other group that are weird and propose a threat. From an economic perspective, this mistrust lead to many Christians not finding employment and losing business opportunities. In the end…this marginalization and oppression led to an attitude in which killing Christians could be seen as a noble act and a protective service for Rome.
Therefore, we have the pictures of God’s judgment like we have in Revelation 14. It is gruesome, but I understand that if God is going to save a people who is dying, suffering, hurting, losing, and crying to God for help; then part of that salvation is throwing down the oppressor and proving that this people, God’s people, have done nothing wrong in their allegiance to God.
I am afraid, however, that as we sit together in peace and prosperity, in our buildings designated for the worship of God through Jesus christ, in our pews or pillowed attachable seats, and read from our gold-tipped pages the word of God…that the action of God in coming to the aid of these Christians might be somewhat offensive to us. We have been persuaded to get along with everyone, to be quiet about our faith, and to figure out a way to blend culture and religion together in a peaceful compromise.
After all, we have heard it taught and preached and repeated and used by everyone and put on signs that God is LOVE. I agree that God is a loving and merciful God…but some situations call for a “consuming fire” type of God, a wrathful and angry God, a God that declares, “vengeance is mine, I will repay…” type of God. God loves the world..yes! And God loves his people, those who serve and worship Jesus Christ as Lord and King…yes! Now, I love my wife and I happen to love other women as well, like my good friends and family. What happens if someone I love started oppressing my wife whom I also love? What should my response be? Umm…I choose my wife! God chooses his church!
God has poured out his love into this world by providing his Son Jesus and by giving it the church, God’s people. That church is called the bride of Christ in the book of Revelation. It is the bride that the world has abused and hurt and disregarded…and God (along with Jesus) comes to the aid of the church. While I do believe God calls us to be peacemakers, to love our neighbors, and to live a quiet life from which others can learn…Let us also make no mistake that God’s judgment is real and it is awful. Those who want to hurt the church and lead people astray will be thrown down, and I just really hope that if you are a Christian that doesn’t offend you. If so, maybe, just maybe, we should think about just how comfortable our life is and if that comfort is an obstacle to being a faithful witness for God.
My wife is an optometrist, and I know how much she loves helping people see clearly. She went on a few mission trips to Africa where she witnesses people being able to see nature, family, and friends for the very first time. I’m sure it’s an awesome experience to help and then witness those folks who get things put into perspective for them for the very first time.
Well, I’m in a different type of work, but I also try to help people see things clearly. And, on occasion, I get the front row seat to someone who has been refocused and view things from a different perspective as well. The main difference between what I do and what my wife does is found in this verse below:
2 Corinthians 4:16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 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! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
Yes, I’m the guy that tries to persuade you to set your eyes on something that cannot be seen…when I ask 1 or 2…3 or 4…there may not be anything reflected in your eyes, but I assure you there is indeed something upon which to focus. Sometimes I wish I could just refract the eyes myself, like my wife does, and then write the prescription so that everyone I visit with and talk to would be able to see clearly. But, even in her line of work, the right pair of glasses need to be worn and not lost. Contact lenses need to be taken care of and properly inserted to do what they are intended to do.
Life has troubles, it has pains and hurts. We suffer from all sorts of things and get bombarded about other things. Athletes get older, beauty fades, skin sags, hair disappears, minds wonder, and life has a way of taking its toll on us. But let me help out by giving you an eye exam…because I am interested in improving your vision. You see, all of those things are meant to fade away and go away, but there are things that last forever. We need to fix our gaze on these things. So, take off that old pair of glasses and let me put some new ones on ya!!
So, what is going to last forever?
As I read through Job, I cannot help but get overly anxious regarding the bombardment of questions and information given by Job’s friends. The speech by Elihu in 36:26-37:24 arose my curiosity because Elihu is throwing questions at Job. What is going on here?
Here is what Elihu says:
36:26 “Look, God is greater than we can understand.
His years cannot be counted.
27 He draws up the water vapor
and then distills it into rain.
28 The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.
29 Who can understand the spreading of the clouds
and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?
30 See how he spreads the lightning around him
and how it lights up the depths of the sea.
31 By these mighty acts he nourishes the people,
giving them food in abundance.
32 He fills his hands with lightning bolts
and hurls each at its target.
33 The thunder announces his presence;
the storm announces his indignant anger.
37:1“My heart pounds as I think of this.
It trembles within me.
2 Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
as it rolls from his mouth.
3 It rolls across the heavens,
and his lightning flashes in every direction.
4 Then comes the roaring of the thunder--
the tremendous voice of his majesty.
He does not restrain it when he speaks.
5 God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.
6 “He directs the snow to fall on the earth
and tells the rain to pour down.
7 Then everyone stops working
so they can watch his power.
8 The wild animals take cover
and stay inside their dens.
9 The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
and the driving winds bring the cold.
10 God’s breath sends the ice,
freezing wide expanses of water.
11 He loads the clouds with moisture,
and they flash with his lightning.
12 The clouds churn about at his direction.
They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
13 He makes these things happen either to punish people
or to show his unfailing love.
14 “Pay attention to this, Job.
Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
15 Do you know how God controls the storm
and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
16 Do you understand how he moves the clouds
with wonderful perfection and skill?
17 When you are sweltering in your clothes
and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
18 he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
Can you do that?
19 “So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
20 Should God be notified that I want to speak?
Can people even speak when they are confused?
21 We cannot look at the sun,
for it shines brightly in the sky
when the wind clears away the clouds.
22 So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
23 We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
but even though he is just and righteous,
he does not destroy us.
24 No wonder people everywhere fear him.
All who are wise show him reverence.
It was 37:13 that really caught my attention in the middle of this onslaught of questions. So, I went to the The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament for some insight and here is what I learned.
This speech illustrates the work of God through nature, from one season to the next. Elihu starts with Autumn and then goes through Winter into the Spring, ending with Summer. This is a scientific lecture of sorts, in which Elihu is challenging Job to consider the fact that if he cannot explain the very nature of things, how is he to stand before God and give a true defense of himself. If you reread the questions found in the verses below, you will see that in each season there are things that Job cannot do to know, and Elihu is basically telling Job that he will be swallowed up in God’s judgement because there is no good way to argue a defense against God.
Of course, this sets up God’s appearing in the book, breaking out of the storm and now it is God’s turn to question Job, not Job’s turn to question God. However, Job does get an audience with God and learns to fear God and trust him, because there is purpose for God’s actions even if they are not understood right away…or for a season. As was written above, “He makes these things happen either to punish people or to show his unfailing love…” which indicates that God is not whimsical but acts with purpose.
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul presents a different view of suffering from the conventional wisdom we read in the book of Job. One of the major reasons for the shift in thinking about suffering is the experience of Jesus Christ, the ultimate righteous suffering servant. The notion that He who was without sin was made to suffer for the sins of the world must have some sort of extension into the life of faith. This extension is that when we suffer on behalf of others, we reflect the attitude of Christ and therefore join Jesus in his work to love the world until it hurts.
Paul wrote this to the Corinth church:
1:3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
Paul seems to argue that the reason why we can relate to people and help others is because we have experienced the same things. He claims that when we suffer and are comforted, we learn how to be a comfort for others as they suffer…we are God’s tools for administering healing in the world, but only as we have received healing ourselves from God.
And notice who we are suffering for…Christ! He is the example and the one through whom the comfort comes…God comforts us because we suffer for Christ. This is different from suffering because we face the consequences of some sin we committed. This is not suffering because we made a poor decision. Paul was participating in church planting work all around the Roman world, and he experienced suffering because he was a Christ follower. We must make that important distinction here!
8b We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.
There is something in the above passage that seems to show us that those who suffer have the opportunity to put greater trust in God. Paul said that although they thought they would die they trusted in the God who raises the dead! That is a powerful proclamation! As we suffer, we still have a choice to put our confidence in God or to reject God. To Job’s credit, he did not reject God but went to God with his question of “WHY?” Paul’s writing declares that when we put our confidence in God, He will rescue us and this promise does not come from someone driving a Bentley and living in a padded, cushioned palace…it’s from Paul who has a laundry list of bad days for the sake of Christ.
There are those who think that if we receive comfort from God, then our troubles just go away, but instead of removing the pain God grants us the grace and strength to persevere through the pain and hurt and time of suffering. God also grants us the opportunity to become a blessing to others in their pain and hurt. So the end game is not our comfort, but God’s Kingdom.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.