We Rejoice In Hope

Last week, we talked about learning to rejoice always because we know our God holds us (and everything else) in His hands. Shifting our focus to Him gives us the perspective we need to have true, lasting joy. It also gives us something else.

I quoted a definition of joy in last week’s post (titled “The Joy of the Lord”) that stated it is “acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful.” We could further simplify this definition by saying joy is a result of hope.

Hope in the Bible isn’t just a vague sense of wanting something with no guarantee it will happen, the way we often use it today when we say things like “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope this new superhero movie is good.” Rather, it’s about an expectation that you can count on being fulfilled. It’s intimately connected to salvation (Rom. 8:24; 1 Thes. 5:8), provides comfort in sorrow (1 Thes. 4:13), and is used as a title for God (Jer. 17:13; Rom. 15:13). And it’s essential to joy.

Hope, Suffering, and Joy

Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Rom. 5:1-2, WEB)

“We rejoice in hope,” partly because, as Paul says later in this letter “we were saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24). Our hope and rejoicing are connected with faith and grace, as well as the glory of God. Though we don’t yet see the end result of our salvation, we hope for it and we have joy in that expectation. But that’s not all we rejoice in. Read more

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When You’re Crushed Like Dust

Have you ever felt like your spirit is crushed and your heart broken? Like you’ve been pounded into dust or smashed to smithereens?

Those are the definitions for the Hebrew words shabar (H7665, broken) and dakka (H1793, crushed). I bring them up because I want to talk about this verse from Psalms:

Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. (Psalm 34:18, WEB)

When you’re ground down like dust and broken into pieces, God is there beside you. We often want Him to prevent or remove bad things but it seems that in most cases His preference is to walk with us through hardship rather than stop it from ever happening. We are promised deliverance, but in His timing, not ours.

Suffering and Deliverance

Let’s read some of the context for this verse (you can click here to read the whole Psalm).

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but Yahweh delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:17-19, WEB)

It’s clear from this psalm that righteousness doesn’t exempt us from bad situations. In fact, “many are the afflictions of the righteous” and they have to cry to Yahweh for deliverance. That holds true for believers throughout the ages.

I endured those persecutions. The Lord delivered me out of them all. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:11-12, WEB)

Here’s Paul, centuries after David, expressing the same truths. Those who follow God must expect to endure afflictions and persecutions, but they can also expect deliverance. Read more

Finding Hope In Lamentations Through Christ Our Passover

Lamentations is a depressing little book, at least on first glance. It’s composed of 5 poems of mourning that were once part of the book of Jeremiah, but were then isolated so they’d be easier to read in public. Traditionally, the Jewish people read Lamentations each year on Tish B’av, a fast day commemorating the destructions of the temple in 586 BC and 70 AD.

The first poem speaks of sorrow, weeping, misery, and desolation that has come upon Israel. Jeremiah describes the Lord as righteous for bringing such punishment to those who rebelled. The second poem is about the Lord fighting against Israel as an enemy. As a result, there is weeping, misery, and no comfort.

The fourth poem recounts more horrors that happened because of Israel’s sin. It talks about persecutions and punishment brought on them by the anger of the Lord. The fifth poem cries out to God to remember His people, recounting the punishments they’ve already suffered for their iniquities. It ends by talking about God forgetting and rejecting Israel, begging Him not to do so forever.

We now know that God answered this last prayer. He didn’t forget His people or cast them off forever. In fact, God the Father sent God the Son to die in our place and redeem us. The Word became flesh and brought about reconciliation between God and man as our Passover sacrifice.

Even without this perspective, though, Jeremiah was able to have a surprisingly hopeful outlook in the midst of incredibly difficult situations. In the third poem, nestled right in the middle of Lamentations, we find a determination to continue believing in the Lord’s goodness no matter what comes. That’s an outlook we would all do well to imitate. Read more

Eternity Has Begun

“Eternity has begun for us.”

That phrase was used in a message on the First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles this year, and it kept cropping up in conversations and sermons throughout the rest of the week where I was keeping the Feast.

In my churches, we teach that people who are not called today will get a chance at salvation after the second resurrection. The books will be opened, giving them understanding of the Bible, and then after an unspecified period of time they’ll be “judged according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-13). For those in God’s household today, though, judgement has already begun. This is our chance at eternal life.

Eternity Has Begun | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Great Responsibility

Those of us who’ve responded to God’s call and entered a covenant with Him have been given great gifts of understanding. After we receive an invitation to become firstfruits, God teaches us “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). The kingdom of God is a mystery that isn’t shared with just anyone yet, and for a very good reason.

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

The more someone knows, the more they’re accountable for. Today, God is working with a select few — people He knows can make it if they will truly follow Him and love with all their hearts, minds, and souls. Even so, we’re warned quite clearly that there will be people in the churches who think they’re serving God but still don’t “get it.”

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)

We can’t follow God however we want, even if it looks good from the outside, and expect to make it into His kingdom. We have to follow God the way He commands, and cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Run To Obtain

As God gets to know us on our walk with Him, He’s purifying and molding us into a “new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). At the same time, we’re being judged to see how we measure up. Are we growing? Do we desire a relationship with Him? Will we submit to His headship in our lives?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when He “comes in His glory” He will gather people before Him and divide them into two groups. By this time, the judgement is already made — He knows who is a sheep and who is a goat (Matt. 25:31-46). When we stand before Christ, it will be too late to try and convince Him you really were a sheep who just acted like a goat sometimes. We have to commit ourselves to His way of life now.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

God isn’t going to make you or me a firstfruit just because we showed up for church. There isn’t a participation prize. Not everyone who runs a race wins, and not everyone who claims to follow Jesus will be in His kingdom. We have to discipline ourselves to run in a way that qualifies us to receive the ultimate prize.

God wants people in His family who are teachable and humble — who respond to His work in their lives and take an active role. Only God can transform us, but we can chose whether or not to let Him. We can choose to strive for “an imperishable crown.”

Judgement Today

 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:31-32)

The uses of “judge” in 1 Corinthians 11:31 come from two different Greek words. “If we would judge” — diakrino, to discern (G1252) — “ourselves, we would not be judged” — krino, tried in a solemn judicial manner (G2919). If we would exercise discernment and take a good look at ourselves, we would behave in such a way that there was no need for a divine judicial ruling to correct and motivate us.

There’s still cause for hope even when we don’t exercise perfect discernment in judging ourselves. God’s first response when judging someone is to give them a chance to change, not destroy them. He judges and chastens us as a Father does His children (Heb. 12:5-11). It’s for our correction and growth.

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now, “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18)

“The time has come,” Peter said, and that was almost 2,000 years ago. The house of God is still going through “a solemn judgement, a judicial trial” (Zodhiates, G2917, krima). God is looking at us right now, refining us and correcting us to make certain of our character. He wants us to fill important roles in His family, and He won’t give us those roles if we aren’t a good fit — it wouldn’t be fair to the people God’s family is serving and teaching in the Millennium.

Becoming like Christ is the key to our transformation from someone who would be judged as a goat to someone who will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have to follow His example completely, develop a close relationship with Him, and learn to obey God’s commands. Hebrews tells us that even Jesus, “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If God in the flesh had to learn and suffer, it follows that we will as well. Indeed, the context of 1 Peter 4:17-18 is suffering “according to the will of God” without being ashamed (1 Pet. 4:16, 19).

In a proper Christian context, trials are seen as a good thing because they are a tool God uses to bring us closer to Him. Suffering, chastisement, and judgement are part of the refining, discipline process of turning us into firstfruits. It’s meant as a stepping stone — not a stumbling block — on the way to eternity.

When I Am Weak

"When I Am Weak" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comI hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My family gathered at my Uncle’s house for turkey, lots of mashed potatoes, euchre playing, and several enthusiastic Apples to Apples games that could probably have been heard by people driving by in their cars.

Today, I have another C.S. Lewis quote to share with you. As I think I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been reading The Problem of Pain. In chapter 6, he makes this statement: “tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.”

Comfortable Dirtiness

To put this statement in context, Lewis was talking about human tendency to only turn our attention to God when things are going badly in our lives. When we are scared or in pain, we rush to God and ask him to take it away and bring us through the trial. But all to often, we try our best to forget the thing that brought us back to God as soon as that prayer is answered.

God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over — I shake myself dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

We need our weaknesses and our sufferings to help bring us into God’s family. I did a search for the word “suffer” in the KJV, and found it used more than 50 times to refer to Christ’s suffering and/or the necessity of us following in His footsteps.

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29)

Importance of Fire

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

The analogy of a refining fire is one that is frequently used in scripture. Gold and silver are purified by fire (Zech. 13:9), pottery needs fired to give it strength (Is. 64:8). We tend often think of fire as a bad thing, perhaps because of the association with fiery punishment. But fire in the context of trials has a positive connotation. Even if the affects are unpleasant, the result should be us moving ever closer to glory.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)

God Hasn’t Given Up

There are two ways we can take the idea Lewis expresses when he says, “tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.” We can either get depressed and worn down by the realization that trials will not end until we are perfected, or we can look at trials as proof that God hasn’t given up on making us like Christ.

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Reasons for Suffering

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One of the best sermons we heard during the Feast of Tabernacles was titled “Why Will God Release Satan to Deceive the World Again?” (Sept. 24 sermon, link in Pacific COG archives). I could probably write half a dozen blog posts on different points he brought up, but for now I want to focus on just one. In the context of trying to see things from God’s point of view (such as understanding His decision to release Satan after the Millennium [Rev. 20:1-10]), the speaker brought up the subject of suffering. When we’re suffering, our automatic response is to want the suffering to end because we view it in a negative light, but God’s perspective can be very different.

Blessed Persecution

If we start reading the beatitudes, those who Christ calls blessed are not always in a condition we would consider a blessing. They are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), they mourn and weep (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:21), they are hungry (Luke 6:21), they are hated (Luke 6: 22), and they are persecuted.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)

I don’t know about you, but my first reaction when I’m feeling persecuted is not to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” or to “leap for joy” (Luke 6:23). Yet we should be more like the apostles who, after they were beaten and commanded not to preach Jesus any more, “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” and made themselves the target of more persecution by continuing to preach (Acts 5:40-42).

If we suffer with Him

The question, “Why would God allow suffering?” is frequently asked by those in the church and by those who have rejected belief in God. If He’s all powerful, we wonder, why would He allow such terrible things to happen? One answer, as pointed out in the sermon I’ve been referring to, is that God sees suffering in a different light than we do. Often, what we see as negative in this moment will ultimately be for our good. For example, in Romans 8, Paul writes that we will be glorified with Christ on the condition that we suffer as He suffered.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:16-18, KJV)

This is certainly not the only scripture that talks of our glorious future as being conditional on present suffering. Here are a few more:

our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17)

if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed (1 Pet. 3:14)

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 (1 Pet. 2:20-21)

Why is suffering so important?

Finding these scriptures and understanding that suffering is part of being a Christian is not hard. Accepting that there is a good reason for suffering in your life or in the lives of those you love is the hard part. And this is why I really appreciated this sermon message, because the speaker didn’t just tell people “suffering is good for you, be happy.” He pulled together an easy-to-understand analysis that moved logically from the proper reaction to suffering, to the reward for suffering, to the reason for suffering.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

The reason for trials and testings and suffering is that it helps us learn to be like God. If we were dancing through life without a care in the world, we would forget how much we depend on God. If we never suffered for following Christ, we would have no sense of how much we owe Him for dying in our place. If we did not suffer the consequences of sin, we would never learn to hate sin as much as God does.