November 26, 2013

Jar of Thorns

Where is God in all of the crisis and all of the chaos? 

He's right there with you.

He’s usually nearer than He has ever been before but we cannot see it either because of the suffering or our sin obscures Him. Suffering forces us to depend solely on God. If not, we will be tempted to say, “My power and my strength built this and what I have that is good…is my own doing!” This is just not true as it is the work of God, the sovereign God of the Bible. This is why we struggle and are broken. Most will never reach this point until death because they are never really humbled, never really broken and contrite.

We must be still under His rod and be truly humble. Straining against the sharp spines and hooks only causes more pain.

Being Christ-like sometimes requires that one cleans up after others that make a mess or catastrophe of things. Sometimes being Christ-like requires that one allows others to go their own way in error and make messes of things. They make a mess of things because they thought they knew better acting in their sin end up destroying everything they touch because of their sin. You will then come along in support of them to clean up after them because they were too bold or foolish to listen to calmer minds that knew the trouble they would get themselves into. We see this a lot in the mature believers versus the immature believers. We see this in the parent child relationship.

A true mature Christian will allow these mistakes as a learning process and still be willing to come along after to clean up. A really mature Christian will tolerate the brazen foolishness, do the clean-up and patiently endure more in silent suffering grace hoping that God’s grace will eventually affect those in error and they will end up seeing the errancy of their ways. This is the difference between a Christian that matures and one the merely gets older but does not mature. We see this in Christ’s actions with people like Peter and the other apostles. We see this in the relationship Jesus had with Nicodemus. We should see this in our pastors and elders.

Many people (including myself) need to realize that at times they we not have answers to issues and acknowledge this fact instead of trying to bulldoze through an issue on sheer willpower and stubbornness. It will greatly speed resolution of current crises. I find that too many times too many people “know too much” and are unwilling to humble themselves in grace. Altercations and conflicts then result and things that could’ve been easily resolved or ended sooner in terms or suffering become intensified and unnaturally prolonged. A war of attrition then ensue with God and as my father used to tell me…your arms are too short to battle or fight with God. He has much more time than you to wear you down.

Issues that could’ve been about obedience and learning then become about winning arguments or convincing someone (including the self) that they were right rather than learning from the suffering and resolving problems with things like hidden sin that God was trying to show us through our trials.  As a believer we must accept that, no matter how bad a situation appears…it is temporary and it has been allowed in our lives by a sovereign God. It is better to not fight it and try to get to the root of the problem through prayer and honest examination of one’s life. God usually will not force things on us unless we are really thick-headed…so learn where possible and look to Him when prolonged travail appears inevitable. Being Christian has always been about suffering and endurance. It is not about happy thoughts and paradise on earth. It is not about you best life now or name it and claim it. For a Christian it's about the destination, not the journey. It's about Jesus, not us.

Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount and minced no words doing so. The beatitudes are not recommendations for the Christian life…they are expectations. They are not a how to guide…they are what you should already be. Furthermore, the words below for persecution δεδιωγμένοι and διώξωσιν better translate to hunted, chased or pressed from behind forcing one to flee. The implication is to not stand and fight the persecution but rather to flee it. God in these situations is our defender and justifier. Every beatitude essentially says a person should humble themselves in meekness in one shape or another and it will benefit them in a passive manner or the benefit of this behavior will be acted or enacted upon them by someone or something else (usually God Himself or God through other people). In other words, if one is meek, poor in spirit…their reward is already assumed. It is not a matter of if...its a matter of when.

If a righteous man is a blessed man than these statements assume you will be meek, poor in spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, etc. At the end we see the statement that surmises them all…Blessed are those that are persecuted for being Christian (righteous) because why? Because in the end, the final reward is heaven which will make all suffering pale by comparison. I pray this comforts any in suffering right now.

Matthew 5:3-12
~Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
~Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
~Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
~Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
~Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
~Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
~Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
~Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
~Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It is often the suffering that puts the jewel in the crown of righteousness. Sometimes to wear the crown of righteousness one will have to wear a crown of thorns first. If so our Master, then so too us. Sometimes the things that separate the two are nearly indistinguishable as they sometimes come packaged the same on the outside and it isn't until later that we see that the suffering was necessary to get to the reward. I speak from experience as many Christians is incredibly hard to see the jewels somewhere else when you are in a suffocating constraint surrounded by thorns that obscure your vision.

We see the Apostle Paul through all his sufferings never lost sight of where he was going although at times he too was beaten down. 

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ~ We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul also advised others to keep their wits about them in persecution and suffering also.

2 Timothy 4: 5-8 ~ “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 

We must persevere as Christ did until everything reaches its culmination in God's plan. In this way we best fulfill the will of God by glorifying Him in our perseverance through our suffering which shows we believe in what He has inevitably promised us. Eternal Life.

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