For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:15-17, ESV)
We in America and many in the western world have a society that is built around ease and the avoidance of suffering. We have insurance policies to cover almost any calamity that might head our way. We have labor saving machines that simplify our lives and make them more enjoyable and it seems that we have a pill for every physical ailment we might encounter. When an ailment comes upon us, we who call ourselves “Christians” rarely ask God what it is for in His eyes, or if He wants it to be cured before we head for the medicine cabinet or the phone to make an appointment with our doctors. Some of us take the time to pray, but what do we do when He is silent or the answer is “No!”? The following quote about suffering is from T. Austin-Sparks:
Take the problem of suffering. That may include many things; physical, circumstantial, spiritual. It may relate to ourselves or to others. Almost countless are the ways of God’s dealings with us, which are most trying and hard to bear. The most acute form of suffering is that which relates to God Himself: His silence; hiding Himself; seeming to have neither knowledge nor care. Prayers seem to be unheard, and are, apparently (we would say positively) unanswered.
What is the explanation? Well, the Word of God has made very clear that such an explanation exists.
There is one all-comprehending, all-embracing, all-governing purpose to which God has committed Himself, by creation, by redemption, and by union. That purpose is the conformity of a race to the image of His Son. This is man’s chief end and chief good. What more satisfied and ‘happy’ person is there – even amidst suffering and sorrow – than he or she who is most perfect in patience, love, faith, and the other ‘fruits of the Spirit’? If our requests regarding things were granted, while we were left the same people, unchanged in disposition and nature, it would not be long before we should be in the same unhappy condition over other things. There is possible for us some inherent quality that wears out circumstances and reigns above them. Some of the most radiant people have been the greatest sufferers in infirmity, poverty, or other forms of adversity; whilst the most ‘privileged’ are often the most discontented.
The solution to the problem of suffering does not lie in being philosophical; it is not in fatalistic resignation – ‘This is my lot; I suppose I must accept it’. It is not in passive or active suppression of desire. It is far removed from self-pity, bitterness, cynicism, or envy, and the rest of their wretched family of wilderness-makers and wanderers.
We may have to let go the particular occasion of our trouble, and first recognise, and then embrace with our heart, the fact that in the affliction there resides the immense eternal potentiality of an increase of the image of God’s Son, which is to be the one and the only character and nature of the eternal kingdom. We have too much visualised the ‘Heaven’ that is to be, as geographical and pleasurable, without giving sufficient weight to the fact of a [heavenly] nature to be inculcated and perfected [in us]. (1)
I know that when I was young in my walk with the Lord, I didn’t like His chastening nor did I clearly see what He was after in me. The evangelical mindset I was familiar with was that if we would just get saved we could have the best of both worlds, prosperity (if we were good tithers) and healing as we needed it in this life and perpetual happiness in the hereafter.
The word “sonship” and its significance didn’t get my attention until many years later when it was pointed out to me in the scriptures that the goal of the gospel was not just to take away my sins and get me into heaven, but that God had a much higher purpose in mind for those who are His. He desires many sons and daughters to be conformed into the image of His obedient and loving Son, Jesus Christ, and that conformity includes (and necessitates) suffering. Consider this passage,
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Heb 2:9-11, NIV)
We are of the same family as the Son of God and also are of the same perfecting process that He had to suffer through by the will of His Father. We see Jesus being tempted by the devil, rejected by His own earthly family and nation, misunderstood by His own followers and disciples and finally left alone by them to suffer and die. Paul understood this process belonged to Christ’s followers as well when he wrote to the Philippian believers.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11, ESV)
Just as Christ’s Father did not leave Him to suffer and be alone forever, but raised Him from the dead, so He will do for all His children who have been purchased from the grip of the devil with His Son’s precious blood. Are you a member of God’s family? If so, dear saint, it is a “full meal deal.” We don’t get to pick and choose what parts of this life we are willing to accept because God knows that it is all necessary. Life is not all ice cream. We have to eat our vegetables, too. Paul wrote,
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:14-18, ESV – emphasis added)
Paul, if anyone, knew about suffering and rejection as he followed Christ…
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2Cor 11:23-28, ESV)
Then after all that and more he had to suffer being deserted by those whom he invested his life in at the end. To Timothy he wrote,
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me… At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2Tim 4:9-18, ESV)
But, he was not deserted by Jesus. Trying to find true fellowship among the saints of God can be a lonely business the further we go on this journey. It seems that we must all learn to find Christ alone as our sufficiency, but what a joy when we do.
Father, please bring us into a mature spiritual understanding that we can accept and embrace the sufferings of this life and that they are not worthy to be compared with the fullness of the sonship and glory you have in store for us as we are conformed into the image of your Son. Amen.
“I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”
–C. S. Lewis
I look back on my times when I “was on top of my game” doing “ministry,” and I cringe–I was abrasive, rude and self-willed at best. There was so much flesh! I have recently started to see the value of suffering in my life and how God has used it (and does use it) to keep that old Adam in me in check so that Jesus can be seen. With greater depth, by the light of the Spirit, I have been understanding more clearly what Peter was talking about when he wrote:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. (1Pet 4:1-2, RSV – emphasis added)
It seems that sin is never far away when everything is going our way. In Hebrews we read:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, (Hebrews 5:7-9, RSV – emphasis added)
God uses suffering to deal with our carnal natures and to bring us into the perfection of His obedient Son. If Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, what makes us think that we will learn it some easier way? Is the servant greater than His Master? “He learned obedience through what he suffered… being made perfect…” God is after perfection in His sons and daughters and He uses our suffering and grief to get us there.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:11-13, RSV)
Ouch! Since I wrote the above yesterday morning, I was working in our yard and with some help from a friend we moved our little greenhouse. Well, all of a sudden my back got worse, as if I might have received another compression fracture in a vertebrae. Now I can hardly move without sharp pains and back spasms.
Lord, give me your grace and strengthen my weak back so that the lame (physically and spiritually) I encounter, may be healed. Like Paul said:
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:10-12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)
“Always.” So the lesson from my Master continues. Praise His name forever!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
“Amazing Grace”~ by John Newton
Fear not: for I am with you: I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Keep not back’: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even everyone that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled… let them hear, and say, ‘It is truth.’ (Isa 43:5-9, KJ2000)
Since I have been sharing what God has put on my heart to write on the internet over the last 18 years, I’ve always marveled at how His spiritual people are so scattered across the face of the earth. In my idealistic way of thinking, I’ve wished that more of them were located closer to me so we could have face to face fellowship, but that has rarely happened. It seems as if He has seen fit to place His candles throughout the world so that His whole house might have light by which to see by.
God is gathering to Himself a spiritual people who have spiritual eyes and ears. They are His sons and daughters and they come to Him from far distances around the earth. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:
“But it may be that in these hours of our fellowship together a little more of the light of that story will break upon our hearts. There is a phrase in the Word: “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold the land of far distances”, and that two-fold statement can quite truly, and rightly, be applied to Him. He is the King in His beauty; and He is also the Land of Far Distances.” (1)
“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” He is both our King and His is the Land of Far Distances making up the Kingdom of God. His are a people having spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
I believe that there is another reason He has us so far apart before He assembles us together into His Holy temple in Heaven. We read in Proverbs, “Iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another.” As we communicate and share what the Lord has been showing us there is a spiritual sharpening that is going on. But what do we read about iron in the making of Solomon’s temple?
And the house, when it was being built, was built of stone made ready before it was brought there: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was being built. (1Kgs 6:7, KJ2000)
There is a spiritual lesson in the building of Solomon’s temple just as all those holy things in the Old Covenant were types of spiritual things in the New Covenant. God is doing a deep work in our hearts while we are in isolation from one another. We are being prepared to fit together perfectly once He assembles us together.
The problem with most “church assemblies” these days is that few of the stones fit together as they should and a lot of friction and straining happens as we try to force ourselves to come together in that system. Then we have the men at the top who get out their hammers and axes and try and do what only God can do. The result is that many of His people go away wounded and disillusioned with the whole church process leading to the further scattering of His “living stones.” Today, more and more people have left institutional Christianity, seeking something that is of our Father’s design, a relational family centered on Christ. But we have a promise given us in all this.
Fear not: for I am with you: I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give up;’ and to the south, ‘Keep not back: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even everyone that is called by my name.’
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2, KJV- emphasis added)
Be encouraged. Jesus will finish what He has started in our hearts. Only Father knows when His living stones are ready to be assembled. Only He knows when the Bride has made herself ready for the marriage feast of the Lamb. With Paul I pray,
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it. (1Thess 5:23-24, KJ2000- emphasis added)
Earth-rise Christmas Eve 1968 (as seen from Apollo 8 lunar orbiter)
Fifty years ago tonight, Apollo eight orbited the moon. The crew was awestruck as they came around from the back side of the moon and saw the contrast of the drab gray orb that they had been behind in radio silence, suddenly to see the beauty of the earth as it rose above the surface of the moon. The result was the following message they sent from the lunar module.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.
And Merry Christmas to all from the Clark family in Idaho, USA
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011- emphasis added)
As I write my thoughts on this verse once again, the slogan “What would Jesus do?” comes to mind. This somehow seems shallow to me. I know that many Christians try to become “Christ-like” by studying their New Testaments and this is good, but is there more? How does that fit with what Paul wrote?
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2Cor 5:17, KJ2000)
In our old creation state, in that old Adam, we can read and copy and imitate the Christ in the Bible, but this still falls way short of being made a NEW creation with our new lives IN Christ with HIM doing the work of manifesting Himself in us. Without Him doing the work, are at best a cheap knock-off of the real thing and have no more authenticity in His kingdom than our plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of our cars. We are knowing Him after our flesh and not after the Spirit. I am sorry, but that book, “The Imitation of Christ,” infers something that is still short of what our heavenly Father is after.
We have to be born from above to know Jesus Christ after the Spirit and for Him to know us as a members of His body here on earth. Anything less and we can only manifest the tree from which we came. Jesus put it this way:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:33-34, ESV2011)
We must be, “trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” (Isa 61:3, KJ2000)
When I was a Catholic (I was baptized into it as an infant and even went to Catholic schools), I didn’t know the Bible at all. I might have tried to read that “family Bible” that collected dust on our coffee table, but it did not speak to me. So, the only Christ that I knew was that Jesus in the flesh on all our Catholic crucifixes. I knew Jesus “after the flesh.” When out of desperation and spiritual starvation I left the Catholic church, I started going to a “Bible church.” That was a step in the right direction, but it was still a baby step at best. But I loved to hear our pastor preach from the Bible and he led me in a “sinner’s prayer” in our living room after my first Sunday in His church. Yet my reading of the scriptures was still dry and a struggle at best. Something was still missing.
Two years after that fate-filled prayer in 1968, I was still hungry for what was missing. That denomination believed in the Spirit, but they did not teach much about it. Those who had received this “second act of grace” were considered few and far between and had “the very seed of sin” removed from them. I met one man in that denomination who supposedly was of this class and he was “holier than thou” at best and out of reach of someone like me.
I thank God He finally led me to someone that had the Spirit of Christ in them and could speak into my heart and tell me about the Holy Spirit and His desire to live in me. He told me that I needed to pray for Jesus to come in and dump me out of all that was of my old life and come in and fill me with His Spirit in its place. This required an unconditional surrender on my part and that all made sense for the first time in my life. John chapter three finally had deep meaning to me. I was born from above by His Spirit. Wow! What a difference it made to be able to walk after the Spirit in me and no longer be stuck with walking after my flesh. Then the Bible came alive with every word jumping off its pages right into my heart for the first time. I was literally on a honeymoon with Jesus as my closest friend ever. I truly knew Him after the Spirit in me instead of having to settle with knowing Him as some historic figure in the Bible.
Walking in the Spirit Is Not an Option
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom 8:8-11, ESV2011- emphasis added)
Once I read this passage with His help, I understood where I had been and what God had done in my life in this long process. Try as I would, I just could not please God in my natural state. My flesh could not please God no matter what. I needed His Spirit in me and that was NOT an option! I still remember all those poor souls in church going through the motions Sunday after Sunday. Some of them used each other for their own worldly gain as well, and there were divisions and infighting in that “Bible church” where my search for Jesus started. That poor pastor. He was doing the best that he could because he did not believe in being filled with the Spirit, either.
Having the Spirit abiding in us is only the starting point as members of God’s kingdom. This is where He starts to call us in our upward journey into the fullness of Christ. Every step is an eye opener because all things become new as the old things pass away. How we relate to Christ in our lives as well as how we relate to one another is constantly being perfected and changed. He is making us members of HIS body with Him as its only Head. And we grow into a fuller meaning of what it means to be members of one another as well. This is not “church membership” as the term is used in institutional Christianity. It is so far above that way of thinking. We are now members of a spiritual body that are joined together by Him, not by us. Paul wrote,
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12:3-5, ESV2011)
He wrote much about the body of Christ we are born into by the Spirit. Just as our human bodies have many members and each one has a different function, so it is IN Christ’s body. But these differences do not mean that one is greater than another. As we walk with Christ as our Head, He will grace us with any spiritual abilities that we need to edify the whole body we are members of. These abilities are not given to puff us up and cause pride and division. That was what was going on in the church at Corinth and most of 1 Corinthians was addressing their carnality and immaturity. We are to grow-up into Christ and function in our edifying His body, not just warm a pew.
The more we mature IN Christ the less we think about ourselves as His love pours through us. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” Paul wrote about spiritual “gifts,” but punctuated 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 with a chapter between them that is all about the love of God and how it functions in Christ’s body in chapter 13. At the end of this chapter He wrote,
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1Cor 13:8-12, ESV2011- emphasis added)
I used to think of all these gifts as something important to me because they had become my identity (especially prophecy), but as I grew in Christ and Father began to strip me of my childish ways through much chastisement, His love took the place of my self-centered desires. I began to put away childish things and my prayer was to know Jesus face to face and to be fully conformed by the Father as HE destined me to be IN Christ. Paul wrote, “Then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” This is not “pie in the sky, by and by,” Our Father is calling us to grow-up in this lifetime. Just as we wish for our own children to grow up and mature, so it is with Him. Way too many of the scriptures are thought of as applying to another time or another people or persons, letting us slide on by without the convicting power of the Spirit to bring us into spiritual maturity.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:16-17, ESV2011)
Is there still room for the Spirit to speak prophetically through us, yes, but it does not remain our identity. Neither should speaking in tongues, interpretation. giving words of knowledge, etc. Always remember,
And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1Cor 13:13, KJ2000)