Posts Tagged With: hardship

1 Peter 4: Sharing the Sufferings of Jesus

There is so much to say about suffering in this chapter, but I am afraid with school activities and deadlines I do not have the time to do it justice.  Help me out!  Share with us today what you learned from this chapter.  Here are the verses I was drawn to today and a few initial and random thoughts about suffering faithfully.

So, then, just as the Messiah suffered in the flesh, you too must equip yourselves with the same mental armor. (4:1a)

Jesus had to suffer, so do we really think we will not?  But suffering is more successfully faced when he prepare our minds to face it.  It we run headlong into hard times clothed only with raw emotion, we should not be surprised when we come out cut, bruised and wounded.

Someone who suffers in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of their mortal life no longer according to human desires but according to God’s will. (4:1b-2)

Suffering trains the heart and equips us to overcome the weaknesses that allow sin to reside in our lives so easily.  Suffering may be as pleasant as working out is for many of us, but it may also be as beneficial in the long run.

They will have to account for it [the curses of sinful people] before the one who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (4:5)

In the middle of all of this talk about suffering, Peter reminds us God gets the last word.  Justice will come in the end.

Keep absolutely firm in your love for one another, because “love covers a multitude of sins.”  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Just as each of you has received a gift, so you should use it for ministry to one another. (4:8-10)

We can’t face suffering alone.  We need the fellowship of others.

Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal which is coming upon you to test you, as though this were some strange thing that was happening to you. (4:12)

Suffering tests and reveals how genuine our faith really is.  That can be a scary outcome.  It can also be a blessing.

You are sharing the sufferings of the Messiah. (4:13)

It is one thing to benefit from the sufferings of Jesus.  What an esteemed calling to also share in those sufferings, to actually be able to say we know a piece of what Jesus went through!

Caravaggio, “The Crucifixion of Peter” — Peter knew something about “sharing the sufferings of Jesus,” tradition says Peter was crucified in imitation of Jesus, but upside down because he protested that he was not worthy to be crucified the same way Jesus was

What stood out to you today?  

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2 Corinthians 4: Fragile Strength

This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  I am finding these are the hardest chapters of all to write much about.

Most of my life I have not felt good enough or strong enough.  The comparison game starts early in life and I usually felt and sometimes still feel like a middle-of-the-road kind of guy.  Furthermore, I see the magnitude of the mission of God and I feel especially incapable, weak, and overwhelmed.

That is probably why I am so drawn to this chapter.  Paul understands what I feel, and he found a better perspective.  I read these lines praying for these to be my true words as well.

We have this treasure in earthenware pots, so that the extraordinary quality of the power may belong to God, not to us.  We are under all kinds of pressure, but we are not crushed completely; we are at a loss, but not at our wit’s end; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are cast down, but not destroyed.  We always carry the deadness of Jesus about in the body, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body.  Although we are still alive, you see, we are always being given over to death because of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal humanity.  So this is how it is: death is at work in us — but life in you! . . . We know that the God who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us with Jesus and present us with you. . . . For this reason we don’t lose heart.  Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day.  This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing everything, lasting forever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen.  After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. (4:7, 10-12, 14, 16-18)

What line resonated with you today?

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2 Corinthians 1: Humbled by Suffering

Paul knew his fair share of suffering during his life.  We will hear about a lot of this in 2 Corinthians.  Paul also knew that the Corinthian Christians had and were going to face sufferings of various kinds.   We all do.  It is part of the human condition.

Naturally any time suffering is present we ask that nagging question why.  The truth of the matter is that there are many reasons why we suffer, and no one reason can explain all cases of suffering.  Sometimes we may have no clue whatsoever for why we suffer.

Paul shares with us what he had determined was the reason for his suffering, at least in the situation he was discussing:

You see, my dear family, we don’t want to keep you in the dark about the suffering we went through in Asia.  The load we had to carry was far too heavy for us; it got to the point where we gave up on life itself.  Yes: deep inside ourselves we received the death sentence. This was to stop us relying on ourselves, and to make us rely on the God who raises the dead. (1:8-9)

It would appear that at least sometimes God brings or at least uses hard times to humble our pride and cause us to face our own inadequacy.  Only then are we ready to really let God take over.

When my sons were quite young — toddlers, I guess — they would sit down determined to fix a toy, unravel some string, or do up a button. I would offer to help but they would have nothing to do with it.  Most of the time all that happened from their attempt at independence was that the toy became more broken, the string more tangled, or the button remained unbuttoned.  Only when they were thoroughly frustrated would they come to me for help.  It could have been much easier, but they had to learn their limits.  Sometimes we are no different from my sons: independent to a fault, only to end with frustration. Sometimes suffering is intended to show us we can’t do everything ourselves.

Paul also knows that no matter how much suffering may come our way there is as much or more comfort available in God as well.

Just as we have an overflowing share of the Messiah’s suffering, you see, so we have an overflowing share in comfort through the Messiah. (1:5)

God is willing to let us fall until we realize we can’t do life on our own.  But this same God who wants us to learn a lesson is also right there to bandage our wounds, help us get up, and carry us along.  God is as much a comforter as a teacher and master.

What caught your eye in a new way in this chapter?

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Philippians 4: Pray In All Situations

Contentment does not mean we do not have needs.  Of course, we will still be in need.  Later in chapter 4 Paul talks about being in need and how the Philippians provided for him at that time.  Contentment can remain even when we are not comfortable with what we have and the situation we are in.

Paul gives us one more secret for how that is possible:

Don’t worry about anything.  Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.  And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over our hearts and minds in King Jesus. (4:6-7)

Secret to Contentment #4:  Pray!  Pray fervently!  Pray all the time, in any situation!  Say what is on your mind.  Ask for what you need.  Thank Him for what He has already done.  Surrender to God’s will.  Express your willingness to trust Him.  As we remember what God has done for us in the past, prayer helps contentment to become real and solidifying our hearts.

What have we learned about contentment from Philippians?

There is a way past anxiety and on to contentment and joy in all situations.  It is not by eliminating need as if that were possible.  It is not by attaining all we want and fulfilling all we desire; when do we ever reach that point?  As we fix our focus past this present world and on to the rewards and reality of the world to come, as we face realistically our needs and give those to God in prayer, as we become oriented more towards serving others than ourselves, we can be rest assured that God is in control of all things and our futures will be okay.  Paul never promises a life without struggle or a life filled only with blessings — remember where he was when he was writing this letter — but Paul is sure of this:

I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power. (4:13)

What have YOU learned?

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Ephesians 3: Ministry Is A Gift!

As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing.  Think of it like jazz.  There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony.  (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)

Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it.  These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel.  In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:

When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance.  They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)

Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike.  All are welcome.  This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews.  Gentiles are welcome too.  And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.

This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think.  Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it.  But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic.  The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.”  It got Paul beaten up more than a few times.  It caused churches to split.  It caused more than a little fuss.  Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power.  I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.

That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:

. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)

Wow!  There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.”  I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one.  Yet, not Paul.  Oh, to have that perspective!

What stood out to you today? 

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Acts 5: Celebrating Suffering

We want to run away from hard times.  We pray for them to stop.  We do all we can to avoid them.

I am not sure that is all bad.  I don’t think we need to go looking for trouble; it has a way of finding us just fine without our help.

But the apostles in today’s passage endure a sound beating and berating at the hands of the Sanhedrin and what do they do?  Celebrate!

They called the apostles back in.  They beat them and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus.  Then they let them go.  They, however, went out from the presence of the Assembly celebrating, because they had been reckoned worthy to suffer disgrace for the name. (5:40-41)

Is there anything to celebrate in suffering for Jesus?  Several things, actually.  We better understand our Savior, who suffered greatly in life.  We are reassured of our devotion when we are willing to suffer.  We can be confident that we are perceived of as a threat to the power brokers of this world if they are willing to take the time to push us down.  We will no doubt develop perseverance, patience and character as a result of our suffering.  We will become stronger through adversity.  But the biggest point of all is in the last clause of v.41: we know we love the name and reputation of Jesus more than our own welfare and interests if we endure persecution to the point of suffering,  In addition, we are reassured that God had enough confidence in our ability to faithful endure suffering that he allowed it to come our way.

It will take some time to retrain the heart to these realities, but this idea is a wonderful one!

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