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Archive for Suffering


Suffering and Hope: 1 Peter Six

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So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be hold because I am holy.” And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. You were cleaned from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other, as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass, their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.” And that word is the Good News that was preached to you. So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like new born babies you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
– 1 Peter 1:13-2:3 (NLT)

Theology precedes ethics. Or one might say what we believe determines how we behave. This is the pattern of the epistles. It is clearly evident in Paul’s letters, and 1 Peter is no exception. The first section of 1 Peter (1:1-12) is an intense theological passage. Like Paul, Peter follows up his doctrinal statement with an ethical section. In the above passage, he challenges his readers with five imperatives to apply to their everyday lives.

1. Control your thought life (1 Peter 1:13).
Their new found faith should inform how they process information. The same is true of us. The experiences of life are real. But what we choose to think about those same experiences is under our control. We can’t change reality, but we can manage our thoughts about those experiences.
2. Be holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).
I find it interesting that Peter’s instruction is to be holy, not to do holy. We commit a grave injustice when we reduce holiness to a list of “do’s and don’ts” rather than seeing it as a vital part of our position in Christ. As holy people we do self-examination. But holiness motivates our self-checking, not vice versa.
3. Live in reverent fear of God (1 Peter 1:17-21).
One of the most important daily disciplines a Christian should exercise is the simple confession “God is in control.” Living in reverent fear of the Lord is the result of living with the conviction that God is sovereign and in control of all things. God has already saved us from the worst of all, so we can trust him to reign over every circumstance in our lives.
4. Intentionally love others (1 Peter 1:22-25).
One of the first things we learn when we come to faith is that God loves us. We know our faith is beginning to mature when we learn that God loves others too. Love is important, because it’s the one eternal value that we possess on earth that will carry over into our life in heaven. In heaven we won’t need faith and hope for faith will be sight and hope will be fulfilled. But love endures eternally.
5. Develop good eating habits (1 Peter 2:1-3).
Good nutrition is a critical part of good health. This is true of the spiritual realm as well as the physical realm. We must grow as believers, and a balanced diet from the word will make sure that we are spiritually healthy and balanced.

Categories : 1 Peter, Hope, Suffering, Theology
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“(God) 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.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

God is the source of all comfort and he comforts us when we face crushing pressure. But God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable. He comforts us so that we will become comforters.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection he spoke words of assurance to them. The Bible then tells us that Jesus showed them his scars. He comforted the disciples with his presence, and gave them an indellible reminder of his suffering. Though the image of Jesus’ scars is not referred to again in the New Testament story, one has to believe that with every blow of suffering the disciples experienced that the image of those scars comforted and encouraged them.

“He comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:4a, NLT)

God is the source of all comfort and he comforts us in our troubles. The word Paul used to describe our troubles is thilipsis, which means pressure. It’s a word picture for a wine press that crushes the juice out of the grapes. So we might say that troubles are the crushing pressures of life. When the crushing pressures occur, God comes to our side and comforts us.

How then does God comfort us? The Bible is not specific, but allow me to offer three thoughts that will help us understand what God’s comfort looks like. First, God comforts us though his presence. We are assured that God is nearby during the crushing pressures of life. Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus referred to the coming Holy Spirit as the paraklete, the one called alongside to help.

Second, the word comfort is in the present tense, meaning that his comfort is continuous. God’s comfort is not on again and off again. His presence is steady and ongoing.

Third, his comfort is sufficient for our need. 2 Corinthians 1:5 states, “For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” (NLT) In other words, the more we suffer, the more we recognize God’s continual presence by our side. This is perhaps why we esteem those who suffer the most to have the closest relationship with Christ. As we suffer, Christ is revealed more and more in our lives.

How does God comfort us? God comforts us by revealing his continuous and sufficient presence in our lives.

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Scars tell stories. For example, I have a scar on the palm of my hand. I got it when I was around 10 or 11 years old from a bicycle accident. My friends and I loved to ride our bikes and every time we found a patch of loose gravel we would ride as fast as we could into the loose gravel and lock up the brakes and skid the tires and spin the bikes around. It was about as wild and reckless of behavior as we could muster! One evening I took the bike out for a quick spin and as you may have guessed, crashed. As I looked at my throbbing hand I saw gravel imbedded in my palm. There was a nice open gash which resulted in the scar that I bear in my hand to this day.

As I have said, scars are a part of the story of our lives. They communicate things about our lives and inform us of the nature of life as well. Scars give evidence of that we have been wounded at some point in the past. At the same time, scars also provide evidence of healing. We don’t remain perpetually wounded, for through time and care we experience healing. Scars serve as ongoing reminders of past experiences that provide lessons that can’t be learned any other way. We are transformed through those pains from the past. After all, scars change our appearance. The story of life is developed through each one of those transitions. Obviously some of our scars are physical. But not every scar we bear can be seen. Some of our deepest scars are on our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls.

For the past several weeks I’ve been teaching on the subject of suffering and adversity. This past weekend I concluded my portion of the teaching from Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.”

We learn about pain early in life. Some of our earliest memories of life are associated with pain and injury. Quite naturally we sought comfort from a parent who would care for our bumps and bruises. When my kids were very young my wife always carried Band Aids with her where ever she went. Any good mother knows that a Band Aid will do wonders to quiet a child’s tears. I believe the band aid may very well be the universal symbol of comfort. In fact, if comfort flew a flag, the symbol on the flag would be the Band Aid.

Paul states that God is the source of all comfort and that God himself is the source of any comfort we know or experience in life. That’s easy enough. So what’s the definition of the word comfort? The word Paul used for comfort is paraklesis, which is also be translated as encouragement. We know from communication dynamics that face to face is the posture used when for things like teaching or even confronting. But paraklesis is not a face to face posture. The word literally means to be “called to one’s side.” Comfort is a side by side posture. Why is that important? When you are side by side you face the same thing at the same time in the same direction. I think we can understand comfort more fully if we think of it as a posture instead of an activity. Comfort is my expression of love toward others that has been perfected by personal experience.

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“But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” –Hebrews 12:10b-13 (NLT)

In the final section concerning discipline, the writer shares two purposes that God desires to accomplish. First, God’s loving discipline is beneficial because it produces holiness in our lives. Psalm 119:67 reads, “I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word.” Verse 71 of the same chapter continues, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” Discipline serves as a corrective and produces holiness in our lives.

Second, discipline trains us in right living that purifies our character. Hebrews 5:8 states, “Even though Jesus was God’s son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.”

In the western world parents view their objective as that of raising independent children who will be functional in the world. In the ancient world of the Bible, the goal was different. The goal of parents in Bible times was to create worthy heirs. (Think about that as you read Matthew 5:10-12 and Luke 15:11-32.) God uses discipline to create worthy heirs who inherit the Kingdom of God.

As we experience the necessary discipline to inherit the Kingdom, we must first deal with ourselves. We “take a new grip” and embrace the promised outcomes of God’s discipline. It may be painful at the time, but God doesn’t expect us to embrace the pain. He expects us to embrace the outcomes that he’s working out in our lives. As we deal with ourselves, we simultaneously must watch our influence. When we undergo God’s loving discipline we cannot forget that people are watching us and taking note of how we respond to God’s work in our lives. God is good, and he’s working out his plan for our best. Remember, it’s not what happens to us that matters. What matters most is what happens in us.

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“Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.” –Hebrews 12:9-10a (NLT)

Since God’s discipline is an act of love that is based on our relationship to him, it seems logical for the writer to use our human fathers as an illustration of God’s function as our heavenly Father. According to the author, our earthly fathers disciplined us though they doubtless made mistakes. Some fathers discipline too much and others not enough. Some fathers discipline too heavily, while others discipline too lightly. But God makes no mistakes.

You may have had a father who disciplined you inappropriately. We live in a world where abuses of all forms are too frequent in society. Any time a parent abuses a child in any form is an injustice and should be renounced in the strongest possible manner. If that’s your story, it’s important that you not enforce that same standard of measure on God. Good fathers make favorable comparisons to God. They provide living and visible signposts to enable children to see God with clarity. But not every father is a good father. These fathers provide contrasting images to that of our heavenly father. Instead of thinking that God is like my bad father, think God is not like my bad father.

Recently my daughters were watching an episode of Jon and Kate Plus 8 on TLC. As I was in the kitchen, I heard Jon Gosselin describe to the camera the objectives of good parents. He remarked that in his opinion, good parents make sure their children are happy, healthy and safe. That’s not terrible advice, but it is certainly incomplete. A parent’s ultimate role is to enable their children to know God. Through every aspect of parenting, which includes discipline, we help our children learn how to relate to God.

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“For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by his father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.” –Hebrews 12:6-8 (NLT)

The writer of Hebrews uses these verses to make a couple of very important points. The first is that God’s discipline is an act of love. That’s hard for us to grasp. Maybe you’ve heard a child respond to their parent’s discipline with the words, “you don’t love me!” As a parent, nothing is further from the truth. Parents discipline their children because they do love them. God’s discipline is to be considered as a sign of his affection for our lives. Love motivates God’s discipline, and love governs God’s discipline. Every expression of discipline passes through the Father’s loving heart.

The second point the writer makes in this section is that discipline is based on our existing relationship with God. A father who doesn’t discipline is being negligent. A child who escapes discipline loses out of the benefits of being related to the father. But here’s the surprise: The absence of discipline informs the relational status of the person. Discipline is so much a part of God’s way with his children that if it’s absent their status as children of God should be called into question. (On the flip side we could say that discipline is a mark of assurance of salvation.) God’s discipline proves our legitimacy as children of God. Discipline is the Lord’s acknowledgement that he claims us.

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When God Inflicts the Hurt

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Is what I’m facing God’s way of telling me to change something? Is God trying to get my attention? Or is it part of what comes with living in a fallen world? Can I know the difference? How can I know the difference? Those are the kinds of important questions I sometimes hear from those who suffering.

God’s discipline, like persecution, is a type of suffering that is unique to the people of God. Suffering can be a means of God’s discipline in our lives. But how do we know the difference? How can we identify it? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious; but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” Lewis would agree that God will sometimes introduce pain into our lives in order to get our attention. What is God’s discipline, anyway? What do we mean when we say that? God’s discipline is loving training given to amend actions and attitudes. In other words, it is correction, not punishment.

I can’t recall a time in the past 26 year of teaching and preaching that I have ever dealt with this subject or this passage in a full length sermon. It was challenging to prepare and challenging to deliver. I’m sure it was challenging to hear as well. I think it’s an important subject, especially in light of the broader context of suffering. There’s no need for Christians to speculate on matters and questions when Scripture provides insight and understanding. So over the next few days I’m going to unpack the concepts that I shared in last weekend’s message.

Hebrews 12:3-5 provides some context for the readers understanding of God’s loving discipline: “Think of all the hostility (Jesus) endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.’”

Perhaps the discipline that the author has in mind is to provide help in the battle against sin. The word “struggle” comes from a wrestling metaphor and literally means “hand to hand combat.” One scholar suggested that the readers were afraid that their suffering was a result of God’s inattention to their lives or that God had abandoned them. That was not the case. They were experiencing God’s discipline and needed to identify it as such.

Just because we identify our suffering as God’s discipline does not necessarily mean that we will respond to it appropriately. It is possible to respond inappropriately to God’s discipline, and the writer gives two classic examples. First, it is possible to make light of it or to shrug it off as no big deal, not unlike a junior high kid that laughs with his friends after being sent to the principal’s office. The second response is to become so overwhelmed by the discipline that you feel like giving up or quitting the Christian race.

It’s very important that we identify God’s loving discipline when (not if) it comes and that we respond appropriately. When you accept God’s discipline in your life you are acknowledging God’s authority over your life!

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Suffering and Hope: 1 Peter Five

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Throughout chapter 1, Peter continually references joy. It reminds me of James’ words found in James 1:2, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” Why does Peter place an emphasis on having joy in the midst of suffering?

Joy is the by-product of settled faith. When a person becomes convinced that victory has become certain, joy begins to emerge.

Football fans know that when a team has the lead in the last minute of the game, the quarterback will take the snap from the center and drop to one knee. Those who watch football know exactly what I’m talking about. Today its called the “victory formation” or the “victory play.” Because the game is secure, players on the sideline start congratulating one another. Coaches take off their headsets. The fans stand and cheer. Why? Joy overflows when victory is secure and the outcome is assured.

Joy doesn’t come in moments of uncertainty. Even in the midst of suffering we can experience true joy because of our confident faith in God.
Categories : 1 Peter, Hope, Suffering
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Suffering and Hope: 1 Peter Four

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“This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. They were told that their messages were not for themselves but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.” — 1 Peter 1:10-12 (NLT)

In these verses Peter discusses the Old Testament prophets and the angels unique perspectives on the salvation we enjoy. The prophets spoke no nearer than four centuries prior to the life and work of Christ. Yet they did so with great confidence that one day the Messiah would come and provide the final sacrifice for sin. They were intrigued by the promise and investigated those promises with great interest knowing that what would happen in the future would someday impact even them.

Though they didn’t fully comprehend all of the promises, they spoke nonetheless with great confidence. They didn’t know when or how the promise would be fulfilled, but that didn’t diminish their bold enthusiasm. The words of the prophets remind us that it is possible to live a life of conviction regarding something in the future, even though we may not fully understand it. This principle is true of all things including our response to suffering.

While the prophets were seperated from salvation by time, the angels were seperated from salvation by distance. From heaven they eagerly watched the drama of salvation unfold. The angels live in the continual presence of God, yet have not experienced the fullness of grace that we enjoy (cf. Hebrews 1:5-14).

These two examples are given to us to remind us of the reasons we have hae to celebrate our marvellous salvation. While we look to history to see the fulfillment of the promise in Christ, we are reminded that we have much more to anticipate that is still to come.

Categories : 1 Peter, Evil, Hope, Suffering
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