What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

Lessons From The Potter!

A Parable From The Lord God!

In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, God gives the prophet a parable to deliver to Israel’s leaders:  “This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do” (18:1-4). The concept that God wanted Israel, and us, to grasp— from this parable— is that He is the ultimate Sovereign over every life! That God has the absolute authority to do whatever He wills to do with His creation in the same way that a potter has absolute jurisdiction over the creation he fashions out of the clay!

-A Lump Of Wet Dirt!

Without the potter, the pottery fashioned is nothing more than a lump of wet dirt; and, that’s true of us as well as Israel. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God continues:  “The word of the Lord came to me:  ‘House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?’—this is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel’” (vs.5-6). When God is said to be the Potter, it means He has a definite plan for our lives in the same way that a potter has plans for his lump of clay; so, when we fight against God’s will, we’re foolishly hurting ourselves because His design for everything, including our lives, is flawless! We’re foolish to think that our plan, for our lives, is better than His.

-The Greatest Meaning In Life!

He knows ALL! He knows what is BEST! We will never find the greatest meaning, for our lives, by disobeying God! Only when we obey will we find the greatest satisfaction in life.  And, when we repent of our rebellion against His will, He promises to withhold His judgment. Israel had sinned! They had sinned severely! That’s why God had directed Jeremiah to write the words in his book! They had rebelled against God’s Sovereign plan for them; but, God makes it clear that because He is the Potter, He can withhold His right to judge Israel if they just repent and get back in alignment with His Sovereign plan for them:  “At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it” (vs.7-8).  He is a gracious and patient God! And, we are different from clay because we have a will! Though we may be resistant to God & unpliable, we have a will to repent & return to Him! If the nation God has pronounced judgment against repents; or, changes their mind about their sin; that, it’s not okay, then God will also change His mind & withhold punishment from them!

-He Makes Us Useable Again!

There’s another principle here; actually, back in v.4 again, that’s related to repentance:  “But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do.”  The text doesn’t tell us how the clay became flawed; but, it was not beyond use! So, the potter remolded it and used it in another way. Clay can lose its plasticity and its strength! Plasticity means it’s flexible to the Potter’s hand to mold it the way he wants; but, it has to have the strength to hold itself in the way that the potter molds it. So, sometimes when it lacks plasticity & strength, the potter has to introduce other materials so it once again is flexible enough to hold and shape. That is such a beautiful picture of God’s great desire to use us, despite our flaws! Despite of our sins! Don’t ever think that you’re beyond repair or beyond God’s ability to use you! Repent! He will remold you!

Clay In God’s Hands!

Who Was Jeremiah?

Jeremiah, the author of the Old Testament book bearing his name, has been called the “Prophet To The Nations” because God gave him an Oracle— or, a word from the Lord— to speak to 9 different Gentile nations; in addition to Judah! Through Jeremiah’s words, which were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, God reveals Jeremiah’s heart more than any other prophet! From his introduction, in the 1st chapter, v.6, we see that Jeremiah was a “reluctant” prophet— questioning his ability to lead God’s people spiritually. He was also known as the “weeping” prophet— which perhaps proves he was qualified to lead because he wept over the sins of the people; and, over God’s judgment of their sins! He was also a “lonely” prophet because God had told him not to marry (ch.16) because of the dread over the judgment that God was bringing on Judah & Jerusalem; and, he also became known as the “persecuted” prophet as he was rejected, ridiculed, beaten; and, falsely accused; all, because he was faithful to proclaim the truth of God’s word! The key phrase in the book of Jeremiah?

-The Word Of The Lord!

“The word of the Lord” is found more than 50 times! And, the “word of the Lord” was this— that God’s judgment was coming! The patience & long-suffering of the Lord had finally been exhausted! Israel’s idolatry & sinful rejection of God’s word had reached its climax! And, her leaders were arguing with Jeremiah that God would NOT turn His people over to Babylon & King Nebuchadnezzar. And, so, in chapter 18, God gives Jeremiah a parable to deliver to Israel’s leaders:  “This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do” (18:1-4).

-God Is The Potter!

Have you ever seen a potter at work? It’s quite fascinating! In the parable, God is the potter; and, Israel is the clay! It’s an illustration that God inspired numerous authors of Scripture to use. The potter and clay illustration is also found in the Psalms, in Isaiah; and, in Zechariah. The Apostle Paul also uses it in the New Testament; and, so does John in the last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation. The concept that God wanted Israel, and us, to grasp is His Sovereignty; or, His absolute, supreme power & authority over His entire creation! That God has the absolute authority to do whatever He wills to do with His creation in the same way that a potter has absolute jurisdiction over the creation he fashions out of the clay! Without the potter, the pottery fashioned is nothing more than a lump of wet dirt; and, that’s true of us as well as Israel.

Molded By The Master Potter!

We are like clay, which has little value until we are molded by the Master potter into the likeness of Jesus! That is a foundational truth that Israel needed to apply! And, that is a foundational truth that we need to apply to our own lives! If you don’t grasp God, the Potter’s, purpose for your life you’ll waste it! You and I are not the Potter! Ultimately, we don’t have any right over our lives. Our lives belong to God who gave them to us! We are a lump of clay & that symbolizes the “potential” we have to be useful to the Potter! But, God, the Potter, has the ultimate right over our lives, to use them as He purposes them to be used! We need to spend some serious time in prayer & meditation on this truth! Will you ask the Potter if He finds you to be moldable in His hands? Will you ask Him to show you where you’re not being pliable; so, that you can repent? That’s God’s point in the parable. Would Israel repent? And, will you repent?

Healthy Relationship Essentials!

Not A Good Dating Candidate!

What are the essentials that contribute to healthy relationships? And, what kinds of things are harmful & destructive to our relationships? Early on, in our friendship, my wife Sara saw me playing in a softball game while we were attending college. And, well, softball just wasn’t my sport! I had played baseball growing up; so, I was used to over hand pitching that might hit 80 mph or more! I just lacked the necessary patience to wait on an underhanded, slow-pitched ball. Well, I struck out; and, I was embarrassed & mad at myself! So, I did reacted with great maturity—I slammed the bat on the ground in anger! A really stupid thing to do! Well, Sara would tell you that after observing my college-aged temper tantrum that this guy was NOT a good dating candidate!

-Overcoming 1st Impressions!

But, she didn’t really know me very well at the time. She was someone that I had noticed the 1st time I spotted her on campus. But, I was dating someone else at the time; and, a pattern seemed to develop that either I was dating someone and she was free; or, she was dating someone and I was free. But, when that magical moment happened when I was free from dating someone; and, she was free from dating someone; that, I asked her to go out with me; and, she agreed! But, it would take some time for her to overcome those 1st impressions watching me smash a bat into the ground after striking out. She had to grow to trust me! To trust my heart! To trust that when I got angry I would never physically take it out on her! I might take it out on a baseball bat; but, it wasn’t in my nature to be a brawler with her; or, with other people.

-Trust Is Essential!

Trust is essential to any healthy relationship, isn’t it? If you study up on any relationship advice, for marriage partners; or, for just being a good friend, trust is always listed as a requirement along with honesty & communication. Relationships are healthy where there is respect, transparency & vulnerability. Where there is commitment, empathy & kindness! And, it may surprise you that all of that is also true about your relationship with God. We think we all struggle, at least a little bit, to think of God in those terms because He is Spirit; and, we are flesh, right? So, how do we relate to Him?

Relationship With God!

I think that’s why God, the Son, coming in the flesh is such a big deal! For more reasons than the Gospel, Jesus fleshed out, for us, who God is! We know God better because Jesus walked on the planet He created among the people He created. Our relationship with God does not depend on our faithful ministry to Him; but, on Jesus’ faithful ministry to us on the cross! Over the next few posts, I’d like to invite you to look at the Old Testament book of Isaiah with me; so, that, we might grow together in our understanding of what a relationship with God looks like.

Just A Normal Guy!

From what we know of Isaiah, he was just a normal guy; married with children; and, trying to live out his faith during a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. The nation had rebelled against God’s theocratic rule! The northern half had already been conquered by Assyria; and, Babylon would soon rise to power and sweep away the southern half of the nation. So, God calls Isaiah in the midst of that mess; and, makes him a prophet to the Jewish people. And, the book of Isaiah records the visions & the oracles that God gave to Isaiah to deliver to Israel.  I hope you’ll come back to visit my posts over the next couple weeks! It’s my prayer that you might come to learn more about God’s character; so, that you might  grow in your relationship & your walk with Him! God began revealing Himself to us in Genesis 1— in the beginning— and, He continues to reveal more of Himself in the balance of Scripture; including, the book of Isaiah!

You Want To Be Happy?

-It Begins With Your Relationship With God!

So, we’ve spent the last few posts talking about being happy! And, about what that looks like through the grid of Scripture! According to Psalm 1, God’s word says that your level of happiness is directly related to the depth of relationship you have with Him! Let’s look a little deeper at that Psalm! The writer, inspired by God’s Spirit to write these exact words, says that your happiness also depends on what you meditate on! It says in v.2, “…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The happy person is happy, in part, because he meditates on God’s word at all times throughout his day!

-Meditating On God’s Word!

In the original language, that word we have translated “meditate” means to speak or to mutter! So, the writer says that meditating on God’s word means that you speak to yourself; or, you mutter the words of God to yourself all day! You wanna be happy? You find happiness when you chew on the word of God! When you speak & mutter the word of God to yourself day & night! There is no end to the applications we can make from God’s word! His word is eternal in its depth of wisdom! It’s impossible to plumb the depths of it in this lifetime. 

-The Fruit Of Your Life!

The writer of this Psalm also gives us one more significant point to mull! Your happiness, he says, depends on the fruit your life bears! He sums it all up here! The person who rejects the advice of the world; who delights in God’s Word; and, who meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (v.3).  Every life bears fruit! In this Psalm, the writer points to 2 different kinds of people who have 2 different ways to live their lives; and, who bear 2 different types of fruit! So, choose wisely who you listen to!

-Two Different Kinds Of Fruit!

The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his church letter to the Galatian believers. He writes that one way produces the fruit of the flesh:  “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (Galatians 5: 19-21).  While the other way produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  The Psalmist concludes with the end; or, the resulting fruit from the 2 different ways to live your life:  “…the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5,6).

-Judgment Day Is Coming!

In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel! The way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, there is coming a judgment; a day of reckoning when those who took their advice & counsel from God’s word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the Throne of God! Forever they’ll enjoy eternal happiness! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge of all the earth; who will give them what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord watches over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! If you don’t have this, you need help! Jesus said: “You will know the truth & the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That delivers happiness!

Don’t Dismiss God’s Warnings!

God’s Not Trying To Kill Your Fun!

God’s warnings are never designed to kill your fun! But, rather, to offer you greater blessings & more fun! Pure fun without the shame and guilt that the “pleasures of sin for a season” may offer us! Don’t forget this truth:  “It is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to brokenness so He can redeem us.” He warns us because He has compassion on us! Because He loves us! And, how does God respond to His people when they confess their sin & return to Him? He restores them, doesn’t He? That’s what He did with Adam & Eve; with, Abraham & the patriarchs; and, with Israel on multiple occasions!  He would bring revival to their souls & their lives were blessed!

-God’s Patience Can Be Exhausted!

But, when individuals & nations continue in their rebellion, there comes a time— and, only God knows that time; so, don’t sin presumptuously, calculating how far you can go in your sin before God has had enough— there comes a time when God’s patience is exhausted; that, in order to accomplish His purpose, in your life, that He punishes! This is place where Israel’s sin had brought them in 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, “But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (v.16).  Those are haunting words— there was no remedy! All that was left was God’s wrath! Only punishment!

-God’s Strange Work!

It was the only thing left that God could do to turn Israel around! There’s an incredibly revealing verse of Scripture in Isaiah that’s often overlooked; but, I think the message is powerful! Isaiah— one of the very messengers that 2 Chronicles 36 referred to— says, “For the LORD will rise up as He did at Mount Perazim. He will rise in wrath, as at the Valley of Gibeon, to do His work, His strange work, and to perform His task, His disturbing task” Isaiah 28:21. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah says that God’s judgment is His strange work! His disturbing task! God, Himself, finds His judgment & punishment of sinners to be disturbing because it’s not His will that any would perish!

-Why Continue In Your Sin?

When you sin against God & His Word & you ignore His warnings, He will punish you because He is Holy & Just! But, know, that it disturbs Him to punish you for the great love & compassion that He has for you! So, why would you continue to turn against Him & go your own way? Why do you spurn His love for you & choose all the cheap substitutes that sin offers you? None of those things will satisfy! None will bring you joy & fulfillment!

-Forgiveness For The Prodigal!

Why endure punishment when God willingly offers all prodigal sons forgiveness! When prodigal Israel repents of her sin & returns to the Lord, to accomplish God’s purposes, He redeems them! Let me tell you what it means that God redeems them! There are at least 3 words, in the original languages of Scripture, that are translated “redeem.” in the Bible! One means “to buy or purchase”; and, it’s used in the context of a slave who is bought to be owned as property! At the time that God redeemed Israel, they were enslaved to Egypt. Here’s the point— we are all enslaved to somebody! We are either enslaved to sin, which is a cruel & destructive task master! Or, we are enslaved to a God who loves us with great compassion & willingly meets every need we have according to His will! But, once you’ve been redeemed by God, He will begin a work in you that’s redemptive! He reforms you to make you willing to obey Him & love Him!

Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

Designed To Complement!

-Is Gender Inequality Real?

Gender inequality is receiving a lot of attention these days. I’m referring to the claim that there is unequal treatment of individuals based on their gender. Some of this mistreatment is “perceived”; but, much of it is very real! Some claim there is a gender pay gap; and, in many cases the facts support that claim! There’s also a resulting link to career advancement— that one’s gender impedes their advancement up the company ladder!

-There’s Perspective With Age!

I’ve mentioned before— about growing older— that one of the few advantages I have, over those younger than me, is that I have a “PERSPECTIVE” they can’t possibly have! I have a kind of panoramic view of time since growing up in the 1960’s. More than just a historical perspective, I lived it! I remember when Bobby Riggs challenged Billie Jean King to a tennis match that became known as the “Battle of the Sexes.” It received international attention; and, when King won, it became a kind of “rally cry” to what has been the women’s movement!

-Gender Resentment’s Not Cool!

Now, let me be clear about something! I admit that from the beginning of time, men, in general, have been guilty of inflicting much harm & gender inequality against women; and, I applaud many of the changes that have been made to correct that! At the same time—here is my “old man” perspective— I have noted, in my lifetime, a deep pervasive gender resentment has bubbled up & boiled over in our day. We’re at this “zero-sum competition”! As a society we’re not looking for the WIN-WIN. There’s this lack of togetherness & teamwork between the sexes! It’s become “US against THEM”; and, the only way one gender wins is if the opposite gender loses! It’s “EITHER-OR” when it ought to be “BOTH-AND.” Either men rule the world; or, women do! The sexes are more divided than ever; and, the sexual orientation & “sexual identity” issues are the natural fallout of this fighting between the genders! The world is lost & confused & needs to be rescued & the Church can help bring sanity to the struggle by embracing the counsel of God’s word & living it out in our homes & in the public square & let me add that we bring that discussion with LOVE, PATIENCE & GENTLENESS!

-The Way God Designed Us!

God’s design for the man & the woman promotes beauty & harmony in the relationship between the sexes! God’s design for men & women is absolute equality in status; but, a difference in the roles! All the cultural debate over homosexuality, transgenderism, pornography, public policy concerning women being drafted for combat, church debates over women pastors, and, marital conflicts over “who’s in charge” in the home— ALL of it is addressed directly or by implication in God’s Word. When determining our roles, as men and women, God & His Word must shape our opinions, not the culture! To do otherwise is deadly! The culture is broken & doesn’t have the answers! It all begins with Genesis in my next post!

Abraham’s Faith Crisis!

-Caution: God At Work!

If you follow Jesus by faith & trust Him for your eternal salvation, than “sanctification” is the work God is presently doing in your life. We all want to be “SANCTIFIED”; but, rarely do we enjoy the process God uses to get us there. On a number of levels, Abraham presents us with a picture of a sanctified life. In Genesis ch. 11, v.30 it reads:  “…Sarah was unable to conceive; she did not have a child...” So, Abraham loved a woman that could not conceive a child! That presented Abraham with a crisis of faith because God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation, through his offspring, with Sarah!

-God Uses Life’s Hardships!

After reading the entire account, we come away with this—God uses the hardships in our life to sanctify us! This crisis of faith would provide God the perfect opportunity to stretch Abraham’s faith & trust in Him; and, it’s in the stretching, of our faith, that we grow! Jesus taught His disciples:  “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” John 16:33. Jesus already overcame all the suffering that this world had to dish out! And, He conquered it! Notice, “…you will have suffering in this world,” Jesus said, “in part, so we find peace in Him!”

-Let Go Of Your Stuff!

God uses pain, trouble & suffering to loosen our grip on the stuff in this world! That’s part of our sanctification—part of the spiritual growth process! We only grab hold of our future “GLORIFICATION” as we let go of this life! Let go of your dreams & aspirations! Let go of your attempts to control your circumstances & your environment! And, give it all over to Jesus! That’s NOT what the world tells you! The world tells you to live out your dreams! To do whatever you want! To go after it with gusto & determination! Jesus says, “If you hold onto your life you’ll lose it! But, if you lose your life for my sake & the Gospel you will find it” Matthew 10:39.  We grow, in our sanctification, as we desire to live out God’s “dreams” & “plans” for our life; and, relinquish our own! The sanctified life grabs hold of Paul’s words:  “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:28.  He doesn’t promise to make all things good! He promises to work them together for our good—for our sanctification!

-Trusting A God Who’s Not In A Hurry!

Abraham is a picture of the sanctified life because he trusted a God who does not hurry! God wasn’t in a hurry to fulfill His promise to Abraham about moving to Canaan land. He wasn’t in a hurry to follow through on His promise of a son, to Abraham, through Sarah. Abraham waited 25 years for Isaac—the son of promise! In His perfect time, God came through! Because God is never in a hurry, we can become impatient with Him & try to provide our own fulfillment to His promises. Abraham tried to make Ishmael acceptable to God—the product of his liaison with Sarah’s handmaid; but, God refused him. Abraham would learn to trust in a God who was never in a hurry! Ask God to make you willing to wait on Him!

 

God Uses Us To Grow Each Other!

-It’s A Spiritual Obligation!

God intends that the church of Christ would do the work of Christ! But, NOT in the strength of our flesh! Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, to indwell us, when He completed His work on the cross & returned to the Father after His resurrection! He indwells us in order to empower us as God’s ambassadors; so, that He might reconcile the spiritually dead with the Savior; and, to disciple them into the faith! Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, showed the Church of Rome what that looks like:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.  For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice” (Romans 15:1-6).

-Are You Helping Each Other?

I can’t really think of a better summary statement for that Scripture than something like this—never look down on anyone else unless you are reaching down to help them up! Paul’s charge, here, is to humble yourselves & to defer to the needs of others in the body; and, he uses Jesus as THE example! No one has ever humbled Himself more than Jesus! So, here’s the bottom line: God intends to use us—as local church faith communities—to help produce spiritual growth & maturity in the rest of the body! So, when we’re disinterested or disengaged, from one another, we actually become a hindrance to the spiritual work—in others—that Jesus intends to do through us. To begin with, the process is really just as simple as willingly putting up with each other— “…bear with the weaknesses of those without strength…” (v.1) In other words, we’re not just here to please ourselves!

-Be Tolerant Of Each Other!

If we can’t tolerate the different personalities; or, the different stages of spiritual growth that we’re all at; then, we’re not useable for God’s purposes. Paul’s use of the terms “strong” & “weak” is relative—I am “strong” in comparison to my 4 grandchildren; but, I am “weak” in comparison to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, right? So it is spiritually! We can all find someone, in our faith community, who is stronger than we are spiritually; and, someone else who is weaker. Notice, when considering that, that Paul doesn’t command the weak to “SHAPE UP”; but, he does command the strong to “PUT UP.” To “BEAR” with the weaknesses of others means “to endure patiently; to indulge.” We need Holy Spirit help to be longsuffering & patient with each other!  That’s how God intends to grow YOU & those He expects you to tolerate!