Consider It Joy To Be Tested!

-Are We Prepared For Persecution?

It seems it’s time to ask ourselves if we’ve prepared our children and our grandchildren for a time when it might be against the law to be a Christian in this country! It doesn’t seem like the church, in general, has done a very good job of that! We have “Americanized” what it means to be a follower of Jesus! Christianity was birthed in a world that crucified its Founder! Jesus said, “If they crucify Me, they will crucify you!” The 1st-century follower of Jesus was considered a revolutionary! Do you know what the Roman government did with revolutionaries? They killed them!

-We’ve Sanitized The Faith!

All but one of Jesus’ disciples were killed or martyred for their faith! American Christianity knows nothing about that kinds of tests and trials. We’ve sanitized the faith! Somehow, we’ve accepted the lie that all you have to do is ask Jesus to be your Savior and you’ll never have another problem! Many believers have learned to look down on an individual who struggles in life like they’re just not very spiritual! We’ve accepted the lie that we’re entitled to live in a Christian, God-fearing, Bible-honoring America! But, God never made that promise! Quite the opposite!

-Called To Be Jesus To The World!

God calls us to be revolutionaries; He calls us to be Jesus to the world that crucified Him! He calls us to love them as Jesus loved them; even if it means dying to see them saved! God’s revolutionary looks a whole lot different than the world. Our revolutionary warfare is fought by the Spirit; not like Peter attempted in the Garden. Jesus told him to put away his sword. This war is fought on our knees in prayer! Our sword is the Word of God! He intends we take the Gospel to everyone around us! That’s Christ’s commission! The book of James is a dynamic declaration of what real discipleship looks like; how it’s fleshed out even as we go through testing.

-Responding To Trials & Tests!

You need James’ message because all of us are either coming out of a testing, we’re in the middle of a trial or test right now, or we’re heading into one! No one leaves this world unscathed. So, let me point out how James, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us to respond to the trials & the tests & the disappointments of life! “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:2-4. What? Consider it a joy to be tested by God? That’s what he said!

-Committed To Facing Trials!

We need God’s supernatural help if we’re going to be committed to facing our trials with a joyful heart as James says! We need God’s help because “joy” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). That means that your flesh cannot produce a joyful heart! It’s incapable! Let me add that he’s not talking about “temptations” to sin here. We’re not supposed to be filled with “joy” when we face temptations to sin! We’re supposed to FLEE those kinds of temptations the Apostle Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22-24). James, here, is referring to the trials, tests, and difficulties of life! And, our flesh will never respond with “joy” when those things enter our lives! Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh! A spiritual response is counter-intuitive for us. It’s not natural! It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

The Good News Of The Gospel!

-The Beginning Of Jesus’ Gospel!

At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer said:  “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about” (John 1:29-30).  The Biblical writer, Mark, opens his account of Jesus’ life like this:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel”; or, “euangelion” in the original Greek language, means “good news”; and, it’s found more than 100 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It’s used in the context of “justification”; or, becoming a born again believer; and, “sanctification”; or, spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus; and, even “glorification”; or, the completion of our salvation when we get a resurrected body like Jesus’ body.

-The Gospel In Everyday Life!

So, we need to ask by the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been limited, in many churches, to Easter Sunday sermons; and, to altar calls, as though it only applies to our getting saved; and, not to our growth or sanctification in Christ? If you ask most Christians, “How do you apply the Gospel to the everyday stuff of life?” they wouldn’t know how to answer! I submit to you that the Gospel has everything to do with every single thing you go through in your life. Here’s how we need to unpack the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  “Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution!” That’s not original with me; but, I have no recollection where I first heard it! But, I can’t think of a more complete; but, simple way to define the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

-We Never Graduate From Jesus!

What Jesus accomplished on the cross, for you, has everything to do with your family, your work; and, even the painful struggles of life. You need to grab hold of that truth if you’re a follower of Jesus; or, you will flounder greatly in your faith. The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, isn’t just for salvation; or, your justification! We never graduate from Jesus and His Gospel. Whatever you’re questioning in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer; and, whatever the problem you’re facing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution! One of the biggest flaws in the way that we have made disciples is we’ve taught them how to successfully navigate the Christian life; or, to grow in their sanctification, without Jesus! One of the biggest flaws, in our prayer life, is that we pray that God will change the circumstances! Rarely will God answer that prayer!

-The Prayer God Wants Us To Pray!

He wants us to pray, NOT for a change of circumstances; but, for a change of heart; and, that only happens as we apply the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is activated as you prepare the way for Him to enter your life. As Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer prepared the world for His arrival. We have to prepare the way, in our own private world, for Jesus to enter. I mean, by that, that we must give proper place to Him. We must denounce all other competing loves!

-Not Worthy Of Me!

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:37-39). To prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to enter your heart, you must see Him as the ultimate value! He is of greater value than all of our other loves! His worth is infinitely greater than even the great worth we attach to our mothers & our fathers & our children; and, to our own lives also! Jesus is the ultimate value of the universe; and, the good news of His Gospel tells us that as much meaning & enjoyment as we may experience in the pleasure of God’s created things around us, none of these will do for us what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will! And, so, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts & lives.

Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.

Thank You God For Pain!

-Enslaved By Our Idols!

Did you know that God will allow our idols to enslave us in order to drive us back to Himself? It’s true! In the Old Testament book of Judges, it says that God, “…sold Israel to their enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly” (2:14).  You may find that disturbing that “…the Lord was against them”; and, that He “…brought disaster on them.” Or, perhaps you can relate! Have you ever felt like God was against you & that He was bringing disaster into your life? Well, He might be! But, if He is, it’s only temporary & He means to use the disaster to encourage you to repent, over your sin, and return to the Lord!

-All Idols Are Frauds!

That’s what He did with Israel! He meant to show them that their idols were all frauds! That the idols that they bowed down to would never satisfy or deliver them! Only God can satisfy and deliver! We see the pattern in the next chapter of Judges:  “The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; they forgot the Lord their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to Cushan-rishathaim…” (3:7).  When their idols failed to deliver, v.9 says, “Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel…as a deliverer to save the Israelites.”  So, from an application standpoint, we need to look at pain & struggles differently!

-Ask God To Reveal Your Idols!

Some times, we need to thank God for pain! When you’re facing difficulties, in life, ask God to reveal any idols that you may be depending on— money, health, education, leisure, etc.— and, confess it as sin if you’re guilty! And, then, turn back to the Lord! It’s His goodness that leads us to repentance! Otherwise, when we fail to repent, God’s absence from His rightful place in our life can lead to shocking moral depravity! There’s a story, in Judges 19-21, that is one of the most unbelievable in all of Scripture.  A Levite, who was supposed to be a religious leader in Israel, has a concubine! Do you know what a concubine is? She’s someone who voluntarily enslaves & sells herself to a man primarily for sexual pleasure— kind of a “friend with benefits” as has been popularized in our own immoral culture! So this Levite has broken some of the clear commands that God had given Israel, through Moses, way before they even entered Canaan land. The concubine didn’t have an equal status as a wife; so, when she got angry, with her situation, she left the Levite & went home to her parents. After awhile, he goes to see her, they make up and return home!

-Shocking Moral Depravity!

On the way home, they spend the night in an Israelite city. The text says, “…perverted men of the city surrounded the house…and demanded of the owner that he, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him” (19:22). When they couldn’t  have the Levite, they took his concubine, raped & abused her all night, leaving her for dead! So, the Levite took her home, cut her up into 12 pieces & sent her body parts throughout the 12 territories of Israel! Shocking, right? I can’t even come up with an English word that adequately describes that story! God doesn’t sugar-coat the atrocities that sinful men are capable of! God’s absence from our lives; or, from the conscience of a nation, can lead to shocking moral depravity. Let’s learn to be thankful when God interrupts our sin with some pain to get our attention! And, then, let’s confess our idols as sin and repent!