Looking for God Outside the Bible: The Real God vs. Our God

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Do you ever find yourself not getting what you need from the Bible?  Society would say, “That’s OK, just listen for God’s voice elsewhere.”  It is true that God will speak to us through sources other than the Bible, but just a fair warning, we often do a pretty convincing impersonation of God.

A page torn from an inspirational daily calendar of Bible verses is making its rounds these days on the social media circuit.  It features a pretty purple flower and a quote from Luke 4:7:

“If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

It is meant to inspire.  The only problem with this verse comes to light if you at the surrounding verses and figure out who is saying this.  This is a quote from Satan, spoken to Jesus, when he was trying to tempt Him.  I’m not entirely sure if this was an oversight by the calendar designer, or a clever Photoshop job, but either way the takeaway is the same: Context matters when it comes to Scripture.  There is an even deeper problem today with how we use the Bible and its verses, and a recent article in the Huffington Post offers a sad example of this.

Brandon Robertson, a young Bible institute graduate, recounts in the article how his faith was shaken when he couldn’t find what he needed in the pages of Scripture.  “Every time I found myself in turmoil,” he wrote, “I would reach for the Bible, but I was coming back empty-handed most of the time.”  That disappointment, he explained, left him “radically disinterested” in God’s Word.

Describing a moment of particular personal crisis, Brandon looked to the Bible for comfort.  “With tears in my eyes,” he wrote, “I opened up the Scriptures and landed on Isaiah 3 – a chapter about God judging and destroying His enemies…not exactly the encouragement I was looking for,” he said.  “I turned to the typical ‘encouragement’ passages like Romans 8 and Philippians 3, but they didn’t seem to be working.”

Brandon recounted that his disappointment continued on into college, until, during a lecture by biblical critic Peter Enns, he had an epiphany: “We need to be training our children to cultivate a relationship with God, not a relationship with the Bible.”

I agree, of course, that at face value this statement is true.  The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God.  But for a growing number of progressive Christians, the God they want can’t be found in the pages of Scripture, so they look for God elsewhere.  They look for God in personal experience, through relationships with other people, and through private interpretations of when they say God “speaks into” their life.

Effectively, this approach untethers God from the Bible.  It makes the stories found in the Bible to be about God, but not a living Book in which God reveals Himself to his believers.  It essentially makes the Bible simply a historical narrative.  For example, the United Church of Christ recently insisted that “God is still speaking.”  This is another true-at-face-value statement, until you realize they’re actually suggesting that God changed His mind on issues like morality and marriage, and that their ideas of who God should be trumps the God that the Bible reveals to us.  God never changes His mind.

Many people point to Jesus Himself as their alternative to Scripture.  For example, Enns, in his book The Bible Tells Me So writes that “for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.”

But in response, Christian blogger Derek Rishmawy asked a very important question: To which “Jesus” are these folks referring to?  “…The only real Jesus we have intellectual access to,” observes Derek, “is the Jesus revealed to us in the Bible.”  That Jesus reaffirmed the exclusitivity of natural marriage, endorsed everything that was written in the Old Testament, and talked as much about hell and judgement as He did about the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Jesus that progressive Christians claim has not source other than themselves, their own feelings, beliefs, and preferences.  J. Gresham Machen wrote back in 1924, “The real authority, for liberalism, can only be…individual experience; truth can only be that which ‘helps’ the individual man.  Such an authority is obviously no authority at all.”

The approach we take when it comes to the Bible is vitally important.  God’s inspired word is not a calendar of inspirational, therapeutic quotes.  When we open the Bible, we are stepping into God’s story, understanding our place in His design, and encountering Him on His terms.  When we don’t find what we’re looking for, we should ask whether we’re looking for the real God or remaking a god in our own image.  At the very least creating God to be who we want Him to be instead of who He really is.

A relationship with a god we have created is not a relationship with God at all.

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Jesus is Our Rock

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Malachi 3:6 (NIV)

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.

People will sometimes say, “The only constant is change.”  Fortunately, this is not true.  There is One who never changes: Jesus Christ always remains the same.  What a comforting truth!  But it’s hard to find refuge in someone we don’t know well.  So let’s explore the Lord’s actions to learn more about His nature.

 

Jesus Forgave Others.

Jesus showed mercy, not judgement, to those who recognized their sin.  For example, Jesus had compassion on the woman caught in adultery and stopped her death penalty with a few wise words.  Then, instead of condemning her, He said her sins were forgiven.  We see this story here:

John 8:1-11 (NIV)

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

 

Jesus Comforted the Hurting.

Jesus visited Mary and Martha, who were mourning the loss of their brother Lazarus.  Here is how this story played out:

John 11:1-45(NIV)

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Jesus Provided for Needs.

After spending three days healing all kinds of disabilities, Jesus was concerned that the large crowd that had gathered had not eaten.  He could have sent all 4,000 people away to find their own food, but instead He provided more than enough food to satisfy their hunger.  Check out this amazing story:

Mark 8:1-10 (NIV)

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, 10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

 

Jesus Interceded for His Disciples.

Just before Jesus was crucified, He asked God to protect and sanctify His followers, which not only included all of his disciples, but you and me today as well.  Check it out in the following passage:

John 17:15-21 (NIV)

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

 

Jesus Strengthened Believers and Gave Them Power to do God’s Work.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus sent His disciples out to share the gospel, assuring them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  Check out the scene:

Acts 1:4-8 (NIV)

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Jesus still forgives, still comforts, still provides, still intercedes, and still empowers.  What a blessing that we can find refuge in our amazing God!

 

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Setting a Foundation of Unwavering Faith

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Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

In our ever-changing world, families move, friendships drift, allegiances shift, and technology advances by quantum leaps.  If we seek security in people, possessions, or positions, we’re doomed to be disappointed.

Yet we all need somewhere to turn during the storms of life.  The one true anchor for our soul is Jesus Christ., who the Bible assures us will never change.  To find comfort in Him, we must learn who He is, what He does, and how He works.

In this blog, I want to briefly hit on a few details about His life and character.

 

John 1:1 (NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Frist, John 1:1 reveals that Jesus was Deity from the beginning.  Jesus was there at the beginning of creation.  Jesus is fully God and fully man.  He was born of a virgin (Mary), lived 33 years on earth as a man, was crucified despite His innocence, and rose after three days from death to life.

 

Secondly, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  We see this expressed in the following two verses found in the Bible:

John 14:6 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Matthew 16:16-17 (NIV)

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

 

Thirdly, God fulfilled countless prophesies in the Old Testament through sending His Son Jesus, to earth.  A good example of a prophecy fulfilled can be found in Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 53 (NIV)

53 Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes  his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life  and be satisfied;
by his knowledge 
my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

 

Fourth, like us, Jesus has feelings too.  He wept for hurting people and felt angry when people misused the temple.  He felt thirst when he was on the cross.  We truly was fully human.

 

Finally, and most importantly, His resurrection defeated death, and He still lives today.  Jesus lives on in the souls of every believer.  By believing in Him, we accept the sacrifice that He made for our sins, and we receive the gift of eternal life.

 

God’s character never varies.  Of course, as situations change, He acts accordingly.  But the merciful, loving, compassionate, and holy Jesus we know from Scripture is the same Messiah that we cling to today.

Where do you turn in trying times?  Difficult circumstances are inevitable.  Prepare yourself for them by learning who Jesus is.  He’s the only true shelter and rock that will not change.  He is a wonderful Savior!

 

 

 

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Focusing on God Can Help us Avoid Sin

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2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NIV)

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 

Being a dad for the first time, I am adjusting to waking up in the middle of the night to give my son a bottle, change his diapers, and try to coax him back to sleep.  When I get up with him, I take him into the spare bedroom that has all the essentials, like bottle supplies, a changing pad, and an old wooden rocking chair that I was rocked to sleep in when I was his age.  When I take him in there, I need some form of light so that I can see what I am doing.  If I turn the overhead light for the room on, my son will squint or completely close his eyes because the light is so bright.  Keep in mind that I am taking him from a room that has almost no light and is almost completely dark.  To adjust to this problem, we have a lamp set up by the changing station that gives off a lot less light, but still allows me to see what I am doing.  This keeps us from having to turn on the main light altogether and saves my son’s eyes in the process.

What a picture of our own lives!  When we live in the darkness of sin and then encounter the glory of God, it’s like stepping into a room filled with great light; too much light for us to even see well.  God’s brilliance can seem like too much for us to behold.  We have trouble adjusting to His brilliant holiness.  But we must adjust, because a key to transforming into the image of Christ is to behold Him longer.  He is worthy of more than a casual glance every now and then.  We should, as His children, diligently fix our gaze upon Him.

Matt Papa, who is a contemporary Christian Music singer, said, “Our most natural, authentic Christlikeness will come not from our trying harder, but from our staring longer.”  I think we can all work on spending more time staring longer at our Creator.

When you take only a quick glance at yourself in the mirror in the morning, you might risk going to work with something between your teeth, a spot where the razor missed or hair sticking out-of-place.

The apostle Paul said we must “behold” Jesus as we would ourselves in the mirror, deeply contemplating Him, considering His worth and characteristics.  In doing this we’re seeking to be transformed into His image.

When we sin, we’re not focusing on God.  We are lurking in the darkness and focusing on the ways of our world.  True repentance involves turning away from our sin and the darkness and turning towards the light and the One who can lead us to victory.

I have two questions that I would like us to think about:

  1. What are some things in your life that divert your attention away from God?
  2. What could you do in order to focus more on Him?

If we answer these two questions honestly, and then make changes in our lives that would cause us to focus more on God, we will find that over time, we could be transformed into being a person that we can’t even presently imagine.  I think that would be well worth concentrating our time and efforts on.  What do you think?

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Overcome Fear by Trusting God’s Promises

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Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

In many ways, faith is the key to the Christian life.  Everything we receive from God we receive by faith.  He is the One helping, providing, encouraging, promising, and loving us.  And we know that God values our faith in Him.  Our faith is the basis of everything and it starts with our belief in God.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Then 1 Peter 1:7 adds that the “genuineness of your faith is more valuable than gold.”  Clearly, faith is immensely important.  Whatever hinders faith must be dealt with.  Fear hinders faith, perhaps more than anything else.

Alexander Maclaren once said, “Faith, which is trust, and fear are opposite poles.  If a man has the one, he can scarcely have the other in vigorous operation.  He that has his trust set upon God does not need to dread anything except the weakening or the paralyzing of that trust.”

As human beings, we desire to be in control.  The problem is, we’re clearly not.  Bad things happen to us and to people we know.  The world can seem out of control.  While it’s certainly fallen, and bad things do happen, it’s not out of control.  Our Father is in charge, despite all appearances to the contrary.  He can be trusted, though that’s not a guarantee against all pain.  God uses our suffering to make us more like Christ.

We exercise faith when we choose to take God at His Word and to believe in His promises.  Today’s passage, found in Isaiah 41 assures us that we don’t need to be afraid, because the Lord is with us and He will strengthen us.  We can trust that He won’t let us go.  Trusting in God’s promises helps us to overcome fear.

So as we are thinking about this idea, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What fears do you tend to struggle with?
  2. Can you recall times when God helped you overcome your fears?

I would encourage each of you to trust in God.  If you can find it within yourself to do that, God will replace your fears with a strong faith.  A faith that will transform your life.

                                                                                         

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Making Time for God

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Mark 1:35 (NIV)

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

 

Godly people make a habit of spending time with God.

 

David said he cried out to God “morning, noon, and night,” as we see in Psalms 55:

Psalm 55:17 (NIV)

17 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.

 

Daniel prayed three times a day according to the book of Daniel:

Daniel 6:10 (NIV)

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

 

Jesus, Himself, made a regular habit of getting up early to be alone with God.  A quick study of solid, influential Christian leaders reveals a common denominator among them of spending time with God daily in prayer and reading His Word.

We were created to have a relationship with God.  We can’t be healthy, growing Christians without spending consistent, focused time with Him.  That relationship grows stronger and closer through reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Stephen Olford, who was a 20th century Christian leader and who Billy Graham said had the most influence on his own ministry once said, “I want to hear the voice of God before I hear anyone else’s in the morning and His voice is the last voice I want to hear at night.”  I think if that was true for all of us, there would be a great sense of comfort from that.

As we practice a daily devotional time, we’ll discover some amazing benefits.  We’ll experience God’s joy.  The most joyful Christians are those who meet one-on-one with God each day.  We’ll rest in God’s strength, and our spiritual batteries will be charged.  We’ll discover the peace of God that comes from having peace with God.  Spending time with God helps us to relinquish our worries and concerns to His control.  Spending time with God helps us to conquer sin in our lives.  As we abide in Him each day, we learn to trust Him more and to align our prayers with His will.  As we become more like Christ, our words and actions will reflect His love and draw others to Him.

In my own life, I have seen tremendous growth in my relationship with God by having the discipline to spend time with him each day.  I live my life with a greater peace and confidence than I had ever known before and I know that is coming from His influence.  I am able to love others in a way I could not have done in the past before having that relationship with God.

I have two questions I want to ask you:

Why did Jesus need to spend time alone with God?

What do you need to do in order to consistently spend a daily devotional time with God?

I would like to challenge each of us to take some time each day to spend with God.  It doesn’t have to be a long amount of time, but try to get time in each and every day.  If you can do that, it will transform your life.  I promise.

Lord, help us to make spending time with You each day a priority in our lives.  Amen.

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God Redeems Our Suffering

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2 Corinthians 11:24-29 (NIV)

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

 

Hebrews 11 (NIV)

11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

 

God isn’t in the business of bringing unlimited wealth, prosperity, and happiness to our earthly lives.  God’s in the business of transforming His children, whom He freed from sin’s shackles, into Christ’s likeness.  The Lord doesn’t promise His followers a walk down “easy street.”  He beckons us to shoulder our crosses along the narrow path.  The Father’s pruning hand is an expression of His love, as He prepares us to pursue His purposes for our lives.

The great author C.S. Lewis once said, “We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved; we are rebels who must lay down our arms.”

In the two passages, we see examples of the many hardships that God’s people had to endure throughout the Bible.  Paul, who sis more to advance the church more than any other person who lived, had to suffer so much suffering during his time on earth.  In Hebrews 11, we see a systematic account of all of the great people from the Old Testament and the suffering they endured.  Please reread these two above passages and ask yourselves the following two questions:

  1. What did the people listed in Hebrews 11 have in common with one another?
  2. What are some way the Lord can use suffering redemptively in our own lives.

As believers, we’ve experienced God’s grace, blessing, and redemption in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we won’t also experience trouble, hardship, pain, and suffering.  Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:38, “Do not both adversity and good come from the mouth of the Most High?”

Biblical history is filled with examples of God-fearing servants who faced adversity.  Noah faced a worldwide flood; Abraham faced an uprooting, a long wait, and an unthinkable command; Joseph faced betrayal, slavery, and false accusations; Ester face the threat of death; Job faced terrible loss; and Paul faced beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, and imprisonment.  Yet they all remained faithful, trusting in God’s perfect will and timing.

The Lord can redeem suffering for kingdom purposes.

 

Lamentations 3:32-33 (NIV)

32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

God does not enjoy the fact that we experience suffering here on earth.  But, sometimes we need to experience some suffering to get to the place that God needs us to be at.  In other words, we can’t fully become the person God has designed us to be without us having to experience valleys.  It is during these tough times that we are forced to rely on God and seek His help.  When we do that, God can fix us from the inside out.  If we never come to Him, we will never experience those changes inside of us.

The best part of it all is knowing that through God’s promise and the suffering that Jesus experienced on our behalf, when our pilgrimage as his followers through this troubled world ends, God will usher us into an eternal realm free from pain.  What a glorious day that will be indeed.

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