Monday, May 26, 2008

Honest! You don't have to act like that.

Have you ever wondered why God came to earth in the form of Jesus? Well, ya, to pay the penalty for our sins, but beyond that. Why else did He come to earth? Ya, ya, to draw people to God’s kingdom, but why else? Why spend 33 years living as a human being? What was the point? What was He trying to do or show us or demonstrate for us? No, not just to teach about God’s kingdom. C’mon! You can do this.

Ok, let me ask it this way. Why would Jesus purposely come to earth into a rejected group of people, Jews, into lifelong poverty, and so on? Why would He live in such a way that He would become known as “A man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief”? Why would He do that?

Let me ask it yet a another way. If pain, or difficulty, or tragedy or suffering make up 40 or 50 or 60% of a person’s life on average, why would that be? Are we to say, as some love to do, that pain and suffering are proof that God is evil or impotent or that He simply doesn’t care about what’s going on? Is that really the God that you know? It’s not the God that I know and neither is it God as Jesus demonstrated Him to be while Jesus was on earth, “If you have seen Me, you have seen God the Father.”

It seems as though those who hate the idea of God the most, use the reality of life as their main grounds for “proving” His nonexistence. It seems as though they can’t conceive of any good reason for tragedy and suffering. This is unfortunate since even they, in hindsight often describe the benefits of the difficulties that they’ve experienced. But unless they are right, and I for one don’t believe that they are, then there must be a divine purpose for suffering and one of the many reason that Jesus spent 33 years on earth must have been to show us what that purpose is.

Do you know that when someone insults you, or treats you insensitively you don’t have to act or feel or be offended? Do you know that? When someone treats you unfairly, do you know that you don’t have to pay them back or hold resentment and bitterness toward that person? Do you know that? When you’re rejected by those you care about, do you know that you can still be ok as a person? Do you know that other people’s perception of you doesn’t have to become your reality? When you and another person compete for the same job and the other person gets it, do you know that you will still be taken care of? Do you know that no matter what happens to you in this life, no matter if you are healthy or sick, rich or in poverty, no matter if you are beautiful and desired or misshapen and people turn away from you, if you are living with Creator God as the foundation of your well-being, nothing will touch you?

How do I know this? How can I be sure that none of this is “easy answer” crap? Because Jesus came to earth to prove that it’s true. He lived it. He demonstrated it. He taught that we are to follow Him or to become like Him. More than that, anyone and everyone who has believed this and who has become a disciple of Jesus has found this to be true in h/her own life.

This is not some sort of mental gymnastics where our mantra is something stupid like, “Every day and in every way I’m getting better and better.” This is a fact. God is love. God loves you, and when everything else let’s you down, He will not let you down.

“Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered.” Isn’t that amazing? I detailed the sufferings of Jesus in another post long ago so I’m not going to do it again here. However, a fact of life is this. Nothing is more important than our relationship with Jesus and when we put Him first in our lives, He will and does take care of us with His presence in our lives. That is why people like Richard Dawkins find it so confounding and confusing when suffering and tragedy actually makes some people’s faith in Jesus stronger instead of driving them away from God. Those who know Jesus, and those who are known by Jesus, those who have an intimate, healed and forgiven relationship with Jesus are impervious to life’s hardships. Dealing with the insults and rejections of other people becomes like flicking lint of your shoulder.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t cry or experience loss or that we don’t grieve when a child makes self-destructive choices or when we see others experience earthquakes and tornadoes etc. What it means is that we don’t grieve like those who don’t have any hope in the reality of Jesus the Christ. In fact, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” We are made stronger by those things that satan brings into our lives to destroy us.

When someone in our family or in our acquaintance treats us unfairly, Jesus, our model and character goal has set the bar. He has shown us the way to peace and contentment. “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” And what does an attitude like that of Jesus bring about in us in the face of difficulty? See what the Bible says:

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 2:2- 4.

“Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” 2nd Thessalonians 1:4

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.” 2nd Thessalonians 3:5

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2 - 4.

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” 2nd Peter 1:5 - 7.

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” Romans 8:16 - 18

Who are the sons of God? “Those who love Me are the ones who obey Me.”

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” 2nd Corinthians 1:4-9

“That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 2nd Timothy 1:12

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Hebrews 2:10,11
Did you get that? Jesus is not ashamed to call us part of His family because He has experience the same sufferings that we experience during our time on earth. That is one of the main reasons that He spent time on earth, to know what it is like to be us and to show us how we can deal with hardship; to show us that we have options. These are not options based upon our strength but upon the strength of the Lord. If we don’t depend on His strength we devolve into foolishness like Buddhists who try to deny reality and even deny their true desires. Or we become insensitive like the Stoics. Or we pretend that we are brave and noble like the atheists.
“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1st Peter 2:21

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” 1st Peter 2:23

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 1st Peter 3:8,9

Jesus showed us by example that this can be done and He strengthens us by the power of His indwelling Spirit to follow His example.

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” 1st Peter 3:13 - 15

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1st Peter 5:1

Jesus came to earth, in part, to give us options; options in how we deal with others, options in how we respond to others. Regardless of what happens to us, we are safe in the arms of a loving, merciful, kind and generous Creator. He wants to grow us into kingdom people; people who are ready to reign with Him in eternity. It is a simple fact of life that we cannot become the kind of people He wants us to become in the absence of suffering and difficulty. Life as we experience it is no accident. No, it didn’t need to be this way. God presented us with a world exactly the way we claim that we would have made it had we been God. However, once that delusion is dealt with, and once we accept the fact that we chose this kind of world with all it’s suffering because it doesn’t include God, then we can also accept that God has taken the kind of world that we’ve created, a world with suffering and tragedy and He uses it for His own purpose. He uses it for our good, His glory and the furthering of His kingdom.

We don’t have to respond to evil with evil.
Instead, we can overcome evil with good.

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