nothing at all can separate us from God’s deep, unchanging love

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

1 We are often tossed and driv’n
on the restless sea of time,
somber skies and howling tempest
oft succeed a bright sunshine;
in that land of perfect day,
when the mists have rolled away,
we will understand it better by and by.

Refrain:
By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story,
how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

2 We are often destitute
of the things that life demands,
want of food and want of shelter,
thirsty hills and barren lands;
we are trusting in the Lord,
and according to the Word,
we will understand it better by and by. [Refrain]

3 Temptations, hidden snares,
often take us unawares,
and our hearts are made to bleed for
any thoughtless word or deed;
and we wonder why the test
when we try to do our best,
but we’ll understand it better by and by. [Refrain]

Voices Together, 311

Also from Voices Together, 656God Weeps with Us. Cannot share lyrics due to copyright laws. A portrait of the song from another hymnbook here.

I’m not much into the idea of understanding it better by and by, in the life to come. I’m kind of the persuasion that I won’t care about trying to understand, being bathed in the love of God. Though that thought might come from living such a privileged life compared to so many others in our world. I think now of specific situations and sometimes we have to lament in horror, and then I soon forget about it, though hopefully it leaves an indelible mark on us so that we’re changed over time. And pray and do our part to alleviate human suffering.

Both of the hymns mentioned above spoke powerfully to me recently of how much God loves us no matter what happens, no matter what we’re up against. God’s love is always present and can become palpable, felt, if only we will learn to more and more trust God.

This is needed encouragement for me day after day when facing new difficulties, and considering the hard times so many are going through. God’s love is with us through everything. We need to count on it, so that no matter what we’re facing or how we’re feeling, we won’t accept the lie that somehow we are separated from God and God’s love. The words above say it better than I can. And note the second hymn as well. Given and present for us in and through Jesus.

no more drippy sentimentality

God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

Psalm 22:1-2; MSG

On a human level I like the Bible because it’s real, not flinching from life as it is, not providing some way of escape or denial. But facing it, and being honest and truthful about it.

So much of pop culture, even Christian popular culture, and specifically the evangelical tradition of it which I lived in many years is full of sentimentality. By sentimental, what I mean is feeling good, close, warm, and that everything is alright or will work out. Maybe we can add the power of positive thinking into the mix.

We do need faith in the midst of all the trouble and trauma of life. And that’s exactly what we see, even in the opening lines of Psalm 22 as rendered by Eugene Peterson. The psalmist echoed by Jesus on the cross did not hide their pain or true thoughts. And actually, when you think about it, this was a part of their faith.

We need to read the entire psalm to see that there is indeed a good ending. That God lifts up the one in pain, those in pain as well, all who look to him, all who put their hope in God indeed right in the midst of their pain and trouble.

Honesty before God first, and before others where appropriate is important. We do no one any favors by sugarcoating what is bitter. Scripture doesn’t do that. Jesus didn’t. We who are his followers should not, either. We’re in this together in Jesus, but in real life, not just the good, presentable part, but all of it. In and through Jesus.

Thoughts inspired by Tim Gombis’s helpful podcast: Faith Improvised: Sovereignty, Suffering, Sports, Etc.

preparing for martyrdom

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11

1 Peter 4 and 5 is also a good passage when considering this subject. We live in especially evil times in the United States. If you disagree politically, or especially with a political figure, you can be considered an enemy, an enemy of the state. Death threats and fear tactics are common now. And Christians are complicit in this. It’s an evil day.

As Peter tells us, we’re to arm ourselves with Christ’s attitude, which seems to be acceptance and even embrace of sufferings as taking away our desire for the unhelpful and even sinful dainties of life. Instead we determine by God’s grace to go the way of the cross, the way of following Christ to the end, the way of suffering.

I actually thought of this yesterday when considering this post. So instead of complaining about the nature of what I have to do, which frankly can be more than difficult, I decided to consider it training for martyrdom.

None of us wants to go there. But I also wonder just how many Christians nowadays would be able to. I ask myself that, too. Does our teaching and practice prepare us for that? Perhaps a good question as to how well we’re prepared for it is how well we’re responding to the difficulties at hand. Maybe we need to learn to embrace them, not in our own strength, but in the grace and strength of God, resolutely facing such in prayer, with the goal of finding God’s help to not only get us through, but make us a testimony and light.

This is easier said than done, and words by themselves are cheap. We need corresponding actions. And this involves a process. We’ll have to work through fears. But God is present to help us. As we seek to follow in the way of Jesus. Seeking to be faithful to God’s call on our lives. Leaving what is not of that behind. In and through Jesus.

addendum to preparation for martyrdom: a hopefully balancing word I added.

losing one’s focus (and one’s mind)

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

The call to follow Jesus is singularly one of focus and then acting accordingly. Certainly within the entire picture is all of Scripture, sorting out what is Jesus-like and in accord with the fulfillment Jesus brought from that which is not. Just because some person of God did something in Scripture does not make it right, or at least not right for us today. Remember Elijah calling down fire from heaven, and Jesus rebuking his disciples for wanting to do the same?

How Jesus’s words to his disciples during that time translate into our day is no small order, though I think there’s surely some direct corollary. We don’t have crosses now, but we must embrace the path of suffering for following Christ, and not just in some kind of western religious, salvation kind of way where nowadays so much about that at least expressed is about religious freedom. No, the way of Jesus can often strike right in the face of religious leaders, and certainly runs against the grain of the world’s way of thinking and action. Might doesn’t make right in God’s kingdom in King Jesus, nor lording it over others. Sacrificial, even suffering servant love wins the day in God’s eyes.

I have to ask when I see the mess today: “Are we losing our collective minds?” It’s so easy for us to lose our focus. And then go off on all sorts of directions other than where the Lord is going.

If we’re going to be true followers of Jesus, we need to learn to put first things first, get back to basics in what we’re focusing on, thinking about, and then practicing. It’s a matter of unswerving devotion to Christ, nothing else having that same place. It is also about being changed by the renewing of our minds so that we do not live in the ways of the world. We are called to follow Christ with the difference God’s kingdom brings- into our world, into all the world. In and through Jesus.

living differently

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

1 Peter 4:1-11

What is referred to here is not God-given human desires, but such desires twisted because of sin. Instead we’re to live the rest of our lives for and in the will of God. That’s to be our goal, what characterizes our lives. The norm of how we live from day to day.

We arm ourselves when we’re willing to suffer for God’s will. Christ set the example which we’re to follow in his suffering for us (1 Peter 2:21). We want to avoid any martyr complex. Just living simply according to God’s will as followers of Christ will get us into enough difficulty. Saying no to our own sinful inclinations, and yes to whatever God’s will is. In the way of Christ, in and through him.

 

being like Jesus in our struggles

If there’s one thing for certain in life, it’s that we’ll have struggles of one kind or another. I was watching a clip on war torn, disease ravaged Yemen today, and I also think of North Korea where to profess Christ would bring a death sentence. Comparing those two places, not to mention a good number of other places in the world (Haiti and Venezuela come to mind on our side of the world, but a number of other faltering states as well), and I begin to see that much of what I think I have to be concerned about pales in comparison. And yet problems here can seem like life and death matters at times, even while we live in relative comfort and safety. We need to be in prayer for the people who lack basic care, and whose lives are in danger.

How are we like Jesus in our own struggles? I think we have to pay attention to the things that Jesus did, as well as what he taught in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And see how that is expanded on in the rest of the New Testament. Our goal should be that we are more and more becoming like him, whatever difficulties we face. And hopefully to see such difficulties help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine otherwise, as we learn to walk in Jesus’s way, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

in the way of Christ is healing

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

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. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

Someone recently told me that only as our wounds are exposed, brought out into the open, can they be healed. I’m referring to inner wounds. I think there’s truth in that. After all, we can’t deal with what hurts us by ignoring it, or just holding it in. Sooner or later that will come out in ways that often are not helpful for others, even for ourselves.

Yes, we need to get everything out in the open before God. See the Psalms for example after example of that. And found in other places throughout Scripture, as well.

Peter’s words by the Holy Spirit actually point us in another direction for our healing. We’re told that we’re to follow Christ’s example in accepting suffering. This was actually written directly to Christian slaves (hit above link). Slavery then was different than what we think of now, in our American context. Yet still certainly an institution brought on by sin, destined not to last, certainly at least not in God’s economy, and God has the last word.

We’re told to do this and then told that we’re healed by Christ’s wounds. Not sure precisely what this means, except that it has to do with our sin problem and the impact that makes on our lives, and on the lives of others.

It is amazing, the impact of sin on us. We’re better off to persevere past whatever sin or fallout from past sin is plaguing us. And we surely do that in part by following what we’re being told here. We have to trust that God is healing us because of Jesus’s suffering, as we walk in the way of that suffering. In and through Jesus.

 

restoration from sufferings

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”[a]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

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. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:5b-11

This passage considered in itself would lose sight of the context of the letter. The suffering mentioned here is persecution for Christ and for righteousness. The entire letter should be read and even reread to understand the setting. Not to say that there aren’t other applications, I would call them secondary, when passages are read out of context.

We should ask ourselves if our suffering is really because of our witness to Christ and living in harmony with that. Or for something else, maybe of our own misdoing. Unfortunately, and I speak for myself, the majority of suffering can be due to wrongdoing, just plain ordinary sin. Little if any do we suffer because of our witness to Christ, not here in the United States.

This passage is quite encouraging and equally challenging. What we need is God’s grace; all is grace. But it’s a grace to see us through in the way of Christ, not in our own way. It involves humility toward each other and above all toward God. With the promise that as we cast our cares on God and resist the devil that God will see us through. Along with all other believers who are undergoing the same sufferings.

We who experience little of this suffering ought to stand with those who do suffer, doing what we can to help. We can and therefore should begin with prayer. Then we can go from there.

At the same time receiving the grace we too need in whatever situation we find ourselves. In and through Jesus.

our suffering for Christ, part of God’s good work?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7-10

I was noting I think for the first time the strange (to me) connection Peter makes between Christian suffering and God’s judgment. Seems like there’s a connection there. And we could possibly tie that to Christ’s own suffering as mentioned in the book of Hebrews, how he actually somehow “learned obedience” in such. Once made perfect might refer to his accomplishment of our salvation by his death.

We need to stare the hard sayings of Scripture directly in the face and remain there. This is not at all diminishing God’s love, not in the least. It is pointing to what we actually need as those who are being restored into what God meant for us in the first place, now through the new creation in Jesus.

On the other hand, the passage from 1 Peter quoted above might simply mean that the judgment from God is to separate those who suffer for doing ill from those who suffer for doing good and because of their witness for Christ. That well could be the meaning.

I find it interesting to see some possible link between what God is doing and what God did with Jesus, if we understand either very well. Either way, we can be sure that God is at work in our lives to help us be ready for whatever persecution we may have to endure. In and through Jesus.

 

do we suffer for the Name?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

I’ve been impressed in going over 1 Peter this time the prominence suffering in the sense of being persecuted for Christ has. Most often our suffering is due to our own faults or sometimes the problems of others. It seems most rare that we’re actually suffering for the name of Christ.

I know there are more than a few Christians nowadays where I live (the United States) who think they’re suffering for Christ. In most cases I would beg to differ. At least not when you consider this letter (1 Peter) and church history. And start considering the world scene today, the many Christians who are undergoing persecution.

Just to simply draw near to Christ, to be faithful to him might draw some persecution here, although most of us where I live will never find our lives in jeopardy over our witness.

1 Peter doesn’t mince words or try to make it sound easy. The mark of a Christian is to suffer for Christ, and thus to be in participation with the sufferings of Christ. It makes me wonder about myself. Not that we’re to look for persecution, but are we ready to suffer for Christ if that time ever comes?

1 Peter seems like an austere book when you consider the theme of suffering etched in it. Surely not one of the most popular books of the Bible, except for the verse or two you’ll find tucked away in precious promise books. But needed for our full development into Christian maturity. In and through Jesus.