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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Called to Suffer...Even More, A Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3

No one likes suffering. I certainly don't. Yet everyone suffers to some degree. We are all part of what we Christians call fallen humanity and a fallen world. Much of the suffering we experience is a result of the consequences brought about from sin, a broken, imperfect world. Suffering isn't normal. It is the result of our separation from God. Yet, in this broken world, we all experience it to some degree. For those not of faith in Christ, the response to suffering comes in various forms (e.g., curses, bitterness, hopelessness, depression) but it is never understood nor hope found. It is something incomprehensible and non-sensical. For the Christian, it is also very puzzling. Christians throughout the ages have tried to make sense of it and explain it in relation to a good God. We don't have all the answers. Yet, Christianity offers the best hope in light of eternity (yes, I am aware this is left without support, but the intent is not to offer answers to the problem of suffering).

Becoming a Christian does not make us exempt from suffering. In fact, it is something to be expected and at times it can be more intense than what an average person would experience. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul tells the believers of Thessalonica that they were destined (v. 4) to trials and tribulation for their faith. They were suffering distress and persecution for their belief in Christ (v. 7) and Paul encourages them by reminding them that this was expected. The Apostle himself sets himself as an example (he says "we") as one who suffered for Christ (it is interesting that when Paul was saved, Christ had told Ananias that Paul would be taught to suffer for His name - Acts 9:16). Amidst suffering, the Thessalonians remained faithful to Christ.

All Christians are called to suffer just as Christ suffered (see 1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:19-21; Acts 14:22). We will suffer because we are part of this world. We will suffer because of our faith. But our faith is rooted in the eternal God who one day will restore everything to Himself. We should not be surprised when suffering finds us. Paul's prayer is for us as well: "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." (v.13)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who Decides Who Lives or Dies?

I began reading the book of Jeremiah the prophet. It begins by stating the following:

"The word of the LORD came to me, saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” "(1:4-6 NIV).

God knew Jeremiah before He was in his mother's womb. He also made Him in the womb. But even before that, He already knew what Jeremiah would be, a prophet to Israel. Jeremiah calls him "Sovereign Lord."

God decided to give life to Jeremiah and decided his future not his parents. This has implications for us today. None of us have the right to decide who lives or who dies. When faced with an ethical dilemma dealing with life and/or death we choose to err on the side of life. It is not our role to decide to be God.

Here are other passages that speak about how God is responsible for creating every person.

Psalm 139:13-16 - For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,when as yet there was none of them." (ESV)

  • Notice several things, God forms every person in its totality. It is a detailed process. God has decided all the days we will live on this Earth.

What about those people who have a handicap, isn't it better not to have them?

Exodus 4:11 - Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" (ESV)

  • God takes responsibility for those who are handicap. He gave them life.
We don't know why things happen, good or bad. But our response should be the same as Jeremiah's: "Sovereign Lord." He decides who lives or who dies, not us!

 

 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Tale of Two Kings - Part I

I have just finished reading the book of 1 Samuel. As I reflect back, I can think of some things that I learned from the life of the first king of Israel, Saul and from it's second king, David. One was the people's choice because they approved of him even though it was still God's man (1 Samuel 9:15-16; 10:24). The second one was God's choice and the people had nothing to do with it. But neither one was God's intent for Israel. God wanted to rule Israel but the people rejected Him (1 Samuel 8:7-8). They wanted to follow the custom of nations around them (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

As I have read this narrative, I can glean a few lessons from the life of king Saul that I need to keep in mind:

1. God saves and empowers those whom He uses.

Even though it was not God's will for Israel to have a king, God guided them in the process of selecting their king. God is not capricious and He wants to bless us and does so in spite of our mistakes (1 Samuel 12:15). God gives Saul His a new heart: "When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day." (1 Samuel 10:9). Saul is empowered by God and even prophesies with the prophets. Soon though, we will see how Saul loses his empowerment (not salvation-see 1 Samuel 28:19) and the kingdom.

God will never give us a task without giving us His power to carry it out.

2. Humility is something that needs to be cultivated daily.

Saul starts as a shy young man, but as he assumes the kingship, what God has said kings would do to the people comes to pass (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Humility turns into pride. Saul manifests his pride when he offers sacrifice to God, something only a priest was allowed to do (1 Samuel 13:8-14). This is a foolish thing that will cost Saul his kingship: "And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever." (1 Samuel 13:13 - ESV). Everything goes downhill from here.

God wants us to be humble and not think that what we are is all because of ourselves.

3. Obedience is better than any sacrifice offered to God.

In 1 Samuel 15 Saul is given direct instruction to eliminate the Amalekites. (Some would see this as event as something to object. See post here for answer) Saul decides to do his own thing and keep some of the spoil. His excuse given is that it was done for God. God's answer is: "“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 - ESV)

You can repent of your sin, and should but this will not eliminate the consequences.

God wants our obedience first. What you do for Him is secondary to that. Period.

4. A life of disobedience to God brings consequences spiritual in nature but affecting the whole person, sometimes they even lead to death.

After Saul decides to disobey God, his life is filled with torment. A harmful spirit from God torments him (1 Samuel 16:14). His life becomes controlled by pride, rage, jealosy, despair and failure. He tries to kill David several times and kills innocent people (1 Samuel 22:6-21). Saul end is tragic. He commits suicide (1 Samuel 30:4) after his military defeat by the Philistines. Unfortunately, his sons including Jonathan are killed as well.

In part 2, I will speak of king David.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Humble Man of God - Reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 2

In my years as a Christian (almost 30) I have met very few men of God who are humble, especially pastors. Many of them have been quite the opposite. They have abused the position God has granted them. They have used it for their gain. As I look around in the "Christian world" I see few as well. Many carry Ph. D's and a name recognition which they show off. It isn't totally their fault. We, as humans, like to have our own idols. We make them who they are.

 

Let's be clear: I don't claim to be humble either. My heart is not free from the desire to be recognized or to be acknowledged for whatever talents I possess. But I don't have such a position either and I hope that I never do, if I am to use it for my own glory.

 

But that is not the topic. The man I want to talk about is St. Paul the Apostle in 1 Thessalonians 2. I just gave him a title which he probably seldom used or that people used to refer to him. In fact, I believe that most of the time he was called "brother Paul." Paul was an Apostle, who received direct commissioning from the Lord himself. As a man, he had the credentials. But he also had a past. He had been a murderer of Christians till Christ called Him. Physically, the man wasn't attractive either. Some say he had a speech impediment, was short and was probably somewhat blind. If this man was living today, he would never make it as a candidate for a church pastoral position. Yet this man was used by God to plant many churches one of them being in Thessalonica. Incidentally, he is the man God used to write thirteen of the New Testament Epistles which embody the doctrine of The Church.

 

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 Paul recounts how he had communicated the Gospel to the Thessalonians and how they had believed. As I read it, I sense the humility and tenderness of the man. Paul reminds them that he and his companions were holy, righteous, and blameless in the way they behaved before them. Yet, he says it in a very humble way. When he went, he preached in the power of God, not with flattery words nor seeking gain from them. He didn't demand anything as an Apostle, though he could off used his position for his own benefit. Instead, he says, he was gentle to them as a mother with her children. He was willing not only to give them the Gospel but his whole life. Like a father he encouraged them to walk in a manner worthy of God. He tells them how after being ousted from them he longed to see them but could not. At the end of the chapter, Paul calls them his "glory and joy."

 

That's the heart of a humble man of God. Let's all pray that we follow the Apostle Paul in his example. Let's strive for it!