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Affliction and comfort in Christ

October 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Text: 2 Corinthians 1:1-13

Paul’s theme here is that God comforts those in affliction. He does so, and then those who have been comforted are able to comfort others. Thus the ministry of Christ is multiplied throughout His body.

Christ’s comfort is made manifest alongside His affliction. Todd White has said that we are given the Comforter because God knew we would find ourselves in places where we would need comfort; where the comforts of this life and self-comfort would not be enough. We would need supernatural comfort, available only from God.

So when we are afflicted, we are comforted. And when we are comforted, we can comfort others. When we afflicted, we do not afflict others, as many in the world actually do; instead, through the Holy Spirit, we comfort others. The focus in all cases is on comfort, not affliction.

The hidden key to all this is in verse 6, where Paul says we must patiently endure our sufferings. Some – indeed, many – of the good things of God are only obtained through patient endurance in His course of discipleship. Hebrews 13 brings out how discipline is grievous in its time, but afterward brings forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Righteousness – being fully reconciled to God, not only forensically but manifestly, practically – is exactly what we need in order to overcome the hurdles of this life. Righteousness is akin to Christlikeness, for as we are conformed to the likeness of the Savior we increasingly take on His character. Christlikeness is the be-all and end-all of our program of sactification, for God intends that we fully become sons of Light, and no darkness will be permitted in His presence in the coming Kingdom. Therefore we must change.

Time and again during His ministry, the Lord Jesus warned His followers that the way would be hard. “Cramped and narrow is the way that leads to life”, while “broad and spacious is the way to destruction” He tells us in the Sermon. We must “hate” parents, family, even our own life, if we are to be His disciples, He warns. This is not a carnal hatred of the intrinsic thing, it is a putting of God first, not allowing anyone or anything, no matter how dear to our souls, to interfere with His purposes.

And so, in Asia, for whatever reason, Paul and his company were burdened, even beyond their ability to endure. It is often said that God does not give us more than we can handle. This is not an accurate reading of 1Cor 10.13 It says there that God will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. In other words, God will add His strength to ours, so that we can endure what was unendurable. That’s a whole different ball game. Once we understand that, we stop praying for an easy life, and we start praying for strength. It’s sometimes right to pray for escape (as the disciples did when Peter was jailed), but if continuing in it is against the will of God, we will get weaker. But if we pray for strength, we will grow in spirit and overcome all obstacles. We have to test the spirits.

So Paul went through that process in Asia. He was burdened beyond his ability to endure, but Holy Spirit came and “took hold on the other side” (which is, by definition, what the Para-klete does), and aided him. He endured and ultimately overcame. And now he was writing the Corinthians, not preaching a gospel of ease and pleasure, but giving comfort and helping them to overcome their afflictions.

The affliction Paul endured was so great it felt like a sentence of death, causing Paul to despair of life itself. Have you ever been there, despite being in Christ? God allows us to fall into situations where life puts its finger on the deepest root issues of our hearts. Under this pressure, we are in great pain and our strength is taken from us. We does God allow this? He cannot share His glory with anyone. Sanctification is ultimately His work, not ours, and He reserves its deepest work for His hands alone. This is why He denied Paul’s request for removal of his “thorn”, explaining, “My grace is sufficient, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2cor 12).

Paul learned in his darkest moments to trust neither in man nor in himself, but in God alone. This is advanced Christianity. If you learn this lesson, no failure of brother or church will derail you. It will hurt to go through, but your strength will be in God, not fallible man, so you will not stumble utterly.

Paul testifies that God did deliver him from that dark trail. Then he says an interesting thing: he trusts that God will deliver him again. We should not think that Paul’s trial was a one-time affair. No, that trail had come and gone, and Paul was now faced with fresh challenges. Perhaps the current trial wasn’t as great as the one in Asia that led him to despair of life. We are not told. But the significant thing is that Paul’s life was filled with trials, and those who want to live godly in Christ Jesus should expect no different.

That is not to say the life of the Christian is all drudgery. That would be a radical misstatement. While we do have adversities, afflictions and trials in this life, we also have the comfort and joy of Holy Spirit. And the more we focus on the latter, and the more victories we have, and the more maturity we gain, the more confident we become in God’s faithfulness and in His ability to deliver. And with that confidence comes Gospel power.

One final point. Paul ends his discourse on affliction and comfort by entreating the Corinthians to pray for him and his company. It is through prayer and practical aid that the Body comforts itself and builds itself up in love. These prayers can be open and known, or they can be hidden, known only to the Throne. But it is through sharing in each other’s burdens that the Body draws together and fulfills the law of Christ, which is love, even sacrificial love.

So when we are heavily burdened, let us not despair, but let us turn our focus to Christ, who will aid us and in due season raise us out of the affliction. And let us join in solidarity, in both prayer and action, with those who are suffering – of which there are many.

May the comfort of Holy Spirit be on all those who love the Lord and seek His rightful reign.

The ugliness begins

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

One very ugly story today in the Guardian. It’s ugly in two ways: first, for the story that is told, and second, for the way that story is told.

The story is that minorities are alleging a massive attempt to deprive them of the vote. The way it’s told is that the leftist Guardian first trumps up the allegations with hyperbolic rhetoric, assuming they are all true, and then gives only a thin gruel of substantiation at the end, after the reader already has been programmed. Classic manipulation of public opinion.

You will recall that certain political elements – read, Democrats catering to their special interest groups – have consistently resisted commonsense attempts to protect the integrity of the vote in America. You can hardly make a large purchase without a corroborating photo ID, but somehow requiring this level of validation is construed as being antithetical to our personal freedoms when used to prevent voting fraud.

So too, there has been a long history of denial of voting rights to those convicted of a felony crime. We may argue that the law should be made more flexible, but we can hardly deny that there is some basis in logic to keep those of poor character out of the voting booth.

We are in great danger of losing all confidence in our electoral system. And if that happens, then rioting begins. From buying off voters with amenities in Chicago – the city of “vote early and often” where Barack Obama learned down and dirty machine politics, to deceased voters somehow continuing to exercise the franchise, to the fraudulent registration lists of ACORN doing their work on the public dime in the name of voter participation, vote fraud has increasingly become an endemic part of the American fabric. It is a cancer eating away at the public trust, until now we barely have any.

But evidently we haven’t seen anything yet. Remember the painfully divisive aftermath to the election of 2000, when Al Gore would not let go? That will be nothing compared to the ugly racial rhetoric that’s ahead. It will be impossible to level any criticism of Barack Obama without being branded racist. I know this will happen because it already has been happening. It has happened to me, and it has probably happened to you as well.

If you search the pages of this blog you will see where I once pleaded that we inaugurate Allan West immediately. But that won’t count to exonerate me of racism because West, who is Black, is a conservative. One is considered Black by liberals only if he is liberal and accordingly endorses racial identity politics.

It’s been a great nation. We’ve had quite a run. But as Lincoln (and Jesus) warned, divided we cannot stand. Here we have identity groups going outside the country to bring external force to bear on it in order to implement their own agenda. It is widely believe that even Obama himself, the hope and change guy himself (even there I wanted to say “boy”, as I normally would colloquially do, without regard to the race of the person, but I flinched because of our supercharged racial atmosphere), is going to run an unprecedentedly divisive campaign, scorching earth in order to preserve his sinecure. This is nothing less than the potential demise of the nation, and immanently so.

While this is sad, and we should do all we can to prevent it, it presents an opportunity for the church. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and shaken we are. But this is the time to rise up and bear witness to Christ. Our power is not rooted in politics, but in the Spirit. So many people are needy, and not just financially. Families are falling apart. The world is an increasingly dangerous and evil place. Even the heralded Arab Spring is being shown to have only cleared the way for Islam to rear its ugly head. Real hope is a scarce commodity indeed. People need strength to face their challenges and live their lives.

At the same time, however, the church itself continues to be shaken, so much so that we wonder how we will be strong.  There is only one answer: we must abide in the secret place of the Most High, the place of immunity. From that place of rest we will be refreshed, and the Lord’s power will be perfected in us.

Do not fret at the evil around us. The evil one is certainly having a measure of success now, but his day will come. God has not abandoned us. His hand weaves its way through history, and through our circumstances, working all things to our good (Romans 8.28). He will not be thwarted.

These are difficult times, but those who know their God will be strong and do exploits (Daniel 11.32). let’s join together in prayer and keep one another strong. Christ is in our midst.

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God’s current massive creative work

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear friends,

I’ve been silent for a while, but I wanted to pass these two pieces from openheaven on to you.

God is doing something massive in these last days. The spiritual warfare has been intense, but the tide is turning, and through it the Lord is raising up a people who will be fit to share His very throne with Him, to partake in the Divine nature itself, and to rule and reign with His delegated authority.[1]

Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, we have been warned, and we are seeing this before our very eyes, virtually on a daily basis. Day by day the greatest country the world has ever seen is being brought lower and lower by the weight of its own corruption. Natural disasters worldwide are on the dramatic increase. There currently is a ray of hope in the Arab nations, but this can, and probably will, turn toward the dark side in an instant, setting up a true end-times scenario with respect to Jerusalem. The nations, it is abundantly clear by now, have absolutely no answers. They can only offer photo-ops and smooth oratory. But satan does not care how white their teeth are, and he does not bow before polished oratory.

Jesus told us that when we see the signs of last-days anguish, we are not to despair, but rather to look up to our soon-coming redemption. Even though we are going through a crucifixion now, the eye of faith not only can see the victory coming, it can see the Bride being prepared by the very fiery trial besetting us.

And so I’m going to pass on these two articles from openheaven.com, which I think speak powerfully of the creative work the Lord is doing in the church at this very moment. Openheaven has an email list that sends out roughly weekly, containing such articles and also a useful summary of Christian-related news.

Be blessed,
Paul

[1] For more on the incredibly powerful theme of our being outfitted for glory, and the power inherent in our prayers, see my review here of Billheimer’s book, Destined For the Throne.

1. Kingdom Impact

By Ron McGatlin

Trading Our Limitations for His Supernatural Life

Becoming One Spirit with Christ Jesus is no small matter. It is beyond our imagination – far greater than we could ask or think. It has not entered into the hearts or minds of natural man’s understanding. However, in this new season of emerging kingdom, God is revealing it to us by His Spirit.

In a moment of time we can be transformed by the Holy Spirit – changed in the twinkling of an eye by the powerful impact of the in breaking kingdom of God in the Holy Spirit. This is new, and we have not come this way before. Christ, by His Spirit, indwelling our spirit-being is transforming our weak spirit into His powerful Spirit that is HOLY HOLY HOLY.

No more mixture and no more falling back. What we could not do, Christ in us will do as we truly become one with Him. We no longer live but He lives His pure, holy life of love, power and wisdom where we once lived.

Yes, there may have been many years of “here a little and there a little” – years of three steps forward and two steps back – years of tearing down our foolish self-focused pride filled lives – years of our erecting our own castles in our own kingdoms – deceiving ourselves with religious platitudes from a god of our own making. We built precept upon precept and line upon line to be snared in our own works only to fall backward and be broken.

Isa 28:13: But the word of the LORD was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little,” That they might go and fall backward, and be broken And snared and caught.

In the passing church emphasis age we, for the most part, did not experience the kingdom impacting us, changing us in the twinkling of an eye. In this new kingdom emphasis age things are not as they were.

Judgment is coming swiftly to chasten and turn believers toward the now visible kingdom and away from our self-sufficient, do-it-ourselves lifestyle. Judgment of God is always for cleansing. Falling upon our faces in true repentance and crying out to God are often brought about through the severe disappointments of the devastating failure of a crumbling life under cleansing judgment of God. If everything kept on working well for us in our less-than-holy living, we would not be searching for change. Read more…

Out of the comfort zone, and on to victory

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Out of weakness were made strong – Heb 11.34

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle –Ps144.1

The story of Gideon gives us a vivid biblical illustration of how the Lord can raise up a fearful, powerless person to be an overcomer. Gideon, you may know, was treading his wheat secretly in a secluded winepress when God spoke to him. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-armed by the Midianites, and had been “brought low” and were being badly abused. (Judges 6)

Gideon was hiding away, quite understandably full of fear, yet God chose him to defeat the Midianites, a task far bigger than he alone was capable of. The story of how God raised up Gideon to complete this task tells us a lot about how God works in His chosen vessels even today.

God’s first message to Gideon was that He was with him. And note that God addressed this fearful person as a “mighty man of valor”. In the midst of repression and reproach, God was speaking his affirming vision over Gideon. And Gideon’s first response was the classic, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Isn’t that always our biggest hurdle? To believe the good promises of God in the face of the daunting circumstances life can throw at us?

To overcome Gideon’s lack of faith, God began to give Gideon encouraging signs. First He miraculously consumed a sacrifice with fire. This terrifying event made fearful Gideon even more afraid – but it served to focus the fear where it belonged – on God. When we fear God we no longer have to fear man. Sometimes God needs to give us a jolt in order to awaken us to a new work.

Gideon now was encouraged enough to face the first challenge Lord asked of him. He was to pull down the town’s idols and replace them with an altar to the Lord. Gideon needed every bit of his newfound courage to do this (and indeed he did it under cover of darkness), because pulling down the town’s idols of choice was not a terribly effective way to make friends and increase one’s life expectancy. Predictably, the neighbors were up in arms afterward and aiming to kill him for offending their religious sentiments (remember, this was Israel, so you can see how far the people had fallen spiritually). It was only Gideon’s father’s intervention that saved him. His father essentially told the townspeople that they would have to go through him to get to Gideon, and then he had the wisdom to challenge them to let their gods punish Gideon if those gods really were so powerful (v. 31).

Gideon’s father’s courage and wisdom saved the day, at a point when Gideon was just starting out in his walk of faith and he was very vulnerable. If we see our brothers striking out against the idols of today and in a vulnerable position, we ought to do the same for them.

Gideon was strengthened by his success, and now the Lord was ready to call him to fight the Midianites. For this new task Gideon would need an extra dose of encouragement. He prayerfully put out a fleece one night, and the next day it was drenched with dew while everything else was dry. But to be absolutely sure that he wasn’t imagining the whole God thing, he repeated the experiment. This time the fleece was dry but everything else was wet. At the mouth of two or three witnesses every thing shall be established.

The Lord was raising Gideon up, and He was doing it by mixing affirmations with challenges. First He would show Gideon His mighty power, and then He would challenge Gideon to do some risky faith-stretching exploit. If God had given Gideon support with no challenges, Gideon would have grown complacent and would never would have grown up spiritually. And if He had given challenges with no support, Gideon would have been spiritually paralyzed and also would not have grown up spiritually.

Father knows how to balance our spiritual “nutrition and exercise” in just the right way in order to work what is best for us. While we are going through the discipline, at times it doesn’t seem balanced to us at all. It seems hard. But that’s inherent in the definition of testing faith. By nature we crave the familiar status quo, and God sometimes has to make us uncomfortable in order to get us to move forward.

It behooves us to get into agreement with God early. The more in harmony with God we are, the less disruptive and painful our spiritual growth will be.

Now the battle with the Midianites loomed. This was big. Gideon must have felt relieved when some thirty-two thousand men showed up, forming a significant army. But God had a problem with that – the job had to be done with fewer men, so that the glory clearly would be His. So He had Gideon thin the ranks. Those who were afraid were allowed to leave, and twenty-two thousand did so.

That left an army of ten thousand brave men, but that was still too many. At the Lord’s direction, Gideon separated out three hundred more men. That wasn’t such a lot of soldiers to lose, Gideon may have thought. But if he was thinking that way, he was much mistaken – it wasn’t the three hundred that were to be sent home, it was the 9700! God was going to send Gideon into battle with a mere 300 men! Clearly, God was VERY intent on receiving the glory Himself!

This was a challenge, indeed. Do you see the dynamic here? When God chooses one to be a vessel of His glory, He begins a process of stripping him of his natural strength. This forces him to rely on God alone – not man, not his own abilities, but God alone.

At this point, Gideon understandably began to question and fear again. And so the Lord shifted back to Affirmation Mode. He sent Gideon sneaking into the enemy camp, where he “just happened“ to overhear two soldiers discussing an unlikely dream whose interpretation confirmed that an impending victory awaited Gideon.

This would be the last bit of encouragement that Gideon would need. His assurance was complete, and he went on to execute his bold battle plan magnificently. The fearful man initially alone and hiding from his enemies had been transformed into a military leader whose breathtaking boldness shocked, confused and terrified the enemy into self-destruction.

Very often when God raises up a person out of strongholds such as fear, depression and despair, He will use a process similar to the one He used with Gideon. He will demonstrate His protection and power, but at the same time He will lead His wavering warrior into challenges previously undreamed of, where new levels of overcoming faith are required.

To walk with God requires courage, but to seed that courage He goes out of His way to reassure us of His faithful providence. As with Gideon, often our fear is not completely taken away initially. There may be a period in which both fear and courage are present together, working against each other, and godly character develops as courage dynamically overcomes the fear.

It’s a growing process, and as our faith grows our heart becomes more healthy. God knows exactly what we need. If we give Him our willingness, He will work in us to bring about godly change, even dramatic change. And it’s a win-win all the way around. God builds His character into us and sets us free from our strongholds, and at the same time we become useful to Him in setting others free and in building up His Kingdom.

The story of Gideon is a fascinating, vivid study in how God can work in even the most fearful person to overcome extremely daunting odds. The good news is that the story is not about Gideon alone, because what is written of him was written for our instruction, as an example to us. Whatever obstacles you face, what God did for Gideon he will do for you, if you will believe the promises and rise to the challenges He allows in your life.

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“Go make the tomb secure” -by William Duncan

April 25, 2010 Leave a comment

This was this year’s Resurrection message of  Robert Duncan, Anglican Archbishop of Pittsburgh. I thought it was very encouraging. I’ve taken the liberty to edit out the Anglican references to make it more expansive to the whole Body of Christ.

“Go make the tomb secure…”

Pilate invites Jerusalem’s leaders to “secure” the tomb of Jesus [Mt.27.62-66].  They “secure” the tomb with a stone, sealant and soldiers.  As if these could contain our Lord…  Their efforts prove inadequate.  Their materials and means turn out to be no match for the One through whom all things were made.

We have so much for which to give thanks.  First and foremost is the cross of Jesus Christ, by which all previous securities are undone, and life comes by death.

There are many tombs which others have tried to “secure” with us inside.  There are also some tombs in which we have been tempted to “secure” ourselves.  None of these tombs hold when Jesus is there.

They can take our buildings and our assets here at home.  They can even take our lives, as in far-flung places like Nigeria and Sudan and Indonesia   But Jesus is with all those who embrace Him above all else, who follow Him to – and through – whatever crosses are asked.

For us as faithful Christians the efforts by others to “secure” our tombs have failed miserably, just as they did with the One we call on as Lord and Savior.  There has been suffering and loss, pain and grief, anxiety and fear – these things have been very real, and demanded our very best efforts, as well as the grace of the Holy Spirit in abundance.  “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Cor.15.57].

As I look across the Church this Easter – seeing its life, its vitality, its healing, its unity, its compassion, its forgiveness, its renewal, its multiplication and growth, its international partners, its clear sense of mission, its appreciation of the transforming love of Jesus Christ – I think I am understanding the mystery and the truth of Easter better than I ever have before.  I hope you and yours are too.  With Jesus it is just not possible to “secure” any tomb.  Easter joy and love to all.

Easter, A.D. 2010

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Conditions are right! -by Jeremy Caris

April 25, 2010 Leave a comment

This comes by way of the Elijah List. I think it’s a timely and very-well-stated encouragement to deal with our situation as it NOW is rather than waiting for the breakthrough. Not that the breakthrough isn’t coming, but in one parable after another, the Lord taught us to be faithful during the dark seasons as we await the Light.

Conditions are right!

Jeremy Caris

One of the key things that I see God doing right now is re-positioning many Believers who will cooperate with Him, making adjustments that will allow for advancement. If you are in Christ, your conditions are already right. You simply need to allow Him to position you in a way that will enable you to take advantage of the existing opportunities that surround you. I see the grace of Jesus being released to re-position many right now. The details of your particular circumstances may be daunting facts, but God will turn the current circumstances of your life to your advantage. Better than that, He is ready to use your circumstances to His advantage.

It’s tempting to think that perhaps one day in the future the conditions will finally be perfect and then you will be able to settle into God’s ways and His design, but I hear God saying that today is the day. Now is the time to trust God with your future and thereby enter the rest of God. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10, ESV).

How to Let Outside Forces and Circumstances Become Your Staircase to Ascend into God’s Purposes

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