The Cross You Bear

If we are children of God, then we are also heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:17).

Years ago a man became very agitated during a Bible study on the subject of suffering and erupted: “I have never suffered for my faith and I’ve never suffered with Jesus!” Yet in Romans 8:17, the Apostle Paul assures you that if you’re saved, you’ll suffer “with” Christ.

How did Jesus suffer? He was rejected by men, denied by His friends, ridiculed by His family, mocked, persecuted, beaten, and finally crucified.

Your suffering won’t be identical to His. He never called you to bear His cross, but your own (Mt 10:38). Not all suffering is equal and not all suffering is “with” Him. You’ll suffer because you live in a sinful world full of ungodly people. Sometimes you’ll suffer because you or someone else has done dumb, illegal, or sinful things.

Is your faith in Christ leading to suffering “with” Christ?

A Christian will suffer “with” Jesus because of his union with Him. There’s no way around it. No suffering for Christ? Then you’re not in the faith. Anyone claiming to live a suffering-free life because of his ginormous faith is peddling a lie. Suffering for your faith is one of the means by which the Bible says you know you are a child of God (Mt 5:10-12; Lk 12:11; Jn 15:18-21; Acts 5:41; 14:22; Phil 1:29-30; 1 Thess 3:2-5; 2 Tim 1:7-8; 3:12; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 2:20-21; 4:12-15).

But there’s good news: you don’t suffer alone but “with” Christ and there is an eternal benefit to that suffering. Jesus said that the more you suffer in this life for His sake, the greater your honor in Heaven (Mt 20:21-23).

How you react to the cross you carry reflects the condition of your soul. Suffering drives the child of God to greater dependence upon Him and His grace. Suffering is a reflection of your faith today and works as a kind of preparation for glory “with” Christ in Heaven.

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Brothers

R Rice, Isaac Mathembe & Matthew Ferraro. Brothers in Christ and fellow servants of God

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia (2 Corinthians 1:1).

The Apostle Paul is unquestionably one of the most famous and important people in the history of Christianity. As the last apostle chosen by Jesus, Paul took the gospel throughout Asia Minor and southern Europe and was either directly or indirectly responsible for two-thirds of the New Testament. He had every reason in this world and the world to come to boast of his position, power, and place in the Kingdom of God, yet notice the humble way he described himself to the believers in the city of Corinth: a brother to Timothy.

Timothy was raised by a godly grandmother and mother knowing the Bible. Paul met him in Lystra and was used to bring the young man to faith in Jesus. Paul immediately became a spiritual father to Timothy. More importantly, the two became brothers in the family of God.

What could be more wonderful than to know that one is not alone in the world. Through faith in Jesus, we are adopted by God the Father and brought into the family of God for all of time and eternity. He lovingly gives us different gifts and richly bestows upon us different roles and responsibilities in His family. Black and white, young and old, we are made brothers and sisters in His household.

When people are bragging about titles and positions, could any claim be more blessed than child of God and brother to His saints.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus … there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26, 28).

Untrained Hands

holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers whose mouths must be stopped, teaching things which they ought not … (Titus 1:9-10).

My heart and mind reeled when I heard that a young man who attends church an hour a week is starting a church. Today everyone feels qualified to start a church and be a pastor; qualified or not. Feeling is the qualification.

Which brings more fear to your mind: an untrained surgeon with a scalpel, an untrained bomb defuser, or an untrained and unqualified pastor?

We would never encourage a child to open a surgical hospital because of a feeling he got after a dream. We wouldn’t permit a woman to defuse a nuclear weapon after watching an episode of MacGyver. We should never accept the thought of anyone leading a church without first having careful Bible and theological training and meeting the Biblical qualifications for the ministry. One of the qualifications for the pastorate is that the man holds fast the faithful Word as he’s been taught so he can teach sound doctrine, but the untrained man begins from day one upon the threshold of false teaching before he even opens his mouth.

We are prone to lightly handling God’s Word. We don’t realize that the slightest error is to misrepresent the True and Living God. The tiniest distortion of the Word of Life – even by well-meaning people – leads others into spiritual darkness and deception. As Jesus warned, it becomes a matter of the blind leading the blind.

The Scripture is the flaming sword of the Spirit, able to divide even the soul and the spirit. It is the very words of God, breathed out by the Spirit of God. It is powerful for the condemnation of the wicked, the calling of God’s elect to salvation in Christ, and the training and instruction of God’s people in righteousness. Untrained hands are eternally deadly with such a powerful tool.

What We Shall Be

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

Across the street from my home there is a 300-room hotel going up. When the hotel is opened, occupants will be able to look down right into my living room windows!

Because of our continual rainy weather, the 5-level building is covered in plastic so the work can go on. Once in a while, the construction workers will move the sheets of plastic and I’ll get a peek at what’s going on underneath, but most of what the hotel will be is hidden for now.

Early Christians were troubled when their saved friends and loved ones died. The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage and comfort them, explaining why believers don’t mourn over death like the unsaved do. The Bible’s great funeral text says that death comes with hope (1 Thess 4:12-18).

When a Christian dies, his spirit immediately goes into the presence of God in Heaven (2 Cor 5:6, 8). His body goes into the grave awaiting the resurrection of all believers, when mortality is transformed into immortality. In the resurrection, the body will be reunited with the soul and spend eternity in fellowship with God (John 5:29). At the same time, the bodies of living believers will be transformed and also rise to be with Christ in Heaven.

Like the hotel being constructed underneath the plastic, we don’t know everything about these resurrected bodies, but we do know a few things.

For the child of God, your resurrected body will be like Christ’s resurrected body (1 Cor 15:49-53). After His resurrection, Jesus ate food (Lk 24:42-43), and could touch and be touched (Jn 20:27). He had flesh and bone, but no blood (Lk 24:39) and was not bound by time or space so He could appear and disappear (Jn 20:19; Lk 24:31). More importantly, we will be made like Jesus in character, free from sin and the affects of sin.

For now, the details of these bodies is hidden from us, like the hotel across the street. To go beyond Scripture is to go beyond God, but we know that when Jesus returns, and we see Him as He is, we’ll be made like Him. Until then, everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

The Parable of the New Suit

Monday morning always felt early for Martin. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower, out of the subway and onto the sidewalk, out of the elevator and through the office door. This morning he already had a new client waiting for him.

He looked over the paperwork on his desk and then made some preliminary observations about the client. Male. Early 20s. Straight teeth. No tattoos. No needle marks. Homeless, but somebody’s son. Martin had grown tired of the same clientele day after day, but something about this young man was different. He would treat this man differently.

Martin took the client into the dressing room and began the search for the perfect new suit. “It really is the suit that makes the man,” Martin said. White shirt with spread collar. Navy suit with a modern skinny cut … Perry Ellis would look great. Most important was the necktie; two-inch, solid black. He worked carefully to ensure that the tie reached down just over the top of the belt buckle. His client looked like a million dollars. Perfectly perfect! As they said in Martin’s business, “Fit for a funeral.”

Hair trimmed and styled with a barely noticeable touch of makeup, his client was ready for the debut. It wasn’t often, but today Martin was proud of himself and his work as he wheeled the young man in the coffin into the Hearse.

A dead man is still a dead man no matter how he’s dressed.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord  (Romans 6:23).

The Parable of the Snail’s Tale

 

Herbert and Hobart were twins. Almost.

They’d spent every minute of the three months of their lives together. They liked the same things, did the same things and went to the same places.

Every morning when the sun came up, Herbert opened his eyes, moved to the bright pink wheel in the center of his home, and began running around and around and around.

Hobart would wake at the same time as Herbert, only he didn’t have a wheel, he’d just move to the edge of his house and swim around and around and around.

The two best friends, a hamster and a goldfish, kept busy going. They had so many places to go and things to see in their little world.

One day as the two brothers were making the circuit around the world, Hobart noticed something odd outside his glassy home. He stopped swimming to stare. Herbert stopped running in his wheel and tumbled to the wood shavings on the floor of his home.

“Hey, what’s up?” the hamster protested as he turned to see what his twin was so interested in.

Hobart ignored his brother and rose to the top of his fishbowl. Taking a big gulp of air he called out, “You! On the wall! What are you doing?”

The snail on the wall stood still in his thin trail of slime. Turning his antennae, he saw the two twins on the table, each peering over the edges of their glass houses.

“I didn’t see you fellas there. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Solomon and I’m on my way up the wall to the window. I’ve dreamed about a big-wide world out there just waiting to be discovered. More snails than I could ever imagine. This adventure has taken me three days so far, but I’m on my way. See, I spend the day climbing up the wall and then each night I slide down a bit, but I’m certain to reach the window sill in a few days.” Solomon couldn’t resist adding, “Then the world’s my … oyster!”

The twins looked at each other and sneered. “Up the wall.” They both laughed simultaneously, Hobart’s gills choking on a wave stirred up from laughing so hard. “That’s nonsense! A world waiting to be discovered. We’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do.”

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

The Sign Reads: Resurrection Taxidermy

Resurrection Taxidermy

The sign on the little building near my home reads: Resurrection Taxidermy. Taxidermy is the art of taking the skin of an animal and arranging it over a form to make it appear alive. While the outside of the animal is forever preserved, it’s not living. It’s only an illusion of life.

The Christian doctrine of resurrection isn’t the rearrangement of skin over a lifeless skeleton.

When Jesus died, His body was buried (Lk 23:50-56). Three days later, His spirit returned to the body that was in the grave and that body returned to life (1 Cor 15:42-44). This is resurrection: when the spirit returns to the body.

The same body of Christ that entered the grave came out of the grave (Lk 24:39-40). His body, still sporting nail scars in His hands and feet, and a spear wound in His side, is the body that came to life (Jn 20:26-29). It is the body that Jesus still has, and is the body He will return in one day.

The Bible says that we all, the redeemed and the wicked both, will be resurrected one day to spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell (1 Cor 15:50-55; Rev 20:11-15).

Jesus said, The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of the condemnation (John 5:28-29).

Curiosity Killed the Cat

curiosityYou’ve heard the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” I think we own that cat, only she’s not dead … yet.

Fluffy is into everything, especially if it’s food. She can be at the opposite end of the house, asleep, and still hear the bag of Cheetos being opened.

Sometimes while I’m cooking she stands next to me with her paws reaching up my legs and sniffing the air. I tell her, “This isn’t for you,” but she doesn’t seem to believe me. I’ll take a bit of whatever I have and offer it to her: onion, black pepper, marinara sauce, broccoli; then she turns and walks away.

Fluffy wants all kinds of things that won’t satisfy her taste buds or stomach. In fact, the things she thinks she wants almost always turn out to be things she can’t really stand, things which leave her empty and unsatisfied.

Jesus, the greatest story-teller of all time, talked about a man who always wanted more.  Didn’t matter what it was, he wanted it. He lived his life for the things everyone else had. He was going to gain the whole world, if that was possible. The story ends with an important question we all must ponder: What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36).

Justice For All

Justice is getting what you deserve.

So what do you deserve?

Coretta grew up in the back country of Virginia during the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. She was politically angry at what she perceived as injustice against herself, her family, and her black ancestors. She’d lived for the fight of justice.

One Sunday morning I was preaching from the Biblical Book of Philemon. It’s the story of a runaway slave in ancient Rome, being sent back to his master by the Apostle Paul, and how both men should act to reflect Christ Jesus.

In my sermon I stressed the fact that Paul never urged either man to demand justice, but to show mercy. Getting what we deserve from God means eternity in the Lake of Fire, for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As sinners, eternal death is what we deserve. But God, who is rich in mercy … made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4, 5). Mercy is compassion, pity, love-in-action.

Coretta interrupted my sermon. Standing, tears rolling down her face she said, “Pastor, all my life I’ve been angrily demanding justice from politicians and people, but what I’ve really been needing is mercy. May God have mercy on me, a sinner!

No matter who you are, you will never experience justice in this world; even in America. Do you really want what you deserve? Seek ye first justice instead of righteousness. Demand what you think you deserve. Stir up strife and hatred in the name of justice. After all is said and done, you’ll be let down because true justice only comes from God who will make it certain in His day of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

Desire mercy.

Transfigured

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:1-2).

For 33 years, everyone only saw a man, until Jesus gave three of His disciples a small glimpse of His eternal glory.

The word transfigured comes from the Greek word metamorphosis, meaning to be changed from the inside out. Rather than a heavenly light shining upon Jesus, a bit of the glory from within Jesus and which belonged to Him from eternity was visible.

No one can free himself from himself, so we turn to outward pressures. We yearn for someone or something like a Marine Corps drill instructor to force us into a desired behavior. Weakness of spirit and character demands that someone control us by commands like: Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle (Colossians 2:21). We beg to be under the conforming thumb of a slave master with rules, regulations, pressure, fear of punishment, or promises of reward as a way to control our actions and thoughts.

God transforms from the inside; only He can change the inside of a person. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind … (Romans 12:2). The word transformed is the word metamorphosis or transfigured used in Matthew 17:2. God’s transformation of the sinner isn’t by outward pressure, but by an inward changing of the mind and heart.

The unconverted heart of man is corrupted incurably by sin; it can’t be mended or repaired, it must be made wholly new. A new heart comes only by a new birth, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23). From a new heart God transfigures us, transforming the way we think, talk, and act. From within He changes our goals, morals, and desires, fitting us for Heaven rather than this fallen world.

The Spirit of God works through the Scriptures transforming us from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), internally and not by slavery to an outside influence.

As the free children of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we don’t know all of what we’ll be like in the end, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).