Experiencing Joy in the Midst of Suffering

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Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer. (Romans 12:12, NET Bible)

One of my favorite things about my relationship with the Lord is the JOY that He gives me; the joy that I feel coursing through my veins; joy that is palpable and evident and real.  It is His joy and I am so thankful to Him that He shares it with me.

I appreciate it so much more when it is felt during times of difficulty, pain and suffering.  At times like this, His joy makes me want to rejoice! 😄

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, NASB)

I am reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, in which Corrie eloquently describes the dual-existence of joy in the midst of suffering.  In this true story that is a “must-read,” you’ll learn that Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their elderly father were all arrested and sent to prison for hiding a group of Jewish people in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Soon after their father’s untimely death, Corrie and Betsie spent time in the notorious women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck.

“Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.”  ― Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom

Such a marvelous book! ❤️😁

The Ten Boom family could see the true light in the midst of this dark world.  And as their brothers and sisters, as Jesus followers, as believers in the gospel of grace, we also know the truth!

The truth has set us free, and yet we are stuck on this earth temporarily.  So, while we are here, let’s be patient; let’s hang in there; let’s not give up.

We all have pain, we all have suffering, and we all have difficulties to varying degrees.  But we also have hope.  Not only the hope of our future life in heaven, but the hope that is alive for us today:  the kingdom of God in our very hearts.  A hope with promise; that when we have persevered through tribulations, God will use the pain we have endured to reveal more of His love to us!

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NASB)

What was the “breath of life” that Adam and Eve received?

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

In Genesis 1:27 the Hebrew word for “created” is bara’.  Bara’ is only used three times in Genesis chapter 1.  An act of bara’ creation is supernatural, it occurs when God creates something out of nothing, something brand new, something that has never existed before.

Making the physical bodies of Adam and Eve was an act of asah creation; He made their bodies with pre-existing materials:  the matter, the elements, He had bara’ created in verse 1.

So, what was the act of bara’creation in verse 27?  Genesis 2 sheds some light on the matter.

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

God bara’ created Adam and Eve to contain the breath of life.  And what does the original Hebrew language reveal about the breath of life?  Well, I am no Hebrew scholar, but my pastor is, and he has carefully studied the book of Genesis in its original language.

When God created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image, but He created them to be spiritually alive.  He breathed within them the breath of life, and they became a living being.  The construction for those words “the breath of life” is the Nishmat chaim; which is a specific construction for the very Holy Spirit of God. (Aaron Budjen; November 16, 2008; By Grace Fellowship)

Apparently, this is a controversial issue.  Perhaps it is because many Christians have not been introduced to the concept.  The quote above is by Aaron Budjen, and I am writing this blog to introduce you to him, a fellow brother, a friend of my family, and our pastor.

Aaron is a well-known expert in Hebrew grammar throughout Orthodox Jewish Synagogues from CA to NY, he was a teacher of Hebrew for seven years, and a consultant to professors of Biblical Hebrew.  Aaron got saved while studying to become a Rabbi, and is the pastor of By Grace Fellowship in Denver, CO.  Aaron is also the founder of the radio broadcast ministry, Living God Ministries, and can be heard on AM radio across the USA.

Again, I don’t want you to take my word for it; so please listen to Aaron.  In the following portion of a message he gave at By Grace Fellowship (transcribed from an audio recording), Aaron explains the correct meaning of the “breath of life.”

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Aaron Budjen/ November 16, 2008 / Colossians 1:18-22 / Published by Restoration Bible Fellowship

Colossians chapter 1 verse 18, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”

The Lord Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. The people in this world are the dead. All right? He is the firstborn from among the dead.

When a person is born into this world they are born spiritually dead; that’s the important thing to understand.  When a person is born in the flesh – they are born of their mother and out of their mother’s womb – they are born dead; they are not born alive.

When you look at them you think, “Gosh, there seems to be a lot of life in them.  They’re crying; they need their diapers changed; they need a bottle, stuff like that,” and you think, “Well, gosh, they seem to be perfectly alive to me?” And in that sense, they certainly are; they are very much physically alive, but they are spiritually dead. And what that means is that they do not have life. 

A basic definition of death is the absence of life.  When somebody dies you don’t check to see if you have the presence of death, you check to see if you have the absence of life.  If there is no indication that a person is alive, then they’re dead, and you pronounce them to be so.

So likewise, when we are born into this world we are born without life, and the life that we do not have is the very life of our God.  We do not have Him indwelling within us; His Spirit indwelling within us which is the very life of God.  In other words, we were created for the sole purpose of having the presence of our Creator indwelling within us, and that was expressed as having the life of God indwelling within you.  That’s how we were created.

When God created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image, but He created them to be spiritually alive.  He breathed within them the breath of life, and they became a living being.  The construction for those words “the breath of life” is the Nishmat chaim*; which is a specific construction for the very Holy Spirit of God.

When you keep reading there is a similar passage that talks about the breath of life that was breathed within animals, but it is a different construction, it’s just ever so subtle, but it’s different enough to be able to distinguish between the pneumatic life, from a Greek point of view – that which gives a person the ability to walk and talk and breath – from the spiritual life which is the very life of the indwelling Creator.  When He gave the commandment that in the day that you eat from the wrong tree you will die, He was referring to the life that He had breathed within them that they would lose.

Now, if you don’t understand this, you might as well just pack up and go.  It’s just over.  It really is.  You may believe that there is a God somewhere out there.  Fine.  You may have a new way of living.  That’s ok. But in terms of knowing your God, if you don’t understand the nature of the problem, then when the solution is presented it is not going to have any meaning at all.  And in terms of growth, and your life in Christ, it’s not going to mean anything because you’re still going to be dead.  Okay?

So understand that the original creation was such that God had breathed within Adam and Eve the breath of life, which was His very Spirit within them.  And then in accordance with the law of sin and death, when they violated the law and ate from the wrong tree, that life was withdrawn from within them and they became spiritually dead.  They were once spiritually alive, and then they became spiritually dead.  And all of those who had been born in Adam and Eve subsequently from that point were born spiritually dead in the image of Adam, not in the image of God.  That’s the bad news.

And it’s important to understand the bad news. It’s like mathematics, if you don’t understand that the question is 2+2 it’s not going to make much of a difference if you hear the word “four.”   I can go walking around saying “Four! Four!”  People are wondering, “What does that mean?  I don’t know that it’s the answer to 2+2.” Well, it’s the same thing when we go around saying, “Jesus is the answer!  Jesus is the answer!”  And people are wondering, “What’s the question?  The answer to what?”  And we say, “To everything!”  Well, that doesn’t mean anything.  These things have to be clearly defined, otherwise there’s going to be this gap that kind of exists, and people are just kind of floating around wondering what’s missing.

What is generally missing is just the fundamentals of the gospel.  Just to understand that we are born into this world spiritually dead.  The Lord Jesus forgave all of our sins, so that there is no sin being held against us.  That deals with the issue that caused death to begin with; it was sin that caused death:  the wages of sin is death.  He dealt with that.  But that doesn’t solve the problem.  I mean, that was an important problem, but the real problem was that we were spiritually dead.  We did not have His life indwelling within us.  So He rose from the dead so that He could offer to us the life that had been lost in Adam.  And that is the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of God is now being offered as a free gift, defined as “the life of God,” the free gift of life.  (end of quotation.)

* Note: I asked Aaron for the correct spelling of  “the breath of life” from Genesis 2:7; I had come up with Nĕshamah chay from blueletterbible.com.  Aaron replied,  “The best transliteration I can think of is, nishmat chaim.  What you found is a transliteration of the root words, not the derivations that you would read in the text.” (email, 10/29/15)

 

Do Christians need to “take every thought captive”?

While visiting a Christian counseling ministry last month, I skimmed through one of their booklets.  The author mentioned his thought life, and the way he reacts when he catches himself thinking pessimistically.  He urged his reader to do likewise.  “We must take every thought captive and make them obedient to Christ,” he commanded, “or else we will be guilty of having a weak mind.”

He went on to discuss the various verses in the Bible that urge us to think about things that are true and praiseworthy – excellent advice to be sure – but, it was that phrase, “take every thought captive,” that remained in my mind for days to come.

Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ? Really?  Because in reality, it would be maddening to pause and pay attention to every single one of the thoughts that race through your brain.  I do not think that a Christian should or even possibly could accomplish such a feat.

Those who disagree with me will say, “but this verse is in the Bible!”  . . . Okay.  But where, and in what context?

The verse is found in 2 Corinthians 10 verse 5.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Does this section in Corinthians have anything to do with a person’s thought life?  No.  Paul is describing the spiritual warfare he is involved in, and how he is working to “capture” every false teaching and “make it obedient to Christ.”  In case it has been a while since you have read that section, here it is:

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.  (2 Corinthians 10:1-11)

Christian leaders pull the phrase “take every thought captive” completely out of context and they turn it into a command.  That command becomes a law, and law leads to sin. Since this ‘law’ is impossible to obey, the Christian has now become a law-breaker, a sinner, and is left feeling even more miserable than before.

“…the power of sin is the law.”  1 Cor 15:56

And law-breakers feel ashamed, so now the person trying to obey this principle has been driven away from what they really need to help them overcome sin – they have been driven away from the love and acceptance of their God.  Right?  ‘Cause they assume God is ashamed of them!  Not only is that NOT true, it is the exact thing that Paul was fighting against.  (I’ll expand on that in Part 2 of this message which I’ll post in a week or two.)

Going back to 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the phrase “taking every thought captive” to talk about the battles he fights in this spiritual war.  Like any war, there are captives, or prisoners of war.  The captives that Paul and Timothy take are thoughts, arguments or false assumptions that set themselves up against the truth found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul says that he takes these false ideas captive so that he can lock them up as prisoners, so that they can’t escape.

Paul is discussing this topic in 2 Corinthians 10 because the people in Corinth had been judging him, and saying that he is timid in person, but bold in his letters.  Paul argues that, first of all, what he is in his letters is the same as what he is in person, in his actions.  And second of all, the judgments that people are making against him are not important because his real work is in a war (that cannot be seen).

He tells the Christians from Corinth that it doesn’t matter whether they think he is bold or timid.  What really matters is that he is fighting to proclaim the gospel.  He is tearing down strongholds of lies and falsehoods, and making them obedient to Christ, to the truth.  He is working alongside the Lord Jesus and using the power of the gospel to capture false ideas —  false ‘thoughts’ that are disobedient to Christ — and through his teaching ministry he is making these erroneous thoughts and ideas obedient to Christ, who is the truth.

Paul says that his weapons have divine power, because the gospel that he preaches is the power of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

The power of the gospel is found in the fact that Jesus Christ took away the law.  He accomplished the Law for us, so that we may rest in Him.  We are obedient to Him if we are resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  There is no work for us to do; we do not have to take every thought captive, and we do not have to do anything else to make ourselves complete.  All He asks of us is that we believe Him (trust Him, rely on Him, depend on Him).  That is the only work that He requires.

The only work left to do, is to fully believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.””  John 6:28-27