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)

We are nothing like God

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6, 35-36, NASB.)

Do you love your enemies?  God does.  He loves His enemies because He is kind.

“For He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Verse 35)

Is all of your behavior good?  God’s is.  He always does good.  Our attempts at doing good, on the other hand, are called “dead works” (Hebrews 6 and 9.)

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14, NASB)

Are you a merciful person?  Are you full of mercy and compassion and forgiveness toward others?  Well, hallelujah!  God is!  He is the only One who is merciful.  That is good news because we really need His mercy!

The first verses listed above, from Luke 6, are part of the famous “Beatitudes,” a.k.a., The Sermon on the Mount.  In that sermon Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, trying to get them to see that they needed Him as their Messiah, their Saviour.  But the fact is that they had already rejected Him and at that point in the story, they were already planning to destroy Him, to do away with Him.  Why?  Because, according to them, He “worked” on the Sabbath Day.

Yes.  How dare Him, right?  He actually walked through a grain field and allowed His disciples to pick wheat and eat it.  In addition, He healed a man who had a withered hand . . .  on the Sabbath day!!!  Shocking, huh?

The Pharisees were like, “You evil unrighteous person!  You picked wheat!  You healed a man!”  . . . uh?  Okay.

It’s ridiculous to us, of course.  But to them, it was audacious and wrong and against the rules!!!

And yet, all of us, at one time or another were just like the Pharisees.  Blind, rule-following, religious, prideful jerks who rejected Jesus and saw no need for His love, His goodness, His mercy.

But . . . I can take a deep breath, take a sigh of relief and rejoice in His mercy to me.

“He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35)

I can be thankful today and every day, no matter what my circumstances are, because He has saved me by faith through grace.

I just want to praise Him today and remember that I am NOTHNG like Him.  Neither are you, if you’re honest, and that is good news!  Because He is God, and we are not.

 

 

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