Price Tags

Why Suffering?

Jesus Christ has personally summonsed you to heaven. Not only does He want you to come to heaven, He proposes to give you strength for the journey. He has called us to His excellent glory, but en route we need strength for the journey. His involvement is in every area of life. Sickness and injury are often major speed bumps en route to heaven. 

The desire to live is a God-given instinct. Therefore, when life is threatened we reflectively fight back. It is a good preservative of life. There are few greater times in life that we draw on our faith to feed this desire. Faith! Does it work in healing?

With heaven as the ultimate backdrop, consider some of the blessed benefits that begin here and now.

One process for developing us is through suffering. This is God being honest with us. As a Christian or non-Christian, you are going to suffer.  If God were to immune believers from problems and exempt them from difficulty, people would turn to Him in faith to gain such. He doesn’t, but He does equip us to deal with it and uses it to your advantage.

In physiology there is a principle called “Fox’s Law.” In essence, it means exercise and pressure builds mass. Hard physical work or workouts build muscle and bone mass. The principal is basically the same spiritually. The exercise of our faith builds us up.

Recently health care professionals met at Harvard Medical School for a course called “Spirituality and Healing in Medicine.”  Their study centered around two groups in research regarding the faith-health connection. Ninety-nine percent of the doctors believe there is an important relationship between the spirit and the flesh.

The prayers of others for the sick was the subject of one study.  Nearly 400 people participated in a California study regarding the effects of the prayers of others for heart patients. Half of the 400 were prayed for by others and half were not. Neither group knew they were being prayed for. Those who were prayed for had half as many complications and a much lower rate of congestive heart failure.

Personal faith was the object of another study by Dartmouth Medical School. They tracked how patients’ personal prayer life influenced their recovery from bypass surgery. After six months a restudy was done. Among those who didn’t pray the death rate was 9%. Among those who did pray the rate dropped to 5%. None of those who had a deeply spiritual life died.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center studied 1700 older Americans and discovered that those who regularly attended religious services had stronger immune responses than those who did not. Blood tests showed those who regularly attended had a higher level of immunity against disease. Thus faith is indicated to be good for one spiritually and physically.

Whether suffering or in health, faith helps us interpret life and live it to the fullest.

A Living Gift

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Romans 12:1-2

Jesus Christ, who exhorts His followers to follow Him, was the world’s premier nonconformist. He didn’t fit the world’s mold. He established a new norm. He is our pattern. 

“I beseech you,” parakalo, primarily means “to come alongside.” This is a positive offer of encouraging help. It is physically illustrated by response to an injured teammate in athletics. Suppose a leg or ankle is injured. A teammate comes alongside, puts his shoulder under the injured friend’s arm and supports him. The word “beseech” speaks of tenderness.

Those beseeched are called “brethren,” a word that translated the Greek adelphoi. It denotes blood kin. The blood we have in common is the blood of Jesus. The basis of the appeal is “the mercy of God.” This is the highest motivation factor possible. This passage speaks of – – – 

I.   A CONFORMED BODY      (vs. 2a)    “Do not be conformed”

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.”

This is an appeal to avoid appearing to be something you aren’t. If you are a Christian, don’t give the appearance you aren’t.

“This world,” translates aion, meaning a social order contrary to God’s will.

“Be not conformed” is present passive imperative plus a negative meaning: “Stop being molded to the realm of worldliness.” Worldliness is a mental attitude.

Every act indicates whether we are controlled by the Holy Spirit or the old sin nature. 

This is an appeal not to use spiritual camouflage to blend into the world’s environment. We are to present our bodies as “living” sacrifices. In the Old Testament, dead sacrifices were made. This calls for a perpetual sacrifice. 

Such a life is “holy and acceptable.” “Holy” means set apart.

II.  A TRANSFORMED MIND   (vs. 2b) 

The world wants to control your mind, so it exerts pressure from without. The Holy Spirit wants to control your mind, so He provided power from within. 

If the world controls how you think, you are being conformed. If the Holy Spirit controls your thinking, you are being transformed. Stop being conformed and start being transformed.

The Greek word translated “transformed” gives us our English word “metamorphosis,” a total change. The change from a pupa in a cocoon to a butterfly is metamorphosis, a complete change. That is what God requires of us. This “renewing”  is to be life long, on-going. It is as radical as a tadpole changing into a frog.

III.  A REFORMED LIFE (vs. 1 & 2)

The appeal to “present your bodies” is a command deserving a definite commitment.

This gift of our self is “acceptable,” well pleasing, to God.

It is “reasonable,”  that which follows reason.

With the Holy Spirit controlling you from within the world can not squeeze you into its mold. It is an on-going life-long process.

Attributes of a Kingdom Citizen

Bing Crosby sang the following:

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
And don’t mess with Mr. In-between.”

Consider that being the choir singing before the following message.

All Scripture is profitable for reproof and correction in righteousness, but passages such as the following are easier to understand and challenging to live out.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)

Read it again contemplating each word and judge yourself by it.

Who do you know that is an admirable example of it? Would you dare to aspire to become known as a living embodiment of its characteristics?

To do so it is essential to do what is encouraged in an earlier verse: 

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.”

John Bunyan, author of the classic “Pilgrim’s Progress,” did so concluding, “What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.” That type of conviction typifies such a person. By living such a life he was so out of sync with his society that he was imprisoned. When offered his release if he would renounce his convictions he said, “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience or a slaughterhouse of my convictions.”

Consider just a few of the virtues in this passage as a starting point.

Compassion is what is meant by “tender mercies.” It is in reality what is often said flippantly, “I feel your pain.”

Next comes “kindness.” This is compassion on offence, taking it to ‘um. 

The third quality is “humility,” which has been described as “the rarest and fairest of all Christian virtues.” It is the exact opposite of a detestable sin, which is pride. Thus, we are to put on humility, to think humbly of ourselves. 

The fourth quality is “gentleness,” which is often translated as “meekness.” Unlike weakness, it is strength under control.

With these four starters, resolve to practice them starting today. Gradually focus on others.

What God says is best, is best.

Constants on Which You Can Count

In our uncertain political climate so much is uncertain. We pray and wait uncertain of the outcome. There is a stabilizing constant.

In solving algebra problems it is essential to have a constant in order to reach the right conclusion. With all the variables in a problem there must be a constant against which to determine their value. A constant is a principle on which one can confidently rely. It is permanent, unchanging, immutable. In algebra a variable is an unknown such as “X”. A constant is something that is always the same, such as “1″ which always is one. To find the unknown start with the known. As in algebra, so in life, to find the unknown start with the known constant, Jesus Christ. He never changes.

Andrea Crouch had a song worthy of letting your mind marinade in:

“I’ve had many tears and sorrows,
I’ve had questions for tomorrow;
There have been times I didn’t know right from wrong;
But in every situation God gave blessed consolation
That my trials come only to make me strong.”

“Through it all, Through it all,
O I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God;
Through it all, Through it all,
I’ve learned to depend on His word.”

One blessed benefit our Lord desires us to learn is he wants to use all things to strengthen us. The Greek verbs used for the strengthening process were episterizo and stereco. Both come from the root for our word steroid which means to build up and strengthen from within. That is what God wants to do for us.

Assimilate the following verses and be built up, emboldened by them.

”So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Both verses use the word dismayed, which basically means don’t give up, don’t quit.

Those verses and others like them are constants. You can rely on them for stability. Despair and anxiety have always been a part of life, but we can find strength, wisdom, and guidance in these encouraging words from the Bible.

Always rely on the constant.

When God Says “Surprise”

Even when it seems you are being required to take a postgraduate course in adversity management, God is with you.

Pitch your mental tent over this, “When we are down to nothing, God is up to something.”

When our plans are complete, and we know how things are going to go, but something happens to throw us off course, what then? Have you been there?

Disappointment is inevitable, discouragement is an option. Our disappointments are most often God’s appointments. Like a deflated balloon we need to be reinflated. That is when God shows up.

There is a story about three princesses of Ceylon who set out in search for specific treasures. In each case they did not find the treasure for which they searched. Instead, they were constantly surprised by unexpected treasures that exceeded their expectations. They grew to understand that an adventurous life consists of unexpected surprises.  If we are seeking God’s will, we will find He often destroys our castles in the air and replaces them with unexpected blessings.

Serendipity is a word meaning the ability to find valuable things which were not expected. It is the ability to find amid the rubble of broken dreams those which are more fulfilling.

God is not only a God of miracles, He is a God of surprises. Cruel sinners crucified Him and sealed Him in a lifeless tomb. It was a hopeless day —- BUT, on the third day God said, “Surprise.” Thus, what seemed like a hopeless end resulted in endless hope.

Live a life capable of catching the unexpected and making the most of it. Don’t rule out “God Moments.” Enjoy those “Well-would-you-look-at-that” moments. A holy “WOW” now and then is OK. There are more “I never thought of it like that” moments than we tend to realize. God can often be found in them.

Be open to letting God freelance and surprise you. Life with God is full of surprises —- and blessings. Expect both. Try to understand life through His lenses.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. It was a perilous path to becoming prime minister of Egypt. He concluded, “They intended it for evil, God intended it for good.” 

Today and every day, discover the good news God has for you.