Looking Ahead by Looking Behind

Publication1 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look.             1 Peter 1:10-12

Peter has given us our encouragement by telling us what we are looking forward to – our inheritance of eternal life.  Then he has told us the truth of what is coming in the short term – trials and distress that will be opportunities for us to grow and to show our belief in Christ in how we respond.  No he is bringing us back again to the joy we can find in realizing that God had worked all of this out a long time ago.

Peter refers to the prophecies given in what we now call the Old Testament.  Those receiving this letter would know the prophecies.  They had grown up going to the temple and hearing them read on the Sabbath.  They had heard all about how to look for the signs of the coming Messiah.  They missed it, but they knew about it.

The prophets had worked through their interactions with God to give the specifics that God had for the Jewish people to recognize their Messiah, but the people had misinterpreted the message.  They saw the Messiah as one who would come and be victorious immediately rule.  They didn’t realize that there would be a gap of over 2,000 years between the victory and the rule of the Messiah!  He won the victory with His death, burial and resurrection.  Now we wait for His return to rule.

Think of the intricacies involved in the fulfillment of the birth of Christ.  The virgin, the star, the manger, the shepherds, the city of Bethlehem.  Then look at how his death was described as well.  There were so many things that had to happen for Christ to fulfill the prophecies, and He fulfilled every one of them!  Just another example of the miraculous that is Christ!  God’s plan fulfilled against all odds.

Peter then tells them that the prophets did this work for them.  It is intended for them to look at what has been fulfilled in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ and to have faith that if all of these things came to pass, then we can also look ahead to what is coming!  The return of Christ and His eternal rule.

The prophecies were not intended to just be a story, but as the proof that people would need in order to see their need for Christ for their salvation.  Christ brought us salvation, and that gift was given freely to all who believe in Him, and the Apostles are now focused on giving that same gift to all who hear and believe.  It is also an encouragement to get those who have heard to share.  Why not?  Look at what we have been given!  It has been vetted through the prophets, and we can share it with others without doubts.

At the very end of this passage it refers to things that angels would long to see.  I would like to study this more one day, but I will accept for now that it means one of two things, either the angels long for some type of salvation for the angels that fell with Satan, or that they simply do not understand in their observations why God would do such a thing for us.  We are weak, and we are foolish.  Why would God do this for us?  I guess you can answer it with the fact that He loves us and wants us in relationship with Him.  Still, this might just be one of those questions I will have to wait to ask.

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Refining

Gold-smeltingBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.  – 1 Peter 1:3-9

 This letter was written during the very beginning of the church.  At this point in time, the Christians were looked at very differently depending on who you talked to.  Most of the outside world looked at the Christians as being a sect of Judaism, and therefore nothing really new.  The Romans only real concern was that they paid their taxes and “worshipped” Caesar by not starting trouble and serving in the army when called up.  The “real Jews” saw them as heretics.  So, the bulk of the persecution came at the hands of the Jews and the Romans, and there was a lot of persecution going around for Peter and the rest of the early Christians.

Fathers were being pulled out of the family and into service in the military or being put to death in terrible “games”. Widows and children were being neglected by members of family because of their stand as believers in Christ.  Many had to leave their homes and find shelter in the surrounding areas where other believers would take them in.  It was a very tough time.

These are the people Peter was addressing, the weary, the fearful, and in some cases the undecided.  People that were on the edge of making a decision for Christ, but were looking at the events around them and weighing the costs of that decision.  Peter was not out to talk people out of a decision for Christ, but he was trying to give them all of the information they needed in order to make that call.  This could be a costly decision, but he wanted them to see that it was worth the trial here on earth for what they would experience after death.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope”

What a confident and triumphant way to start off his letter! God as a father wanting to show mercy to a fallen people!  A father that has shown mercy to us that we can’t understand by showing us grace in allowing us to be born again.  He caused it, not me!  I can’t do anything to have this hope that He speaks of.  It can only come because He has willed it to be.

“through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”

 This is the key to my eternal life.  The resurrection of Christ makes my eternal life possible because if he had not been victorious over death, then His blood covering my sins would not have the weight necessary to give me eternal life.

“to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This is the reason He died and was resurrected for me, to give me an inheritance, a birthright, to be adopted as a child of God!  I am allowed the promise of a life of eternal relationship with God as one of His children.  This is not only a gift that is given to me, but it is a gift that is perfect and will never fade.

When I look around at some of the things I have purchased I see items of different quality.  Some of the stuff that I have bought has been cheap to fill a temporary purpose, and others I have spent much more on so I would have something that lasts!  Even this computer I type on was once thought to be a phenomenal machine, cutting edge, and a real treasure, but now… No matter what I have here on earth, it is going to run down, get rusty, or just flat quit.  This inheritance is not subject to that.  It will last forever.

Another thing that makes this inheritance special is that it is reserved for me.  I have accepted Christ as my Lord.  I have admitted my sin and my need for His perfection in my life, and in return He has given me a new name, and a new life.  This faith that I have is what gives me the protection of the Creator God.  A protection for my soul for eternity.

“In this you greatly rejoice even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,”

This is something I should be happy about, and that was what Peter was telling the early Christians.  There is a prize that is worth it all.  It is worth reaching for it and letting everything else go.  The faith that I have is based on something that is worth being excited about!  I should be focusing on it, thinking, and even reveling in it!  GREATLY rejoicing!

If I am living my life this way, then everything that comes across my field of vision is seen through the lens of my eternal position with God.  It gives my circumstances an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one.  It is necessary as a person living here on a fallen earth that I go through hard things.  Why? It doesn’t matter.  I have an eternal gift.  How long will it last?  It doesn’t matter.  My life is a blink compared to the length of my inheritance.  Why do I have to feel this pain? To remind me of the pain that was required to purchase my gift, and because I am not supposed to find comfort in this world anymore.  I am now an alien in this world.  I have these things happen in my life so I will have the opportunity to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.  This is my reasonable service for the gift I have been given.  Not to repay, but in honor of the One who did pay.

“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;”

The rejoicing is the proof of my faith.  It shows the work that my relationship with Christ is doing in my life.  Nothing else can do it, and nothing else can explain it. This is the refining process.  It brings me closer to what God wants me to be, and His goal is to see that the proof of my faith is seen by others.  That is more precious than gold.

Gold is viewed here on earth as being one of our most valuable things.  When put to heat, the impurities are removed it maintains its luster while showing  no real signs of corrosion or tarnish.  When we look at gold we view it as a standard of perfection, something greatly desired.  The proving of my faith in the middle of trials makes gold about as imperishable as toilet paper on a rainy day.  Worthless.

Where am I putting my focus?  Is it on Christ or is it on the things around me?  Am I looking to Him in the midst of the storm and continuing to walk toward Him despite the wind and waves, or am I distracted by the turmoil around me until I sink in the sea of my circumstances?  I have not seen Him, but I see His work.  I see the changes that are happening in my life as I grow closer to Him through Bible study and prayer.  I see my relationships changing as I seek to follow biblical principles in how I relate with those I love and my friends.  I am excited about the changes, and being aware of them and rejoicing in them helps me keep that focus.  Sharing that work with others helps me to keep that focus!

This is why I am writing the things I write here.  Not to brag, but to share what is happening in my life.  I want to share the good and the bad, the reality of my situations.  Not so people can see how I do life, but so they can see the result of God at work.  I would rather crawl into a cave most of the time, to wallow in my circumstances, but it gets me nowhere.  It is never going to get me anywhere.

The prize is my eternal life, and the refining is what gives me joy in knowing that life is mine.  In the middle of the refining I have to remember to ask myself if I am looking at my circumstances in the light of eternity or in the moment.  This is the pivotal question.  When I have that answer I have a choice to make, and welcoming the experience as a chance to learn, to grow, and to give God glory is the choice I must make for real joy.  Every time I make that choice I am in the process of refining.

Before the Foundation You Need Blueprints

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 “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.  Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” – 1 Chronicles 28:9-10

David is charging Solomon with the building of the temple, and as he does it, he delivers some key advice for his son – advice that comes from a lifetime of service to God.  Not a lifetime free of faults, but a lifetime that has had repeated opportunities to fail, repent, learn, and grow.

“know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind,”

David was a sinner, but he was also a man after God’s own heart.  How?  Because probably more than any other person we read of in the Bible, David understood the importance of repentance.  He wrote about it extensively in the Psalms, and the writers of the books of the kings in the Old Testament also spoke of his actions when confronted with his sin.  David saw God pour out blessings on his life time and again, not because he was perfect, but because he would surrender when confronted with his sin and turn his face to God and away from a self-serving path.

“the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought”

God is not fooled by the agendas of men.  He knows our hearts and motives even when we claim to be living a life in service to Him.  He knows the areas of my life I am unwilling to repent in.  If I am not in complete surrender to His plans I am not fooling Him.  The verse goes on to say that my heart’s attitude will have a great bearing on my future.  I can repent and yield or I can continue to play games. The problem with those games is that God may allow something painful to come into my life to help me realize my need for Him and His direction.  I am still learning to remember that.

“Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.”

I think this was more than an instruction in how to build a building.  I would like to think that as a father, David was building into his son’s life here as well.  The correlations to building the temple for the Holy Spirit in our hearts just seems too obvious to me.

Be Careful – We need to approach the work we do for God with the right attitude.  The work may be fun sometimes, but it is an important work, and we need to give it the care that it deserves.  We also need to be aware that Satan will oppose that work.  When he sees your life tuned to God’s will, he will set obstacles and traps in front of us.  He wants to see us derailed from the work we have been given.  Solomon did fail in a large part of his life.  He allowed himself to be derailed by his desire for the things of the world.  He lived a life that he himself called vain or worthless.  We need to be careful.

Be Strong – A person does not get strong in a day.  It takes time to build strength physically, and likewise we need to exercise ourselves spiritually so we will be ready for the task ahead.  It takes determination, discipline, and resolve to go back in to the “weight room” of God’s Word, to do the “aerobic” activity of prayer, and to do the necessary “stretching” of putting your faith in the unseen.  It takes work, but it is necessary for the day that we are called by God to act!

Do It – There is not a lot of description necessary.  When God calls you up, it is time to step into action for Him.  You have prepared your mind and are ready to approach the mission given with care and purpose.  You have prepared spiritually for the exertion that will come in the mission.  You know that you have all you need in the Spirit to get the job done because you are not doing it. God is!  It is a natural outflow of a life that has been immersed in a relationship with God.

This was a very real lesson for me today.  It is starting to hit me lately just how often I have put these things in the wrong order, but I see that now.  I am thankful for a God that allows me to make mistakes and grow from them.  I am thankful that He wants to know me, and I want to be a man after God’s heart too.

I’m Not Off the Clock

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1 Samuel 12:23 – Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you,and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

Today my devotional  gave me this verse to read.  Of course, since I do thing in my own way I read the devotional first and came back to the verse a few hours later.  When I read the verse I wanted to know the context.  What was happening for Samuel to make this declaration.  After going in and reading the passage I sat there for a while and thought about what had jumped out at me from this passage.

Samuel was talking to the people regarding their desire to have a king over them.  Samuel said that God was giving them their king, and in a modern vernacular, he told them they could basically choke on it.  This was not something God wanted for them, and Samuel was righteously angry at the entire situation.  He even went so far as to call down God’s wrath in a storm.  The people cried out to Samuel and begged him to make it stop and asked that he would pray for them. Samuel then spoke the words in the verse above.

So, as I thought about this I asked what God wanted me to get from it.  I thought about Samuel.  He was the prophet of God and the Judge of Israel.  The people had rejected God’s leadership, and thereby had rejected Samuel’s leadership as well.  You could say that he had been given a pink slip.   Although, as the line of communication between God and the people, they still saw him as necessary.  Samuel stood up and did the right thing when he could have checked out.  He knew that he was still on the clock and had a responsibility to the people.  To pray for them and instruct them.

So, how does that apply to me?  Well, I am no priest, and I am not a prophet.  I am a follower of Christ, and that makes me an ambassador called to reach out to others and show them His love.  It’s not my only role though.  I’m a husband, a father, a friend, a mentor, at times a teacher, and I am a manager.  In many of those positions I have people I am responsible for in different ways.  I have some that are more important than others, but they are all given to me by God.  You could say they are in my charge.

My thoughts were drawn mostly to the people I work with.  Especially after reading the devo again and seeing a phrase I have been hearing a lot lately, “We don’t pray enough.”  Do I pray for my team at work? No.  Well, not unless they are going through something tough like a family member passing away, or a sickness.  I have been getting better of thinking of them then, but on a regular basis?  It just had not really entered my mind.  I know that many of them are not believers or are not sure what they believe, and I guess I have just been doing a blanket prayer of asking God to help me speak and live with the love of Christ in a way that they will want to talk to me about it, but I haven’t prayed for them as individuals with specific needs and hurts. I’ve been punching out spiritually from the people I work with.

So, I am going to start to pray for them in a different way.  I want God to work in their lives. I want them to see that He is the answer to their questions, that He is the healer for their pains, that He is what they need to fill their hearts.  I might not be with them all of the time, but until God removes me from their lives, or them from mine, I do have a responsibility toward them.  I’m not off the clock.

What Am I Hungry For?

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“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

“We have little hunger for God.”

When I read that quote I was a little indignant and thought it was wrong.  I do have a hunger for God.  I have been making a lot of behavior changes lately because I do have a hunger for God.  But when I really think about it…  Yeah.  I see the truth in that.  I have been acutely aware lately of my physical body and what I am putting into it and how often.  I eat a minimum of three times a day, and too much of that is junk.  So, how am I feeding myself spiritually?

I have been having more regular quiet times.  I take 20 minutes to sit down with my Bible and I journal out what it says to me and how I should apply it to my life.  I get that done almost every day. Almost.  If I don’t forget. If I’m not too busy.  I feed my body better than that.

I have been reading more books with a spiritual influence.  It might be a book of Christian fiction or a book about living a stronger Christian life. Unless there is something on television I would rather watch. I snack more than that on real food.

I have been putting a greater emphasis on prayer in my life lately. I notice I always pray more when things are going poorly or if I want something… IS this how it is supposed to be?

When I look at all of these things together I am forced to see that I am not looking for opportunities to feed myself in the righteousness of God like I feed my gut. If my spiritual diet were to replace my physical one I would be a withered husk.  Maybe that is why I feel that way spiritually sometimes.

So, what is a person to do about this?  Can I do enough?  I’m not sure I can ever do enough in this, but I know that I need to do more.   I think fasting might need to become something I need to adopt as a spiritual discipline in my life.  I know, I was raised a Baptist, and that is almost like saying that Satan is misunderstood, but that would put a greater focus on my spiritual feeding by denying my physical desire.

If nothing else, I need to take a more disciplined approach at feeding myself at God’s table.  I want to be satisfied as only He can fill me.

Prayer

ImageI had an opportunity to pray over one of my employees this morning.  It is not something I used to do in my old job, and I have only had a few opportunities to do it now.  It still feels a little uncomfortable.  What might somebody think? Will I offend?  Will I get labeled?

So what? A little bit of unease should be in the life of every believer.  It is that stretching of a muscle unused before that moment.  I think it will pass.  If I keep doing it.

I hear people say they will pray for a person, but if they don’t see you do it, do they really believe it?  I guess that is what I am trying to do.  I am not sure of where a person might stand with God, and that is between the two of them, but when I see they are hurting, simply asking them if I can pray shows that I really care.  I’m willing to show them I care about them so they can see it and hear it.  Then I can pray about their relationship with God on “my time”.

So, I guess that is my encouraging thought of the day.  When you see someone hurting, ask them if you can pray. *You can do it quietly even if they say no!

Well, What Am I waiting For?

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I read a devotional today that talked about Pharaoh and the plague of the frogs:

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” Moses said to Pharaoh, “Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. (Exodus 8:8-10 ESV)

The writer pointed out something I had never noticed before, and it really got me thinking.  This guy has frogs in his bed, on his table, in his chair – everywhere, and what does he say when Moses asks when he wants them gone? Tomorrow.  What!?  Where is the sense in that?  Think about being knee deep in frogs wherever you walk and when offered a reprieve you say, “Give me another 12-24 hours and then take them away. “  I don’t understand how anyone can be that ridiculous.

Or do I?

The frog was one of the many gods that the Egyptians worshiped.  It is possible that Pharaoh was not just screaming for relief because he was hedging his bets.  “Maybe this `Almighty God’ Moses is rambling on about is the real deal, but maybe not.  I’ll give my lord bullfrog a chance to put things right first and see what happens.”  Ridiculous.  Why would someone put their faith in something that is obviously not working?

I do it all the time.  Rather than yielding to what God has asked me to do and embracing Him I ask for a 24-hour grace period to evaluate my situation just in case my other god (me) can pull something off.  I will do things under my power and in my own wisdom.  I will ignore the help of other people or their counsel.  I will act as if God will not get involved in my life and just do things myself.  *Ribbitt*

There is another little thing there that I liked too.  God leads Moses to let Pharaoh have his time.  God is up to that challenge, and He knows the outcome.  God knows where I am going to end up after my time of self-worship and He waits there for me. Not to gloat, and not to berate, but to dress my wounds and to encourage me for the next time I choose my way over His.  He waits to draw me back in and to grow me for the next time.

Trials

We’ve been through some stuff lately in our lives.  We have had surgery, major vehicle repairs, and an emergency replacement of a vehicle.  We have had some difficult times with some relationships that have brought us great pain.  We have found ourselves over extended in the business of doing good things for many people.  All of this added up to a very burnt out family.  How did we get here?  What did we do to deserve this?

We can blame different things or people, but when it comes right down to it, there is a simple answer.  There’s not really anyone to blame. We struggle and we fight and we get worried or hurt, but these things are a normal part of life on this planet.  This is an imperfect world, and we are an imperfect people.  Our lives are supposed to have problems in them, and they are going to come either as a result of our behavior or, at times, in spite of our behavior.

Our focus needs to shift from our problems to what sustains us through them.  By looking to God for His strength, provision, and peace we can get through things that are not in our power to avoid.  He is there to lift us up and to carry us through that trial.  When we focus on growing closer to Him we alter our behavior by removing the barriers to a holy relationship with God.  This type of focused growth leads us away from some of the things that bring problems in to our lives that we might invite through an unfocused life.

I am not going to stand and say that I have it all together.  I am not going to say that I will not lose it or that I will not endure pain.  I will say that by God’s grace I am learning when to lean on God for things I can’t change and to ask Him for wisdom in avoiding my sinful attitudes that bring the trial I could avoid.  I’m in process.  I’m not done, and I am taking daily steps to intentionally live the life I was created to live and to be involved in the right things.