Seven Spiritual Principles for Transcending Suffering

Suffering is pervasive.  No one goes without facing suffering.  The whole of creation came under the tyranny of suffering as a consequence of sin. In this world there are many sources of suffering.  Stress in fact has become a less threatening word to describe facing varied forms of suffering.  There are many degrees and shapes of suffering. There is the suffering of trauma and disaster, there is abuse inflicted on others, disease, poverty, and so on.  Most of what is offered in the world related to stress and suffering is all about coping.  Yet, there are spiritual principles that can lead beyond just coping with suffering and actually transcend whatever the experience is.  There can be peace in suffering.  In examining the Bible, there are seven principles that God has given us that can help us transcend suffering and stress.

Before getting into the examination of principles there is a need to acknowledge that this discussion is a basic overview of these principles.  A lot more time can be spent expanding on each principle in far greater detail; the objective here is to lay a foundation of understanding. While reading, take some time to pray and think over each principle.  God may emphasize a particular point for you.  Please take the thoughts outlined here as a starting point for further study and pursuit of understanding.  Wherever you are at and however stress and suffering are currently affecting your life, may you find words of peace and encouragement that lighten the load and burden. So let us now take a look at the seven spiritual principles for transcending suffering.

Recognize: The starting point is really recognizing that God is sovereign. He is, was, and will always be in control.  The climax of the book of Job is that God is in control.  Now recognizing this fact is key to making it through the suffering.  It is not just about God being in control, it is about what God allows in his sovereignty he allows to bring himself Glory.  The fact is it is easy to lose sight of God’s sovereignty and control. It is really easy to focus on the pain and difficulty and wonder where God is in the midst. All things happen for God’s glory.  Not only does it happen for God’s glory but also that we may grow in maturity.  Here are some verses that emphasize this needed recognition:

Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1 Peter 4: 11, 12 (ESV) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 So we need to recognize that God is in control, that what he allows he allows for his glory, and what he allows works to refine us and build us up further in him.  These are important facts to recognize when in the midst of suffering.

Remember: This step is related to recognize for the things we need to recognize are also important things for us to remember.  But the principle of remembrance does not stop with bringing to mind the truths of what God has said but also what God has done.  The Old Testament is filled with examples of people engaging in establishing ways to remember what God has done.  Two ways reported over and over were setting up altars and naming places and children related to what God has done. God also created for Israel feasts such as Passover to be continual reminders of His faithfulness and ability to deliver.  Remembering what God has done, his love, his faithfulness, and even his discipline is important because it directs us to God’s love, dependability, and faithfulness.  If we remember how God has provided and delivered in the past, when under a current trial or form of suffering it gives encouragement that He who proved faithful before, will do so again. God is always true. Yet sometimes we forget that fact.  We most often forget that God is faithful and capable of accomplishing all that He promises and says.  When we forget, we struggle more.  So take time and remember what God has done in your life, the ways He has proved faithful. Remember the ways God has shown and revealed Himself in your life.  A key Bible verse for this spiritual principle is Hebrews 10:23 (ESV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  So take time to remember what God has done and review God’s faithfulness, for that which He promises, He will make certain. 

Faith: Any form of suffering brings with it a challenge to faith. Suffering ultimately reveals our depths and limits of faith. The Bible gives us some clear understanding of what faith is in Hebrews 11:1 (ESV): Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is acting on that which is not visible, that which is beyond our comprehension.  It is during suffering when what is seen is the pain and hurt that faith is most critical; for it is during suffering the faithfulness and love of God comes into question, for what is seen is pain.  Peter when he got out of the boat showed great faith in the unseen. The great waves did not bother him, as He had faith in God to uphold him.  The disciple’s faith was shown to be limited when they were overwhelmed with fears while in the boat in a storm while Jesus slept.  Yet, faith is not just the certainty of what is unseen regarding God’s faithfulness.  Faith is our response to what God directs.  Romans 10:17 (ESV) states: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Faith is founded upon what we hear of God and his word. It is founded on our relationship to God’s authority and our position in the Kingdom of God.  Faith is following God’s direction and resting in His authority.  When we walk in fear rather than faith, we doubt God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love.  Take a look at Hebrews 10:23 again.  We are able to stand firm in faith when we believe that He is faithful.  

Ultimately our actions during suffering reveal our level of faith. We can claim to have faith, but unless we act on that faith the faith is meaningless. We can say we trust God to see us through our darkest suffering, but it our actions that really reveal the sincerity of that faith. How we manage day to day.  And guess what, each of us do have limits to our faith.  At any time God can turn to us and respond “Oh ye of little faith.”  For when you compare the depth and limits of our faith with the goodness and faithfulness of God, it will always come up short.  We all like Peter can show moments of great face soon followed by great weakness.  So in the midst of suffering we will learn our limits to faith and be challenged to continue. And ultimately, it is the times of suffering that draw us into deeper awareness of God’s love and faithfulness and result in growth and maturity of faith.  So what to do when your faith is at the limits? Confess your unbelief and lack of faith to God and ask Him to grow your faith and help you in your unbelief.  Also do not be surprised by your own limits to faith, for we all have them.

Focus:  The word focus really entails an essential spiritual principle.  Focus has to do with where our attention is centered.  Suffering of any sort will test our focus.  An amazing thing is that we can start out with strong faith, we can step out of the boat and walk toward Jesus, yet like Peter we also quickly can lose focus.  Jesus is to be our central focus, but the difficulties of life, the stressors and sufferings can often divert our attention.  Actually the bible directs us to maintain two types of focus: on Jesus and eternity.  There are two key verses that point to keeping focus on Jesus:

Isaiah 26:3 (ESV) You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Focus on Jesus in a key to peace in suffering. When we are thinking about Jesus and serving him, we look beyond our pain, troubles, and  difficulties.  Part of focusing on Jesus is that when we look at what God did at the cross and Jesus suffering greatly, suffered so that we may be redeemed and set free, we can see that God does truly work things out for His glory. 

The second area we need to place our focus is away from this world to matters of eternity. In other worlds it is looking past the Kingdom of this world to God’s Kingdom.  Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV):  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

That verse really captures the differences between focus on the eternal or the things of this world. Everything of this world is temporary, lasting but a moment.  This is true of suffering as well. And yes, a person can endure suffering the rest of their life, but it is still always but temporary in comparison with eternity.  This is spelled out even more clearly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV): So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

It is truly difficult to focus on the eternal and that which is not temporary. For we know what we see, we know what we feel. We are easily drawn to give our full attention to these temporary things.  In order to transcend the suffering, it requires looking beyond self and this world to that which is eternal.  The need for eternal focus is also outlined in Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV): If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

If one cannot readjust focus to that of Jesus and eternal matters then any suffering will be insurmountable and all-consuming.  When we take focus off of this world and self, we are uplifted. There is no burden that can weigh us down or cause us to sink, rather we are buoyed through any storm and uplifted when we have our focus centered in the right direction.

Love: This principle really grows out of taking eyes off of the focus of our own pain and looking toward God and others.  When engage in loving others we engage in actions that build them up.  When we love others we touch the hurt and pains that they experience are touched.  It just takes a simple act.  It is also a fact that a good portion of suffering is related to choices other people made that have hurt others. In other words, actions of self have resulted in hurting others.  Actions of love have an impact that far outweigh the actions of harm as seen in Deuteronomy 5:7-10. The effects of sins of fathers have impact to three or four generations but that actions of love lasts thousands. Love is far more powerful and long lasting.  Sins bring pain, love brings blessing and healing. It is not just the actual suffering we experience that cause us difficulty but also the perception of a threat of suffering. The perceived threat elicits the emotion of fear.  I John 4:18(ESV) states: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  The bible goes at great length to encourage us to love others, in particular those that are poor or in unfortunate circumstances.  Now here is an amazing thing. When you are engaged in focusing on helping and loving others, the perception of pain or your level of stress or suffering reduces. It does not change the source or cause of the pain, but when you take your mind off of self, the felt pain reduces. It even helps to be around others going through similar struggles and to mutually support one another through the suffering.  As you do so and focus on the concerns of others, there is a reduced perception of pain.  Test this principle out, focus on loving others and then check on your perception of pain. Ultimately remember, that what we learn from and the change and growth that occurs during struggles can in turn be used to reach and impact others.  In such away not only do we gain from our struggles but others gain and are touched as well. 

Uplift: The action that we can take that is the most in opposition to suffering is praising and uplifting God in the midst of stress and suffering.  It is something we are commanded to do.  Philippians  4:4 (ESV) states Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say Rejoice! James 1:2 (NIV) states: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.  We have a biblical example of being joyful in the time of trial.  In Acts 16 Paul and Silas sang and worshiped God while in prison after being beaten. Yet they surrendered and focused on God and uplifted God. They did not complain about their circumstances or pain.  They knew God was worthy of praise regardless of circumstance.  They chose to uplift him.  Now, it is a hard thing to do in difficult times.  It involves a surrender of self.  When we hurt and are in pain it is difficult to praise God. We know the hurt we endure. We may even doubt the love of God.  The Bible gives us multiple directions to stand firm for a reason.   It is not just the New Testament that directs us to thank and uplift God no matter what the circumstance; the Old Testament makes frequent references to offering the sacrifice of Thanksgiving.   The sacrifice of Thanksgiving is closely associated with the peace offering, which points to Jesus as our salvation. The reason we can uplift God is what He has done for us at the cross.  Remember, all suffering ultimately is a result of sin.  All sin was addressed at the cross, and while we still face the ongoing twists and pain that sin caused, Jesus dealt with it at the cross.  He suffered all, died, and rose again that suffering comes to an end. This is why we can praise.  It is worth noting that the sacrifice of Thanksgiving involved both things that are pleasing, and those that are unpleasing, and even that which is impure.  They all are uplifted to God, thanking Him for all: good, bad, unpleasant, impure, or joyous.   Now, if you understand that God wants us to lift all before Him and understand that it is because of Jesus and what is yet to come that we can praise, the need and value of uplifting God is more clear.  As Hebrew 13:15(ESV) directs: Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Uplifting God with praise and worship is an ongoing, continual process. It is a setting aside of self and giving Honor where it is do, to God alone.  It is continually surrendering of self.  In pain and suffering of any type this requires an act of will. It is not an easy task to look beyond the pain and circumstances and praise God. In fact, it requires a willful, sacrificial act of turning from self to God.  And when we are obedient and able to follow God’s command in such a manner, He shows up and is present.  He showed up in a might way for Paul and Silas. He can in each of our lives as well.  If the circumstances do not change, God will change you and fill you with His Joy and Peace.  But it starts with surrender such as setting aside the self in pain and uplifting the Most Holy One.  There is power in uplifting the Father who loves us beyond measure; power in uplifting Jesus who is the Lamb worthy to be Slain who has redeemed us and set us free: and there is power in uplifting the Holy Spirit who empowers us when we are weak and draws us unto repentance. So continually uplift and praise God. Continually surrender in worship.  Give your all to Him no matter what the circumstances.

Rest: This principle is powerful but we often fail to recognize the importance of rest. Transcending suffering only really occurs when you are able to be at a place of rest.  People really do have a hard time entering rest or even understanding it.  Resting is all about coming to a settled state where there is no striving to obtain.  Hebrews 4:9-11(ESV) states:   So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  True surrender to God involves being at a state of rest, which is a ceasing focus on self and looking to God.  It is being at a state that no matter what situation you are in, whatever you endure, that looking to God comes first.  Paul’s reported secret of contentment really points to this rest principle: Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In good times, in pain, in suffering God gives us the strength and peace to endure and stand firm.  Resting in suffering is ceasing the focus on what is not right and turning to God regardless of any change.  Those following God and rest in Him are able to move beyond whatever happens in this world.  It is in such rest and turning to God that He provides the strength to stand.  We cannot do it of our own accord, we truly need to know the meaning of when I am weak He is strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10b)   His power is strong when we are weak, when we cease the striving, then God’s strength can move in our lives regardless of any change in sources of suffering.

The deep rest that transcends suffering is a level of even letting go of our own protection and depending on God letting His peace guard are heart and soul.  The Psalms are full of references to finding refuge in God.  Psalms 94:22(ESV) is one such example:  But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.  Striving for our own defense is natural.  The more stress and suffering we face, the more prone we are to find ways to defend ourselves from threats.  God wants us to set aside our own defense and rest in His defense of us.  He wants total trust and dependence on him.  This is the essence and nature of rest.   There is a well used verse that really sums up the nature of rest God asks of us.  Psalms 46: 10a (ESV) “Be still and know that I am God” The verse is really nothing about our communicating with God, it is all about resting in Him.  The Psalms really describes God’s coming wrath with the whole of Earth in travail.   It really points out to rest in God, for while his wrath is coming, you can depend on Him and must, for ultimately all will be exalted before Him.  Is that not a glorious thought? God will be exalted about all.  There need be no fear of any suffering or bad things to come, as God is our strength and defense. He is in control, so rest in Him. 

My hope is that you have taken time to slowly read over this article and come back at it a piece at a time.  Each principle really builds upon each other.  The more each of these principles are evident in your life, the more you grow and the less power the sources of suffering have in your life.  Now if you read these principles and feel overwhelmed and small, know that in our lives these principles are ongoing and that once you think you got one principle understood and evident in your life, God will reveal how shallow the depth of understanding really is.  We are all a work in process. Personally, in writing this article and taking time to sort through what God has stirred up to share with others to help, it really does become clear the need for growth. Nevertheless, it is also apparent how God has made each principle real and taught lesson through the varied stress and sufferings of life.  In closing, taking time to pray over each principle and asking God to make them more real in your life.   

Please feel free to copy or republish any part of this article. Feel free to print the article and pass it on to whoever is in need.

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The victor over encroaching darkness: Jesus

The world is filled with darkness. The news is filled with stories of death and destruction.  We have holidays that even embrace and celebrate darkness such as Halloween. There is an ever-growing trend of what is good being called evil and what is evil called good, such as the non-dualist moral framework of that which impedes desire is evil.  Recently this writer visited Brazil and one of wife’s family commented how Brazil used to be a safe place, but it is not safe anymore. He even commented about Southern Brazil experiencing a cyclone (tornado), something unheard of in Brazil.  So darkness is ever encroaching.

No a reader may ask what is meant by darkness.  Darkness is that which is evil, that which shows no light. Now many philosophical and religious systems out there do talk about good and evil, light and dark.  Yet the definitions vary. Essentially it focuses on the battle of evil impulses with those of good impulses.  There is a focus on benefiting the world at large, building it up, or being destructive and tearing it down.

There is acknowledgement in the world at large at pretty significant issues and areas of darkness. The world at large focuses on crime, disease, poverty, climate change,  and intolerance as areas of primary darkness. There are plans and scopes made to find and arrange political solutions to these problems. There is a hope of a New Era Dawning and folks that work toward facilitating a New World order, all in the name to fighting what they consider to be things of darkness.

The Christian world view is quite contrary to the world’s approach to problems.  The Christian view is not about finding political solutions. It is not about finding ways to all work together.  The Christian worldview sees darkness as defeated.  The encroaching darkness is something that is but temporary.  The evil within each of us evidenced by our on-going selfishness has been dealt with, a person simply needs to choose to accept the solution and turn from self and surrender to God.  The answer to darkness if found in the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. 

Now, there are many that distort the Gospel and change the message of Jesus. There are many who believe they embrace light, when they reality is they are exchanging one darkness for another.  The number of things that appear to be light when they are truly dark is numerous.  Even within those that profess following the Gospel there are many deceptions and ways of darkness that can take one-off the path.  There are many who think they have embraced truth when still lost.

The fact is the forces of darkness know that time is short. They are working hard to deceive many and bringing destruction. The forces of darkness celebrate each choice that leads to death.  The forces of darkness want to take all to the reality of hell and eternal separation from God. 

Yet, while darkness is growing stronger and many are deceived, darkness is defeated. There will be those that turn from light to darkness, there will be those that seek to aid darkness, thinking the darkness is good.  Yet, the end result is all darkness is already defeated.  A time is soon coming when Jesus will return and implement the victory of darkness and bring wrath and judgment.  The question for each of us, is what choice have you made. At death or upon Jesus return it will not be about how often you did good things over embracing your dark impulses, because one thing done selfishly is disqualifying.  Light and darkness do not coexist and are not interdependent.  So the question is what keeps the reader from embracing and walking in the light? What source of darkness have you embraced?  What is your response to God’s offer of redemption through Jesus the Messiah?  Jesus is the light, there exists no other. Jesus is the victory over all that is dark.

Worship in truth: Planned 2nd talk at Fellowship of Maceio

The plan was for me originally to give 2nd talk on 10/10/2009 during English service. Turns out that Pastor Lon had forgotten about a visiting team of missionaries and everyone who spoke English was busy elsewhere translating.  The plan now is for a combination of two talks on 10/14/2009. At any rate here is the intended text of the talk for 10/10/2009. The content will likely be edited and reduced for the combination talk in 10/14/2009.  The text to that talk will also be post on the blog.

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I am grateful again for the opportunity to speak. I trust God used the seeds from the last talk to draw you into closer relationship with the Holy Spirit. This week we want to focus in on what it means to worship in the truth.  The starting text again is John 4:20-24   Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 Last time we focused on worship in the spirit, which we examined to be about a relationship of ongoing surrender to the Holy Spirit. We defined worship as being about elevating God and reducing self. I want to expand on that definition a little further. Worship is all about our relationship with God. It is all about knowing God.  In the source passage, Jesus told the Samaritans that they worshiped what they did not know, while the Jews worshipped what they did know.  We know that the Jews knew God and the temple was the place of God’s presence. We know we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit and have God with us. It is an ongoing submissive relationship. Jesus referenced true worshipers worship in both spirit and truth. The relationship with the Holy Spirit is pretty straight forward, it is little more difficult to understand having relationship with truth.  How can we relate to truth? Well tonight we will explore that more fully, how do we relate to truth?  

In order to have a relationship we need to have knowledge about what it is we are supposed to be in a relationship with. So we need to get an idea of what the meaning of truth Jesus is referring to here.  Now some may focus on worship in truth as being about the right way of worship or having the right mindset. Truth defined as doing it the right way.  Yet, the Jews and Samaritans both professed attempts at doing it the right way.  So Jesus was clearly talking about more than a right way of worship.

It is worthwhile to examine a little bit of the meaning of the word used. It is the Greek word Alethia (all-lay-thay-ah).  Now in a lot of cases the word is simply used in relation to veracity or correctness, however the Gospel of John is about relationship with Jesus and the words chosen are ones that convey specific meanings as understood within the culture. The word Alethia has far deeper meaning in Greek culture than correctness.  In examining the word several words came up consistently related to meaning including: unhidden, revealed, unforgotten, reality, real, genuine, and sincere.

For me the words that came to mind that summarize the full meaning of the word came down to this: remembered revealed reality. It is something that far transcends the idea of correctness and it is something of lasting impact on the individual.  Now given this understanding of the word used worship in truth is really about a genuine response to the revelation of God. It has life changing impact. Since it is about the revelation of God we need to examine what the revelation of God is, how it impacts us as individuals and how that revelation impacts the world. By understanding each of those areas will get a better grasp at the genuine response to God known as worship in truth.

 So if the truth is about revealing God we need to be aware of what are the sources.  As stated last time, a benefit of being indwelt with the Holy Spirit is being led to greater understanding of God, being led to truth.   Yet, God did not just leave us with the Holy Spirit but also with His written revelation of self, the Word of God, the Bible.  2 Timothy 3:16 tells us:  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” and in Romans 15:4 “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. “ and Jesus himself stated in John 17:17  “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” So clearly God has revealed himself in scripture. Scripture is truth, ultimately truth about our relationship with God.

 It is also worth noting that even without the Holy Spirit or God’s word God  reveals himself in creation. In scripture this is seen in two passages: Psalms 19: 1 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  and Romans 1:20  “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” God has made it so without any further revelation, God can be known.

 Now recognizing that God reveals Himself and use the Holy Spirit, Creation, and His Word it is important to note that His revelation not only reveals Himself, about also what is right for us.  Psalms 119:105 states: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” In other words, God’s revealed word gives us the light we need so we do not stray from the right path.  It gives us the way to walk.  The second part of 2 Timothy 3:16 also makes this point by outlining the uses of God’s word, it useful for teaching, correcting, confronting, and training; all means of our walking rightly, and as such worshipping in truth. 

Now it is important to be aware what the centrality of God’s revelation is about.  Yes, it is about God and our relationship with God, which is all wrapped up in Jesus the Messiah.  It is about as stated in Colossians 1:27   Christ in you, the hope of glory.  The whole of scripture is about Jesus. Jesus fills the whole of scripture with meanings.  This is shown in a few places in scripture.  Let’s start with what Jesus himself said: Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  The word translated for fulfill actually is better translated as fills them up with meaning. Jesus gives the meaning to the whole of scripture.  Everything that was part of Jewish life in following Torah pointed to Jesus.  Paul in Colossians 2:17 puts it: “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Jesus is the substance to the truth of the Gospel. And regarding Prophecy, John wrote in the Revelation of Jesus verse 19:10 the last half of the verse that  “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” So as you can see, the word of God is all about Jesus and our being restored to relationship with God.  It is the essence of God’s revelation.  More simply put Jesus is the truth.  Jesus himself proclaimed in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” The word Jesus used here is the same one we are talking about related to worship in truth, Aletheia.  Jesus is the remembered revealed reality.       

There is one more verse I want to touch on in discussing God’s revelation through His word, and that is John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. This verse again really highlights that Jesus is the revelation of God.  The word used here is the Greek word Logos, which is generally translated as reason, and in usage points to a concept of God’s reason.  There are really three dimensions to the Greek concept of Logos: divine nature, source of all life, and a mediator between the divine and the natural.  This is in essence what God’s revelation is all about.  John further points out that God’s divine reason then brings light.  Jesus himself proclaims this in John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  So Jesus is not just the living embodiment of the Word of God, but the source of light that in turn directs our path.  Given that Jesus is the light, it really leads us to the next area of discussion and that is how God’s revelation impacts us.

 The heart of understanding worship in truth also comes in understanding the impact of God’s revelation in our lives, or more importantly how we are changed by Jesus and the response it draws.  The impact of God’s revelation on us really comes down to three areas: our identity in Jesus, our place in God’s kingdom, and our genuine response. 

 Let us first examine God’s revealed truth regarding our identity.  Here is the fact, each of us at one point were not part of the kingdom of God, we were enemies.  This is true for even people like myself who accepted God’s grace at first choice. We were born into darkness, as enemies to God’s kingdom. We were born as sinful, selfish people. As it says in Psalm 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Now through Jesus we are no longer enemies. We have peace with God. Romans 5:1-2:  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And remember it is Christ in us that is the hope of glory as seen in Colossians 1:27.  Because of the revelation of Jesus and His redemption of sins, we are no longer God’s enemies.   

Our identity is more than being no longer enemies who have been brought to peace with God. God has not just indwelt us with the Holy Spirit allowing Christ in us. God has also changed us.  As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone who is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” God moves us away from our own selfish way of doing things into a new way.  We are made new.  We are changed from people of darkness to people of the light. And not only have we been made new and at peace with God, we have been set free from bondage and adopted into God’s family as seen in Romans 8:15-17 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

In fact being made at peace with God, being made new, being set free, being adopted are really all part and parcel to becoming children of God and as such heirs.  So the truth is God has done much for us, he has brought us out of darkness into light and not only have we been brought to peace and made new but made into children with an inheritance. This the identity of those of us who submit to God, something far greater than anything we could do of our own accord in our own worlds.

Now being we are heirs and children of God, this brings us to examining an understanding of our place in God’s kingdom.  As children of God and heirs, God has in mind specific tasks and has gifted us accordingly.  Even before we entered into the kingdom of God, God took His time in creating each one of us.  Psalms 139:13-15  For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  We see evidence throughout scripture of God using varied people for His plans and purposes.  Being Children of God he has a plan for each of us.  He has given us talents to use and invest and gives us spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.   So God has given each of use gifts to use and invest in the kingdom.  He created us with purpose to build up one another and work toward the common good of the kingdom of God.  So, it is important for use to use the gifts God has given and not only that, be thankful for what God has given.  1 Corinthians 12-14 really is worth spending time examining regarding the gifts God gives to His children.  It is important to note that in that passage the point is made is we are all different parts of the body. This point is also emphasized in Rom 12:4-8 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

We need to accept what God has given us and move in the areas God leads. Not to think highly of ourselves and become prideful. Not to be envious of how God has gifted others, but praise God and accept what the King has given to His child to serve Him. And guess, what, in going about the path as God leads and walking in his path with you and according to your gifts, if you lack anything, just ask and God will not withhold!   1 John 5:14  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.  He will always give us what we need, if it corresponds to His will and His call in our life.  We are His children and heirs called to the tasks He set us on. So being aware that as His children God give us gifts and has plans for our serving His kingdom, this leads us to the examining our response.

 Understanding our genuine response to God’s truth, the remembered revealed reality, is really at the core of understanding worship in truth.  It is all about what we do in response to what God has revealed and done in our lives.  It is our response to His grace. Now before I go any further I want to give you an illustration that highlights the nature of genuineness.  This past week we decided to buy some watches. Now these watches are not ordinary watches, they are replicas of famous expensive watches such as Cartier, Rolex, and Armani.  They look and function like the genuine article. You look at them and cannot really tell the difference from the real thing.  However, that appearance is external.  The internal workings of the watch are not genuine, but something functional.  These watches only appear to be genuine.   The genuine article is true on both the inside and outside.   So when we consider worship in truth as being a genuine response to God, it gets beyond appearance and to what flows from the core.  What is on the outside reflects the inner workings. 

 A key passage in understanding genuine response is found in   James 1:22-25  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Now upon hearing this portion of the word of God, did you hear James discussion the very essences of the word for truth John used.  Each element of remembered revealed reality is evident. The first element is being remembered.  James clearly points out the differences between remembering and forgetting and using the picture of looking in a mirror and forgetting what you look like upon leaving. Yet, for many of us, we spend a lot of time , sforgetting. We go to church, read the bible, pray, and such yet as soon as finish, we forget.  When we forget we are not walking in truth, spending time focusing on God’s revelation serves as a reminder. The second element is the revelation, this is what we are to remember.  Everything mentioned tonight are things we need to continually remember.  The greatness of God’s gift in Jesus and our being made children of God who serve His purposes is vital to us. All this is revelation to be remembered. And the third element is that of reality.  Remember revelation only become reality in one way, by action.  As James points out, faith without works is dead. So than what are we to do, what are the works God requires of us.  Well the apostle John put it this way in 1 John 5:3    For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

Is it simply doing things the right way, following a code or instructions the right way or has God got something more in mind? Remember both the Jews and Samaritans tried to do things the right way, so clearly there is something more involved.  Well John did define God’s commandments earlier in 1 John 3:23  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. So the key here clearly is to walk in love, love of God and love one another.  Jesus himself stated Mark 12:30-31  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And adds in Matthew 22:40  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So essentially it comes down to this. Love God with your whole self.  The designations of heart, soul, mind, and strength for some can be confusing so let me give some clarity. These four areas are the elements of self.  Self is made up of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. God wants us to love Him with our complete self.  The second command is to love others. This is evident throughout the New Testament in with discussions of interactions with one another. Some examples of our directions are: submit to authorities, submit to one another, bless those who curse you, and love your enemies. Words easily said, sometimes easily agreed to, but difficult to live by.  Yet, the genuine response to God’s revelation results in our living in love. It is reflected in our deeds.  It is not about style, or substance, or place, or any “thing.” Worship in truth is about walking in love. It is how Jesus walked, with genuine love.   Our genuine response is to be imitators of Jesus. Ephesians 5:1-2  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Now it is worthwhile to point out here, that we all fall short of this standard continually.  We all fail to walk in full love, our self gets in the way, way too often.  Yet, God is aware of that.  Anyone who imitates another does not do so purely.  We key in on some part of the greater whole and reflect part of the character.  The key is that we reflect God’s love. God does not expect us to do it perfectly, but to seek to do it with all that we are.  As we do so, we imitate and reflect God.  This reflection is a key concept.  Jesus called us the light of the world in Matthew 5:14 and directs us in Matthew 5:16 to Let our light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.  Yet, Jesus also referred to Himself as the light of the world in John 8:12.  So how does that work? Jesus is the light. He gives us His light, which we in turn reflect to the world.  Our walking in love of God and others reflects Jesus.  Our genuine response is not something that happens in a void.  What we do is seen by others.

And ultimately all of this understanding of worshiping in spirit and truth leads us to how such behavior impacts the world.  Our having an ongoing submitted relationship to God through submission to the Holy Spirit and reflected in a genuine response to God through living in love has impact on the world.  Given God’s remember revealed reality and being a temple of the Holy Spirit, we have a responsibility.  We are as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:20  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  What this means, is we are God’ representatives on earth.  Does he need us to draw those in darkness to the truth?  Not really.  But He chooses to use us, so that His love can be seen through us.  It all comes down to that passage in Colossians 1:27, Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Now here is a fact, just as Jesus was despised and rejected of men, it means as we reflect him, we will be despised and rejected by those lost in darkness.  In fact Jesus stated in Matthew 5:11    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus also prayed to the father before the events of crucifixion John 17:14-18  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.   So we are hated by the world and still sent into the world.  Now being in the world there is a very real danger.  The danger comes in forgetting God’s revelation and being tempted to conform to the things of the world or love them.  Romans 12:2 states: Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Clearly the ways of the world run contrary to what God desires of us, the world seeks to derail us from a life of submitted relationship that results in a genuine response to God’s revealed reality. This is also emphasized in 1 John 2:15-17: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

So then the question is how do we keep from being captivated by the world.  Well Colossians  3:2 put it this way  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Of course this is easy to say but hard to do.  It is real easy to get caught in the things of the world, rather than displaying God.  What we value is often of self and not God’s kingdom.   If you look at our lives, at times they do not reflect God.  The biggest barrier to God’s kingdom is our getting caught in darkness, even though it is temporary.  The temporariness of the world is evidenced in Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So God clearly puts and emphasis on how life is temporary. So we need to continually focus our thoughts that this life is momentary, God has more for us.

 The fact is when we walk in submission and exhibit genuine response to God’s remembered revealed reality, we let our lights shine.  Recently I have come to understand the moon as a symbol of the church.  The moon reflects the suns light, in the same way we reflect the light of Jesus to the world.  In addition the amount of light we reflect does vary. We have moments where we reflect very little light, just a sliver.  There are times we shine brightly giving the full reflection we can give.  It all varies as to whether we are walking in submission and responding genuinely or following our own ways.  When we walk in loving God fully and loving others, the light shines brightly, when we look after self, we reflect less light.

 

So we need to walk in submission with a genuine response to God’s remembered revealed reality.  So where to we go from here?

Ask Holy Spirit to show you what you need to change and to give you strength.

Submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading and let the Holy Spirit give you strength

Turn from the things that inhibit walking in love of God and others.

Focus your mind on things above, not on things of this earth.

Remember who God is and what He has done.

Respond with genuine giving of your self.

This is an ongoing process, it is not just a one time action, we need to follow these steps continually.  When we do that, we truly are worshiping in spirit and truth.

The Final Biblical Festival: Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles/Booths)

Yesterday was the start of Sukkot. Sukkot goes for seven days and is followed by a Holy Sabbath day (Shemini Atzeret) on the eight day.  This festival is one of celebration and rejoicing.  It is thought to serve even as a starting point for the Pilgrims celebration of Thanksgiving.

      This festival appears rich with meaning and points both back to Israel’s wandering in the desert and forward to Jesus return and establishing His kingdom on earth and the millennial reign.  It is the festival celebrating the final harvest. 

     The festival emphasizes temporary shelters which points to the temporariness of this life.  It points to far better things ahead. The festival is also one the requires a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  This requirement is a reminder that this world is not our home, and there is greater things ahead. 

      Now according to several articles, the most likely time of Jesus birth was during Sukkot.  So in essence, the biblical festival of Sukkot is also the true celebration of the birth of Yeshua as well as the culmination of the second coming when the final harvest occurs and the marriage with the Bride occurs.  Those of us who have missed in learning and celebrating Sukkot and the other Biblical festivals miss out on a lot that God has designated to point to what is ahead as well as what he has done.  Another interesting not is that Jesus referring to himself being the living water and the light of the world points to ceremonies involved in Sukkot.

      Sukkot is also marked by the performance of seventy sacrifices. Articles point  out that seventy is the number of existing nations at the time of the foundation of Israel.  It is to point to people from all nations and tribes being part of the final harvest and entering into the Kingdom of God.

     There are many, many things to learn from Sukkot. The articles I have examined have been interesting.   Ultimately, we all should be celebrating God’s provision, our redemption, and the coming kingdom of God.  A study of Sukkot make very clear that any who preach the Church needing to take dominion before the return of Yeshua is preaching a different gospel because such a concept does not fit with the imagery God set forth in the Sukkot festival. 

     Also in examining this and the other fall festivals, it is clear that in the modern church with our Celebration of Christmas and Easter and ignorance of the Biblical festivals truly miss out on what God has for us. In this case, Sukkot is essentially a week long party celebrating what God has, is, and will do.

Reference articles:

http://www.bridgesforpeace.com/pics/_TeachSukkot.pdf

http://www.ourfathersfestival.net/about_the_festival

http://followingtheancientpaths.wordpress.com/2006/10/06/sukkot-aka-feast-of-tabernacles/

http://www.messianic.ws/sukkot.htm

http://www.tikkunministries.org/newsletters/mm-oct08.asp

http://www.localaccess.com/Pari/sukkot.htm

http://www.thewatchman.org/en/sukkot.php

http://www.bethhillel.com/sukkot.htm