God of All Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…” 2 Corinthians 1:3 NASB

As we come now to the book of 2nd Corinthians, Paul addresses some of the things he previously addressed in 1st Corinthians, but also deals with a few new issues as well.

Think of 1st Corinthians as a call for believers to be unified with each other, while the focus of 2nd Corinthians is for the church in Corinth to be unified with Paul and his ministry.

In the same way, we should be unified as a church in ministry for the furtherance of the Gospel.

In 2nd Corinthians we find Paul’s thoughts on the Gospel ministry (Chapters 2-5), encouragements for holy living, (Chapters 6-7), and instructions about giving (Chapters 8-9).

One point Paul makes in our reading for today is that we can find genuine comfort in God as Paul did.

Paul knew a thing or two about suffering for the gospel, something we will cover in more detail next week, but here in 2nd Corinthians, Paul’s opponents are undermining his work in Corinth, claiming that Paul was not an Apostle – why?  Because he suffered too much!

I guess their thought was a real apostle would be spared some of the opposition Paul suffered at the hands of men.

Yet, Paul had learned the great lesson of suffering for the Gospel, his suffering highlights his dependence on Christ, as it points to Christ’s strength and not his own.

We are reminded that God comforts us so that we can comfort others.

I was reading through several passages in Matthew 5 earlier in the week – verses from Jesus’s teaching we call the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 ESV

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 ESV

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12 ESV

As Christians we share in the sufferings and comfort of others. But, we rely not on ourselves but on Him.

Paul found genuine comfort in God. We will too.

As we go through the difficult times in life, no matter what the storm or challenge we face, we find comfort in the Word of God, comfort in the prayers of those around us, and we find comfort in the examples of the saints that have gone before us.

Our God is a God of mercy and comfort, in Him we can rest.

Until next time… keep reading!

Jim

Reclaiming the Kingdom Part 2

Daniel 7.19-28

Why does God give Daniel this revelation? Although he lives through the first beast (Babylon) and into the time of the second beast (Medo-Persia), he would not be around to see the fulfillment of the majority of the prophecy. How would an ancient Israelite have received it? Remember that Daniel is writing during a time when Israel is under the rule of foreign powers. Folks have started to return to Jerusalem. The walls and the temple will soon be rebuilt, but they will still be under the rule of the nations. They would not know the world that their fathers had known. They would not see Israel fulfilling her Abrahamic destiny of being the blesser of the nations. Instead they would only know life under foreign occupation and rule. And Daniel writes somehow to encourage them…to encourage them not to give up or to give in because God wins.

But how would this be an encouragement to folks who had no hope of life returning to “normal”? Daniel gives us two perspectives of reality in this chapter: one earthly and one heavenly. From the earthly perspective, there is apparent chaos as the sea (picture of the nations) is stirred up and one kingdom after another arises only to be conquered by the next successive kingdom. And each kingdom will be opposed to God, so if you are one of the saints, it will look like you are on the losing side, especially during the time of the fourth beast. In Genesis 3.15 God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed…”

From the heavenly perspective, God is in complete control. The Ancient of Days is seated on His fiery throne. His sovereignty is unquestioned. The beasts may roam the earth, but they are subject to God. Their dominion is a delegated dominion. And there’s coming a time when heaven and earth will once again be reunited, the kingdoms of this world will be judged and an eternal kingdom will be set up. In the end, the saints’ victory will be manifest. History is moving toward a climax in which good triumphs over evil. And the book ends with the hope of the resurrection (12.13).

The hope of the ancient Israelite was resurrection (12.2-3). It wasn’t a comfortable family-life. It wasn’t a good job. It wasn’t even a return to Jerusalem. It was the resurrection where they would receive their share in the eternal kingdom, where they would walk its streets and serve its King. Daniel’s encouragement was to live life today as citizens of the eternal kingdom. If they focused on their present circumstances, it sure wouldn’t have looked like they were on the winning side. But if they looked beyond their circumstances, Daniel gave them glimpses of God winning – seeing Him praised and His sovereignty acknowledged by the most powerful men in the world (Nebuchadnezzar and Darius); and the boys’ willingness to face death in the fiery furnace and the lions’ den rather then compromise their faith.

Today we find ourselves under the dominion of the fourth beast. We are living in a world that devours and tramples, that overpowers and wears down the saints. We are living in a world that is venomously hostile not only toward God, but also toward His followers. A world in which violence is king…just look at the top rated video games, the top grossing movies, the sporting events we pay extra to see. Not unlike Ancient Rome. In Genesis 6, it was because of the violence of man that had greatly increased on the earth that God finally said, “Enough is enough” and sent the flood. Each successive kingdom has been more violent than the one before, and so we should expect to experience the trampling down and the devouring. We should expect to be attacked and persecuted.

Daniel’s encouragement to us is not to place our hope in the things of this world, the present earthly kingdom in which we find ourselves. Our hope is not in a better job with better benefits, or reconciled relationships, or the right education for my kids. It’s not the American Dream. Our hope is in the resurrection…where we will walk the streets of the eternal kingdom, where we will serve our King. Daniel’s encouragement to us is the same as was his encouragement to the ancient Israelites: live your life as a citizen of the eternal kingdom. Influence others by our uncompromising faith in God. To often we want to claim dual citizenship…living in both the earthly and heavenly kingdoms, hoping to enjoy the benefits of both. But we can only live in one of them…only one can claim our allegiance. Jesus said something about that… “No man can serve two masters for he will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” James writes, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” Be prepared to suffer. Persevere until the end. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. God wins.

I love the scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where our heroes, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come to the aid of King Theoden to defend Helm’s Deep. They’ve received word that a large army of Urai-hai, a beastly army created by the wicked wizard Saruman, is on the march. With a small band of defenders, the only hope of winning, maybe better, surviving, is the mighty fortifications of the fortress itself. Then the elves show up, and it seems that our heroes might have a fighting chance. But then the enemy pours into the valley and covers it like blanket. The battle begins and our heroes seem to be holding their own until the wall is breached by an unnatural explosion. The bad guys pour in. The good guys are overwhelmed. The hope they had placed in the wall and the elves was misplaced.

Theoden, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in the last fortified chamber with the Urai-hai crashing the door. Theoden, tempted to give up, remarks, “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” I love Aragorn’s answer, “Ride out with me. Ride out with me and meet them.” Theoden, “For death and glory…” Then Gimli says, “The sun is rising…” “Foul deeds awake. Now for wrath. Now for ruin. Now for the red dawn.” The band rides out through the sea of Urai-hai just in time to see Gandolph and the riders of Rohan coming up over the ridge. They overwhelm the bad guys below and the day is saved.

Living life in the fourth kingdom many times feels like we are on the losing side, especially as Jesus followers. It feels like the enemy is crashing the door down looking to devour us. We are often tempted to give up or give in. But remember the earthly kingdoms are temporary. They are given dominion for a short period of time. The Son of man is coming to set up an eternal kingdom that will never fail or fade. The enemy has already been defeated, though we don’t see it fully yet. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Jesus wins.

If you are not a part of His eternal kingdom today, please don’t wait. Each kingdom fell in a moment of time. This one will too. And when that moment comes, it will be too late. You can become a citizen of the eternal kingdom by trusting in its King. By believing that Jesus came and lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and was raised again to life conquering both sin and death, the Bible says that you can become a citizen of the eternal kingdom. A son or daughter of the King. That you too would not have to give up or give in because Jesus wins!

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

The Fiery Furnace

Daniel 3

The most powerful man on earth is no match for the God of heaven…who is in control? God rescues the boys from the king’s arrogance and wrath, and the king in turn acknowledges the greatness of their God and promotes them within the kingdom…

God can save…God will save…but even if He doesn’t. This story hits the can and will, but what about the “but even if He doesn’t”? Would you still trust Him? There seems to be two pit falls to avoid…on the one side, making it about the power of your faith. In other words, if you believe enough or have enough people praying for you then you will be healed or rescued from your current circumstances or whatever. The contra is also thought to be true…if you are not healed then something’s failed in regards to faith. We end up putting faith in faith. This pit fall fails to recognize that God in His sovereignty may choose not to act according to our definition of what’s best. He’s still God and He’s still good.

On the other side, interpreting the “but even if He doesn’t” as His inability to heal or rescue or whatever. This pit fall fails to recognize God’s power to do the impossible.

One other option…He just doesn’t care. I hope that if you’ve been with us through the Genesis series, you know that’s not true. He’s been pursuing us from the time we rebelled against Him in the garden. He’s gone to incredible lengths to demonstrate His love for you. “For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Any one of these pitfalls can be disastrous to our walk. In the movie, God is not Dead, the professor makes the revealing statement that the most ardent atheists were once Christians who somehow disappointed by God. A sad commentary because it reveals that their god was different that Nebuchadnezzar…powerless, dependent on their whims and subject to their wills. That’s not the God of the Bible.

Hebrews 11, the hall of faith, paints a different picture. There are of course the folks who have accomplished the remarkable…closed the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, put foreign armies to flight, women received back their dead by resurrection. But then there are those who were persecuted, sawn in two, put to death with the sword, etc. dying in faith without having received the promises.

Peter, Paul and the rest of the apostles, as well as countless other saints throughout church history are testimonies to the “but even if He doesn’t”. In the book of Revelation, the hero is the martyr who does not love his life even unto death. And of course our greatest example is our Savior Himself who went to a cross. All trusted God and were unwavering in their faith, despite their current circumstances. Knowing the future of the earthly kingdoms, gave them the confidence to follow God under the rule of these earthly kings.

Jim Elliott famously said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

A reminder that we are talking about life here on planet earth…life in the physical realm this side of eternity…life in a broken, fallen world where pain and suffering and death are a reality. But if we have trusted in Jesus, we’ve already been rescued and reclaimed. We are citizens of the eternal kingdom, sons and daughters of the King of the universe. Spiritually speaking then, our God can and will because He has…Jesus has already defeated sin and death, He has already crushed the head of the serpent. We long for the day when we see that fully played out, when heaven and earth are reunited, when faith becomes sight, when the Rock becomes the mountain that fills the earth, when all is on earth as it is in heaven.

So where are you today? Are you taking bold risks for God, trusting that He can and will save you? But even if He doesn’t, are you still willing to follow Him, knowing that He is working out His good purpose for you? Who is that Nebuchadnezzar in your life that is waiting to see whether or not God is real based on your faithfulness to Him in impossible circumstances?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

The Waiting Game

Genesis 40

Once again we see Joseph doing the right thing and experiencing the “wrong” outcome. Why must he keep waiting? We know the LORD’s presence is with him, so why doesn’t He intervene? That brings up two very important questions…is God good? And can He be trusted?

The story of Genesis answers these two questions with a resounding “YES!” Is God good? He is Creator God who created a perfect world, and who is Sovereign over His creation. And even when we wrecked it, He is Redeemer God providing hope and the way of redemption through the Genesis 3.15 Rescuer, the Head-crushing Seed of the woman, Jesus. Can God be trusted? Over and over He has proved His faithfulness…executing judgment and providing the means of escape, blessing and cursing. Even when His people are faithless, He remains faithful.

But again the questions reveal more about us…our expectation of what life should be, our definition of what is good. Goes back to the garden. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We’ve been deciding what’s best from our own limited, warped perspective ever since. Generally our definition of good revolves around what gives us the most pleasure or helps us avoid the most pain. Our circumstances do not determine God’s presence, they are not an indication of His involvement. They don’t define His goodness. If we have trusted in Him, His presence is with us in both good and bad times, whether the news is favorable or disappointing, whether we make the team or not.

Like we said last week, suffering is the crucible, the furnace of God’s love. He uses it to shape and mold us into the people He saved us to be. A people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. Suffering can come from a number of different fronts…consequences of our own sin, results of another’s sin, or by-products of a broken world. One thing we know about suffering…it impacts us all. We are all going into a pit, in a pit or just coming out of a pit. And while suffering has the potential for great good…Paul says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, (our suffering,) knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…” James says it this way, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Notice the role of waiting in both.)…suffering can also produce bitterness. And we know folks like this, don’t we? Suffering has made them very un-fun to be around. What is suffering producing in you? Resentment or hope, fog and numbness or a redemptive edge.

One other thing I don’t want us to miss from this story…we are all the baker in this story. We are all guilty of treason against our Master, our Creator. We all deserve to die. But God…being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). Jesus, the One God promised way back in Genesis 3.15, the Rescuer and Redeemer and Restorer of His creation, hung on a tree in our place. He took our curse, so that we might be blessed. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness, so that we could be reconciled to God and become sons and daughters of the King of the Universe, so that we might become like the cupbearer restored to a right relationship with our Master. An incredible exchange available to each and every one of us by believing in Him.

So whatever pit you find yourself in today, I pray that you may know God’s presence with you and that your present suffering is making you more like Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Genesis series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster