Suffering for Doing Good

So how do you feel about that old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”?

Are you of the opinion that this statement is dead-on correct?

Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. You resisted the temptation. You made the right decision. You took the high road. You sacrificed and you patiently stood last in line. But at the end of the day, the end result was not pretty. You didn’t get ahead. You only got further behind.

Why does this happen? Wouldn’t you think that if a dearly loved child of God made good choices — moral, God-pleasing choices — that this would be rewarded?

But so often it feels as if instead of a reward, all we get out of our suffering is more suffering. Being in agony for doing good — it just doesn’t make sense to us. And we often feel victimized when it occurs.

Peter has an antidote for the victim-mentality and turmoil in our hearts when the aforementioned, unpleasant circumstances come to pass in our lives.

His solution is to point us to the suffering of Christ. Our willingness to suffer with peace and joy in our hearts comes from recalling the cross Jesus bore. He reminds us that Jesus’ suffering is to be an inspiring example for us.

More important than that, Jesus’ suffering leaves us with a grace-altered heart. We know now that we can entrust ourselves to God. He will judge justly in the end of things.

Most critical of all, because of his suffering and sacrifice on the cross, Jesus will not judge us for our sins. Instead, he will grace us, forgive us, and heal us from our sins. Jesus’ good deed will make sure that we go unpunished — and return us to our close relationship, our right relationship, with him.

Return to Jesus, the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul, and your entire perspective on suffering will be transformed. And this is especially true when the suffering involves suffering for doing good.

 “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 ‘He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:20a-25, NIV).

It’s true, Lord. I have strayed like a lost sheep. But you, through your suffering and sacrifice have restored me to a right relationship with yourself. Thank you for your grace and forgiveness. By your Spirit’s power, teach me do good, even if I must suffer for it.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 23, is Ezekiel 43:1 – 44:31, 1 Peter 2:4-25 and Psalm 132:1-18.

Header image based on "Stray sheep on track." by Hefin Owen, CC By-SA 2.0

A King’s Ransom

The blood of Jesus — the blood of the perfect Lamb of God offered for our sins — has cleansed us of all our wrongs and transgressions. Our consciences are clear. In the sight of God, we have been pardoned and granted the status of child of God.

Inside and out, we have been purified and readied to receive heaven. This readiness is not the result of anything we’ve done. It is entirely the work of Jesus, who stood between God and mankind and mediated this agreement at the cost of his own life.

The price was far too high for us to pay. It was a king’s ransom. And only the King of kings could have ever paid it.

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews (9:14-15, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I thank you and praise you for mediating a new covenant and freeing me from my sins. You “mediated” by shedding your own blood, and sacrificing your own life. Help me to always remember the sacrifice you made — a kings ransom! — so that I could be called a child of God and have an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 8, is Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hebrews 9:1-15 and Proverbs 27:5-14.

Header image based on "J JAMES TISSOT - eloi eloi" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

One and Done

How many things would you change if you had the power to change repetitive tasks into “one and done” tasks?

Sometimes we try. We buy a new vehicle so that we don’t have to keep taking our car into the repair shop, incurring bill after bill. Eventually, the new car grows old and we find ourselves taking that one to the repair shop, too.

Or we take out our live lawn and replace it with artificial turf. Nevertheless, even though it appears relatively natural and we don’t have to mow anymore, it’s just not quite the same.

For other things, it doesn’t even pay to try. So we simply accept the necessity of repetition. We brush our teeth several times a day. We unload and reload the dishwasher. We sweep, we mop, we dust, we vacuum. We refill the gas tank. We top up the oil. And then we do it all over again.

And again. And again.

That’s exactly how Old Testament sacrifices used to work. Daily, sacrifice after sacrifice would be brought to the temple to atone for sins committed and offer thanks God for blessings received. The priests would slaughter the animals, prepare the grain, flour and oil offerings, and repeatedly offer them up on the altar.

Again, and again, and again.

Then came Jesus. As the author of the book of Hebrews states, his work was far superior to the work of the Old Testament priests. Jesus was the great High Priest who at Golgotha made one offering that covered the ransom for all sins, once for all. Jesus offered himself on the cross as the perfect Lamb of God, providing his own sinless life as the perfect sacrifice for sins, once for all.

Ponder it for a moment. And believe it for a lifetime.

Your sins have been paid for. All of them. No matter how serious. No matter how often repeated. Jesus has met your need. Forgiveness — full and free — is yours. Guilt and shame vanish before the blood of Christ, replaced by pardon and peace.

Jesus. One and done.

“Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for paying the price to forgive my sins. I am truly sorry for the wrongs I have committed against you and others. I have not loved you above all things. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I have repeatedly sinned against you. Please forgive me and give me pardon and peace. Change my heart so that I willingly obey your will.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 6, is Ezekiel 10:1 – 12:28, Hebrews 7:11-28 and Psalm 119:169-176.

Header image based on "Artificial Grass Lawn" by Perfect Grass, CC By 2.0

Near the Church, Far from God?

There’s an old French proverb that states, “He who is near the church is often far from God.”

The church can seem like a very harsh and uncaring place. Church people can seem judgmental and hypocritical. Empathy and authenticity sometimes just don’t seem to be found in great abundance.

Even 2000 years ago, the apostle Paul knew how important it was for the church to demonstrate compassion, offer encouragement, and extend care and comfort to people. He knew how critical it was for Christ-followers to meet people where they’re at.

It was pure joy for Paul to share the gospel. But as he tells the Thessalonians, he also found great joy in sharing more than the gospel — in sharing his very life with them.

He worked day and night to support himself so he could selflessly teach people about Jesus, without needing their financial support. He lived a life that showed the Thessalonians step-by-step how a life with God is lived — an unselfish, righteous and pure life.

In this way, when the Thessalonians got near to Paul, they got a good picture of who Jesus is. They got a good picture of what the church is meant to be, too.

The good news about Jesus’ forgiveness. The love of Jesus reflected in actions. The power of Jesus for life-change. Hope. Encouragement. Comfort. And the challenge to grow in faith and obedience. That’s what the Thessalonians witnessed and received.

So when they got near the church, they also drew near to God.

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 9, is Jeremiah 18:1 – 20:18, 1 Thessalonians 1:1 – 2:16 and Psalm 119:1-8.

Lord, help me to love others as you first loved me. I ask you to strengthen me to follow the example of the apostle Paul, to share the gospel with those around me, and to sacrificially share myself as well.

Header image based on "St. Mary's, Stamford" by DncnH, CC By 2.0

Christian Gladiator Race

He created you in the first place. Then, after you were sold into slavery to sin, he bought you back at the cost of his own life. Finally, he personally summoned you by name to be his own.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit collaborated as one (because they are One!) to make you a child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.

He is your Savior and Redeemer. Now you can be fully confident that you are God’s child. You belong to him. And he will afford you his full protection.

It’s a good thing because life is a lot like one of those “gladiator races” you see on TV.

Life is full of obstacles. Problems and heartaches may threaten to flood you. And you may even get “wet” from those floods.

And life is full of challenges. Adversity and opposition may lick at you like flames of fire. And you might get “hot” from those flames.

Nevertheless, you and I can run that race confident that we are his.

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV).

Lord, I know that life is full of obstacles and challenges. Problems and adversity are just part of the deal. Help me to run my race confidently, knowing that I am yours, and that you have promised me your divine, supernatural protection.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 18, is Isaiah 43:1 – 44:23, Galatians 3:26 – 4:20 and Psalm 108:1-5.

Header image based on "130504-A-FH790-007" by Fort Carson, CC By 2.0

Vindicated!

vin·di·cate
ˈvindəˌkāt/ verb
  1. clear (someone) of blame or suspicion.
  2. show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified.

David had powerful enemies. Among them was the king of Israel, Saul. Saul was constantly trying to hunt David down and put him to death because he was jealous of David. David was a threat to his power.

David was a hunted man. But David knew what to do when there are no other allies. He knew there is one ally who never deceives and never leaves.

This is what we need to know too, especially when we feel we’re under attack. The attack might come from a neighbor. The attack might come from someone in authority (as it was with David). The attack may even be spiritual and come from Satan, or our own sinful flesh.

Betrayal is bad enough. Self-betrayal is horribly difficult.

But there will always be One to whom we can appeal. Our God will make sure that we are vindicated. He will be constant in his love. He will steadily remind us that he is always powerfully present — faithful to the end!

In fact, he has already made sure we are vindicated. Because he sent his Son, Jesus, to be the perfect payment for our sins. He delivered his own Son over to death to insure that we are cleared of all blame and suspicion. He has justified us — declared us recipients of Christ’s righteousness and proclaimed us to be “just as if” we had never sinned!

“I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me—God sends forth his love and his faithfulness” (Psalm 57:2-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, May 6, is Judges 4:1 – 5:31, John 4:43 – 5:15, and Psalm 57:1-6.

God, thank you for vindicating me, and declaring me innocent of all my sins. This is the greatest gift anyone could ever give me. And it’s all possible because you, in love, sent your one and only Son, to die in my place and offer the perfect sacrifice for my sins. You have loved me with the greatest possible love. And I love you, Lord.

Header image based on "Justice Gavel" by Tori Rector, CC By-SA 2.0

God Made Human

One of the most powerful — yet highly unusual — messages of the Bible is that God became a human. In doing this, Jesus did not leave his divinity behind. In a mysterious and supernatural way, Jesus is truly God and truly man in one person.

There are far, far more religions that actually teach the opposite. That is, they promote the idea that humans can and will become gods. As we advance in morality, science, and other types of knowledge (these people say), we will gradually become more and more divine in nature.

How interesting that the Bible teaches that Jesus, in order to rescue us, needed to become a man, rather than elevate us to become gods. Jesus became a human to understand our human hardships and suffering. He became a human so that he could be our substitute, and live perfectly — obeying God’s law in our place. He became a human so that he would have a body to sacrifice for our sins, and blood to shed for our transgressions.

This is really the message of the entire Bible in a nutshell. Rather than giving us rules through which we are to elevate ourselves, God gave us a rescuer, who lowered himself into position alongside of us.

Think of the people stuck on Everest in the past several days at Base Camp. The rescuers could have given the survivors of this avalanche directions on how to save themselves and all the injured with them. But the reality is the situation is impossible. No one would be able to follow the instructions and make their way past the avalanche. So instead, the rescuers sent helicopters, which landed alongside those who were stranded and injured, and lifted them out to rescue.

We are buried behind an avalanche of our own making. It’s our own sin. And were we to try to climb out by trying to obey God’s rules, we would only end up dying for eternity.

That’s why Jesus became a human. He landed here alongside of us who are stranded and injured by our own sins, and by his death and resurrection, he lifted us out to salvation.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, April 29, is Joshua 15:1 – 16:10, John 1:1-28 and Psalm 53:1-6.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being willing to become a human being to rescue me. You know what it is to be a human. And you know death even, because you gave up your life as a perfect sacrifice for my sins. I thank you for this, and for winning eternal life for me through your death and resurrection.

Header image based on "Helicopter taking off near Namche" by Meg and Rahul, CC By 2.0