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The Centurion's Tale


April 1

Suffering In The Name

Acts 9:15-16

Soldiers of the United States Army know it well. It is a simple, heart shaped medal, with a cameo of George Washington on it. The background of the medal is purple in color; hence its common name, the Purple Heart. It is accorded to those who are wounded in combat for their country. Other medals are given for bravery; some for excellence in military work. But this one is unique. It says, “I suffered for my country. I might not have done anything heroic; maybe I’m just a private. But I was there, where I was ordered to be—and I have the wounds to prove it.”

It is proof indeed. Consider Ananias. Christ approaches him to go to this Saul and restore his sight. Ananias explains carefully that this Saul is one who persecutes the church. What, then, will convince this Everyman that the conversion of Saul is real? The same evidence that convinces us today: suffering. High and holy words can be just that: words. Ambitious plans for evangelism can be just marks on paper. But suffering convinces us; it tells us of the real thing.

Interestingly, Christ does not send Ananias to Saul to tell him of the great things he will accomplish with that suffering. He offers no hint of the value of this man’s writing. He speaks only of his suffering. Why?

· First, because that suffering is in imitation of the Suffering Servant, our Lord. This man was destined to become great in the kingdom; the closer to our Lord, the closer to his ways. His way contains suffering at every step.

· Second, so that you and I might know how to boast as Christians. We are not to tell the world of our accomplishments, our trophies, our medals. Rather, if boast we must, let us boast in our sufferings.

Note, please, that the suffering is “for the Name.” The Name of Jesus is above all other names; at his return, all will acknowledge this. We are taught to honor that name, and to praise it. So much of our worship centers on praise of his Holy Name! But what brings true glory to the Name is simply this: the suffering we endure so that this Name might be exalted.

Only the heroic win great medals; but each of us can earn the badge of suffering for Christ.

Lord, we live in a land of ease, with freedom dearly bought. Steel our hearts to suffer for you.

April 2

Ultimate Reward

Romans 8:16-18

Among the many dynasties that ceased to exist during and after World War I was the Romanoff dynasty. The Romanoffs were the rulers of Russia—before the communists seized power. According to the accepted history, all the Romanoffs were executed by the communists. But a persistent legend insists that one member, princess Anastasia, survived. Many claimed to be Anastasia; but in those days before DNA testing such a claim would be strengthened by showing that Anastasia was a carrier for hemophilia. It was the hereditary disease of the Czars.

There is a hereditary disease for the family of God: it is called suffering. The children of God are warned that, like Christ, they are going to suffer for the privilege of being a Christian. This should surprise none of us. It is a matter of family resemblance. The more you look and act like Jesus, the more this world wants to make you suffer. The powers of this world crucified the innocent Christ; persecution of his followers is no great leap. Especially when those followers shine the light of the world on the corruption of this world system. Satan likes the darkness.

There is, you see, a war on. It is the war between the forces of evil, who rule this world system, and the forces of light. In every war there is suffering, and this is no exception. But in every war there is glory, too.

We must be careful here. Speaking of armed conflict, Eisenhower once said, “there is no glory in war worth its price.” This is true; but in the war the church is waging the glory is far greater than the suffering. Every war has its heroes; so it is with this war too.

Indeed, we will ultimately think the suffering small compared to the glory when our Lord returns. At the return of our Lord the war between light and darkness will end. That war has already been won—at the cross—but the suffering goes on. The Cross is our Gettysburg—the Civil War was won there, but the suffering went on.

When our Lord returns, he will bring with him the proper reward for those who have suffered for him. What that reward will be is so wonderful that we cannot understand it—yet. This too is seen dimly, but one day it will be clear.

Lord, like most soldiers we have no great desire to suffer. Give us your calm strength and inner peace when we do, so that our suffering might be an example to all around.

April 3

Help When We Don’t Understand

Romans 8:26-27

One of the most dangerous areas for the faith is a hospital corridor. You sit outside the room of a friend, with family, and you pray. But how do you pray, and for what? It can be a puzzle.

Some things are “always good to pray for.”

· Praying for patience always sounds good—until you remember that patience is usually taught by suffering, especially when you cannot see the end of it.

· Praying for peace sounds good too—all of us want a sense of calm warmth. But what if there is no peace in this situation?

· Praying for humility, especially the humility to accept what God will do, also is recommended. But we seem to want to possess humility; we don’t want to have it taught to us.

Those are things we’re willing to pray for; but even these have their ambiguities. Sometimes we’re not so sure of what to ask:

· If your child is in trouble with the law, do you pray that the judge will be merciful and lenient, or that he’ll teach the kid a lesson?

· Do you ask God Almighty to lengthen the life of one suffering some fatal disease, or take them home quickly?

There are other such prayers, too. But in all these situations we have help. The Holy Spirit is with us:

· The Spirit shares our agony, expressing it to God in ways which are too deep for words. He knows our hearts.

· The Spirit intercedes for us. Have you ever wondered if that prayer you spoke in the hospital corridor was really the right one? The Spirit knows the mind of God; he will bring it to the Father just as it should have been prayed.

· The Spirit is our comforter. When we must play the part of “the designated rock in the family,” the Spirit is there to support those who support the others.

The Spirit is within us, and knows our minds. He also knows the mind of God the Father. From our mind to God’s mind the prayer goes—by way of the Spirit.

Father, how gracious of you to provide the Spirit for us! Even the comforters need a Comforter at times. Thank you that in our weakness you have given us such help.

April 4

Recognition Test

1 Corinthians 4:11-13

How do you know a pirate when you see one? The question may seem silly to some, but those who know the author will recognize the importance of the question. For example, a man wearing a black eye patch will find that “frequent flyer” equals “randomly selected for search” almost every flight.

How do you recognize the genuine apostle of Christ? The problem was not a trivial one in the early church. Indeed, recognizing the real thing from the fake in the church is a problem that has not gone away. Paul gives us two tests here.

First, there is the test of suffering. Note the pattern here; it still can be used today:

· There is the matter of “daily bread.” Does the man live in luxury, or is there want?

· Poor clothing is another thing. A three thousand dollar silk suit should tip you off as to where the man’s priorities are.

· Homeless? Not common in our land, but at least we could look at the lodgings. Are they plush, or workaday?

· Finally, there is the matter of income. Just exactly how does the money come in? Does the man work hard, or is he too busy being important?

The second test is the fruit of persecution:

· When your faith is reviled, do you snap back in anger? Or do you bless your enemies, as our Lord did?

· Is persecution met with devious returns, or with simple endurance and patience?

· When you are slandered, how do you reply? Do you snap back with an equal and opposite falsehood? Or do you attempt to conciliate and reconcile matters?

Sometimes we think that this is an impossible requirement. A man would have to be a saint to act like that. Which is precisely the point; only a saint would act like that. “Saint” is not a plaster figurine but a child of God. This is how they are supposed to act. It’s a good test for those who claim to be speaking for the Lord; it’s a good test for all of us.

Lord, most of us are not burdened with such afflictions. You give us no more than we can endure. Teach us to value the suffering you give us, and the growth it brings.

April 5

The Fellowship of Suffering

2 Corinthians 1:5-7

It is our custom each year to send out Christmas cards, particularly to those living at a distance. Each year we carefully examine the list of addresses to remove those whose address is now unknown or those who have died during the year. Doing this brings up memories.

One such memory is “Fred and Nancy.” Fred was in basic training with me during my military service. The two of us were together for most of those three years as well. Fred and I suffered together; that bonds us for life.

In a very real sense, then, the suffering which we undergo for the cause of Christ is also the suffering of Christ. We are said to be his body on earth; when your body suffers, you suffer.

You may object; “that’s just a metaphor.” Very well; consider it this way: in the same New Testament we are taught that my wife’s body is my own; the two of us are one flesh. I can certainly tell you that her suffering is my suffering. She knows the same thing; indeed, she will talk of when we were in the army.

But if our sufferings are indeed Christ’s sufferings, then our consolation in suffering is also his. We may not see this at the beginning; that is because our hearts have not been sufficiently enlarged by suffering yet. Consider those you know who suffer as Christians should. Is it not the case that their trials—which seem so large when viewed by those who have suffered so little—have changed them into those whose endurance and even joy in suffering are now great? Suffering enlarges the heart.

It does so by a simple method. The heart is enlarged as it grows closer to the heart of Christ. As one draws nearer to him, being open hearted and generous becomes much easier. Similarly, as you suffer in him the heart also grows.

There is one other way in which we and Christ share our suffering. The world looks on. The world cannot see Christ, but it can see us. In suffering with him the world can see him in us. Consider that in the way we face death we are witnesses of the Resurrection. If we fear death, we die like anyone else. If we embrace death as our going home, how can the world fail to notice the witness to the Resurrection—and thus the glory of God.

Lord, it is hard, hard to consider suffering as a way of being one with you, but it is so. Grant us trials within our strength; grant us your strength for our trials.

April 6

Vessels of Clay

2 Corinthians 4:6-10

In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

One of the central facts of the faith is this: the God who created all things, who brought forth light, took upon himself the form of a human being and became the Light of the World. He became man, that we might become like God. Indeed, he has made it clear that we are those who carry within us the Holy Spirit, the awesome power of God. You think not? Consider the greatness of the average Christian:

· He has direct access to the throne of grace, being commanded to approach the Almighty with boldness.

· By the appointment of God Most High, he is an ambassador of Christ, an ambassador of reconciliation.

· More than these, he is counted as one of the children of God.

Such power, such surpassing greatness—a temptation to pride if it were allowed. So God has arranged that this light of the world should shine in us—vessels of clay.

Clay? Dust you are, and to the dust you shall return. Why, then, does not God transform us into something more suitable for such awesome power and authority?

· First, it is so that others will see the light through the clay, and not be blinded and turn away.

· For our own sake, the world will know his perfection seeing it peek through our imperfection.

We do not need to be super saints to be the ambassadors of Christ. He is willing to use anyone who is willing to carry the light. Someday we shall be transformed; in the meanwhile, remember that the church was started by twelve ordinary men.

Until he comes, there will be the scowl of the authorities—but He will not neglect us. Bodily pain we will have, but it cannot crush the Spirit within us. Our minds will be perplexed by new ideas and clever argument—but we will not despair. Persecution will follow us, but God will never forsake us. Like Job, we may be struck down with all kinds of woes—but not destroyed. Like Job, we know that our Redeemer lives.

Lord, your way is perfect. Let your light shine through the imperfections of your children.

April 7

A Manner Worth Of The Gospel

Philippians 1:27-30

Shortly after Errol Flynn starred in Robin Hood, Danny Kaye spoofed it, starring in The Court Jester. The plot is one of mistaken identity; by such mistake Danny is hypnotized into believing he is a man of complete confidence. In such a state, his co-conspirators ask him if there is anything left to do before he assassinates three of their enemies.

“Are they married?” asks Kaye. Yes. “Flowers for the widows.”

Confidence. It seems to elude most Christians, but here Paul teaches us the secrets of Christian confidence. In typical fashion he exhorts us to live lives worthy of the Gospel we carry. How are we to do this?

· We are to be firm in one spirit. Do you see that this is not an individual thing, but a command to the church? It is something which cannot be done as an individual.

· We are to be firm in one mind. So often we are told that God wants our hearts, please check your brain at the door. Here Paul has it otherwise. Let our doctrine be sound—and singular.

If we do this, we will not be alarmed by our opponents. Like Danny Kaye, we will see them as powerless to influence events. How can this be?

· The world works by intimidation much more than by force. When the threats come, we need to remember that those who are with us are more than those who are against us.

· Our unity and confidence are a sign—for our opponents. A sign? Yes, one that tells of their doom.

· Equally, it is a sign of our salvation—for it is God who gives the power in which we overcome.

We are the heirs of an enormous privilege: we are those who are selected to suffer for Christ. It is our green beret, our varsity letter, our championship ring. We are not just privileged to be believers, but we are like the Apostles themselves—men persecuted and abused, but ultimately triumphant.

Lord, how often those of us who are not athletic, those of us who are not popular, those of us who are not brilliant at anything, long to be “on the team.” Now we are; and on the one team in all of history which really counts. Suffering is temporary.

April 8

Mercy in Suffering

Philippians 2:25-30

This passage introduces to us one of the more common ways of suffering for Christ. This is not suffering at the hands of an antagonistic government, nor is it persecution of any kind. It is the suffering from risk.

Suffering from risk means simply this: you choose to go where God sends you, knowing that you could encounter illness or accident there (usually much more likely than at home). You know (in our time) that there will not be good medical care available. You could die from a heart attack that, back home, would have been handled successfully. You choose to take the risk.

You take that risk, however, for the cause of Christ. It may be a short term mission trip to the third world, for example. The theory says we should take no thought for the morrow; if God calls us home, who are we to refuse? Even knowing that, we know the risk as well. Often, as in this instance, the anxiety is shared between the sufferer and those at home.

But if “to live is Christ, to die is gain,” how can Paul say that God had mercy on both Epaphroditus and himself? From the sufferer’s point of view, we can at least point out that his pain had ended. In this instance without death, but we often see situations where a loved one has suffered long and hard—so that death is viewed as a release as well as a homecoming. This man was rescued from death; do you not see that this is merciful not because he did not die but because he was given more opportunity for service—and reward?

Merciful to Paul? Yes, indeed so. Obviously he has found the man useful in his work. The Philippian church supported Paul in his work; Epaphroditus was the messenger carrying that support. He was also the personal link to that church.

Therein lies the lesson. This is a man about whom we know very little. He achieved no great distinction in the histories of the church. He was, in short, a delivery man. But do note this: he was a delivery man for Christ, and a faithful one. Paul tells us that such men are to be received with joy, not for their accomplishments but for the risk he took in serving our Lord.

Lord, we are so cautious, wanting everything to be arranged in advance so that nothing can go wrong. Yet we forget that we are in your hands. Help us to know that you do indeed work all things together for the good of those who love you.

April 9

Filling Up

Colossians 1:24

It is a curious phrasing. When you stop to read the verse, alone, the question leaps out at you: how could the sufferings of Christ be “filled up?” Are they not sufficient indeed for his grace?

There are several ways to look at this; each gives us an insight on suffering for Christ.

· There is the aspect of “what would Jesus do?” His suffering is the model for our own.

· We can also see it as continuing the sufferings of Christ. The church is his body on earth; like our Lord, we will suffer.

· We can see it as completing the sufferings of Christ. His own were for the salvation of the world; but someone’s got to care about downtown Podunk.

· As Paul mentions here, there is also an aspect of “taking my share.” Christ for the world; we now suffer our share so that Christ might be lifted up.

· And, in this instance, Paul could be said to be bearing the sufferings of the Colossian church in a place far from them.

Such suffering is on behalf of the church, the body of Christ. We can appreciate that fact in two ways:

· We can see it locally—the suffering in our own presence which is a witness to the glory of Christ. Men do not suffer for that which they know to be false.

· We can see it globally—the inspiration that comes back to the “home church” from the missionary abroad, the suffering that thrills the soul.

Paul’s reaction to his suffering: joy. It may seem strange; even Christ himself asked that the cup would pass from him. No one volunteers for suffering. But if we volunteer for service, and the suffering comes with it, the usual reaction is to rejoice. Why? It means that the enemy takes you seriously.

It’s also the right reaction. God commands it for his servants. Why? It is a token of their faith; if they know that “great is your reward in heaven” - and believe that—then they know how their Lord will reward them for their suffering.

Lord, is the reason for our little suffering the fact that our complaining is so great? Fill us with joy in our sufferings, so that we will be the sign of your care to all who will see.

April 10

Garden Growth

2 Thessalonians 1:3-5

It is a sad fact that I am no gardener at all. I very much appreciate the beauty of a well cared for garden, and admire those who can cause such things to grow. But it is quite apparent that I can kill cactus—by neglect. Fertilizers, insecticides, all sorts of chemistry are of no avail; plants just die for me.

Of course, this is not how it should be. Indeed, the measure of a garden is how it grows—and the measure of the gardener. So it is that Paul praises and thanks God for the growth of the church at Thessalonica. So what kind of growth is this gardener looking for?

· Faith. Faith points directly to God; it is the basis of our relationship with him. If you will, faith corresponds to the root system of a plant. You cannot see it (unless you really dig for it) but you know it must be there. The stronger the root system, the more abuse the plant can take. The stronger the faith, the more suffering the Christian can take.

· Love. Paul refers here to the love Christians should have for one another. We might consider these to be the branches of the plant—that which is visibly there to hold the plant together. For that is the purpose of Christian love—that the church may be one. Branches may be graceful, or twisted—without affecting how well they perform their task.

· Perseverance. Perseverance is shown to those outside the church. Perhaps we might compare them to flowers. They are the outward sign which tells you what kind of plant this is. Sometimes the flowers can be picked—and then grow back. Our perseverance should provoke those outside to ask, why? We should be ready with an answer.

By their fruits you will know them. The Thessalonians have shown their faith, love and perseverance. Paul then tells them that God has confirmed the fact that they are worthy of the kingdom—because he has permitted them to suffer for the faith.

Suffering for the faith is a sign, a token. It means that God does not need to shelter your little faith, tiny love and lack of perseverance—but rather can turn you loose on the world.

Lord, how often we think that riches and ease are the true sign that you love us. Teach us to understand that in suffering for the faith you confirm that we are soldiers in the army of the Lord.

April 11

With Him

2 Timothy 2:11-13

At first Paul’s words here seem somehow mystic, and therefore difficult for the modern, scientific mind. But perhaps we can see the point by analogy. It is, you see, a question of “in” or “out.”

How do you know if someone is in or out of a group? You might keep a roster; Revelation assures us God keeps the book of life. But we will not read that one until Christ returns. Until then, we shall need some way of telling who is on the Lord’s side. This is most important when we ask ourselves, “am I really certain that I am saved?” How do I know?

· There is the sense of having been on the team. The Bible gives no support for the idea that individual Christians are selected for their goodness. Rather, the presumption is that they are members of the church—that is, on the team of God.

· There is the sense of having passed the test. Many things in life are given only upon passing a test which proves your ability. The Christian life is much the same; the suffering we endure for the sake of the Gospel is the test. Pass it, and know you are His.

· There is the sense of enduring the ordeal. Sometimes our membership is not so much one of the team or profession as much as those who have survived. Combat veterans know this; cancer victims too.

How do we die with Christ? The Bible tells us that we do so in baptism—but also we must die to the things of this world. By rejecting the world’s values and choosing Christ, we die.

Endure with him? Do you not know that it was for Christ’s suffering that he was given the name above all names? That name will be universally worshiped when he returns. But at the same event we will be given a new name as well. He is our forerunner in the coming kingdom of God.

But if we deny him, he denies us. There is no fence-sitting in this. If you confess him, he confesses (claims) you before God the Father. The question is, did you keep the faith? Do not despair; he is always faithful—even in forgiveness. Commit your life to him, join in his work—and join in his reign.

Lord, all of our worldly thoughts push us away from you. Help us to keep the faith. Keep us mindful of your suffering for our sake. Give us confidence in your faithfulness.

April 12


James 5:10-11

Preachers and teachers are well known for scattering examples throughout their messages. It is supposed that examples make things clearer to the student, and also provide a more human face to what sometimes appears to be abstract reasoning.

However, we should note one particular human tendency in this. When you are the one who is giving out the examples, they are close at hand; relevant; indeed, altogether enlightening. When you are the one receiving the examples, they are rather distant. Indeed, examples are a way of teaching patience—for the student is required to be patient until the teacher has reached the end of his examples.

Patience and suffering are hand in glove. A lack of patience (for which those examples are famous) can greatly increase the suffering. This is particularly true of what might be called “forced patience.” May I offer you (pardon me) an example?

Let’s suppose you’ve been sent to the hospital lab to endure various tests. Test results are never returned immediately; indeed, the staff seem to think that they have all the time in the world. So what do you do?

· Most of us worry while we wait. We call the lab twice a day and get angry when nothing is available.

· But some of us have discovered the truth: the lab results will be the same whether they come in today or tomorrow. Our worry only affects us, not the results.

This also leads us to suffering by suspense. We think of all the horrible diseases we might have. But because you don’t have all of them, will God help you worry? Or will he confine his help to the one you really do have? When the result finally arrives, are we convinced that God doesn’t care—and thus do not bring this to him in prayer?

True patience is a great help in suffering. You take the long view; indeed, even the eternal view. Give to God the things that are God’s—especially such cares. Let Him do what He will do; ask only for what you cannot do. Then do what you can, leaving the rest to Him. You might as well give him your worries; He’s going to be up all night anyway.

Lord, how little we learn in so long a time! Open our hearts to your comfort; let us meet suffering with Godly patience.

April 13

Not Surprised

1 Peter 4:12-13

The tale may seem strange to you, but it is true. My boss called me up and told me (after saying that he was not supposed to tell me) that I had been accused of sexual harassment. By the time the charges were fully fleshed out, it was quite near rape. The matter had been cooked up by one of my colleagues along with my manager’s boss—an ardent feminist with a bitter hatred of Christians.

My first reaction was, “Why me? What did I do?” That’s the wrong question. If you are a Christian, you will face suffering for the sake of Christ:

· First, because you are like your Lord. He was innocent—and see what the world did to Him.

· Next, because a time of testing is needed for every soldier of the Lord. Would you go into combat untested?

There is a right reaction to the suffering for Christ:

· First, don’t be surprised. You were warned.

· Second—”keep on” rejoicing. A Christian should always be joyful in the Lord. Suffering is just temporary.

· Finally, know that you are blessed—the Spirit rests upon you. It means that Satan knows you as an adversary, and the Comforter has come to your side.

If tales such as this can have a happy ending, this one did. My accusers overreached themselves, embellishing the accusation until it became a criminal matter. The person from corporate personnel decided (rightly) that such an accusation needed to be well documented before being presented to the police. In the course of that documentation it was discovered that on the day I was alleged to have been harassing my colleague, I was actually in Chicago—over a thousand miles away. Very quietly both women were “asked to leave the company.” Except for a chance encounter with someone in the know, I would not have known the story. But you can see that I had cause to feel relieved, if not rejoice.

The tale does not end there. Indeed, all such suffering for the sake of Christ has not yet seen the final act. When our Lord returns those who have suffered with him—little, as I have, or much—will rejoice with exultation. Fellow sufferer, fellow heir.

Lord, our sufferings today are light compared with those of the early church. Help us to bear them with rejoicing.

April 14


1 Peter 5:8-10

Since the beginning of mass produced steel implements there has been a curiosity about the greatest steel weapon of the past—the Damascus sword. Legend has it that Richard the Lionheart met Suleiman the Magnificent in negotiations. To impress him, Richard drew his sword and cut a chain in two. Suleiman, drawing his Damascus blade, cut another chain in half—and then held the sword out, edge up, and dropped a silk handkerchief onto it. The blade neatly sliced it in half.

The secret, recently discovered, is that the smiths of Damascus would hammer the blade out flat, fold it over, and repeat the process—hundreds of times. Patient hammering at the forge made the greatest blade.

God uses a similar technique. The combat is real enough; our enemy is indeed ferocious. But as good soldiers of the Cross we are to resist him—just as other Christians do. We are being hammered out. But all this must end sometime.

See what God is forging in you! A weapon of his own design:

· Perfect—the word means completely fitted for a particular task, not sinless. He is shaping you to his own ends.

· Confirmed—the word implies one whose direction is firmly set. It means that you will be sure that you are going in the path he has chosen for you.

· Strengthened—not just in power, nor just in your ability to resist. You will also be strengthened in knowledge and in faith.

· Established—the word in the original means to build on a firm foundation. You will be one of those Christians who cannot be moved from his appointed post—no matter how fierce the assault.

Hammered by suffering for the faith, heated in the forge of Satan’s anger, over and again, you will become the Damascus blade in the hands of the Christ. The task you are given will be completely beyond you now—but when the forging is done, you will be ready and able. It may seem hot and grim now, but trust the Master—he knows how to use the forge of tribulation.

Lord, how often we complain of our little trials! Yet by those trials we are forged into an instrument of your design for your purposes. Teach us to be content with this.

April 15

The Necessity of Christ’s Suffering

Luke 24:25-26

My grandfather died when I was just a baby. I always cherished, however, the stories my dad would tell about him. Children seem to need their grandparents somehow.

One of dad’s favorites was this. My grandfather had been a professional baseball player in his youth. He was a pitcher, and particularly fond of that bane of a hitter’s existence, the curve ball. My dad would often find himself with a catcher’s mitt on the receiving end. Granddad would tell him exactly where to position the mitt. He would tell him not to move it; the ball would arrive there. But the curve ball is deceptive; it appears to be going one way and then drops and goes another. Dad said it took him many curve balls in the stomach to learn to keep the mitt in place.

Prophecy is like that. We look at it in our own way, bending it to fit our particular theory. We are trying to describe the flight of the ball; the prophet was simply telling us where to hold the mitt.

The prophecies of the coming of Christ are many and often surprisingly explicit. For that reason, they were not seen coming true. The Christ to come would be the Suffering Servant; the people wanted the Conquering King. So they placed the mitt where they wanted the pitch—and the curve surprised them.

We’re that way too. We read of the glories of our Lord’s return, and all seems a path smoothed by angels to keep us from all possible harm. But just as our Lord’s path was laid out many years before, so is ours—and both lead down the Via Dolorosa—the way of suffering. As it was prophesied that he would suffer, so we should know that we will too.

But take heart; if his road leads through suffering, it ends up in glory at his return. If our paths are his paths, then our path ends in glory as well, when he returns. As he was given the name above all names for his suffering, so we too shall be “given a new name” - transformed into his resurrection likeness.

It sometimes surprises Christians that Christ had to suffer—this was part of God’s plan. Likewise, we must suffer as well, for we are Christians—the little imitators of Christ. It seems a burden now; but one day, it will be honor enough for any man.

Lord, we favor the times of ease over the times of strife. Both must come in their due measure; may we see each for what they are. Strengthen us so that we may be prepared for the suffering ahead—and the purpose it will accomplish.

April 16

Suffering For Love

Romans 5:6-8

Love is not easily discerned by scientific means. Science, by its nature, requires measurement. It asks, “How much?” There is only one way to measure love—by its action.

Consider, then, the love of God towards us, as shown to us at the Cross:

· Note first WHO died for us. Not just an appointed prophet, or a volunteer saint. No; it was the one who was the author and sustainer of all created things, God himself. He did not do this in some symbolic way. Rather, he became like one of us, taking on this flesh of clay, and walked the dusty roads of Judea. Those roads took the King of Kings to Calvary.

· Next, please note that he DIED for us. It is a wonder indeed that he came in the flesh to be with us and teach us. No, we are taught that his specific purpose, from before the worlds began, was to die for us. It was no ordinary death, either. No polite hospital bed; rather, an old rugged cross—the painful, brutal death of a criminal, an execution designed to inflict as much suffering as possible. Worse, for Him, was that he was separated from God the Father to do this.

· Finally, note that this life was given while we were still SINNERS. He did not make any effort to separate the “worthy” sinners from the unworthy ones. Christ died for all. But it is worse: we are sinners against Him. You think not? Every sin we commit is first a violation of his law of love. When we throw our insults at someone we trample upon his “love your neighbor as yourself.” Every sin is first a sin against God. Yet He sent His Son—to die for those very same sinners.

What, then, should we do about this? Some would simply ignore it, but the Christian cannot. We are the imitators of Christ, the ones who ask, “What would Jesus do?” So then:

· Let us be the ones who bear the pain of love’s reconciliation.

· May we bear it, no matter the cost.

· May we bear it, no matter how unworthy those who receive it.

In His love He has suffered so much for us; we can at the least take this as an example.

Lord, it is hard to understand just how much you love us. Only as we imitate you can we know your suffering and your love.

April 17

Attitude, Altitude, Action

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Of late there has been quite a stir about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. One of the more interesting side effects of the controversy is this: it was fashionable, for a little while, to actually preach Christ crucified. It seems that it was only a fad, however. So we might ask, why is this subject so unpopular?

Answered simply: we’re too proud to hear it. Paul shows us that reaction here. Consider first the man who is waiting for miraculous evidence:

· His attitude? He tells God what will be required to make him believe.

· His altitude? He knows he’s on a level with God. Religion is a bargain between equals.

· His action? He turns away to seek elsewhere.

Now consider the one for whom intellectual logic is supreme:

· His attitude? He is the one who is passing judgment on God.

· His altitude? He is above God, looking down to see if God meets his requirements.

· His action? He laughs—and waits for the next religion.

But God moves in his paradoxical way: for power he shows weakness in the Crucifixion; for wisdom he gives us preachers—who, if they lift up Christ, display the very power of God. Christian, take the test:

· Your attitude? We are the recipients of amazing grace, amazed at the love which suffered so much for us.

· Your altitude? We are looking up to God—and therefore look down on no one.

· Your action? We are the ones who imitate Christ—asking, “What would Jesus do?”

The world looks at us and wonders why we cannot see the folly of Christ crucified. We can. We see the folly of God—and find in it that which is greater than all the wisdom and power our species can possess. The old, old story is never fashionable, never up with the times. Things eternal care nothing for the times.

Lord, we are so caught up in the moment around us that we often fail to turn our eyes to you. Grant us the vision to see this world for what it really is: temporary.

April 18

Beside Ourselves

2 Corinthians 5:13-15

In the early years of the twentieth century a physicist named Max Planck had a problem. The problem is now known as the “black body radiation” problem. Planck was mystified; the theory in use at the time gave an absurd result. By making one additional assumption, however, the theory could be made to fit. His problem, simply, was that he had no basis for the assumption. Out of the search for “why” came modern physics.

The world looks at the true Christian, and a similar “why” arises. By the theories of our day, the true Christian is crazy—sometimes:

· The Christian seems to have no sense of moderation in all things—when it comes to Christ.

· The Christian has no sense of reasonable compromise, being a stickler for faithfulness.

· And—most inexplicable of all—the true Christian often does things for his faith which can only be labeled “extravagant.”

It would be easy to conclude that the Christian is insane. Such acts cannot be reconciled with the world’s view of normal. But at other times the Christian seems eminently sane. This is particularly true of the way they love each other. Dissension, slander and gossip are nonexistent, and thus the group can do great things. And great things they do: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and aged, helping the poor. All these things are recognized as good works, and the sign of a noble mind. How can this sanity be reconciled with the insanity?

The world sees, but does not comprehend, for they do not know the one fact which changes us completely: Christ died for us. In accepting his salvation, everything inside us changes, for the Holy Spirit takes up residence with us; we are changed in our very nature. Paul expresses it as strongly as this: we no longer live—but Christ lives in us.

But—as we are taught—God is love. Therefore the Spirit within us acts to bring us within the law of Christ. So it is we are beside ourselves with respect to Christ—and sound minded in loving others. Fools for Christ; for the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of the world.

Lord, so often we want to be respectable and socially acceptable—knowing that you were rejected by the world. Teach us to laugh, Lord, as fools for you should.

April 19

No Longer I Who Live

Galatians 2:20

It is one of the paradox statements. Paul is confronted with the truth; there is no way to express it in worldly terms. He must use the way of heaven itself—and that appears to contradict itself.

What does it mean to be crucified with Christ?

· First and foremost, it means that we have accepted the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross as being sufficient to deal with our sins before Almighty God. We put our trust in what He did, not in what we do.

· It also means that we have “died to sin.” We have rejected the world’s view that life at its best is nothing more than faster cars, younger women, older whisky and more money. We reject the claim of the world on us; temptation now becomes real, not just an excuse to give in.

· Indeed, we have replaced the desires of this world with the desire of Christ. We want to know more of him, learn more of his thought and walk more closely in his ways.

It is a paradox. The world sees us as giving up all that really matters; we in fact have gained the only thing that really matters—eternal life.

In the meanwhile, we have life in this body to deal with. How are we to do that? Simply put, by faith. Faith points us to the source of life itself, Jesus Christ. We have but a token of it now; upon his return, we will know it in full.

Which brings up the pragmatic question: what do we do in this “life in the flesh?” How do we get through it?

· First, by the imitation of Christ. He is the one who loved us so much as to die for us, and there is no greater love. It is the perfect love, and therefore worthy of our imitation. In so doing, we die to the cause of death (sin) and cling to the source of life.

· We also do it by trust in his promises. We must keep our eyes on the prize. He has promised eternal life if we are faithful.

Does it sound difficult. Consider riding a bicycle: until you’ve done it, it looks difficult. Once you’ve done it, it’s easy. The secret is to get on the bicycle and go.

Lord, to read the words makes it sound so difficult; to walk with you makes it so easy. Teach us to walk closer to you.

April 20

Suffering For Marriage

Ephesians 5:25-30

Christ does not delegate authority without also requiring responsibility. This is particularly true in marriage. Most churches today teach that a wife’s submission to her husband is “obsolete teaching.” The Scripture teaches the exact opposite; the wife is in submission. Which means that the husband bears a great responsibility. He is to love her “as Christ loved the church.”

Consider, then, just exactly how Christ loved the church:

· He loved her forgivingly—even forgiveness on the Cross. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

· He loved her by cleansing her from her faults—so that she might be holy and blameless. He himself took the blame for our sin, so that we might be blameless.

It is also fruitful to see what Christ did not do with the church:

· There is no sense that he ever threatens the church—rather, he sends Good News. The threat of hell is always there; Christ lifts the threat by his love.

· He does not treat her with arrogance or contempt; there is no thought of the church being humiliated by Christ. Rather, He is the one who models humility for us.

· Nor is there any sense that he holds her up to comparison to others. He does not “let her have a little competition.” She is, rather, the one and only bride of Christ. How absurd it would be for someone to proclaim that Christ had abandoned the church in favor of, say, the Hindus.

So it is that Christ has given us the example of how a husband should love his wife. Does she offend him? He forgives. Has she her faults? He gently assists her to remove them. Is there blame? He takes it upon himself.

Could he possibly threaten her with force, or violence? It is simply not done. Does he lord it over her as her boss and tyrant? How could he portray Christ’s humility in that? Does he find another for comparison? No, his heart belongs to no one else. Indeed, the two are one flesh. Ripping off his right arm would hurt less than tearing away from her.

Lord, we are quick to see our privileges and pleasures, slow to see our duties. Teach us to sacrifice for her as you have sacrificed for us.

April 21

Glory and Honor

Hebrews 2:9-10

Alas, I cannot find it confirmed anywhere—so I will tell you the story as it was told to me.

A certain minister was giving a tour of his new church building to a group of ministers from other churches. The building had been built on a lavish scale, using only the finest materials. At the end of the tour the minister pointed to the cross on the top of the steeple. “Solid gold plated,” he said, “Cost us ten thousand dollars.”

“You were cheated,” said a black minister from the poor side of town. “Time was, a Christian could get one of those, free.”

Have you ever wondered how it is that every other religion has a symbol which is beautiful—a crescent moon, a flower, a star—while we have the old, rugged cross? No dignity, no beauty—but it is glory and honor to our Lord Jesus.

Think about it: The one who created all things was made lower than the angels he created to serve him. Indeed, he came like one of us, in the flesh. What motivated this immense condescension? His purpose was simple: he came to suffer and die, so that by his sacrifice we might be saved. By his suffering we are healed of the deadly wounds of sin. The wood of the cross was given him at no charge; the suffering and death he paid so that we might live.

He would be little noted for it, however, without this: By the power of the Holy Spirit, God raised him from the dead. More than this, he is crowned with glory and honor because of his sacrifice for us.

It is fitting that this should be so. Honor and glory are not given to position but performance. For this, he has the highest honor and the brightest glory.

What should we be doing about it?

· First, in our own lives, we should give him honor and glory—praise in song and in testimony to those around us. If we know the power of the resurrection, we should say so.

· An even greater form of honor to him is this: we should imitate him. We should accept our own suffering as a badge of courage, our own sacrifice as an offering to God.

Lord, we are loud at praise on Sunday mornings; teach us to be frequent in honoring you. Help us to accept sacrifice and suffering as honor, both to you and received from you.

April 22

The Son Learns Obedience

Hebrews 5:8-9

This passage has long been a puzzle to many Christians. How, they ask, could it possibly be said that Christ learned obedience? Is He not the Son of God, and therefore by definition obedient to the Father, being one in will with Him? Even worse, it is written that he “was made perfect” - how can this be for the sinless, pure Lamb of God?

How indeed that Jesus of Nazareth could be both completely God and completely man is the mystery and miracle of the Incarnation. The entire explanation is likely beyond our power to comprehend, but there is one certain fact which will give us a clue.

That certain fact is this: Christ prayed, fervently and with tears of agony, to be released from the sacrifice on the Cross. He knew what was coming, and as man he wanted no part of it. BUT—did you ever notice that not once did he pray for the resurrection? He takes it as an accomplished fact: tear down the temple and in three days he will rebuild it again. He is utterly confident of the resurrection; his fear is in the sacrifice before it. The fact that he would return from the dead was no consolation at all to him.

Perhaps now you can see the learning. He is human; he fears death as do we all. In his case there is more than that; he fears the agony of being separated from the Father, carrying the weight of the world’s sin. It is of no use to say that, theoretically, this was no problem; he would rise. The fear is there; he is like us. He overcame this fear by his obedience to the Father. His obedience is now shown to be complete. Some things you have to learn by doing.

In the same way he was “made perfect.” The word implies “fit for a task,” (in the Greek) and to be a fit sacrifice there must be a sense of giving something up, something you want to keep. It may be charity to give old clothes to Goodwill; it is not sacrifice. He gave the perfect life up as our sacrifice; that is perfect obedience. The unblemished life is the most precious, and therefore the perfect sacrifice.

It is fitting, therefore, that as he was made perfect by obedience, we are given eternal life by obedience to him. He lived his life with a purpose. We should do no less; our purpose and our goal should be in him.

Lord, teach that we are not to drift but to follow—you. Give us courage to overcome our fears as we walk in your way.

April 23

God Measures Our Suffering

Genesis 15:13-14

It sometimes comes as a surprise that our suffering comes as no surprise to God. We seem to be surprised every time it happens.

Should we be surprised when suffering comes?

The simple answer is “no.” God has provided us with ample warning on the subject. At least one book of the Bible is devoted to the topic (Job). Warnings are scattered throughout the Scripture. Yet we continue to be surprised by its arrival. Why?

First, I suspect, is the fact that when you are not suffering you think things will continue as they are now. Insurance salesmen know that they must “back the hearse up to the door” to sell life insurance. It’s not that we expect to die soon; it’s that we expect it “later.” Things will be as they are—and we like that.

But what if we are suffering? We can usually see—or imagine—a way out of the suffering. Thus we think it will soon be over. Surely God will hear us in prayer; our expectation is that He will deal with it. That’s the rub: our expectations. We need to remember that our expectations are not an order to God.

Can suffering really be life long?

To take a common example, consider the black Christians in America before the Civil War. Their plight was such that they took comfort in knowing that Israel had been enslaved too. They looked and prayed to the God of Israel to end their suffering. And indeed, it was God’s people—those of the abolitionist movement—whose prayers and actions brought about the emancipation of the black people. The identification was so strong that Lincoln was often referred to as Moses.

Will God provide justice to the sufferers?

God is just; certainly He will. But we need to remember the suffering of Israel—430 years total, some twenty generations, before God sent Moses to deliver them. His justice is often not as swift as we would like—but it is still his justice, not ours. The Day is coming when recompense will be made. He then will have all of eternity to right the wrongs which cause our suffering.

Lord, we are so impatient. Help us to remember those who have gone before us, whose suffering was born patiently, hoping and trusting in you.

April 24


Lamentations 3:32-33

Those who are, or were, parents of small children understand the difficulty quite well. It frequently happens that your child must learn a lesson—for his own good—which he will not readily comprehend. For example, small children cannot conceive of being badly hurt or killed for running out in the street. Such a thing has never happened to them; therefore it never will. But the parent knows that the child must be taught to stay out of the street.

This teaches us something about our heavenly Father as well—for he has the same problem with us. Consider:

· The lesson he has to teach may be incomprehensible to you at the time he needs to teach it. If you think not, cast your mind back to your wedding day. How much did you really know about staying out of trouble in marriage? Did he provide lessons in the form of your parents?

· Suffering is usually caused to prevent a much worse form of suffering. You spank the small child for running out into the street—so that the child will fear the spanking and thus avoid the car. By light suffering you teach the way to prevent heavy suffering.

· Such suffering may be exemplary. Little sister often learns what not to do by watching big brother get spanked for it. So it is with God; often he gives suffering to those who will serve as the best examples. Why should he inflict suffering on many when one good example will do the work?

· One other thing: as any parent knows, such suffering is an agony to the parent as well. If you love your children there is a constant temptation to shield them from suffering—even when you know that the loving thing to do is to have them experience it.

If we, as imperfect human parents, find this technique so necessary, then surely God will use it with wisdom beyond our own. The loving God will use suffering to strengthen and cleanse his children in a fallen world. It is not his will that suffering should abound, just as it is not his will that any should perish. We need to remember that as sinners we have given him a problem—not the other way around.

Lord, how often we see our suffering as incomprehensible—and so it may be, to us. Help us to know that your way is perfect.

April 25

Born To Trouble

Job 5:6-7

It is amazing at times, how adept we are at lying to ourselves. Despite our sins, we keep telling ourselves, “It’s not our fault.” Two of the most common candidates are given here.

Mistake #1—it’s my environment

Ask someone to give you their picture of paradise on earth. You will most likely get a description of some garden spot, often tropical, which is “unspoiled by civilization.” The problem is that I live in civilization; if I could just get back to unspoiled nature. The idea has been around for a few hundred years, but it always seems to have a fresh allure.

Paul Gauguin, the painter, was of the same opinion. He was convinced that if he could get to Tahiti and live with the natives there, all his troubles would be over. For surely Tahiti was the paradise on earth he sought; surely the people there would not be afflicted with pride, jealousy and such—how could they? They lived in paradise. When he returned to France several years later, he had learned: the troubles were there too.

Mistake #2—it’s my heredity

My father was born and raised in a small town in Ohio. He spent twenty years in the Army; when he retired from the service he immediately moved (with wife and three kids) to California. He had a job offer at his last post; he had family to help him in Ohio but he moved to California. I once asked him why: “Because no one there cares who your father is.”

Running away from our families is almost a national pastime. We have glorified teenage rebellion to the point where we must conclude that our families are the source of our troubles. It’s my mother’s fault! But really; isn’t this running away from who we are? And doesn’t “who we are” get off the plane with us?

God showed us the answer in the Garden of Eden—the environment of paradise, with no family ties, a perfect heredity. With but one command to obey, both people disobeyed. The problem is not in our environment or in our heredity. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy—and he is us.”

Lord, we cannot change who we are—but you can. Change us to be like you so that we may enjoy paradise with you.

April 26

Saints Destined For Suffering

1 Thessalonians 3:1-3

When you speak to a modern American Christian about the inevitability of suffering for the faith, you usually get a polite smile. Oh, they know it’s in the Bible somewhere—but not likely to happen to us. After all, this is America.

Our expectations are set with the thought that we will not see persecution. There are two very good reasons why we think so:

· First, God has been very generous to us in this land. By its history and (until recently) its law Christians have been left alone to worship as they please.

· And, until recently, our society looked upon us as charitable (and therefore worthy) people. We are a blessing to the community; therefore the truly intelligent leaders were willing to overlook our religious eccentricities—such as right and wrong.

But matters are changing. The Christian is a light in the darkness, and the darkness is very dark indeed. To take just one example, the homosexuality condemned for thousands of years as a perversion is now righteousness itself; those who disagree are intolerant. (We’re equally intolerant with bank robbers). This makes us very inconvenient. We are also hard to ignore.

But we are easy to demonize—we’re “different.” We used to be Christians; now we are weirdo right wing fundamentalist fanatics.

This is just a matter of timing. Persecution is to be expected by the true Christian. Our expectations are wrong; persecution is on the way. We are seeing early signs already:

· “The church has no business in politics. We’ve never tolerated it before and we won’t now.” Really? To take the most prominent example, the abolitionist movement was born and raised in the church. Remember the Civil War?

· Most recruiters will tell you to remove any trace of church membership from your resume. It’s not that we have a policy against Christians, we just want to be careful. Besides, their ethics get in the way of good corporate practice.

Rejoice, Christian—for the remnant who stand firm in the faith there will be the crown of righteousness. Persecution, in whatever form, is a sign that Satan takes us seriously.

Lord, when persecution comes, may we look to you for our help—and rejoice, knowing that we are blessed.

April 27

Suffering for Sin

Psalm 89:30-32

A friend of ours has a pair of twins among her grandchildren. The little ones call her “Mimi,” a derivative of Grandma. Like most grandmothers she is exceedingly fond of, proud of and protective of her grandchildren. Like most, she spoils the kids rotten and then hands them back; a form of vengeance, I’m told. But the grandchildren learn early that Mimi is much more relaxed about discipline than Mom.

One day Mimi returned home to find a recorded telephone message from one of the twins, the boy. “Mimi, I’m in BIG trouble,” he said. Grandmother investigated. Big trouble indeed; he had taken a garden hose and soaked his twin sister with it. When she wrestled the hose from him, he decided to prevent her from retaliating—by pulling out a substantial portion of her hair. BIG trouble, indeed!

When a four year old does it, we talk (and laugh discreetly). But as adults we sometimes do the same sort of thing, We know that the universe is a moral place; what goes around, comes around. It’s a moral place because its creator, God, is righteous.

Think this through step by step. When we sin, God:

· Has the power to act.

· Has the will to act.

· Has clean hands—so there is no reproach to Him.

Fair warning served. But see if you recognize our response:

· After our sin, we like to issue an apology to God—usually a lighthearted one; the Almighty has a great sense of humor.

· We know that his standard for repentance is much lighter than our own. He’s in the forgiveness business, right?

In short, we think we can “work the system” with God. Real change is not required; surface actions alone will be sufficient.

We need to remember who is God. We need to remember that he is righteous and just. The grandchild in this instance was no doubt surprised that just because he knew Grandma’s phone number and called for help did not mean he was going to get away with it. Likewise, just because we apologize in prayer does not mean that God will lift the instruction of suffering from us.

Lord, teach us gently that you require true repentance—so that we may please you by how quickly and thoroughly we repent.

April 28

Whom God Loves, He Disciplines

Hebrews 12:4-8

For those with small children, McDonald’s is often a dining destination. It allows you to stuff their little faces (often with cheap toy included) while someone else cleans up the mess around the high chair. But as the children grow older, you will begin to notice something unpleasant at McDonald’s. Some of the children are enjoying the playground; others are completely out of control. You now must tell your children that this is not acceptable—even if someone else gets away with it. You don’t correct the other children; you discipline your own.

God, in distributing suffering , uses it to teach us. It teaches us patience, as we endure what he has allowed. It creates endurance; before that illness you could not lie in bed, idle, that long. Now you know how to wait on the Lord. Most of all, there is this: the suffering of today sharpens you to be an instrument of his grace towards others. You understand this, at least in part. When you underwent that trial, God sent someone who had “been there, done that” to your side. That person encouraged you, lifted you up in prayer, and made you know that if they made it, you can too.

Discipline. None of us appreciate it very much, but all of us value it—in other people. It gets a bum rap.

· Discipline means “to make disciples.” It is designed to produce someone who can imitate the one handing out the discipline—i.e., God.

· The principle of “no pain, no gain” works in athletic discipline—and in spiritual discipline as well. If you’re not sweating, it’s not discipline.

· But—praise God—discipline means that you are “on the team.” The football coach runs the drills for the players on the team, not for those passing by/ God disciplines his children for his purposes, too.

So rejoice, Christian, when God disciplines you.

“Rejoice? Easy for you to say.” Permit me a personal example. A staff member commented once that he had never heard me complain about my eye patch. He won’t. That patch is God’s discipline (ask me how, if you like). It means he loves me. How could I complain about that?

 Lord, we do not cherish your discipline—but we should. Help us to be grateful for your discipline, as your children should be.

April 29

Count It All Joy

James 1:2-4

One of the days I count as having a great amount of fun was the day when a friend of mine took me on a tour of the battleship New Jersey. He was the engineering officer at the time, and we crawled happily all over the ship, examining everything that wasn’t classified or locked. The ship is huge—approximately 60,000 tons of steel. You might ask, “Why so large?” The matter is one of engineering; if the ship is to go at a certain speed, carrying so much armor and a certain size of gun, there is a minimum size which will allow that. Anything less and the ship is flawed.

But even at that a ship (and her crew) must be tested and drilled to be capable of going into harm’s way. God builds the battleships of his church in much the same way. They must be of a certain size, and have a certain experience.

Certain size? Yes, in the heart. The true combat Christian has a heart big enough to take in what God dishes out. You notice that James calls us brothers here. He knew what it was to suffer, and still react to such treatment with joy.

It is in the testing and drilling that God creates his combat Christians. As James tells us here, such trials are an attack on our faith. Our hearts must be big enough to hold God’s joy, but our minds must be capable of enduring the experience of such trials. When you pass through such a trial, and emerge victorious, you have the sure knowledge that your faith is fit to go in harm’s way. Indeed, that faith is being perfected for God’s tasks.

One such perfection is in the matter of patience. Any fool can be in a hurry; most of us fret away time with impatience. But those who have been tested and drilled not only have the patience God gives, they are also confident in it. It is of no use having a battleship if the captain is afraid to use it.

Why, then, are we so reluctant to face such trials? Perhaps it is because we think our faith is incomplete. We may be strong in one area, but in others we are weak. But where did you think God would send that trial? To your strengths? No, to strengthen you where you are weak. The result is a saint perfected for the tasks God will assign. Rejoice! God has found in you the raw material suitable for him to forge into a tool for his own hands.

Lord, we do not often picture ourselves being molded into a tool. Help us to know by faith that which we cannot see—that you are creating a work for your own hand, for triumph to come.

April 30

Traveling Instructions

Revelation 7:13-17

It is with some sense of caution that we step into the book of Revelation. No other book in the Bible has so many differing points of view. No other such points of view are held with such vigor, even to the point (frequently) where the advocates of one system condemn those of another as worse than heretics—those who are antichrists. We shall not attempt any grand explanation of this passage, but confine ourselves to some simple points which, it appears, are common to most points of view.

The first such point is this: these blessed saints—those who serve at the very throne of God—started their journey in tribulation. Was this “the great tribulation?” Maybe. Does it really matter? Those whom God honors most came from tribulation—and no minor version of it.

The second point is this: they are among the most honored saints of all, for they are so close to God. From him they obtain the water of life; he is the one who wipes away all sorrows; he is the one who protects them. He is the one who shields them from all troubles from without (the sun’s heat) and from within (hunger and thirst). Just how literally we are to take this is up for debate; but it’s a good working definition of paradise.

How did they make the journey from tribulation to paradise? The only known way: the blood of the Lamb. It is only by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross that the saints in tribulation can become the saints in paradise.

One thing which may surprise you is this: God planned it this way from the beginning. The Cross is not an escape hatch maneuver, or an attempt to get the play back to the plot. It is exactly what God planned—including this paradise. It is therefore no surprise that Christians—particularly mature Christians—often find themselves with a longing for paradise. God has placed that longing inside his creation so that we might seek such a paradise. He tells us the way; it leads through sacrifice, it leads through persecution, it leads through ridicule, it leads through pain—but it ends in glory. This world is not our home, we’re just passing through. God has destined us for glory eternally with him—if we are faithful. If we continue in the way of Christ, paradise will be ours. Now you know what the winners look like.

Lord, the ache in the soul often throbs. Like Paul, we don’t know if it’s better to stay or go. Lead on, O King Eternal!

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