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His People. His Possession. His Proclamation.

March 29, 2015

A People for His Possession

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

One thing true of every human being is that we need an identity. We need to know who we are and who we belong to. This is where our family, or hometown, or school we attended provides a certain level of belonging. I think this is part of the appeal of sports teams. Watch a Manchester United soccer game or an Alabama football game or a NASCAR race. We sometimes laugh at people’s devotion to a sports team but it’s real. People are in search of belonging to something or somebody.

All of this is about relationship. Human beings must have relationship and we crave relationship with someone or something greater than ourselves. In a sense, we are all that 7th grade boy in the cafeteria looking for a table to sit at. We want to belong. We want to be accepted.

Where do you belong? What would those who know you say is your identity group? Perhaps an easy way to find out is to ask your family what they would write in your obituary. He was all about this. It can be almost anything. I see this at funerals where they adorn the casket with the things the individual cared about—a picture of their dog; a Harley hat. Our identities are the things that we look to that make us feel our lives matter.

The curse for humans is that all the identities we come up with are temporary and so disappointing. Right Cubs fans? In the end, even the most meaningful—family and marriage—we don’t get to keep. Death separates us from our identities and our belongings.

If only there was something to belong to that time and death won’t take away from us. Something to rejoice in more than your favorite team winning the championship every year. Better than the joy of your child being successful or the contentment of a satisfying marriage. Peter essentially quotes Exodus 19 and lists four blessed and enduring identities that every Christian enjoys.

A Chosen Race

“But you are a chosen race.” We hear chosen and we think that says something about our worth. God chose us. This was part of Israel’s stumbling. They thought God chose Abraham and them because of them. They thought it said something about them. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8) God’s choosing of Israel didn’t say anything about Israel, it said everything about God. He loved them because he loved them. God set his love upon them because it is God’s nature to love.

Peter says to us in the New Covenant, we are God’s chosen people, elected before the foundation of the world. This doesn’t say anything more about our worth or lovability than it did Israel’s. It says everything about God’s amazing love that chose to love sinners and save us. He created a new people group. The result is that we are a chosen people.

A Royal Priesthood

Priests in Israel were allowed to draw near to God. They ministered in the holy place. They had access to God. We are a royal priesthood. We are not royalty, but like priests who are allowed near to the King. We are allowed near to God, to offer spiritual sacrifices “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are the King’s priests and he bids us near.

Holy Nation

“Just as believers are a new spiritual race and a new spiritual priesthood, so they are a new spiritual nation which is based now neither on ethnic identity nor geographical boundaries but rather on allegiance to their heavenly King, Jesus Christ, who is truly King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).” (Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 111.)

Don’t miss the radical nature of this. This nation of God has no ethnic distinction. Jew. Gentile. Asian. Caucasian. Latino. Black. All are welcome into this new nation. We don’t immigrate. We don’t need to apply to get in. Citizenship is completely by faith and allegiance to Jesus as Savior and Lord. We are faith citizens of a holy nation.

God’s Possession

“A people for his own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)

This word “possession” refers to a practice of the ancient Kings of the East. They would keep a special treasure box or chest of gold that was separate from the official funds of state or the royal treasury. This gold was not for roads or swords or ships but for their own use. This was their personal treasure. Their personal possession.

Peter says we are to God a people of personal possession; a personal treasure to God. We belong to him. He loves us.

  • “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
  • “(Jesus)…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

We were bought with a price. God paid it. Jesus’ blood paid the ransom. Now we belong to him legally and spiritually.

Take these as a whole: Chosen and holy nation. Priests of the King. Prized by God himself. Think of what this would have meant for these exiles. They felt like men without a country. They didn’t belong anywhere. They had lost all their worldly identities. They had lost their geographical identity. Family identities. They are far from everything familiar.

Peter encourages them to realize their true and exalted status; and us as well. We are not who our feelings say we are. We are not who our circumstances say we are. We are not who our pain and trials say we are. Who are we? We are God’s chosen and prized possession. A people of his own. We belong to Almighty God and he has made us citizens of the only nation that will endure time, the chosen nation of God.

How important it is that we refuse to make our earthly identities our ultimate identities. Why? All of them disappear.

  • Make your identity husband or wife, then death or divorce comes.
  • Make your identity your children, then their rebellion shatters you.
  • Make your money your identity, then a recession destroys you.
  • Make your health or looks your identity, and the creeping signs of age will depress you.

All our earthly identities are fleeting and we are always that 7th grade boy in the cafeteria. Where can I sit? Where can I belong? Who cares for me? God shouts to his people, I do! Come near as priest. Sit at my table as citizen. Sit near me as beloved son or daughter. Know you are my treasure and you will be forever.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Jesus: A Crushing Rock or a Saving Stone?

March 22, 2015

Jesus = The Cornerstone; Us = We are a Spiritual House/Priests

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:  

‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ (1 Peter 2:5-6)

Peter is quoting from Isaiah 28. Isaiah prophesied that a Messiah would come whose life and ministry would be like a cornerstone, chosen and precious. The living stone is also the cornerstone of a great house and we, the living stones, make up the house. Peter mixes the metaphors here, but I think we can understand this. He is using building material imagery (stones, cornerstone) to describe a spiritual reality.

If you enjoy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, this will be easy for you. Why? They often refer to people groups as the house of somebody. So you have the house of Rohan which refers both to the name of the royal family and all the people in that kingdom. The house of Gondor is another kingdom in Middle Earth. The house of Gondor is a house but it’s not made of brick and stone; the house is people who make up the kingdom and serve in the kingdom.

Those are fictional houses; this passage describes a real house. The house of Jesus Christ is not made with brick and mortar. It is made up of all who put their faith in Jesus as the cornerstone of their faith and hope.

“William Barclay recounts a story…about a Spartan king boasting to a visiting monarch about the walls of Sparta. As the visiting king looked around, he could see no walled city and asked, ‘Where are the renowned walls of Sparta?’ The Spartan king pointed to his army and replied, ‘These are the walls of Sparta, every man a brick.’” (Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, p. 149.)

“To be a holy priesthood…” (Verse 5) We are priests in this house. How so? In the Old Testament, a priest would offer sacrifices in the temple. He represented the people to God. But in the New Covenant, we don’t go through any man to have access to God. We are the priests. We have direct access to God which Jesus provides for us. Perhaps you have heard the theological phrase, the priesthood of all believers. Here is one of its best proof-texts.

“To offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verse 5) What sacrifices do we offer? Not bulls or goats. Here are some passages that describe our sacrifices (Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, p. 101):

  • Offering of our bodies to God for his service (Romans 12:1)
  • The giving of gifts to enable the spread of the gospel (Philippians 4:18)
  • The singing of praise (Hebrews 13:15)
  • Doing of good and sharing our possessions (Hebrews 13:16)

Grudem adds that this varied list indicates that anything we do in service to God can be thought of as a “spiritual sacrifice.”

This is an exciting truth for us. Everything good and holy can be offered as worship. All of it part of our priestly service to God “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verse 5) Our vocations, our giving, our time, our words, all of it like lambs on the Old Testament altar, offerings to God.

If you are a Christian, you are a priest. The issue is whether or not you are a good one. What are you offering to him? How are you serving him? How might the quality of your service improve if you saw each category of your life as a daily offering to God?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Craving Spiritual Milk and Spiritual Growth

March 15, 2015

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

Toxins in the Body

Malice

“So put away all malice.” (Verse 1) The word is “evil” in general but the context is interpersonal relationships, so translators go with evil toward others. Malice describes that well. Malice is any evil intent toward others. If love gives of itself for the good and joy of others, malice is self-obsession that plots the ruin or damage of others. In this list it is a summary word for the other toxins. Put away ALL malice.

Deceit

Any fisherman here? This word is used to describe a fisherman who dangles a bait in the water. Hiding within the worm or the jig or the surface lure is a painful surprise. Deceit is like fish bait—it says one thing, but it is hiding something sinister. Its purpose is deception or treachery. Deceit is when we are anything less than honest and authentic with others. It’s easy to tell others what they want to hear or shade the truth a little for my benefit.

Why is this toxic? Relationships are built on trust. Nothing undermines trust quicker than discovering intentional deceit. Deceit is not making an honest mistake or honestly thinking one thing and discovering another to be true. Deceit is malice with words. The intentional use of deceitful words either lifts me up or tears others down.

Hypocrisy

We have some metaphors for hypocrisy. To be two-faced. To speak with a forked tongue. This is so common as to not need much explanation. Hypocrisy is play-acting. It is to act one way but to secretly be another.

Jesus often described the Pharisees as hypocrites. Famously in Matthew 23:15 he repeats over and over, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then he points out how they say one thing but secretly live inconsistently with their public persona.

Hypocrisy is especially a problem in Christianity because we claim to be followers of the most moral person who has ever lived. A recent poll of 20-somethings revealed that 86% of non-Christians perceived Christians as being hypocritical; that is, lacking the love of Jesus in their attitudes and actions. Apparently 20-somethings feel they are in a good place to judge the moral lives of others.

This is the challenge we face. From one perspective, every Christian is a hypocrite because we all fail the name. Christian. Christ-one. I don’t think that’s the hypocrisy Peter has in mind. It’s not sinners-saved-by-grace type hypocrisy, but Christians who claim one thing and live another. This is being sanctimonious. Duplicitous. Acting high and holy, but secretly living another way.

Envy

Envy and jealousy are evil sisters. They look a lot alike. Envy says, I crave what you have. Jealousy says, I crave what you have and I don’t want you to have it. Envy leads to jealousy because the more convinced I am that I will not get what I want, the more I resent the person in my life that has it.

“Envy may be defined to be a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own. The thing that the envious person is opposed to, and dislikes, is the comparative superiority of the state of honor, or prosperity or happiness that another may enjoy, over that which he possesses.” (Jonathan Edwards, Charity, p. 112)

Love is the opposite of envy in that love doesn’t crave what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t obsess over what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t find its significance in what it doesn’t have. Christian love finds its satisfaction in what it does have in Christ. This is why envy is a kind of apostasy in the church. It denies the value of knowing and having Christ. When Christians are envious, they are saying, Jesus isn’t enough for me. I need something you have. That resentment of what others have quickly leads to in-fighting and division and disunity. Get rid of it!

Slander

Slander is not speaking to people but about people. Slander can be in front of people or behind their back. If the intent of my words is to tear down the reputation or testimony or standing of my brother, that’s slander. Here’s the thing: slander can be true. People say, Well it’s true, isn’t it? The test of slander is not truthfulness, but intent. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)

What is my motivation for what I am saying? Here is a test: if the person I am talking about would hear what I am saying, would it feel like love to them? If not, shut up!

Here’s another test: do I feel the need to whisper this? Proverbs talks about those who whisper—“A whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

Slander and all these others are toxins in any relationship and church. They are the opposite of love. They ruin relationships. They are part of the old way of life and thinking. Christ has saved us out of this and from this, and in order to grow, we must get rid of them.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Joy of Opposition

March 8, 2015

Note: This message in its entirely covers much of Nehemiah 4. Due to the length of that passage, it is not included here, but reading it is recommended. 

Four Ways to Turn Opposition into Joy

1. Expect it

Anyone who steps into a position of responsibility in any organization and on any level, must be prepared to pay the price of opposition. “No leader is exempt from criticism, and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it.” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 110) Do you think that Nehemiah expected to show up, say a few words, build the wall, and get back to Susa without so much as a hitch?

“There will always, always be opposition from those who are, by nature, negative and critical. But the work must go on. Progress should not stop because a few were critical of the plan.” (Charles Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick) It is a falsely idealistic view of ministry and life to think that it will be without conflict. Nehemiah faced it, Jeremiah faced it, Paul faced it, Jesus faced it, and the early church faced it. We are naive to think that a church or any organization that involves people will be free from it. In fact, there is a key truth here, God’s will didn’t allow the wall to be built without opposition!

Could God have built that wall without any Sanballats? Sure he could. But within his will for Nehemiah and the people building the wall was Sanballat and Tobiah and the conflict, slander, and threats they made.

Might you have a Sanballat in your life right now? Are you living with the consequences of a Tobiah? Might God have placed Sanballat there for your good and even for your joy? This is 1 Peter’s point with all trials. While painful, they are good because of their effect. The pain isn’t good, but what the pain reveals and refines in us is good. Therefore, embrace the trial.

Too often when criticism comes, we think we must be out of God’s will because Mrs. So and So doesn’t seem to be on board. So and so said such and such about our this or that; we must be displeasing God! Joe Stowell once said, “In every church I have pastored, God has placed difficult people around me to keep me dependent on him.” Opposition is not out of God’s will, it’s a part of God’s will. Look at the life and death of Jesus and ask, is opposition part of God’s will? The greater the potential for God to be glorified, the greater the expectation we can have for opposition to it.

If I might make a small tangent at this point, you may be here and in an honest evaluation, you’re not Nehemiah in the story, you tend to be Sanballat. You find yourself regularly at the center of controversy or you thrive on conflict. While it is God’s will for there to be Sanballats, it is never God’s will for us to be a Sanballat. Why was Sanballat so concerned about the wall? Was it the wall or because Nehemiah represented a threat to him? Was it the wall or his finances? His power? Conflict unveils the idols and real motives of the heart. Sanballats are on full display. Don’t be a Sanballat.

2. Pray for it

Look at what Nehemiah does. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives.” (Nehemiah 4:4) What’s Nehemiah’s strategy? He prays! He prays a strong prayer here asking God to turn their evil back on them. The point is that Nehemiah took the matter to God. And he didn’t just do it in verse 4. In verses 6-8 comes the troublemaking and scheming. What does Nehemiah do? “And we prayed to our God.” (Verse 9) When we face opposition that has been sovereignly brought to us by God, we must believe that God has the power to overcome it. Ask him to do so.

Trouble comes and Nehemiah’s on his knees in prayer. We see the same thing with our Lord Jesus. In fact, what was the last thing he did before facing the scourging and the beating, the betrayal and false accusations; what did he do on the cross itself? He prayed at Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross. His last words were prayers.

Do you do that? Do you lay that critical person before God and say, Okay God, here it is. I believe that I am doing your work and here is opposition, please help! I find that when I do that, it makes me more charitable even toward my perceived enemy. It makes me a little more open to even loving my enemy as Scripture and Jesus’ example calls me to do. I see them as God’s tool in my life rather than my enemy. With that, comes a glimmer of joy.

3. Prepare for it

Notice that Nehemiah didn’t simply pray, he took actions to meet the opposition:

  • “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them.” (Verse 9)
  • Verse 13 describes how Nehemiah armed the workers so they could respond to an attack.
  • He put armed guards at the low spots in the wall (Verses 12-15)
  • He had the workers work with a chisel in one hand and a sword in the other. (Verses 16-18)
  • He brought a trumpeter with him so that if an attack came, people could rush to the spot of attack. (Verses 18-20)
  • He had the people stay inside the city until the wall was done (Verse 22).

We certainly should expect opposition and pray for those who oppose us. This also tells us to be prudent and wise in preparing and responding to it.

After we have prayed, and after we have prepared, joy comes because of this fourth and final point.

4. Fear not, God will fight it

“And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.’” (Nehemiah 4:19-20, emphasis added)

In both of these cases, Nehemiah turns the peoples’ attention, not to his preparations, or his leadership, or their ability to fight, but to the God of heaven who is “great and awesome” and who is the “God who will fight for us.”

Herein lies the key to turning opposition into joy. When we recognize that the Sanballats and Tobiahs that rise against us are sovereignly placed in our paths by God himself, and that the crisis which they bring will always work out for our good (Romans 8:28), then there is a source of joy to look into their faces (snarls and all) and to realize, My God will fight for me!

Friends, expect it, pray for it, prepare for it, but do not fear the opposition that will come, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) The echo of that truth, is joy. And that is the joy of opposition.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Our Calling: Right Thinking and Right Living

February 15, 2015

Sober Thinking

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

The most common use of “being sober-minded” in verse 13 is regarding alcohol and intoxication. 1 Timothy 3 applies it to the qualification for an elder and it is also the mark of a spiritually mature woman. They don’t use alcohol in any controlling way. However, most theologians interpret this more broadly as a whole approach to life.

“For Peter the cares of this life and the pressure of persecution can “intoxicate” the Christian and distract his or her focus just as easily as wine might… The need of the hour is clear judgment and a mind and will prepared to resist anything that would distract them from a hope set on Jesus’ appearing.” (Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter: NICNT, p. 67)

Sober thinking is thinking with clarity and focus; the refusal to allow anything to distract. This isn’t sober in demeanor or personality. It is a focused mind that sees life through a grid of gospel priority. It prioritizes God, the gospel, the church, the mission, and doing these things in light of eternity. Its highest and best thoughts are reserved for kingdom and spiritual matters.

Think about what you think about when you don’t have to think about anything. How often do those thoughts turn toward spiritual realities? Do you think about God or ministry or Scripture or eternity? Do you intentionally direct your mind to think about what you want it to think about? You might say, my mind has a mind of its own. No it doesn’t. We can direct our thoughts intentionally toward anything, but this takes discipline and habit.

I have been thinking about my mind some. It seems to me that I don’t think as much as I used to. I find my mentally free moments increasingly filled by reading my email or social media or passively viewing things. Over time, this feels more and more normal. When it comes time to summon my brain to high and holy thinking, it struggles because it’s too distracted. Distracted by what?

I want to spend a little time right here because I think this is such a problem these days. It’s obviously a problem in the culture around us. It seems normal to see a family of five at the restaurant not talking to each other, not looking at each other, everyone engrossed in their smartphones. I remember coming up to greet a family before church and they all were focused on their phones—probably not reading the Westminster Catechism.

We are awash in trivial thinking about trivial things. Just look at what people post on Facebook as an indication of what they are thinking about. It’s not always this way, but isn’t there a lot of silly nonsense posted? If Facebook is an indication of where our minds are at, are we not a long way from Peter’s admonition to think seriously and soberly about truth?

This is not a rant against media or movies or Twitter. I think Peter would have had a Twitter account. I just don’t think he would tweet about dresses worn at the Grammys or Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance. In fact, what might Peter have shared? Don’t we have it in front of us? What Peter writes about is what Peter was thinking about.

Think about your thinking. You can control your mind by what you put into your mind and what you allow yourself to think about. Satan doesn’t need to convince you of some heresy if only he can distract you from the truth.

You may say, why does this matter? What’s at stake here is hope. Hope in the midst of life. Hope in the midst of troubles and trials. Hope and faith that gets us through the ups and downs of life. Where does it come from? From clear and serious thinking about my life and my relationships and my trials and my everything through the grid of God’s Word and gospel. The more habitually I meditate about these things, the more hope and endurance and joy and peace I will have in the trials of life.

How? What gender is our baby?

Get rid of distractions

Increase truth input – “Whatever things are pure, lovely, commendable, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Recall the grace of God

Love God with your mind

It's a girl!

It’s a girl!

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Love for the Unseen Christ

February 8, 2015

Trials Magnify to us the Joy of Knowing Jesus (i.e. We Love Him More)

The writer of Hebrews writes to people who have gone through extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Listen carefully to his description.

“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” (Hebrews 10:32-34 ESV)

These Christians went through some terrible experiences. Public humiliation. Imprisonment. Think today of Christians living in Sudan or how Iraqis must feel as ISIS advances on their village or town. How could you be joyful when people are going into your house and taking away everything of value? This is not a happy thing for us, but for them it was?

On one level, of course not. Nobody chooses this. How could they have joy in a trial like this? “Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” What possession did these Christians have that so trumped the loss of other possessions that losing them actually caused them joy? Their possession is the same possession of every genuine Christian. They had Jesus and eternal life through him. In their soulish estimation, that possession was so wonderful that the taking of their worldly possessions actually gave them joy because it highlighted the value of having Christ. Their joy in Jesus was magnified by the loss. By the trial. By the persecution. The loss of the temporal actually increased their joy in the eternal.

If you had tickets to the Super Bowl, but they were in the last row of the stadium, behind a pillar, next to a drunk, and someone came to you and said, “I’m giving you front row tickets but to do so I have to take your back row tickets,” how upset would you be at losing the back row tickets? Not at all. In fact, losing them would make you feel better about having the front row tickets. During the game you look back to the top row seat which you lost and you say, “Yes!”

What are trials? They generally involve losing something. I lose my job. I lose my health. I lose a relationship with someone I love. I lose my security or my identity. Trials involve life taking something from us. What does it feel like? It feels like pain. Physical. Emotional. It hurts.

For the Christian, where does joy come from? In heaven, it’s seeing and savoring Christ forever. On earth? It’s the same. Trials cloud our view or distract us or discourage us. Our focus is on our loss—it’s on back row Super Bowl tickets we no longer have.

Here’s the key. God often takes lesser possessions from us so we cherish having the eternal ones. The extent to which we cherish Christ above all things in this life is the extent to which we will have joy inexpressible and full of glory now. Trials clarify like nothing else where our real value lies.

Here is the beauty of Christian joy. Since it is found in Jesus, circumstances here shouldn’t take it away. This is not either/or, it is both/and. We can experience sorrow and joy. We can experience grief and joy. We can experience pain and joy. We can even experience death and see that death as gain (Philippians 1:21) because after death I get more of Jesus, the source of my hope and joy.

When I think of key points of pain in my life, in nearly every case, I have come from that trial more aware that this world is disappointing and more appreciative of what I have in the Lord Jesus Christ. I have a sense of peace because at least for a time, my heart is purified and my desires for the Lord are heightened.

How about you? Christian, are you in a trial right now? Pain. Threat of loss. Wondering why? Can pain and joy coexist in your soul? It can if your joy isn’t in the hope of getting rid of your pain but in a Savior who entered into our pain and died for it. Joy in Jesus, in the words of the old preacher, the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

God, Why Am I Hurting?

January 25, 2015

Trials are Purifiers

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)

I read that in modern gold refining, they heat the gold to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s say you could talk to the gold as the heat is going up. What would you hear? This is hot! This hurts! Get me out of here! Why is this happening? Why do I get this and silver gets off easy? Please stop this! The guy in charge of this doesn’t love me.

But the goldsmith knows that the only way purification happens is by heat and he knows that the value of that gold is drawn out and purified. Its karat content increases. Its worth is revealed and multiplied.

Peter says that your faith is more valuable than any gold. Gold perishes in the end, but saving faith is eternal. When the heat is turned up on us, we say, This hurts! Stop! There’s some mistake! Why? Why not someone else? Why me?

God’s answer is, You may not realize it, but your faith is far more valuable than your comfort. I am going to reveal it and refine it. This will be a short-term pain for a long-term gain. I don’t think this means we intentionally bring trouble to ourselves. Let God be sovereign over this. We also shouldn’t play God to other Christians. Life in this fallen world has enough fiery trials, doesn’t it?

Questions to Ask When the Heat is Up

  • Am I looking at this from a temporal or eternal perspective?
  • Do I realize trials are necessary at times and are for my good?
  • Is my perspective shaped by confidence in God’s sovereign and good plan for my life?
  • Do I want to grow spiritually more than I want to live comfortably?
  • Is faith refinement a personal goal? Do I aspire to a high “karat” content?

Look at the end result, “So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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