< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: May 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

A New Look at Suffering

Revelation 1:9-20

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

God gave John this fresh vision of Himself at a time when not only the early church, but he himself was facing overwhelmingly great problems. At this time the Emperor Domitian was on the throne in Rome. He was the cruelest of the Roman emperors. He declared Himself to be God and sentenced to death anyone who wouldn’t worship Him. The early Christians did refuse and therefore were sentenced to die by the thousands. They faced great problems. And so did John in exile.

But, rather than focus on that, John was given this glorious vision enabling Him to focus on the goal of Jesus Christ. By sharing this vision, John encouraged those running the race of faith to maintain their focus on Christ as they patiently endured.

The first thing we learn here is we can find hope through patience. John was patient in suffering. He said in Rev. 1: 9 “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

John was probably 90 years old when this took place. As you get older, don’t you find that you get a little more patient? In a way it may be because of physical limitations if nothing else. So John was suffering with age and where he was: cut off from friends, support, and opportunity to serve. We all have our Patmos. A trial we’re going through or feeling of being cut off from others. Something that requires our patience. And perhaps it’s because God wants to reveal Himself to us in a new, fresh way. But in order to do that we have to get the focus off of what we want or expect or feel we deserve and wait. Patiently. Endure. Trust that God has a purpose and that it’s for your good.

John had also suffered for his testimony. One time he healed a man in Jesus’ name and was arrested and told never to speak of Jesus again. He said he couldn’t help speaking of Him.

Those Christians that were being killed because they wouldn’t give up their testimony? They were fed to lions, hung on poles and set on fire to light the emperor’s garden. John knew he faced that. But he kept preaching Christ anyway. What do we fear will happen to us when we speak up for Jesus? That someone will mock us? Raise an eyebrow? Roll their eyes?

John was in exile because of his testimony. And that would have been hard on him because who was there that he could tell about Christ? He had been preaching Christ for 60 years. That was his life’s work! Could there be a worse punishment for him then no one there to share God’s message with?

J But there was someone! In fact there were millions of someones! Because God had him write down his vision and it became a book in the Bible  - the most read book ever! He touched more lives than he ever could have if he hadn’t been in exile!

Isn’t that just like God to provide like that? J

We also learn from this story that we should have patience through submission. We must submit to God’s will, not only to receive His blessing, but to receive further revelations from Him.

Patmos was a rock in the middle of the Aegean Sea and John still was setting aside the Lord’s Day and honoring it. Rev. 1:10a “On the Lord’s Day, I was in the spirit.”

He wasn’t offended with God because God allowed this to happen even though he had been faithfully serving Him. He stayed focused on Christ. In the midst of his suffering and solitude, he was still open to instruction and direction and new thoughts… and he heard God’s voice. Rev. 1:10b “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.”

For us, God speaks through His Word. So we have to open our Bibles and read with the expectation of hearing His voice speak to us. We’re so bombarded with messages and with life; sometimes it takes exile to get us to hear His voice through all the noise.

John heard God through his suffering because he was in solitude and setting aside time for God and he was listening. Then he opened his eyes to the face of God. Rev.1:12a “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.” Notice he had to turn around. Maybe this means changing the way you are used to doing things, changing the way you are used to thinking, to see God in a fresh way. If he hadn’t turned around he would have missed the work God had for him to do at the end of his life. For 60 years John had been a preacher, an evangelist, a church planter. Now he would be a writer and worshipper.

The turning around to look at God can also mean wanting not just to hear the word, but to see and know the person behind the word.

When we read the Bible, do we read it to familiarize ourselves with facts? Or grow in our knowledge of the truth? Or so we can live by and obey it so we might be blessed? These are all good intentions, but the ultimate purpose of God’s Word is to reveal God so we can know Him personally.

Lots of times we focus on the hands of God. What He has or hasn’t done for us. What we want Him to do. Instead of focusing on the face of God – simply who He is.

Patient endurance while focusing on God helps us overcome the depression caused by the greatness of our problems because it gives us the opportunity to grow in our knowledge and personal relationship with the One who is our hope.

So we find hope through pre-occupation with Christ.

The next part is where John sees the 7 golden lampstands and we learn they are the 7 churches…He sees the churches, made up of individual believers who at this time in history were experiencing great problems and Rev. 1:13b says “among the lampstands was someone like a Son of Man.”

John saw Jesus as the Son of Man. Jesus who had Himself endured great pain, persecution and pressure. And he sees Him in the midst of the churches. Jesus draws near to those who are suffering.

Next John wrote that Jesus was dressed in a robe reaching his feet. That’s the description of the high priest in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews tells us not only that Jesus is our High Priest, but Hebrews 4:14-15 says 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Jesus understands what it feels like to suffer great problems. As a man He suffered more than most of us ever will. He gets it! And as our High Priest He always lives to intercede for us before the throne of God. Jesus is praying for us with personal understanding and feeling.

John also said Jesus had a golden sash around His chest. This describes a king. He’s not only a man, not only our High Priest, but also a King with full authority over whatever is taking place. All over the universe and all over our own lives. Things may be out of our control, but they are never out of His.

Next John writes that His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. His white hair reveals His eternal wisdom and purity. He is wise. He never makes a mistake. His timing is always perfect. If you are in God’s will, your life is exactly right regardless of how great your problems are.

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

Remember our ultimate good is conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. When we are called according to His purpose – which means in His will – everything God allows in to our life is used by Him to make us more like Christ. And because He is eternally wise, He knows exactly what it will take.

And because He is pure we can know our trials aren’t a punishment from God or because He doesn’t like us. It isn’t in His nature to be mean or vindictive or cruel. He is absolutely pure and Holy.

John goes on to say, “His eyes were like blazing fire.” This sounds angry. But, John saw Jesus as the avenger of His people. When God called Abraham out of Ur He said, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse.” In Deut. 32:35 God says, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay.”

Next John looked at Jesus’ feet. “His feet were like bronze, glowing in a furnace.” (Rev.1:15a)

These are the same feet that walked on water, the same feet that walked up Calvary, the same feet nailed to a Roman cross, the same feet that were bruised by the serpent while crushing the serpent’s head, the same feet that walked out of the empty tomb. The same feet that ascended into Heaven. The same feet under which God has placed all things.

John saw them as the same feet of the final Judge of the Universe. Feet ready to trample anything and everything that had caused human suffering.

In Rev. 1:15b he hears Jesus’ voice and it was like the sound of rushing water. Rushing water conveys energy, power and life. And when you stand next to it, it drowns out all other sounds. Today the world hears everything but Jesus. But, one day we will only hear Him. He will have the last word. When we’re depressed or overwhelmed we should be reading God’s word and letting it drown out all the negativity and lies. There is a supernatural life giving power in the Word of God.

Then John saw that in Christ’s right hand, He held 7 stars. (Rev.1:16a) In verse 20 we will see that the stars are the angels of the churches. Angels are messengers of God that serve Him day and night. In Rev 2 and 3 they represent the leaders of the churches who also serve God as messengers of His Word. Jesus holds on to these people. They are in His grip.

Rev.1:16b says out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. The weapon Jesus will use will be the Word of God. It should be our weapon too. Double edged means it offers salvation for the believer but destruction for the unbelievers. And in the last of that verse John sees Jesus’ face – like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

If you had asked John at that moment if all his suffering, all his patience and enduring through all his problems had been worth it – I think seeing Jesus’ face – he would have said “Absolutely! And I’d do it again!”

When he saw it, he fell at His feet as though dead. John had been a companion of Jesus’ for 3 years. But, seeing Him this way, as we will see Him one day too, caused all the familiarity to give way to fear and awe and worship.

Falling prostrate at Jesus’ feet means a lot of things. Someone who does that is silent. No more discussion about what you think He should or shouldn’t do, no more argument about His will, no more rationalization of your behavior, no more excuses for your sin. Just silent before Christ.

One would also be still. No more wrestling with God’s will for your life, no more pursuing your own goals, walking in your own direction. Just still before Christ.

It also means surrender. Paul had experienced this too. In Galatians 2:20 he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself to me.”

Totally surrendering – falling at His feet – comes when we totally give our life to Christ. Then the fullness of life in Christ begins. Lying there like a dead man at the feet of Jesus, all John cared about was the hand of God on his life.

And in Rev.1:17b-18a, “Then He placed His right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the Living One: I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

In other words, “John, don’t be afraid. I was a dead man too, but I’ve been raised up and I will raise you up. The life you are now going to live, you will live by faith in Me. I love you and gave my life for you.” Then Jesus gives Him his assignment. John totally surrenders to Christ and Christ uses him for something big. Rev.1:19 says, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”

In order to be used by God we have to surrender. We have to be totally willing to be used. Willing to be totally obedient to Him. We have to say, “Here I am, Lord, here’s my life – all of it – I am available without reservation.” We don’t tell God how and when we’ll serve. We just offer all of ourselves for His purposes.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Perseverance in Suffering

Romans 5:3-5 says Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
No where in the Bible does it say that Christians won’t experience trial. In fact just the opposite! But the Bible also tells us these trials will help us grow. God uses life’s difficulties to refine us, to build our character, deepen our trust in Him and make us stronger in the future.

Suffering is a part of life. It’s the reality of living in a fallen world. You can’t open the newspaper or listen to the news or sometimes even talk to a friend when you don’t hear about natural disasters, sickness and death. Real pain caused by war, hunger and crime.

How do you respond either when you see someone you love suffering or you yourself are?

Some people question the existence or goodness of God. They ask, “If God is good, why would He allow people to suffer? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t He intervene?”

The prophet Habakkuk cried out, “How long Lord must I call for help but you do not listen.” Or David, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” In Revelation, the martyrs under the altar asked how long until they would be avenged.

Sometimes it seems like God isn’t paying attention.

But we have to remember that God has eternal purposes. He doesn’t always explain His actions, but He always sees our hardships and hears our questions. And even if He doesn’t remove the problem we can trust Him.

God had the apostle John write an entire book to people who were suffering. In Revelation, his letters to the seven churches spoke comforting words to believers pressed by persecution and possible martyrdom. Revelation promises Christ’s return to set up His kingdom and forever vanquish evil.

God created His world in magnificent perfection. Sin was introduced by Adam and Eve.  That sin brought death into the world. So the simple answer to “why do people suffer?” is “sin.” Whether it’s wars, natural disasters, family conflict or personal struggles. And when we realize that much of the suffering we encounter comes from living in a fallen world, it really makes no sense to blame God.

However! Not ALL suffering directly results from a specific sin. Wonderful Christian parents have still born children. Many illnesses aren’t linked to a personal sin. Believers and unbelievers get cancer; lose their homes to tornados and family members to death.

The abundant life Jesus promised is not free of trouble, but it is a life in which God is glorified as believers find His strength and even joy while in the midst of suffering. Often the Christian’s spiritual life will get stronger because of a trial. Pain should not be wasted!

Sometimes God lovingly disciplines us to sanctify us. Remember His ultimate goal is for us to be like Christ. For some that may take a lot of sanding off rough edges! God loves His children too much to let their sin go unchecked. He will often allow a circumstance that will strengthen faith and spiritual muscle.

The Bible says that God disciplines those He loves. Revelation 3:19 Jesus said, Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” When this happens it means we belong to Him! So use that trial to grow closer to Him.

Christians also face the trials of opposition from ‘the world.”  Throughout history God’s people have been persecuted. And Satan is behind this.

So how do we know if our current suffering is God’s discipline or Satan’s opposition? How do we determine if it is designed to reveal sin or just normal life?

First – God uses every situation to draw His children near to Himself. So it’s always right to search our own hearts and ask God what needs to change in us or what sin needs to be confessed. Being drawn to prayer is always a good start.

Next, think of Christ and His suffering. He had to suffer in order to save us. God didn’t spare His own Son because of the greater eternal purpose. Suffering can have a redemptive purpose. And this is comforting. Jesus suffered too. He knows bodily pain, and the betrayal of a friend. He experienced hunger and grief. And we’re told that to follow Christ we must take up our cross daily. Everyone suffers at some time in their lives. We aren’t being singled out.

We won’t all suffer equally though. When Jesus told Peter after His resurrection that Peter would have a future of suffering, Peter immediately questioned what the future would be for John. And Jesus clearly told him not to worry about John; that his only responsibility was to follow Him. God’s path for each of us is unique.

Later Peter would write that believers should rejoice in suffering because it represented their union with the Savior. And when we are united with Him He supplies the power to persevere.

Third, focus on God’s unchanging character. He is completely sovereign, which means He is completely in control of everything. Even the devil’s power is limited by God. Also, God is completely good. He does not cause evil. He doesn’t tempt us to sin. Satan’s work abounds in this world but God is powerful enough to bring good results out of evil and suffering. In a fallen world suffering molds and shapes our faith and character in ways that nothing else will. So God not only allows suffering, He uses it to do that.

So we can rest knowing that even the bad things are still within His control. When Christ comes back He will end evil for good. But it isn’t time yet. Our short sighted view often demands immediate answers, but God has the big picture. And He is always doing more than we think He is.

But He also doesn’t let His children suffer needlessly. Every pain, offense and trial is allowed to sanctify us. Suffering allows us to apply our theology to the realities of daily struggles.
A lot of people quote Romans 8:28 during a trial, but they forget what verse 29 says. Here’s the whole thing 28 and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God is able to use everything in life, good or bad, to make His children more like Jesus.

Still, in spite of knowing all this we equate a smooth ride with God’s pleasure in us so our prayers are dominated with requests for healing, relief, success and protection. We believe that a comfortable life is the best life. We ignore the fact that most people are either in a crisis, recovering from a crisis or preparing for another one!

As you look back over your Christian life do you see when you have experienced the greatest Christian growth?  Was it during or right after a trial? Seasons of growth are most often connected with times of challenge. How can we know the fortitude of our faith if it’s never tested? The storms of life reveal the truth about our faith. God weaves enough struggles into our lives to keep us dependent upon Him.  Just as storms and drought force the roots of a tree to grow deep into the earth, times of suffering draw our roots deep into God Himself.

These times teach us much about ourselves and God. Suffering purifies us, revealing pretense and sin. It shows us where we need to grow. It will either harden our hearts (which is NOT the goal) or soften them so we can hear from and respond to God.

Also through trials we learn to experience and express God’s compassion and mercy. After intense suffering Job said, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.” It sensitizes us to God’s work in our lives. We learn to pray when we are in need. Suffering drives us deep into God’s Word. The Bible becomes a life line of God’s voice when we are searching for answers and comfort. We develop patience when waiting on God to answer our prayers.

Sometimes when suffering is really intense God just calls His people to know and believe He is enough. To trust him in the pain and with the pain. Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are heavy burdened and He will give us rest.

Suffering also prepares and equips people to love and comfort and support others. There are practical ways to help the hurting. We know that people in pain sometimes question God and His love, right? If you’ve been there – you can tell them that – a testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision gives Him glory and offers hope to those in the middle of similar pain. But they need your presence and practical help more that they need your words. They need you to listen more than they need you to speak.

Pray for them. And with them. Pray for faith and perseverance. But don’t forget to pray boldly too. It’s ok to pray for healing. Sometimes God brings supernatural protection and rescue. But when he doesn’t His strength delivers them through the suffering with even more radiant likeness to Him. Because remember His goal is to make us more like His Son.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Book Review of Heavenly Help

I just finished reading the book "Heavenly Help: Experiencing the Holy Spirit in Everyday Life" by Sarah Bowling and I'd only giving it a 3 star review because I don't think it lived up to the "sales pitch" on the back of the book.

I wanted to read it because the author promised to tell about her extraordinary childhood as a child of a healing ministry pioneer and a charismatic preacher. While she did mention scattered parts of her childhood, it wasn't much.

I did like that she based the book on John 14-16: what Jesus told the disciples about the Holy Spirit, but I didn't enjoy the allegories after each chapter. I found the dialog stilted and unnatural.

*I was given this book for my honest review

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

God has made us a Royal Priesthood

God says in the Bible that He has made us priests. What does this mean and how do we do this?

1. God gives us an amazing privilege to speak on His behalf and represent Him to others.

2. We communicate the Gospel to those who have not yet received God’s grace.

3. We extend God’s mercy and compassion to those in need.

4. We teach others what God has taught us.

5. We represent people before God when we intercede for others in prayer.

Labels: ,