Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In this rejoice...

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 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 1:3-7

Peter was writing this letter to a people that were undergoing severe persecution and suffering. Peter has been called the ”Apostle of Hope” and in this first chapter we see that it is with this hope that he encourages his readers to endure the hardship of being a follower of Christ.

Here Peter repeats Christ’s encouragement in Matthew 5:12 where he says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ”

The reason for our rejoicing is that we have an inheritance awaiting us in heaven. And this inheritance was not bought with anything that we had to offer but was given to us by God in His grace through Jesus. In that there is great hope, even a guarantee, because if we were the ones who had purchased it with our own deeds there would be the grave possibility of losing that inheritance but verse 5 reassures us that we “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” We can stand secure in the fact that it was God’s choice based on who He was not what we’ve done. It cannot be taken away.

This hope in the future is a life sustaining truth. It is a joy filling, peace giving hope. Something to hold on to in our times of pain and weakness because of the cause of Christ. Being obedient to Him is a hard path.

I often hear and have even said myself that it’s easy to be a Christian in America. That there are other places in the world where being a Christian is difficult and dangerous.

But now that I think of it, being a Christian in America is very hard. But not in the same way as it is difficult in North Korea, China or Iran. Here we have so many things competing for our affections and it is easy to be comfortable and complacent. There is no pressure to pursue Christ or not. We can call ourselves a Christian or not and there is no real impact on lifestyles and situations. Now the case is different for certain individuals in different familial settings or college classrooms but generally speaking there is no danger. No great cost. We are not asked to change much.

But the road of salvation is a difficult one. In one setting the road is difficult because of outside physical threats and tangible fears. However, in this setting I think that the road is difficult because we have so many things competing for our affections. Too many of us, myself included, are not living the radical lives prescribed in the Bible and so the world for the most part tolerates us because the difference is not great. Our values are still similar.

That is why I have often struggled with giving this future inheritance the value that scripture affords it. Because of the high value that I have placed on the temporary, the value of the eternal is lessened. Although mentally I understand that my hope is ultimately in that inheritance, practically speaking I don’t live it.

However in persecution and suffering, our strength is poured out and we are found wanting and it is often at that point that we finally surrender to Christ and hope in Him and the inheritance that He has prepared for us.

It is for this hope that those facing death and imprisonment in other countries readily count their Familial relationships, material possessions and even their lives as loss for the gain of Christ.

Like the man who found a treasure in a field and then covered it and in his joy went and sold everything that he had in order to buy that field and obtain that treasure.

This idea of rejoicing in suffering is one of those things that we often get in hindsight. We have those, “Oh, now I get it.” moments. We can see God’s hand when we pull back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like the TV show 24. I once watched the entire first season on DVD in one sitting. In the midst of watching the season I would get anxious and the suspense would get to me.

“What’s gonna happen next.“ I would say. I couldn’t sleep or get peace until I knew what would happen next and so I ended up watching the whole thing through. But then when I would catch a rerun on TV I didn’t have to finish it. I wasn’t entrenched in the story. I knew the end so I had a peace about what would happen next. In fact I would even just have it in the background while Idid something else. Why?

Because I knew how the story ended.

Likewise, in the midst of our suffering the Bible tells us what the end will be. We have a hope to look forward to. Todays troubles are not everything. In fact once we know what the future holds we can almost put our suffering in the background while we pursue Christ’s transformation in our hearts and Christ’s will for us in other places. Knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us and that He is preparing a place for us in heaven.

I need to get this. Consistently. I need to not just ”get this“ but to apply it. To live it.

Please help me realize the treasure that I have in Christ and to feel the weight and the value of my future inheritance in comparison to this temporary world in which I am in exile from heaven. I pray that you would work on my heart tonight that I would have a renewed passion for the pursuit of Christ. Help me to count this world and all the it has to offer as loss compared to the all surpassing glory of Him whom you have sent for me. Help me to not have to wait for suffering to understand this hope that I might make you famous today.

In Jesus name, AMEN.