A friend recently told me that an otherwise sweet and gentle person apologized for having been gossiping about her, and then took advantage of the difficult and fragile moment to find fault with her in a deeply hurtful manner. In fact, faultfinding seemed to have been her intent all along. My friend asked, “How can this be? What should I do?”
Here is my response: That’s a great question. You have met someone who fancies herself to be accurate in her shallow judgments of others, and who then gathers a twisted courage to wrongly point out and heal wounds falsely. But you can survive the evil of judgmentalness.
People will come to you in personal judgmentalness dressed up as caring concern, and offer you an olive branch that you will discover is actually a knife. Out of your presence, they have already been cutting on you, and they’re about to continue in your presence. They might say something like, “I have noticed how immature you are (or some such thing), and I’m sorry that I let it affect our relationship for so long without saying anything to you. I apologize. But don’t you think you should be concerned about this immaturity? I mean, I sure know of some ways that you could be better . . .” They are suddenly the doctor, you are the patient. However, they care less about who you actually are than about what bothers them. They have gone blind and want to share their blindness with you.
Look away. They cannot truly help you.
Here’s what I’ve done when a member of The Judgment Doctors (TJD hereafter) has approached me, suggesting healing but offering harm:
1) I listen to TJD while thinking toward the Spirit. I think something like, “Well, Holy Spirit/Jesus/Lord, I’m glad you’re with me to keep me to the truth. You know me, so what do you think?” While I listen to TJD, I’m listening beyond, I’m listening through. I do not want to submit my identity and focus to anyone who cannot see me as Jesus does, but I do want to listen. This keeps me both present and aware of God, who made me His son and who holds me securely in Christ. This also allows Jesus in me to take the accusations, cuts and otherwise wounds from TJD. He’s very good at that.
2) I take what I can from TJD. Whenever someone approaches me with criticism and they do not know me personally or (and especially) do not know me as I truly am, in Christ, they might still have something to say from which I can learn or go forward better than before. That’s valuable. They have a surface view of me, but perhaps there is a way I come across to them that I can easily correct without believing that I have to change who I already am. God doesn’t want me to actually change, since He already made all of the change necessary. And since I am His workmanship, what chance do I have at improving upon His work anyway? I want to grow up in who I am, not alter who I am. I’ve learned a few things from TJD over the years; very few were valuable, but some helped me to consider how I might be better understood or interpreted at the surface.
3) I offer myself to God for a Spirit-led response to TJD. Most often that has meant that I thanked them for their input: I might say, “I know this could not have been easy for you, so I appreciate your effort to help me. I’ll take what you’ve said and consider it with Jesus. I know you’d want me to do that.” Other times this has meant something more direct and less gracious. I might say, “I think you see poorly and it bothers you, of course, and you’ve stumbled into this moment as a way to get relief. If you knew me, if you knew the real me, the new creation that God has made, then that would have your focus, you would see truly, and both of us would be better for it. Instead, you are shallow and trapped in blind judgmentalness, from which God will certainly want to free you.” Since God knows the person talking with me, I listen for what He’d like them to hear from me: something kind (maybe they’re only dabbling in judgmentalness, and He is about to do something with them to save them and to prevent them from becoming a full-fledged member of TJD), or something more like a harpoon—right to it. He knows what’s needed, and I offer myself to Him for that.
4) I don’t quickly run away from TJD. But I do consider it a viable option! If TJD are going to be helped, then the opportunity might be when they show up to be judgmental about you. Twisted in their thinking, they believe they’re being spiritual in coming to you, but they’re in danger of navigating perhaps all of their days in the blindness of judgmentalness. That’s not going to go well! That’s going to hurt—themselves and others. TJD are often pretty friendless because no one wants their “help” anymore—it’s too painful and ineffective, because it’s focused upon the flesh. It’s from their flesh directed at your flesh, and that’s not going to benefit anyone. Maybe they can be helped by someone who cares about them . . . but maybe not. Sometimes you’ve gotta get away from them, simply put.
5) I can be re-afflicted by the verbal assaults of TJD days later, so I reflect upon the truth and ask the Spirit what He thinks of me. This is important! If we’re going to remain open around people, and not barricade our hearts and proceed to navigate relationships by template or method but by the Spirit, then we will want to involve Him in the messy aftermath of a bout with TJD.
The Spirit often sounds a lot like Colossians 2 and 3, where Paul strongly advised the perfect sons and daughters of God to remember to “live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in Him,” to let no one take them captive by suggesting a “false person,” a “lesser person” than who they had become in Christ, since they had already been made perfectly complete and full in Him. The Spirit reminds me that not only have all of my sins already been forgiven, but that the Law that proved my violations with evidence in support has been cancelled, having been nailed to the cross. I am free of it, and so are you. He tells me that I must let no one give me my personal identity based upon what earthly things they see me do or by what quirks they might see in my behavior.
People who are falsely humble and who offer themselves as spiritual specialists will come after me and they will come after you, but we must not buy into their delusion. You and I have died to the shallow estimations and pretended religionists of this world, and we are in Christ—perfect, righteous, holy and secure. There is a lot that sets us up to need Him in our days, and I have found some of the best of life in Christ through ugly moments with TJD. You can, too.
All of us have fleshly quirks and odd behavioral characteristics about ourselves; we don’t cover them over or pretend they do not exist. No one who ignores reality will escape paying the cost of it. And that’s my point: the reality of who I am and who you are in Christ is transcendently important. It’s crucial. We live truly and only when we live from there, quirks and odd characteristics notwithstanding. Don’t let anyone focus you where God is not focused. There is no life there, only confusion, and maybe years and years of it lost in lesser identities. You and I live around people who cannot see us and who do not actually make the attempt to trust that Jesus made us new creation sons and daughters. While they have little to offer the real you, listen to them but live in Christ.
I hope this helps you in your relationships and in how God offers “wellness,” rest and freedom to people through you. He thinks that He has made them well off with Himself and with others, and it’s our “work” to help them enjoy that. Keep your heart and eyes open, my friend. He fills them both.
I have always been bothered when people “lead people to Jesus” by threatening them with hell so they’ll want to go to heaven. While I believe both places are real and you’ve got to be saved from the former in order to go to the latter, I’ve always thought the offer of life—a life you don’t have—is a better offer (see John 10:10). That’s why Jesus came—to give life. Since my new birth with God’s life, that’s been my emphasis. Here’s why.
I’ve met scads of people who “made a confession” to avoid hell and hope for heaven, but who hadn’t yet realized they had received a new life, the life of God, in the place of their former form of life—which was no life at all.
While our hearts beat and blood coursed through our veins, our condition before our second birth was dead in Adam and not yet alive in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). That means I crawled and then walked, slept, ate, drank, went to class, learned to communicate, learned to drive, got a job, all without the life of God, which I received when I was 24. It’s no wonder that when the Spirit brought me out of death and into life, I knew I was different—way different. But what if I didn’t pay attention to “way different”? Instead, what if I thought and believed, “Well, I got saved. That’s good. Now I’m a Christian, and I’ve got a whole lot of Christianish things to learn to do, and a whole lot of non-Christianish things to learn not to do.” What if that became my focus?
How long before new life became just another new groove? New manners for old? How long before the thrill was gone, and the greatest adventure of life—God’s life in me for my days—was left behind in favor of reliable and Christianized navigation skills? How long before I accepted a faux life as the Tin Man, even though I had a new heart where God lived? That would be the crime of the millennia, which only Satan could pull off. In other words, “Ignore what and who you have—life—and pay attention to what you can do to get what you want. That’s life instead.” But it isn’t.
This is what I believe has happened to people who once “made a confession”, or who “came to the altar,” but didn’t really know what they were doing except getting out of hell. And now they’ve grown weary of the manners they were taught to follow in the place of the life that would lead—life by the Spirit in them. After doing something undeniably awful, they wonder, “What’s wrong with me? I knew better. Why did I do that?” I think I know. They’ve been induced to attempt to live as though God didn’t live in them. That cannot work. That’s a ludicrous attempt to live in the way they once did when they didn’t have life. They’re terribly confused and act like it. Of course. If we tell them to behave better because “you know better,” they actually might—for a time.
But what if, instead, we taught crazy behaving believers about life? You know, God’s life? God’s life in them? What if we helped them to know their struggles to behave are understandable because they’re attempting to live well by a form of living without the One who has His own designs for life. We’d have their attention. And then we’d direct them to the Living One who is worthy of their attention and who is Perfect with them and in them. That’d be life, wouldn’t it? I think so. What do you think?
Question: How’s your eyesight? How reliable is it? I’m not an ophthalmologist and I’m not an optician. I’m just wondering about your eyes and what they’re saying to you.
If you accept only what your eyes tell you, particularly about people, you’ll soon wonder why the thrill of being a son or daughter of God has seemingly leaked from your heart. “Where’s the joy I once knew?” In my years of pastoring, that is one of the top reasons that sons and daughters of God begin to lose vigor and joy—they believe what their eyes say about their neighbors. When they see people from an exterior view only, they cannot approach them by faith in what God says is actually true of them because of what He did through the cross and resurrection. So their Christianity becomes relatively impractical, frustrated by the faulty angle of appearances. From that view, they can’t help but grow “dry” or bored in their walk with Jesus because their eyes are out of focus. They’ve essentially gone blind to the truth.
Here’s the normal view, the invigorating and healthy view for a Christian:
2 Corinthians 4:18 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary (it’s a passing away façade), but what is unseen is eternal (it’s what is forever true about God and about us).” (Parenthesis mine.)
Your mind, renewed by the truth that transforms you and that brings the real you out, must become the primary influence of your eyes. That is how you’ll see what’s really real . . . and live by faith in Christ. That’s also what will affect you best—you’ll like it! Think of going through your days with the sunglasses of truth over your otherwise lying eyes, and you’ve got it.
This is why we set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-3). We don’t focus upon the unseen so we’ll feel better and have a happy day, though it’s likely that we will. We do it because that’s where we find ourselves, that’s how we discover who God is and how well off He has made us in relation to Himself and to each other—perfect! Holy people, righteous people, recognized throughout the heavens as well-fit with God. Looking to the “unseen” is where we find that, and it’s going to affect us. This is our approach to life, not because we’re pretending, but because it’s accurate! We’re seeing the truth. From that focus, our lying eyes cannot lead us astray and foul our approach to life.
Grow accustomed to relying upon the unseen when you’re with people. They probably won’t “see” what you do, but they can. And at least you’ll be seeing how they actually are—in truth—and that’s going to affect you beautifully.
Ephesians 1:18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
Is being “loving” the #1 thing in relationships, or is there something before that?
To put it plainly, the #1 thing I want is to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). That’s where security is, that’s where love is, and that’s where I am most truly myself—with Him, in Him. I love that. The #1 thing is not to walk in love, but by the Spirit, because the Spirit produces love—pure, genuine and perfect. I want Him more than anything, because in that I’ll have everything else. Otherwise, to walk “lovingly” becomes a self-defined action and look—manners—that cannot be maintained. Have you noticed?
We, ourselves, are not the source of love – Jesus is. God is love, but love is not God. That distinction is important; think about it. In the same way that water is wet, but not everything that is wet is water (consider poison), so it is that not everything that’s described as love or loving is God. People have weird and twisted ideas about love—no doubt you’ve made that distinction by now.
It’s the same thing with “life.” Although we often describe what goes on around us as life—“How’s your life going?”—we understand that Jesus promised something altogether different when He said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He meant life on your inside, where He would come to live as the way, the truth, and the life. He is life. Right?
We make that distinction about life. So it is with love. It’s Him. God.
You and I are invited to know and drink deeply from the source of love, because love comes from God, as 1 John 4 tells us. We know that drink will powerfully affect us and those around us. It’s supposed to—that’s the design. The affect might be God-produced humility and gentleness, qualities most everyone wants to be around. Consider what Jesus said we would find if we took His yoke upon us; that He is gentle and humble in heart, and we’ll find rest. That’s beautiful. That’s Him.
Or the affect of drinking from the source of love, God, might be a God-produced, firm rebuke that you give to someone, which might make us nervous. “Could that happen to me?” Well, maybe. But consider how Jesus loved the momentarily deceived apostle Peter. Have you read what He said to Peter? “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). Wow. That’s strong! Was it love? Here’s a better question: Was it God? Yes. It was. That’s the qualifier. That’s love and that’s perfect because that’s Him.
Look, I want to walk in love (Ephesians 5:1) – Duh. Don’t you? But I know that love disconnected from the source all too easily becomes an act in order to secure a desired outcome in a relationship, whether with a relative, a friend, a co-worker, someone I’m just meeting for the first time, etc. Some people have said that, “Walking in love is the key.” But I think walking by the Spirit is the key that opens the door in me and in you for God and His love—pure, genuine and perfect. It’s then that our confidence is in Him, rather than in the properly selected style of behavior we put on, which is always subject to the pressure of assessment and judgment. In Him, we’re free of that.
So drink deeply from Him and enjoy His affect. Whatever that is, it will be love. All of our days are set up for us to know and enjoy Him, #1, who is and who produces love.
In the darkness of the middle of the night, I was wielding a baseball bat and chasing burglars through unlit hallways and across a rooftop. It was 1986, and another pastor and I lived in a church that had been burglarized earlier in the day. Separated from my fellow pastor, I pursued several fleeing figures that I could barely see, hoping to get close enough to . . . I don’t know what. Turning a faintly lit corner, I came face to face with a police officer, his gun drawn and pointing at my chest. “Stop right there!” he commanded. I did. “Who are you?” he demanded. Raising my hands and baseball bat above my head, I stammered, “I’m a pastor—Ralph Harris—and I live here. My roommate must have called you.”
I have never forgotten the feeling of grave danger and of being out of control. My life was on the line unless and until I answered that question adequately and the truth made the difference. I did and it did.
I want you to stop, at least for a moment, and answer the question, “Who are you?” However you answer that question will reveal what you think will save you because your life is on the line. Right now.
There is an awful lot that suggests an “awful you” or a “lesser you,” one that bears little resemblance to who you are because of how you’ve been made—or re-made by God. And if you’re reading this, chances are good that you know what I’m talking about: the new creation you. I’m not talking about the businessman or businesswoman you, I’m not talking about the student you, the employee you, or the father, mother, son or daughter you. Those are all tributary identities to the primary identity—to the source identity—to the “you”you truly are. I’m talking about the you that is clean, holy and perfect, the Spirit-born you, an actual son of God, a light in this world, in whom the Kingdom of God dwells, because God saw to it when he took care of you through the new birth in Christ.
I’m talking about that you.
I simply want to remind you today that sometimes you’ve got to stop or be stopped (as it was with me) in order to think again about who you are because it can get lost in the things we do. And if we have been made to live by faith in Christ (that He is who He says He is, perfect God toward man) and that you and I are who He says we are (perfect sons and daughters), then we’re going to have to answer that question, “Who are you?” We’ll even have to ask it of ourselves so we can proceed in our days and live from the answer. Only then can our lesser and tributary identities receive and be influenced from the source.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to ask that sort of question of myself all the time. As perfectly united with God as I am, having Him now inside of me, when I wake in the morning sometimes it seems as though God and I did nothing together at all yesterday, or that He doesn’t even exist, which puts me in serious trouble. I’ve lost my identity and am subject to the lesser ones of this world. There’s a lot of grief and twistedness there. But He does exist, and I am well with Him; it’s just that my thinking needs a repentance—a “WAKE UP!” call.
“Who are you?!”
And then I am revived. The Holy Spirit in me sees to me, takes care of me, and together we can do all things. So can you when you’ve had your wake up call. Maybe this, “Stop right there!” will serve that purpose.
Do you have some thoughts about Easter? Let me ask you a question: When Jesus was on the cross, where were you?
If we think of Jesus as going to the cross by Himself, we have a discounted Easter, an Easter worth less than it actually is. That’s no bargain. We don’t have everything, and we need to.
While enduring the awful human torment of carrying a shameful cross through the streets of Jerusalem and out to Calvary on the edge of the city, Jesus—God Himself—knew what was before Him. Through the pain, He was overjoyed!
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, italics mine).
Seemingly all alone on His tortured trek through town and the many people lining the streets, Jesus held a fantastic secret: He was taking them with Him. They thought they were onlookers to a tragedy only; He knew they were participants, not just in the cause but also in the act and triumphant result.
An incredible, miraculous, retroactive and future fact of Easter is that Jesus’ faithfulness to the cross was the initial act of bringing to an end one creation—darkened, stumbling, sin frustrated mankind—and the making of another—a glory-sharing, innocent and holy new race (See Ephesians 2:14-22). That was His joy, and now it’s ours!
On the cross and knowing what was coming in three days, Jesus reached for you in the crowd—the crowd in the past, the crowd right in front of Him, and the crowd in the future—and accomplished God’s timeless desire; union with His people. He didn’t simply hold you close, He brought you in. Jesus removed what hindered us and brought us into Himself, where there can be no distance, no transgression and no fault, making us new, safe and secure with Him, who loves us perfectly. And He did it in three days through two acts: the cross and the resurrection.
Romans 6:6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
Ephesians 2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Easter is all about life to the full—Christ’s and yours. When Jesus rose and fairly strutted out of the tomb (as I picture it), He was full and full of joy! We were in Him, and He was joyously satisfied, just as He planned.
He is risen! And so are we. Happy Easter!
(See Romans 6:1-7; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:6-7)
Do you have favorite odd verses in the Bible? You know, scriptures that cause you to tilt and scratch your head, and pull on your chin in wonder? “Whaaaat? That seems backwards.” I sure do. One of my favorite examples of how God does this on purpose will be beautifully proven in the next few days. It’s from the New Testament book of Philemon 1:6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (italics mine.)
For a long time, that seemed backwards to me. Doesn’t it to you? I thought people had to study and understand every good thing they have in Christ before they could be active in sharing their faith. It’s not so, oddly enough, and many of us will see it played out over the weekend.
Here’s what going to happen: starting today, people are going to feel encouraged and invigorated when they say or write simple yet meaningful Easter statements—you know, crucifixion and resurrection stuff. They’ll say things like, “Jesus died on the cross for me,” “Christ was raised from the dead to make me okay with God,” and maybe they’ll sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today . . .”
That’s going to happen a whole lot. People are going to say what they believe—more than they normally might—and then recognize and feel the goodness and fullness of what Christ has given to them. After saying or singing something, they’ll think, “I feel good about this,” and that proves my backwards scripture verse! They share their faith (“He is risen!”), and then they’re given a more-full understanding of every good thing they have in Christ. It hits them beautifully and perfectly because of Who is in them, standing up and cheering the truth.
Christ in us—the people of Easter—thinks we’re His workmanship, even our faith. I know it seems backwards, but aren’t you glad? Isn’t it fantastic that the gospel we love really is “the power of God”, and we feel it? How good is that? So buckle up and share, Easter people! Here comes your thrill ride.
“Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”
Do you ever feel like you’re caught between what you want to do and what you have to do instead? Do you ever struggle between some kinds of business principles or workplace rules and those of the Kingdom? And does it ever get so frustrating that you have a blow up or a break down? You know, really lose it? I do.
I simply thought from Jesus this morning that He knows we’re prone to frustration and anxiety and outbursts of temper: “I can’t handle this!” And He has not one iota of condemnation for us—not one. I think He wants you to know that.
You and I are living while caught between two worlds—the temporal and the eternal. The one we can see, and the one we can’t. The one that passes away, and the one that lasts forever. Just as the world in which we fit and belong—the heavenly one—begins to get into focus—“I can see it! I can taste it!”—the other one comes barging in. I can be enjoying the day, knowing Jesus and trusting in Him, when suddenly something worldly knocks me over . . . or knocks me mad or regretful. This stupid and horrible pandemic. Politicians fighting over nonessentials. A sleepless night of worry that makes me edgy around my family, grumpy on social media, terse when asked for my opinion. And, let me tell you, it all starts adding up and boiling over.
Or maybe I read someone’s facebook post that’s supposed to encourage me, but it’s got so much, you know, over-the-top, “everything and everyone is beautiful, life is good, butterflies for everyone!” junk that I want to throw up on their post. It’s like I’m happily flirting with spiritual maturity, and then it rudely breaks up with me. “Not happening, baby breath! Change your diaper, Ralph!” I don’t like it at all.
But the truth is that I’m no less of an attractive target for the life, love and grace of God Himself than I was yesterday. Maybe I’m a bigger target. “Hooray for me!” I can imagine a picture of my face on a big billboard alongside the freeway with the title: “God’s most needy.” Frankly, we’re all in competition for that title; I just think I’m winning.
I know that none of us really wants to be the most needy place for God’s work today. But, if it’s true, He doesn’t mind. He doesn’t have something better to do. When you consider how He moved in order to get to the most needy during His days among us, do you think He’ll stop before getting to you, repulsed by your neediness? No way. He’s really good with you. He’s Perfect.
And He doesn’t have far to go in order to get to you, right?
Romans 5:5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Where’s the glory or evidence of God going to show up best? In me. In you.) 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Parenthesis mine.)
So if you’re having one of those sloppy, stuck-in-between days, take a moment to breathe. There is such purpose to this life, and through it all, God holds us securely in Christ, holy and righteous, priests of the earth.
While this life is a mess, the next one won’t be. But in the next one there won’t be any chance to live by faith in what we cannot see, no opportunity to grow and succeed in the battle against temptation, no one to introduce to Jesus, no one to forgive, no friend we need to pray for, no groceries to buy for a neighbor or a down-and-outer, and no growing in Christ and the fruit of the Spirit in us. All done. Complete. Nothing will be in-between anymore. Everything will be exactly—way beyond exactly—as our hearts long for it to be.
That will be such a good day! It’s just not today.
There’s a whole lot of fear and suffering going around these days. Far and wide. Have you ever heard or read that we’re supposed to “rejoice in suffering”? Like if we’re good Christians, we’ll act all happy and cheer-leadery when life is bad, difficult and painful? Many of us think the “rejoice thing” is true, but we’re not sure why.
So that’s the question: Why rejoice in suffering? Whatever for? If you make it to the end of this message and you’re still sound and sober(!), I think you’ll be really glad.
For starters, it is very common that we do not see ourselves as “in Christ,” but as separate from Him. Maybe walking alongside of Him. That’s a problem. The New Covenant speaks far more of our being “in Christ” than it does of Him being in us, so it’s a problem if we don’t think about it very much. It’s actually going to hurt us in some way. Because we don’t think about where we are, in Christ, many people become fairly terrified about “suffering for Jesus,” and I don’t blame them. Seeing it that way—as though we were separate from Jesus—I would be nervous, too. Why wouldn’t we feel exposed and vulnerable?
Much of my book, God’s Astounding Opinion of You, has to do with what God thinks He did for us and to us through the cross and resurrection, not the least of which is that He brought us into Christ, forever secure there, in Him. We have a new location, a new address that’s out of this world, and frankly, it’s astounding. He is in us and we are in Him.
Suffering that God permits is NOT directed at us, as though we will somehow become better for the suffering . . . if we rejoice enough. Suffering is not a penalty, suffering is not a goal, nor is suffering something that God hopes we’ll get through and by which we will get better. The sufferings of Christ at the cross have already had much to do with making us as good as we can get! But something happens to us through suffering. Something is produced in us and through us that shows something very important: it shows where God is—In us. He is in you. He is in me. And it shows how good He is where He is. We are together by design in suffering.
The target, the bull’s eye of undeserved suffering is Jesus, and that happens to be your location; it’s where you are—in Him. He is the target. Suffering is directed at Him. And what does He plan to do? Well, He plans to be Himself—what He is like—because of where He is, in you. That is your hope!
While we will grow in confidence about who we are and where we are (in Jesus), the purpose and hope for suffering is that Christ in us may be made evident—to us and to others—and that He will be exposed as living in us and affecting life through us. Wouldn’t that be great? Well, that’s the plan. Suffering gets at Christ in us, who is perfect for every need that suffering might put upon us.
I’m thrilled to find Christ in me any way I can, even through suffering—maybe especially through suffering, since the life and grace of Christ in me redeems an otherwise ugly and traumatic situation. Who doesn’t like finding Christ on the inside? What a pleasure. It’s my favorite. Especially in suffering.
This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8:18—I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Wait. Who is in us? Jesus. His plan is to show up and to be revealed in us in suffering. Wouldn’t that be a glory?
Consider the following: 1 Peter 4:12—Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Where is His glory going to be revealed? In you. In me. Whose sufferings were the people of God enduring? Well, not their own sufferings, but Christ’s. Did they probably feel like it was their sufferings? Oh, yes! But because these Christians knew where they were—in Christ—they knew better than to get deceived and accidentally rob Jesus of His sufferings and His opportunities. Satan would surely love to deceive us into believing that suffering is only ours, but we know the truth.
Where were the sufferings directed? At Jesus. And where would the evidence and glory of God be revealed? In and through His people. What a plan. That’s why they were going to be “overjoyed”. They weren’t going to be “overjoyed” because they were obeying a command: “Look here, my sons and daughters. Be overjoyed when bad stuff happens.” No. That’s not it at all. They were going to find “Christ in me, the hope of glory” (see Colossians 1:27). And the onlookers, the fans gathered in the stadium seats to watch the Supernatural Bowl that was happening in the Christians, were going to see Jesus. It’s the same for us today.
Today. Right now.
1 Peter 4:14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (He’s going to do something!) 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (Well, that makes sense, because He’s not involved in that stuff.) 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name…19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator (Where is He? Inside of us.) and continue to do good. (Parentheses mine.)
This suffering “according to God’s will” attracts us not to a performance that we’re supposed to work up and carry out, but to God, who lives in us and who works through us. He is exposed, both to us and to our audience. We look for Jesus in us—inside and happy and capable. Perfectly. Of course! That’s how He is. That’s the plan.
This is what the apostle Paul wrote about to the Colossian Christians. It’s an otherwise odd verse: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body (or the benefit of His body), which is the church” (Colossians 1:24, parenthesis mine).
Why would Paul rejoice in suffering? Because he knew who the target was, Jesus, and Paul was in Him. “Hey! I’m involved with God in suffering!” he might have said. And he knew that while the target was Jesus, Paul was the vessel, the pouring out place for God’s great display to everyone in view; Jesus was in Paul. That was the plan. That was why he rejoiced. Paul knew and saw God!
Think of the benefits that came from that. Prison guards and their families became Christians as Paul spoke the gospel to them. People were healed. Paul wrote the prison epistles—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon—under the terrible suffering and pressures of the worst kind of prison confinement. (It was nothing like a “self-quarantine” in a nice, well-stocked home.) Jesus was the target of the suffering, and Jesus in Paul was the evidence for which God had planned all along. The evidence of God came out of Paul, and Paul rejoiced at it. In suffering, we are together with God—Literally!
(This explains what’s happening in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, where the Christians are sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, and the comfort of Jesus is overflowing from within them to others. It will help you to take a look at that chapter, and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 as well. It’s terrific.)
In suffering, I’m going to see Jesus, and you are, too. All over the world, we are the gates for Jesus, the pouring out places for Him in us. How brilliant is that? That means I get Him, and so do you, and so do others—Jesus, all over the world. We will see the suffering, and then we will see the glory of God in us and around us. Count on it, and that’ll be faith.
See? This wasn’t so bad, was it? For the people of God, there’s actually good news about suffering.
I have found that failing to understand differences is always costly—ignorance is not bliss. If you do not know the difference between the Old and New Covenants, between Law and Jesus, you will suffer. The following will move you toward health, where you belong.
So what’s the difference between Law and Jesus? To answer that, let’s look through the lens of another question: What’s the difference between diagnosis and remedy? You have some experience with that, right?
For a long time, the Law of God proved the diagnosis that man was heartsick and could not heal himself. The Law was Diagnosis, not Remedy. The Law was perfect in proving man’s need for life—Jesus—on the inside. He is The Remedy. Those who have Remedy (and are forever free of Diagnosis) may, nevertheless, become entranced and entangled by Diagnosis. You know how that goes—they get confused because the only true way to life—God’s life—is through Remedy and what He gives and does by grace and for free. Diagnosis is merciless and powerless. Have you ever been examined and exhausted by it? I bet you have.
In the same way that you cannot live just by knowing what’s wrong with you, Diagnosis is worthless except it points to Remedy. The only thing Diagnosis has ever done well is to be the set-up for Remedy. Remedy ends Diagnosis in the same way that Jesus ends the Law. If you have Jesus, the other is done. Finished. Obsolete. Irrelevant.
If Diagnosis has been busily proving failure and sickness to you, be done with it. It’s not for you and it won’t help. You know who The Remedy is, and it’s Him you want. Tell Him. Talk with Remedy. Turn your faith to Him and how He is toward you, because that’s how you live. He is the life—the giver and producer of it—for you and your heart. He has everything you need for free, and He makes fantastic house calls.