“The heavens declare Your glory, and their expanse is the work of Your hands.” “Through Him all things were made, and apart from Him was made nothing that was made.” “He is … the firstfruits of all creation … In Him all things subsist.” “Then God said, 'Let Us make man, in Our image, after …
“If we died with Him, we will also live with Him. If we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” “But do not worry about what you are to say or how you will …
No matter what happens to you, however horrendous, you will not suffer even insignificant harm – you will not be harmed or damaged in something as minor and seemingly unimportant as a single hair of your head. This is staggering, and it rules out all possibility of what the world means by courage. The whole value system of the world is built on men trying to be gods unto themselves, to find strength, meaning, purpose, power in themselves; as Christians, all of this is done away with (and we must be willing to accept it; we must not fight it when the world scorns us, we must not try to convince the world that we are not really so weak and pitiful as all that, but we should accept its scorn and disregard with joy, rejoicing that we have been counted worthy to be counted among the scum of the world, the off-scouring of all things, with our Savior, going to Him outside the camp). We recognize how completely weak and helpless we are as creatures and we rely on God's strength and God's care. We are strong when we are weak not because there is some strength that works through the appearance of weakness... What is amazing is not the endurance or the joy of the martyrs. What is amazing is not the willingness of Christians to die for their Lord: what is amazing is that their Lord died for them, sinners. Knowing that God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us, it is obvious that we would gladly die for Him. The least we can do is to consider our lives not our own but His – He bought them with His blood. We are only slaves dying for our Master, creatures dying for our Creator, redeemed sinners dying for the Perfect Sacrifice and Savior, pardoned rebels for our King. That we should both live and die for Him is nothing. What means something – what staggers belief – is that the Master died for His slaves, the Creator died for His creatures, the Perfect One for defiled sinners, the King for rebels and traitors. “If we live we live to the Lord and if we die we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or we die we belong to the Lord, for to this end Christ both died and lives again, that He might be the Lord both of the dead and of the living.” “You will be betrayed even by friends and family, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all men because of Me, and not a hair of your heads will perish.”
There is a lot of talk about assurance of salvation, whether it is possible, how it is to be had, whether it is necessary, on and on and on. I really do not think it is the point. The point is simply this, “It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” It's not about whether or not you or I can lose eternal life... It's about the fact that Jesus Christ is eternal life. It is all about Him. How many times did He say, “I am He?” Let us cease to look at ourselves and instead look to Him. “You have been buried with Him through baptism into death.” Salvation – everything – is about Christ. “He who descended is also He who ascended that He might fill all things.” Salvation means that we die and are raised in Christ. This is the way to conquer fear. Fear of what will happen to me? God loves me and is in control of all things. He is sovereign and He loves me as no other can love. This is eternal comfort, but it is not even about eternal comfort; it is about the fact that He is good, that His love is real, that He is YHWH. (How I wish I could say this without using words like I!) Even though I should not know His love, not know His goodness, even though I should forget all that I have ever known of Him (unless He continually gives me the knowledge of Himself I must forget it, for it is knowledge of eternity, eternal knowledge; it is not the kind of thing a creature can keep; it must be continually received by grace through faith,) even though I should turn my back on Him... still, He is good. He remains unchanged. He is Love. He is YHWH – I AM WHO I AM – I am He.
This is a form of idolatry. The verse from Isaiah says it perfectly: “Who are you that you fear?” In other words, what are you that you dare to fear? What are you that you dare to fix your gaze on anyone but your Savior? There is another passage in Isaiah (I think, there might also be some in Jeremiah) where YHWH, the I AM WHO AM, challenges the false gods, the illusions of the people, or is it that He calls on the people to challenge them, saying, “Do good or evil, that we may fear you!” In order to fear, we must first take our eyes off God, our Almighty One, our Savior and strong Deliverer, the Rock of our Salvation.
For most things, clarification and disentangling of different meanings present in a word is helpful. I believe that by ISIS we generally mean two things at the same time which together form one thing; namely a group of people who do certain types of despicable things. Firstly, we mean the actions of ISIS... For the most part we are not stupid enough to think that God can not accomplish His will, but we are not concerned with God's will; we are concerned about our will. Fortunately, for the most part we are not stupid enough to expect God to accomplish our will, but if we are we not only get angry when things don't go our way, we get angry with God and feel He has let us down... We have our will, and we want to be a little god to defend our will and punish those who threaten or destroy it... What if we concerned ourselves with things that will last, with the things of God? What if we set our hearts on eternal things, things which can not be taken from us? What if what was important to us was not our life and how we live it, or those of our loved ones, but the eternal life we have in Christ Jesus, and living our lives to the glory of His name?... Even if we don't cling to Him, He will keep us. He is Almighty God; ISIS can neither take us from Him nor Him from us. Even if they kill those we love before our eyes, even if they slowly torture us to death, they can neither take us away from Him, nor Him away from us... Neither our sins nor those of the people who form ISIS can separate us from God's love, or thwart a single one of God's plans.
Yes, Lord, whom shall we envy? You have given us all the real good there is, Your very self, that we shall see Christ just as He is - look upon Your face in righteousness - and that we shall be like Him, be conformed to His image - be satisfied with Your likeness when we awake. Yes, to live is Christ, to die is gain. There is no good anywhere but You, for You are the only good, a good more real than the ground upon which we stand or the air we breathe.
In the end, those of us who are in Christ Jesus will find that, whatever life brings, God has given us everything we desire.
I was just reading an interpretation, which I can't let go, of that part in Acts where the believers are praying for Peter and then can’t believe his release in a Bible Study guide a friend received. The interpretation, which I have seen in more places than I can count, was that that the believers didn’t really expect God to answer their prayers; they’d seen James killed and they were desperately praying for Peter’s release but they didn’t really believe that God could or would answer their prayers. I’m going to be honest. I can’t stand that interpretation. That’s why I’m writing this article right now. I don’t think the believers were praying for Peter’s release at all. They’d seen God deliver Peter from prison before; [Read more…] there had been the time the angel released Peter and John and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple courts and they had ended being flogged and rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of the Name. Earlier, when the Apostles were first threatened, they had gathered together and prayed something like this: “Why do the nations rage in vain? Kings of the earth and princes gather together; they take counsel against the Lord and against His anointed One. They say, let us cast off Their bonds and break Their fetters. O Lord, this was fulfilled when both the Jews and Pontius Pilate took counsel together and crucified Your Messiah, whom You raised from the dead. Now, Lord, take note of their threatenings against Your people and stretch out Your hand to do signs, wonders, and healings, and to make us bold to continue proclaiming Your word.” Upon praying this, the place where they were gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and with great boldness. So, we can see that they prayed for signs to draw the people’s attention to their message and for boldness to proclaim it without fear. Later, we hear Paul asking people to pray for him like this, “Pray that I may not be at all ashamed but will be able to declare the word in all boldness,” or “Pray that I would be able to proclaim the word clearly as I ought,” and in Philippians he writes, “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of God all this will turn out for my deliverance. I fully expect that I will in no way be ashamed but that now, as always, Christ will be glorified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, to die gain. I do not know which I would choose; I am torn between the two. To depart and be with Christ is very much better, but it is better for your sakes that I remain.” Of course, this is Paul, but it gives one an impression of what the mindset of the believers of that day was. We can see it, too, in the very word “martyr,” which is simply the Greek word “witness,” the very same when Peter says in his sermons, “Of this [that God raised Jesus from the dead] we are all witnesses,” or that Jesus uses when He says, “You shall be My witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, and in Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.” These believers were on fire to witness to the truth of the Risen Lord, it was what their whole lives were about, and they saw dying for that truth as the very culmination or crown of their lives, as the ultimate “witness,” and that was what they all were – witnesses. So, I am certain that these believers were praying for God to enable Peter to witness to the Resurrection in a way that would most glorify God and testify to Jesus. They may have been explicitly praying that God would strengthen Peter to boldly and clearly witness to the Resurrection in his trial the next day, with the expectation that the outcome would be death – witness. I’m pretty sure it didn’t even seriously occur to them to pray for his release from prison; the idea may not have entered their heads in even the cloudiest forms. (I’m not at all sure that it would have entered mine if I had been in their place – or Peter’s. I’ve grown really sick of how, when they hear that I am being a little harassed for telling people about Jesus – I will not use the word persecuted, being thoroughly sick of those who complain of being “persecuted” because someone laughs at them; I mean, even being thrown out of the market place is really not that big of a deal – people say they will pray that God prevents the harassment. Oh, to shreds with that idea! Pray that God would glorify His Son and bring people to Him and if He wants to use my death – or anyone else’s – so be it! I don’t know wherever some people got this strange idea that anything is preferable to dying a martyr. Of course, martyrdom should never be sought, but why are we always trying to prolong our lives as absolutely long as possible, mourning it when some old person whose been kept alive by the medical profession for years dies, preferring absence from the Lord and, frankly, uncomfortable bodily life, to dying, if it so comes, at twenty-one, for Christ’s sake and going to be with Him? Didn’t Paul say we could prefer to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord? Were did we get this idea that persecution or martyrdom is some terrible cost? Haven’t we lost the old life already? Don’t we want it crucified, buried, dead, and not trying to climb out of the grave and smother us anymore? Don’t we live, or at least want to live, solely to testify to the Lord? Why then don’t we simply see persecution and martyrdom as “an opportunity for our testimony” and to be “blessed, and rejoice for great is [our] reward in heaven?” Yea, sure, it hurts. Don’t chase it! God knows what’s best, and if it’s best, then He will give it. If not, He won’t. Don’t question Him either way.) Anyway, enough for my feelings about the state of mind in America. The believers in Acts had seen countless miracles. They believed that God had power and they believed that He did things. However, they weren’t hoping against hope for Peter’s release. They were praying for his witness. And, here, is where we see one of the amazing things about our God. We can pray for whatever we wish and it shall be given us, and we need never fear that God will do less than His absolute best or be swerved from His sovereign purpose. God really answered these believer’s prayers to the fullest. He gave Peter an excellent opportunity for witness. What these believers had in mind was Peter’s bold and joyful witness in death the following day. What they were praying for was God’s glory, Peter’s well-being in Christ, and his witness. God gave that abundantly beyond all that they had asked or imagined. Peter got to live many more years to the glory of God to witness to the Resurrection to various people, among them Cornelius and his household, and God strengthened the Church and increased Peter’s own understanding of Himself and His plan. Eventually, Peter did die in witness to the Resurrection, many years later. Nonetheless, God here gives us a wonderful illustration of the truth that, whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name, it will be given us. God answers all true prayer, and He doesn’t say no. He always says yes to His children in the Spirit. Every promise He has ever made, He goes above and beyond. Don’t ever let anyone trick you into thinking that what God means by His promises is anything less than what He says, anything insubstantial or shallow, anything weak. God always means more than He promised and always answers His children infinitely above and beyond all they could ask or even imagine! Copyright 2017 Raina Nightingale
It is my firm belief that God never says more than He means, more, that He always means more than He says. I have chosen Psalm 23 here, because it is well-known and rather short. These promises are scattered throughout Psalms. “YHWH is my portion; I have no good besides You… The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, behold, my heritage is beautiful to me. I have set YHWH ever before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be shaken. My flesh also will dwell securely, for You will not abandon Your holy one to the netherworld nor will You let my flesh see corruption…. You will lead me in the paths of life. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”