Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just a Little Longer (1 Peter 5:10-11)

"After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, NASB95)

There are some statements in the Bible that, while hard to hear, are used to help reframe our perspective. Suffering never seems short. It does not matter how long it lasts, it always seems like so much more. I remember the Northridge earthquake on Martin Luke King Day, January 17, 1994. It seemed like it went on forever. But Caltech reports otherwise: The actual rupture of the fault only lasted about 8 seconds, but because of amplification and reverberation of the seismic waves through the complex of faults, sediment, and mountains, most people felt shaking for 20 to 30 seconds. (Source: The actual shaking really wasn’t that long, but the strength of it was immense and the effects were far reaching and long lasting. For many their lives were changed in those few seconds in dramatic ways.

The question for all of us in these times of suffering is how are we going to respond. For us, it led after many months of struggle to our moving away from Northridge to Oregon and me eventually having the opportunity to go to seminary and enter vocational ministry as a pastor. There were others, though, who in an instant lost their lives while others still suffered only minor inconveniences that were of short duration. And there were large numbers whose lives were dramatically changed for a long time afterward. But from an eternal perspective every single person who was affected by the earthquake only suffered “for a little while.”

Recognizing this and looking to what God did in the months and years after the earthquake we have chosen in our family to celebrate every Martin Luther King Day also as “Earthquake Day.” No, this is not a new national, state or regional holiday. It is our family’s day of remembrance and thankfulness when we celebrate together as we eat fractured tacos and broken glass cake while we speak of the faithfulness of our God. Since that time we have even brought two children who weren’t born at the time into the event.

Several months after moving to Oregon I was given the opportunity to teach an adult Sunday School class, and after much deliberation I selected a New Testament letter that I had not taught before. On the first Sunday of June in 1995 I taught James 1:1 as an introduction to this letter from the half-brother of Jesus. In the midst of preparing for week two I was called into a mandatory office meeting by the mortgage company I was with. We were told that as of that afternoon our office and many of their small market offices were being closed. The passage I was preparing for week two is James 1:2-4 where we read, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)

In our last look at 1 Peter we read that we were to be sober because we have a very real enemy. Here in James we are told that we are to consider it all joy or to actively think about joy as we encounter trials of all sorts. This is not because trials are joyful. Many of them are quite sorrowful. But in the midst of the sorrow and the other aspects of the trial we know that we are firmly held in the hand of our loving God. He will never let go of us, and He will even use the very events of the trial for His glory and our growth. We read that it is through those trials that we grow in our faith and in our ability to trust Him even more. As we walk through difficult days we see that our God gives us the ability to endure. As faith is put to the test we see that our God is immensely faithful. We continue to read that the fruit of this endurance is our perfection and completion. We can never become any more saved, but we definitely can grow in faith as we learn to love and walk with our God who encloses us before and behind and who keeps His hand on our shoulder (Psalm 139). In Him we are made compete to do all that He has called us to do and to endure all of the other stuff that comes along the way.

As Peter pens these last words of his letter he tells his readers (and us) a similar message. After we have suffered for a little while God will perfect us. He has called us as His beloved children and given us a great eternal inheritance. We are heaven bound with no chance of the train jumping track. He called us. His Son paid the price for our ticket, and He is the conductor who will being us safely in. There is no other track to travel. It is only by Christ that we are saved. He is the narrow path to salvation and full entrance into the glory of God.

What remains is the bumpy path that includes our being perfected or being conformed more and more each day and through each trial to the image of His beloved Son. We are as righteous as we will ever be because Jesus Christ is our righteousness. But the more He grows us the more we resemble just who we are in Christ.

He will confirm us. I imagine that most of us have had those moments when we doubt. We might not doubt our salvation, but we might doubt the certainty of God’s promises. The amazing thing about God continuing to work in and through us is that He demonstrates over and over again that He is real and that He will do exactly what He promised to do. We become a living confirmation of the truth of Christ.

And as we see His faithfulness demonstrated time and time again we are strengthened to trust and do even more. This is what James said as we endure trails our endurance grows, and endurance grows we become more and more complete and equipped for what He have given us to do.

The result is that we become firmly established, able to stand strong against the evil one. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NASB95)

Peter ended this with, “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, NASB95) Our God is absolute in all ways. He created and He is the authority over all that He created. He kingdom is forever, and we are told that to it there is absolutely no end. Jesus said at the end of Revelation “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13, NASB95)

It’s not easy at times. God knows that. But we also know that He is the One who makes all things bearable knowing even this that after a short while we will see Him. “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20–21, NASB95)

“Amen” is such a wonderful word. Beyond it being the word that has been and is used to close our prayers, its meaning speaks to the truth of those words, “this is a trustworthy statement” or in the case of our prayers, ‘God make it so because surely you are the One who is trustworthy.’

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