Take the Long Way Home

The last two weeks we have been visting grandpa and grandpa in Surprise, Arizona. And time just flew by. We started off by a long trip from Amsterdam to Phoenix, as we stranded in Detroit, missing our connecting flight to Phoenix due to long queues at security. But, this ended up being a blessing more than anything, because these extra four hours gave us an opportunity to feed Elora and feed ourselves in a relaxing way while waiting patiently for our next flight. After almost 24 hours of traveling we finally came to our destination, still in pretty good shape actually. In the two weeks that followed we did a lot (swim, eat, visit Tombstone, go see an American Football game, go to church, shop, watch a lot of Food Network, celebrating Thanksgiving twice, watching Monday night football, watching the parade – some of these will be material for future posts for sure), but we combined it all with lots of laughter, relaxation, and just good fun.

But, to quote a famous Dutch standup comedian, “something is only fun because it ends, because if something is fun and it never ends, it’s not fun anymore” (which obviously applies to everything but seeing and savoring God, but that’s besides the point), and so we find ourselves on our way back to Amsterdam. We are leaving sunny Arizona with its 27+ degrees Celcius, and come back to 4 degrees Celcius. But, it’s all good. Why? Because I am a creature of habit, and I can take only so much of doing nothing and just sit and read. Still, to use the title of an old Supertramp song, we are taking the long way home. It’s leaving a place that is wonderful to be at for a place that’s, although called home, a place where life is real again, duty calls, and agendas are overbooked. And so it’s a long way home in the sense that I for one have mixed feeling about it. I want to go home, but I don’t, but I do. And although December is filled with happy family times (Elora’s -first- birthday, Sinterklaas, and of course Christmas) I cannot get around the feeling that I long for January already, when everything is back to “normal” again. But let’s not get ahead of myself here. I just see a challenge up ahead of trying to see the joy in everything. And where my good friend Eric was challenged to find this in November, it’s more December for me.

I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing, but for now, it’s getting back first. Taking the long way home.

A Life Led by the Spirit #4 – Victory

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of [b]Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘for your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)

Five questions can be raised regarding the believer’s eternal security in these concluding verses of Romans chapter 8.

Can Opposition Defeat the Christian?
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Since God is for us, who is against us? What a statement! Paul gives answer to his own question in Ephesians 6:11-13, which says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” And Peter reiterates this briefly when he said, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). Who is against us? The Devil and his host of demonic angels, but they cannot ultimately prevail and triumph over believers. God is the self-existent One and the sovereign Creator and, since He is for believers, no one can oppose believers successfully.

Will We Have the Resources?
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
This seems to be a no-brainer. If the Father already gave His ultimate gift, how can we think that He won’t give us the smaller gifts? And yet, more than I would like to admit, I find myself in situations where I do not embrace this truth; when I am deceived into thinking that I am who gives himself things. I think this is a good verse to be reminded of in a morning prayer time.

Will Our Failures Reverse Our Justification?
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;” (Romans 8:33)
Satan is often described as the accuser of God’s people (Revelation 12:10, Zechariah 3:1). His accusations are valid, because they are based on the believer’s sinfulness, yet they will be thrown out of court, because it is God who justifies. The Judge Himself declares the accused person righteous on the basis of his faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24; 5:1). As a result all accusations are dismissed and no one can bring an accusation that will stand. This refers back to Romans 8:1.

Can Anyone Condemn Us for Any Reason?
Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34)
We are secure from all condemnation. If Jesus Himself is our advocate, promoting our benefit, then who can condemn us? Jesus is God’s appointed Judge. Certainly the Judge will not condemn His own who are in Him by faith.

What Kind of Assurance Can We Have of Victory?
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)
Paul suggests seven things a believer might experience. He himself experienced them all (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). These things, which are stated in increasing intensity, do not separate Christians from Christ, instead they are part of all things God uses to bring them to conformity to His Son.

Closing Statements
Paul reminds us that affliction is part of our walk with God. Yet this brings us closer to Christ rather than further away from Christ. Victory at all times! A comforting thought.

A Life Led by the Spirit #2 – Realization

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:12-17)

The next couple of verses will deal with the realization of the obligation of what we owe and who we are in Christ. We need to get this right in order to understand the benefits and the ultimate price.

Get Your Debt Right
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13)
We owe nothing to the flesh. We are not in its debt, and therefore do not need to do its service. For are no longer slaves to the flesh. We need to put to death the deeds of the body, force our sinful nature to submit to the Spirit, and do this by the Spirit. If not by the Spirit then we will try on our own effort, on our own account, which leads to pride. So, it’s not only justification, where we are saved by the work of the Holy Spirit, but also sanctification, where we must walk by the Spirit in order to grow and pursue holiness in the LORD. Don’t be like the Galatians to which Paul writes in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” It’s a constant process that will be completed upon physical death.

Get Your Sonship Right
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!‘” (Romans 8:14-15)
It makes sense, right? If you’re led by the Spirit of God you’ll be the son of God. Yet it’s not a precondition. We become sons first and then the Spirit leads us. It’s reverse logic. Think you are the son of God? Well, are you led by the Spirit? Do you let the Spirit guide you, draw you, have authority over you, and so you do this all with joy and submissiveness? And does this lead to repentance and think much of God and little of yourself? Does it lead you into the truth, into love, into holiness? Again, do you do this all with joy? For the law of the Spirit is not under bondage and fear, but under joy, for it makes you cry out Abba (Daddy!).

Evidence and Benefits
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)
But then again, if you know, you know, because the Spirit testifies of His own presence in us. In Deuteronomy 19:15 we read that by Jewish law “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” and so there are two witnesses to your salvation: your own witness and the witness of the Holy Spirit. So, if you realize this then the next step is to realize what the benefits are of being a child of God. And that’s being an heir. Which means that there is an inheritance too, right? The inheritance is a matter of being (not doing). Being in the family of God. Now, this doesn’t mean you are exempt from suffering, for we all share in the suffering of Christ (again, sanctification) which will lead to glorification. Now, justification will always lead to glorification, yet here it is talking about inheritance (in contrast to salvation alone), in other words conditions to our specific destiny. We cannot imagine what this really means, “for just as it is written, things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Now in terms of suffering, Jesus promised us trials and tribulation (not to be confused with the Great Tribulation, which is solely for Israel) when He said, “‘These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.‘” (John 16:33). We could pretend these sufferings will not happen, or become overly anxious and fear for these sufferings, but we should be like Jesus and like Paul. Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and draw your conclusions on how he measured success.

Conclusion
Now let me close off with some reverse logic. In order to be glorified with Jesus and be fellow heirs, we have to suffer with Jesus, which can only happen if the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, which means that we are led by Spirit, which means we live by the Spirit and have put to death our sinful nature. So, where to start? Indeed.

Psalm #6 – Confidence Through Pain

LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O LORD – how long? Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; save me because of Your lovingkindness. For there is no mention of You in death; in Sheol who will give You thanks? I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; it has become old because of all my adversaries. Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD has heard my supplication, the LORD receives my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; they shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed” (Psalm 6:1-10)

David is in pain. Serious physical pain. Great affliction. And his sickness brought sin to his remembrance, and he views it as God’s displeasure against him. And yet the affliction, the pain, the suffering, the sickness is all bearable if he has comfort in his soul. Wow! Jesus speaks about this a couple of times in the gospels. “‘Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’” (Matthew 10:28), “‘Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’” (Matthew 11:29), and “‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:26). Even He Himself experienced His soul being deeply grieved to the point of death (Matthew 26:38) the night before His crucifixion in the garden of Gethsemane where He asks Peter, James and John to pray for Him. None of us like to suffer nor do we wish it on someone else, yet man is a sinner and sin leads to death. We should indeed me more worried about the one who is able to destroy the body and the soul than merely the body.

I am reminded here of the apostle Paul who went through great trials and sufferings for the sake of the Gospel, enduring physical pain, beating, imprisonment. And yet when you read his letter to the church of Philippi it is a letter full of joy. In Philippians 1:21-26 Paul says: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” To depart and be with Christ is the best thing that could happen for those who believe in Him, but to abide in the flesh is more profitable for the church.

We see the same attitude also in David. He made his request known to God, and is now confident that his sorrow will be turned into joy. We should all have this confidence when faced with pain. Of course we can and should pray that we don’t have to go through it. Are we not to pray: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13)? Even Jesus Himself prayed “‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’” (Matthew 26:39), but He was sure to add “yet not as I will, but as You will.” Our joy should be found in our soul, not in our body. And I am curious if we undergo a lifelong pursuit of finding joy in our soul by focusing on the glory of God, if indeed in times when we experience physical suffering of any kind we can still be joyful. Food for thought.

The Fruit of the Spirit #2 – Joy

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-25)

We must understand that joy comes from God
You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). True joy can only be found in God. Not only can we fully experience this, but with help of the Spirit we can also draw strength from it or grow strong in it, for it is said “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10b). Secondly, we should experience joy through His salvation, because God is the embodiment of salvation, and we can joyously draw His living water from the springs of salvation. Isaiah 12:2-3 says “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah 12:2-3).

I find these verses very reassuring, and one of the first question that becomes to mind is if I really turn to God for my joy. If that was the case, if I really turn to God for my joy, then I wouldn’t try to find joy in other places than God, which also means that I don’t have idols. I don’t worship something else. I must admit that it is not the case. I do turn to other places for joy, like my wife, my daughter, good music, company of friends, etc. Not that any of these are wrong, but losing any or all of the above should not affect my joy, as none of these are the source of my joy. I like the verse from Isaiah. The fact that it is a spring of salvation implies that it is alive and active (like Jesus and His word). We should joyously drink from this living water, always.

We should actively pursue joy
Sin or an unwilling spirit causes us to not fully experience and understand the joy of the Lord that is ours. It is an action on our part to pursue this true joy. Like the psalmist asks in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit“, we should ask God for a willing spirit. The combination of a willing spirit and the restoration of our joy also prepairs us much better when facing trials. Because we should “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). Like Jesus facing the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:1-2) we too should pursue joy through our trials.

We must abide in joy
Once we understand that joy comes from the Lord, and that we have pursued joy, we must abide in it. We should because “a joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22), and “a joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13), and so joy restores us, but also because we love Him and believe in Him, like is said in 1 Peter 1:8, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory“.

We must bring joy to others
All of the understanding, pursuing and abiding in should lead to wanting to express that joy, share that joy with people around us. Once our joy has been restored (Psalm 51:12), it should becomes infectious and we should be led to teach others, described in the next verse Psalm 51:13, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You“. The Gospel is the good news of Jesus, which should be brought with joy like the angel who announced the birth of Jesus to Mary in Luke 2:10, “But the angel said to them, do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people“.

But joy should not only be brought to unbelievers. We should also share the joy amongst brothers and sisters in the faith, to encourage each other, as described in Acts 15:3 “Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren“, and by Paul when writing to the church in Philippi “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me“.

We must understand that true joy can only be found in God. We must ask God for a willing spirit in order for that true joy to be restored. This involves actions on our behalf. We must actively engage in this process and pursue it, so we experience it and abide in it. I believe that once we understand and experience this true joy that comes from God, our joy becomes so infectious that we cannot stop sharing this good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus with people around us who do not believe in this. I am looking forward pursuing this as I am very curious, to say the least, to experience what this Godly joy feels like.