For the joy He endured

Recently I have been pondering, or to use a church word, meditating on a verse in scripture.  It has given me much to think about, and recently have come to a deeper understanding.  The verse is found in Hebrews chapter 12 and verse 2.  “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This is not a new verse for me at all.  Many times I have read it.  And it has been the content of many, many sermons.  And for many reasons.  First would be that we are to keep our eyes on Jesus.  That is the most evident part.  Only through Him can we properly exercise our faith.  Secondly would be that our faith is started and finished in Him.  And it is combined with another verse that basically states that what Jesus has started He will bring to completion.  Which is a most important truth.

But recently I have been reading on what it means to be a Christian, and biblically what is entailed in this life we are to live.  And have been reminded that God is never disappointed in His children, and deeply loves each of us.  Now I know how much God loves us because I have personally encountered that love.  And let me tell you it is amazing.  There are not words to describe how immense and intense the love of God is for each one of us, and God has reminded me of that fact.  And He used this verse.

He simply showed me one simple phrase that has gotten me to ponder deeply.  “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” Now for years I had thought that this joy was that He was seated at the right hand of God, as the verse continues to say.  But that is not what it means at all.  Because that was something He had already.  Philippians 2:5-8 says Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.   He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.  And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.” Jesus was already God and became a man to suffer and die in our place, and was then raised again and is seated forever at God’s right hand.  So this could not be the “joy that was set before Him”

And so I have pondered this question.  What was the joy that allowed Him to endure the cross.  The most incredibly horrible way that man has conceived to kill another still to this day.  And then God began to join together the scriptures I was reading and studying, with the books I was reading, and brought it all together with my relationship with Him and opened my heart to understand.  Simply put the joy was you and I.  Nothing more or less.  The joy was simply that He would again  be able to have a relationship with the part of His creation that He loved so intensely and that He had been separated from.  What an amazing God.  You and I were considered worth the agony of the cross.  And you and I allowed Jesus to suffer what He suffered.  Oh that we could truly understand exactly how precious and loved we truly are.

God Watcher or God Alone

Much of Christianity today can be summed up as being a “spectator” faith.  We stand on the sidelines, and watch others get involved.  We have the “minister” who does the “ministry” and we gather and “watch” the work of God get done.  Very few people ever get involved.  As a worship leader in my home church this is clear by the small amount of people who take part in the worship of the “One who saved us” from ourselves.  And as I relate to those who teach and preach in our congregations, it is clear by the lack of involvement by those who listen.

Many people drift off into other pursuits, be it simply daydreaming, or writing and doodling, or even falling asleep.  There is a general disregard for God in the church today.  We do our “duty” and attend when we feel like it, and feel we have fulfilled our “obligation” to our faith.  And yet this is not what God intended at all.

When we gather together, we are gathering for the express purpose of meeting with our God on a corporate level.  There is far to much of God to encounter on an individual basis, and God created us for relationship, both with Him first, and with other believers.  And we gather to encourage and strengthen one another and to encounter God together.  I wrote about this aspect in a earlier blog.  Christians, biblically at least, are supposed to be known one for their love for one another, John 13:34-35, but more importantly by the presence of God.

We are to personally know God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent deeply and intimately, and walk together with Him in relationship, responding to His lead and following His example.  Anything less is simply a religion of rules and regulations, that can never free you, nor can it save you.

But that is where many of us leave it.  We allow the “minister” to do the work of following God, and we get on with our lives.  We have become a culture of God watchers.  We simply sit around, allow someone else to “encounter God for us” and come and tell us what God said.  Then we decide if we will listen, or if we will respond, based upon how we feel at any given moment.  We have become content to be the spectator sitting in the bleachers, watching the game played out in front of us, while we listen to the play by play and chat with our friends.  And as a result our lives don’t change, and people around us really don’t want what we have to offer.  And if I can be so bold as to say, we really don’t have anything to offer.

I believe that this is something that God is changing in this hour of our  lives.  It is not something He is trying to change.  He is changing it.  He has the strange impression that He is God or something.  And He is right,  He is God.  And so He is calling us to go deeper than we have ever gone before.  He is calling us down from the bleachers, and into the game.  You see God never intended for there to be a “priesthood”.  There wasn’t supposed to be a select few who responded to the call of “ministry” while the rest of us went on living life.  He states in Exodus 19:6 the He planned to have a “Kingdom of priests”, not a small select few.  Israel was supposed to be a nation that as a whole could enter into His presence, and know Him personally, and to speak with Him personally just like Moses did.  Scripture tells in Exodus 33:11 that “Moses talked with God face to face, as a man talks with His friend.”  And that was what God wanted for all people.  But Israel said to Moses that He should go talk with God and then come back and tell them what God said.  They were afraid.

And ever since that day we have had “God Watchers”.  People who sit on the sidelines and wait for the “minister” to tell them what God said, and, like Israel, then decide whether they were going to listen or not.  And this is what God desires to change in us.  For us to come to know Him personally, and then simply follow His direction and participate with Him in the establishment of His kingdom here on earth.  To go from a “God watcher” to living for “God alone.”  To come to a place where nothing else really matters.  Not to have our heads stuck in the clouds and useless and irrelevant, but to reach out to the world with the hand of God and touch the lives of those around us, just like Jesus did when He walked on earth.

But first we have to make the switch that God is calling us to.  To “seek first His kingdom” and allow Him to work in us.  For only when we make Him our first priority, or as Jesus calls it, our first love can we then truly “go into all the world”.   Our choice is whether we will respond to God’s call.  Will we remain “God watchers” content to be on the sidelines, or will we get involved,  being sold out to Him and living for “God alone”.

Is God disappointed in me?

Growing up I was raised, like many people, in church and Sunday School, being taught stories of who Jesus was, and why He came.  And in the majority of those stories He was portrayed as a pious, somber person, who was critical of those around Him who didn’t seem to measure up.  In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a picture of Jesus smiling.  I can remember lots with Him crying, others with Him somber, one where He was angry, chasing the shop keeps and money exchangers out of the temple, but not one of Him smiling.

And this mentality continued all through my life.  And like many other Christians, I felt like I had let God down.  My life didn’t match up with His plans and purpose for me, and had left Him disappointed.  My walk with Him was forever damaged because I couldn’t live up to His expectations of me.

And this mentality was further enforced by reading some scriptures in which Jesus seems frustrated by His followers, and one in particular where Jesus says”How long do I have to put up with you.”

Even after I came to know and experience the intensity, and extravagance of the love He has for me, and came to understand that His love isn’t conditional after all, that He loves me the same when I am walking with Him as when I am not.  His acceptance of me wasn’t based upon my performance at all.  And yet this mentality persisted.  I still often felt that I had disappointed Him, and fallen short of His expectations for me.

But recently, as I was reading my bible, I had my eyes opened to a new reality of Jesus’ view of me.  And it came as I was reading in Matthew’s gospel, just before Jesus was crucified, where He was talking with the disciples and telling them what was about to happen to Him, and to them.  Jesus was telling them about His coming death and resurrection, and about their abandoning Him.  To which Peter replied “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” to which Jesus them informs him that before the rooster crows Peter would deny knowing Him 3 times.  Peter then becomes adamant and says “Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!” and all the other disciples seconded the motion.  And yet when push came to shove, and their lives were in jeopardy, Jesus’ words came to pass.  Everyone deserted Him, and Peter denied knowing Him 3 times.

Scripture tells that as soon as the rooster crowed, Peter remember what Jesus told him and was stricken with guilt for denying Jesus, and ran off weeping bitterly.  What a way to let down his Saviour.  And just like we feel most times, Peter was guilt ridden that he had let down his friend and master.  We often feel exactly the same way.  And yet when we look at Peter’s encounter with Jesus later, there is no mention of disappointment at all.  In fact there is not a single mention of  Jesus being offended or upset.  Just an extravagant love and acceptance.

I learned and think we all can learn 3 things from this story.

#1. Jesus isn’t disappointed in us when we fail.

In fact Jesus isn’t even surprised by our failures.  Brennan Manning, in his book “The Ragamuffin Gospel” says “God expects us to fail a lot more than we expect ourselves to fail.” And this isn’t a bad expectation of failure like would be our first response to a statement like that.  He simply states God’s perspective on our lives.  When you know the beginning from the end, you cannot be surprised by anything.  And when you know everything from the start to the finish you don’t have any expectations that are not fulfilled.  So God is never disappointed with our failures, because He knew we were going to make them before He created the world, and He still called us each by name and chose us to be His own.  In fact God is intensely proud of us simply because we chose to believe in Him and accepted the gift of life He gave us through the work of Calvary.

#2. Jesus didn’t change His mind about His purpose for you.

Scripture teaches that the “gifts and callings of God can never be withdrawn.”  What God destined you for can never be lost or taken away from you.  In fact God knew He would have to tell you about His plans for you 40 times before you would respond, so if He is only on time number 12 then He isn’t about to give up, or be disappointed.

#3. Jesus’ love and acceptance of me never waivers.

Jesus loves me 110% all of the time, and does so without reservation or restraint, and it is not conditional to our performance.  It just simply is.  He won’t love me less or more tomorrow than He does today.  And as “God doesn’t show partiality.” He feels the same about you as He does about me.  He doesn’t ration His love.  It is 110% on 100% of the time for you and for me, without exception.

We can see evidence of each of these upon Jesus’ next encounter with Peter after the resurrection as they walked along the beach.  The story is in John’s gospel.  Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him, and does so 3 times.  And it was not to rub Peter’s face in his denial, as Peter probably felt, because up to this point Peter had never dealt with the guilt of having denied Jesus.  It was to reveal to Peter God’s acceptance of Him and a reaffirmation of the call and purpose that God had gave him.  Nothing had changed at all.

And I think we need to take 3 responses from this interaction, because God deals with each of us in the same manner.

#1.  Face our guilt.

God does not confront us with our mistakes to have us relive them.  He gets us to confront them so that we can stop rationalizing them, see the truth of them, and to confront them head on and deal with it.  God never sweeps anything under the rug.  We must face the reality of ourselves if we are ever to get past ourselves.  Brennan Manning states it eloquently “The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to His goodness and the question becomes not ‘What have I done?’ but ‘What can He do?’ release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down.” But only when we confront the truth about ourselves, and the truth of God’s acceptance of ourselves can we move forward.

#2 Forgive ourselves

We need to forgive ourselves.  No one judges us more harshly that ourselves.  We brow beat ourselves repeatedly whenever we don’t measure up.  And we constantly rehearse past failures, and set ourselves up for future ones because we start to expect that of ourselves.  And in the end we fear failure, and because we fear it, we end up failing.  And Jesus came to set us free from this cycle.  But we have to let it go.  Forgiveness is given immediately when we ask.  But we have to accept it.  you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted” Jesus forgives you, now you need to forgive you.  And this happens as we encounter afresh the extravagance of God’s love for us afresh.  This is what allowed Peter to overcome his failure and become one of the prominent leaders of the Christian faith.

#3 Forget the past and move Forward.

Paul was a man who understood what I am writing about.  He was originally Saul, a staunch and violent persecutor of the church.  He was involved in the deaths of many early Christians, and set out across the kingdom arresting and imprisoning many.  That was until he encountered Jesus personally.  After which he became the most vocal supporter of Jesus.  He is credited with writing most of the New Testament of scripture.  And he himself stated “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” We simply need to do the same.  Let the past be the past, learn from the mistake and press forward into the plans and purpose of God, resting in His infinite love and acceptance for us, knowing that we can never let Him down or disappoint Him.