GOD’S CRAFTSMANSHIP

©2009 by George A. Kohl This Bible study booklet was written by Rev. George A. Kohl with gratitude for those who consulted and edited. Rev. George A. Kohl may be contacted at Belmont Street Baptist Church, 25 Belmont Street, Worcester, MA 01605, gakbsbc@verizon.net, 508-753-0312. All Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House and Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd. All rights reserved. The NIV does not capitalize pronouns related to deity and these materials do. To remain faithful to the NIV, no changes were made when the NIV was being quoted.

PREFACE: The course participant should attentively read the Scripture passage at the top of the page and the reading that follows. Most readings are one page. Upon occasion, you will be asked to read more than one Bible passage and more than one page. Mark places where you have questions for your mentor or group leader. The purpose of this material is to explain how God works in your life from the inside out and the outside in to make you more like Christ. It includes a discussion about cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work and dealing with life’s hardships. As with everything in life, you will only get as much benefit out of this study as you put effort into it. Mentees will probably have to invest 30 to 60 minutes in the material each day. You may not be able to work at the pace of one reading per day. A judgment on pace will be made by the mentors or group leaders in consideration of the mentees.

Reading 1 Created for God’s Purposes Colossians 1:15-23 Take a look around you wherever you are sitting. Isn’t everything you see made for some purpose? At the risk of stating the obvious, everything made is made for some purpose. The same is true of God’s creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16). Everything in the universe was created by Jesus Christ and for His purposes. Every cubic inch of this universe was created to serve God’s purposes. You were created by God and for His purposes. What the songwriter said about himself applies to you as well: All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). God determined the day you would be born, the day you would die, and your purpose for the days in between. Like every person on this planet, you were created to know, fear, worship, love, serve, and please the one and only true and living God. When you think of the massive numbers of people who are secular and in other religions, you realize how far the world has fallen from everyone existing for God’s purposes. Christ came to reconcile people to God and to restore them to the purposes for which they were originally created. The Father sent Him into the world for that purpose and He has now sent His church for that purpose (John 20:21; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). The primary driving force behind Christian world missions is to reconcile people to God and to restore them to the purposes for which they were originally created. In addition to having a general purpose for each person in the world, God has a unique purpose for everyone. In His sovereignty He selected your gender, physical features, and natural temperament to perfectly suit you for His unique calling for your life. He sovereignly placed you in a family of origin and brought you through certain life-experiences to mold and shape you into the person He wanted you to be. He has also given you certain roles in life and abilities with which to serve Him. We will help you to identify God’s personal and unique calling for your life in Discovering Your Unique Calling. In the meantime, keep in mind that you were created by Jesus Christ and for His purposes. Heart Checkup: As you look at the things you spend your money and your time on, what are the most important things to you in life? How aware do you seem to be that God has created you for His purposes? How well is every moment of your time, every bit of your energy, and every dollar of your money used to live for His purposes?

Reading 2 Worthless Servants Matthew 25:14-30 Traditional religions are still strong in some regions of Africa. Families who sense they are under a curse go to a priest who allegedly divines the cause of the curse. It could be that a relative long ago committed a murder, theft, adultery, or did something evil. After the diagnosis for the curse, he prescribes the cure. It often involves surrendering a young family member to serve as a slave in the shrine where the priests live. Young females are more potent than young males. Many families pursue this prescription. Over the years thousands of children have become Trokosi slaves in this way. The polygamous priests marry and impregnate the young girls. With these practices having gone on for generations, there are literally thousands of males and females who have been born into this enslaved condition. It is the only life they know. While in Ghana, I visited the Baptist Vocational Training Center. They literally buy the freedom of Trokosi slaves, teach them a trade, and instruct them on how to live in a free society. While they succeed with most, some run away and return to the familiarity of the Trokosi shrines. It is more comfortable to them than the anxieties of functioning in the free world. While the human race was created by God and for His purposes (Colossians 1:16), there is a sense in which it fell out from under His ownership and control. It fell into the hands of Satan (1 John 5:19). This happened when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Since then all the members of the human race have been born into slavery to self, sin and Satan (John 8:31-47; Romans 6:6, 16-17, 20). Every non-Christian currently lives in this enslaved condition, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts (Ephesians 2:3). We were not familiar with living for our Creator and His purposes. We were only comfortable living for self, sin, and Satan. Dear Christian, unbeknown to you at the time of your birth, you were born into an enslaved human race and were worthless to God and His purposes for creating you. Romans 3:11-12 says, All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. When something in your house becomes completely worthless, what do you do with it? You throw it in the garbage, don’t you? Likewise, the people who are worthless to serving God’s purposes for creating them are also thrown away. The place in which worthless people are thrown away is called “hell.” When the writers of the Gospel quote the Lord Jesus speaking of hell, they use the Greek word gehenna (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). Originally gehenna was the Greek word for the Hebrew word describing “the Valley of Hinnom.” The Valley of Hinnom was a deep, narrow glen just outside Jerusalem where people disposed and incinerated everything that was worthless to them. Likewise, hell is the place where God disposes and incinerates people who are worthless to serving His purposes. You will recall from the Parable of the Talents that the worthless servant was thrown into hell (gehenna) where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). The Lord promises that every person who does not fulfill His purposes for their existence, will be thrown away into hell. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9). If you are alive right now, you are either living in the purpose or the patience of God. God loves people too much to simply discard them without giving them an opportunity to be redeemed and restored to His purposes for their existence. Heart Checkup: How do you feel about the fact that you were once (or maybe still are) a slave of self, sin and Satan, worthless to God, and worthy to be thrown out into the eternal trash dump?

Reading 3 Redeemed 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 A boy once made a toy sailboat. It brought him much pleasure until the day it drifted away and got lost. Several months later, the boy spotted his boat for sale at a large flea market. No longer entitled to it, he bought it back from the person who was selling it. This simple story is an excellent illustration of what it means to be redeemed. Being redeemed is an important biblical concept to understand. The Scriptures tell us that all things were created by God, that He is the rightful owner of all things, and that all things exist for His purposes. People were created to know, fear, worship, love, serve, and please God. When the human race joined with Satan in his rebellion, there is a sense in which God lost His ownership over us. It says in 1 John 5:19 that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. But God bought us back for himself with the precious blood of Christ. We are now redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:1819). As a first step in restoring us to the original purposes for which He created us, God redeems us. He buys us back from our slavery to self, sin, and Satan so that we belong to Him again. There are four Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated “to redeem.” The word agaradzo means to purchase or buy back someone or something and restore it to its original and rightful owner. Our sailboat story is an excellent illustration of this. Exagoradzo means to purchase someone or something out of prison or slavery. Lutrosis means to set someone or something free by paying the price for its freedom, a ransom. And apolutrosis is just a stronger way of saying the same thing. The Greek words for “redeem” are associated with the Greek and Roman marketplace where many things were traded, most notably slaves. In this context, to redeem people meant to pay the price necessary to set them free from one owner so they could belong to another. When God redeems us, He pays the price for our freedom from self, sin, and Satan so that we fully and rightfully belong to Him. Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Corinthians 5:15). We also see this in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. You do not have the right to decide for yourself what you want to get out of life between the time of your birth and death. Your concern should be what God wants to get out of your life during that span of time. Paul had it right when He said, For to me, to live is Christ. The word is does not appear in the Greek. The sense of the sentence is, “The purpose for my existence expressed in one word is Christ.” He expressed the same idea in Philippians 3:12 where he said, I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. There is a sense in which we got out from under God’s ownership and fell into the hands of self, sin, and Satan. We were worthless to God and worthy of being thrown into the trash heap. But God loved us too much to do that without giving us the opportunity to be redeemed by Him and restored to the purposes for which He originally created us. He has repurchased us with the precious blood of Jesus. Heart Checkup: Who owns and runs your life? Who should be running your life?

Reading 4 Sanctified Galatians 5:13-26 As a first step in restoring us to the original purposes for which He created us, God redeems us. As a next step, He sanctifies us. At the Baptist Vocational Training Center, redeemed Trokosi slaves are taught a trade. They are taught weaving, sewing, woodworking, hairdressing, or another marketable skill. They are also taught the skills of living in the free world. They learn how to make purchases, manage money, run homes, cook, clean, take care of their hygiene, and so forth. Likewise, after God redeems us, He teaches us how to live for Him and the purposes for which we were originally created. This process is called sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit sets us free from the power of sin and sets us apart to live exclusively for God and His purposes. God is working in our lives so that we live exclusively to know, fear, worship, love, serve, and please the one and only true and living God. God is working in our lives to make them completely God-centered. The Lord Jesus said that to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind is the most important commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). His apostle said that we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). The Apostle Paul prayed for the sanctification of the Thessalonian believers. He prayed, May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23). That which he was praying for was the complete devotion of the Christians to God. In his book, Birthright, David C. Needham has an illustration that helps me appreciate the process of God making us holy. He has his readers imagine a large company that exists to make big profits by manufacturing a poisonous gas used in warfare. He then has us imagine that the entire ownership and board of directors changes hands. The new management no longer wants to produce lethal gas for profit. They want to become a non-profit organization that produces life-saving oxygen. The change doesn’t just happen overnight. Much machinery needs to go and new machinery needs to be brought in. Many materials needs to be liquidated and stockpiles of new materials need to be brought in. Some personnel have to be released, some need to be hired, and all are in need of intense indoctrination regarding the new motives and purposes of the company. It is a big job! When you were redeemed, you got a new owner and Board of Directors in your life–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Whereas you were accustomed to producing the fruit of the flesh, the new Board now wants you to produce the fruit of the Spirit. The change doesn’t happen overnight. Reorientation takes place on many levels and in many areas over many years. Stockpiles of non-Christlike traits need to be removed out of your life and Christlike materials need to be brought in. This process is called sanctification. It is a big job and it is the work of the Holy Spirit! Heart Checkup: How aware are you that you are owned by God and that you exist to serve His purposes? How much does your lifestyle demonstrate that He is the new owner and director of your life?

Reading 5 The Reasons God Sanctifies John 15:1-17 Sanctification is like the two sides of a single coin. On the one side, the Holy Spirit sets us free from the power of self, sin, and Satan. On the other side, God sets us apart to live exclusively for Him and His purposes. There are at least three good reasons God sanctifies us. First, God sanctifies us to spare us and others from the destructive effects of sin. After all, God created us. He knows how we function best. He did not just randomly give us commandments to follow. His commands are rooted in His wisdom and in His love for us. He knows what is in our very best interests and wants that for us. If we participate in sins, we destroy the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us. God gets so angry about sin because we are hurting people that God deeply loves–ourselves and everyone else. On the other hand, obedience to God’s will leads to blessings in our lives and the lives of those around us. Galatians 6:7 says, Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. I do not mean we reap negative consequences in our lives the moment we sin. We reap in a different season than we sow. The negative consequences of sin may follow years later but, sooner or later, the inherent fruits of disobedience will affect our lives. God sets us free from sin and sets us apart unto Himself so He can spare us and others from the hurtful consequences. Second, God sanctifies us so we can have uninterrupted fellowship with Himself. Although sin is destructive to the quality of lives, the primary reason God does not want us to sin is because it is destructive to the quality of our relationship with Him. The correlation between your sins and your fellowship with God can be seen in 1 John 1:5-7. It says: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. God delivers us from the power of sin in our lives so that we can have unbroken communion with Him. Third, God sanctifies us so that He can work through our lives to advance His work on earth. The purer our hearts and lives, the more God can work through us. Thankfully, He works in our lives to purify us so that He can work through our lives. This requires Him to do some serious pruning in our lives. The Lord Jesus said: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:1-2). It is doubtful that God can use our lives to the fullest until He has first pruned us severely. Through this process we become an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:21). There are reasons God works to make you holy. He wants to spare you and those around you from the inherently destructive effects of sin, to enable you to experience intimacy with Him, and to make you a useful vessel through whom He can work.

Reading 6 God’s Workmanship Ephesians 2:1-10 William Shakespeare (1564-1616), an English poet and playwright, is arguably considered to be the most outstanding writer in the English language. He wrote 38 plays, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, which are still read and produced to this very day. Shakespeare knew how to tell great stories, create great characters, inject poetry, and spin words in the most picturesque manner. Almost every line he published can be savored. His creative mind and skill with words is unmatched in the English speaking world. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. The Greek word for workmanship is poiema. You can see that the English word “poem” derives from this Greek word. Think about the great skill and great work it takes to create a really good poem that will be cherished by many people for many years to come. While every culture has different rules by which its poetry is formed, to abide by those rules and create something longstanding takes great skill. The poet takes bland words and arranges them in such a way that they create a thing of beauty. According to Ephesians 2:10, God is making something beautiful out of your life. You are His workmanship. The Greek word poiema is not limited in its use to poetry. It actually means “skilled craftsmanship.” It can be applied to anything that requires a high level of skill to produce – a piece of furniture, a song, a story, a book, a play, a dance, a painting, and a sculpture. A skilled craftsman begins with meaningless pieces of something and creates something wonderful, beautiful, and useful with them. In the same way, God is the skilled craftsman who takes a useless, sinful life like yours and makes something beautiful out of it. He is working to give you the beauty of Jesus Christ in all of your thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes, actions, and speech. That work of the Holy Spirit in your life is called sanctification.

Reading 7 Transformed into Christ’s Likeness 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 The great missionary, David Brainerd, lived among Native American Indians of North America in order to bring the good news of Christ to them. One day a traveling minister asked a tribal chief if he had considered becoming a Christian. The chief responded, "If Jesus Christ is like Mr. Brainerd, I am interested in knowing more about Him." What a compliment to the devout David Brainerd who vigorously pursued likeness to Christ. May those kind of things be said about each of our lives as well. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we read that we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. The Greek word for transformed is metamorphoo. It is the root word for the English word “metamorphosis” which is the process by which a caterpillar is radically changed into a butterfly. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 metamorphoo is the process by which a sinful person is radically changed into a Christlike person. We will never become free from all sin in this life. We will not attain perfect likeness to Christ. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Although you will never be sinless in this life, thanks to the work of God in you, you can become less and less sinful. And though you will never fully be like Christ, you can sin become more and more like Him. While all believers will be given perfect Christlikeness when He returns (1 Corinthians 15:49; 1 John 3:2), you can have a degree of present likeness to Him. In 1 John 2:6 it says that whoever claims to have spiritual life in Christ must live as Jesus lived when He walked among us. In Galatians 4:19 Christ’s apostle Paul confessed that he was in agony awaiting the character of Christ to be formed in the believers living in the province of Galatia. As you can see, it is possible for you to bear some of the likeness to Christ in this life. In 1 John 4:17 it says that in this world we are like him. While you will never be completely like Him in this life, you can constantly become more and more like Him in your thinking, feeling, motives, attitudes, actions, and speech with each passing year. Children grow every day even though we can’t see them growing. Most of our growth takes place slowly and incrementally. It is not noticeable from one day to the next. Rather, it becomes noticeable from year to year. I remember going through growth spurts when I was in middle school. The pants that fit me so well when I left school the previous year, look ridiculous on me at the beginning of the next school year. Without noticing it, I grew over the summer. In the same way, you do not notice your spiritual growth. A life circumstance helps you see that you have grown. The realization that you handle things better than you used to is often an indication to you that you are growing. Although we do go through growth spurts, most of our spiritual growth takes place slowly and incrementally. This is especially true in new born, spiritual infants just as it is true in newborn infants. While most of our spiritual growth is not noticeable from month to month, it ought to be noticeable over time. Heart Checkup: Spiritual growth is difficult to quantify and measure. Do you think that there is more and more Christlikeness coming into your life as they years go by? Are others noticing spiritual maturity and Christlikeness increasing in your life? In what ways has your life been changed?

Reading 8 The Work Within 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 I was in the break room at work having a cup of coffee with Ethan. Suddenly his wife appeared at the door with an infant in hand. There was something very strange about the child. It was as small as any other infant, but it had teeth, unusually long hair, and large hands. It was deeply disturbing to see. Ethan explained to me that his son had a birth defect and would never grow up to be a normal adult. While a newborn infant is a wonderful thing, if that child is still tiny after six years, something is wrong. Paul was filled with joy when the Christians at Corinth were newborn infants in Christ; but He was deeply disturbed when they failed to grow after six years. The Corinthians were born again about six years prior to receiving Paul’s letter. They were beautiful as newborn spiritual infants. Six years later they were the same spiritual size. Something was abnormal from Paul’s perspective. He expected more spiritual maturity in the Corinthian believers than he was observing. He didn’t think they were thinking, feeling, acting, or speaking any different than mere men without the Holy Spirit in their lives. They looked like they were under the old management of self, sin, and Satan rather than under the direction of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They were producing the fruit of the flesh more than the fruit of the Spirit. He viewed them as spiritual infants who were abnormally immature in their spiritual development. At the time we put our trust in Christ, we are born again as spiritual children into God’s forever family (John 1:12-13; 3:1-7). We all begin our spiritual life in Christ as spiritual infants (1 Peter 2:2). At that time, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our hearts and lives to set us free from the grip of sin and to make us more like Christ. Just as there are forces of physiological and psychological maturation at work in a newborn infant, there are forces of spiritual maturation at work within the newborn child of God. We are being transformed into his (Christ’s) likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). You can praise God that the Holy Spirit is working in your life to radically transform you into the likeness of Jesus Christ. The world-renowned Michelangelo (1475-1564) may be the most skilled sculptor to ever live. In Florence, Italy stands his colossal and magnificent statue of King David. The sculpture is observed by tens of thousands of tourists every year. He was once asked how he had made this magnificent statue. He said, “I started with a block of marble and took away all that was not David.” Likewise, you are God’s workmanship. He starts with a sinful block of human and takes away all that is not like Christ.

Reading 9 Cultural Factors 1 Corinthians 6:12-17 In the city of Corinth there was a large temple dedicated to the worship of Aphrodite, also called Venus, the Greek goddess of beauty, love, and sexuality. And in the city of Ephesus there was a large temple dedicated to the worship of Artemis, also called Diana, the goddess of childbirth, virginity, and fertility (Acts 19:23-41). In those temples there were women so highly devoted to their respective goddesses that they served as temple prostitutes. The funds they collected for their sexual favors were contributed to the temple treasuries. In both the cities of Corinth and Ephesus there was also a community of Christians. Some of the Christian men were taking advantage of the services of these temple prostitutes just as they had done before they were Christians. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 contains Paul’s instructions to these men. He reminded them that the Lord created their bodies for the purpose of serving Him, not for the purpose of engaging in sensuality. He saw the latching of their bodies with anyone other than their spouses as misuse of their bodies. He saw an in congruency in taking a body that was created to serve the Lord’s purposes and putting it on top of a temple prostitute. He reminded them that their bodies were redeemed by the blood of Christ and did not belong to themselves. Their bodies existed for the purpose of honoring God. In Ephesians 5:3-7 he instructs the Christians in Ephesus. He lets them know that there should not be one bit of sexual immorality among them because that is improper for people that God has bought and set apart for His purposes. Here is my point: Every culture poses special challenges to the Christians that try to live out their Christian lives in that culture. In Haiti I’ve seen the struggles that a voodoo culture continues to have upon the Christians there. In Thailand I’ve seen the struggles that a Buddhist culture continues to have upon the Christians there. In the United States I have seen the special struggles produced by a highly materialistic, individualistic, and hedonistic culture. Every culture presents special challenges to and temptations for Christians as they seek to live like Christ in their culture. Heart Check: What are some of your special challenges with sin as a result of the influence of your culture?

Reading 10 Different Starting Points Ephesians 5:3-7 Your culture is a big influence in your life but it is not the only formative influence. Beginning the day you were born again, God went to work in your life to make you more and more like Jesus Christ. It is important to understand that every Christian does not begin that process of metamorphosis at the same point. There are many different influences that shaped that starting point. First, we are all born with a natural temperament. Every temperament has a different mix of propensities toward the godly and ungodly. Second, we all grew up in different families. For better and for worse, our families of origin are generally the most powerful formative influences we experience in life. Third, we all have different life-altering experiences that deeply impact the way we are. Some cause us to become better people and some cause us to be worse. Fourth, we all make moral choices that impact our lives and characters. As Galatians 6:7 says, A man reaps what he sows. The decisions we made to participate in sinful activities will have a negative impact upon our lives. The decisions we made to do right will provide a benefit. Unfortunately, it does not matter if we engaged in these activities out of ignorance or out of defiance. Fifth, our heritage of mental health will effect our spiritual development. Finally, as we saw in the previous reading, the culture in which we are trying to walk with God will have a big impact on our walk. Because of these formative influences in our lives, we all start the process of spiritual formation at different places. These things may cause us to have a greater or lesser challenge with hypocrisy, pride, prejudice, partiality, fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, indifference, covetousness, stinginess, extravagance, laziness, apathy, dominance, stubbornness, inflexibility, giving up, unforgiveness, impulsiveness, self-control, harshness, vulgarity, sexual immorality, sensuality, unfaithfulness, substance abuse, lying, stealing, disrespect, and inconsistency. We all face greater challenges in some areas of Christian living than others around us. We all face lesser challenges as well. When you were dead in your sins, you followed the ways of this world and of Satan. You gratified the cravings of your sinful nature and followed its desires and thoughts (Ephesians 2:1-2). In that process you developed sinful habits of thinking, feeling, acting, reacting, speaking, and so forth. God picked you up where the world left you off when you were redeemed. He began at that point to work in you to put the character of Christ in you. I do not want anyone to be mislead by what was said. Our temperaments, families of origins, life experiences, past moral choices, mental illnesses, and cultures have powerful influences on our lives but they do not provide an excuse or justification for our evil behaviors. The benefits to knowing how these influences came into our lives is in making our struggles understandable. This understanding may be helpful in dealing with the problem in some cases. It also makes us more gracious with others who may be struggling in areas that we are not. People are very complicated creatures. Yet, wherever the process begins for you, God is working to make you like Jesus Christ from the inside out. Heart Checkup: What special struggles with sin did you inherit as a result of your natural temperament, family of origins, life experiences, past moral choices, and mental health issues?

Reading 11 From the Inside Out Matthew 23:25-26 A colleague of mine was in the large city of a developing nation. He decided to take a dinner cruise on a small boat that was billed as fine dining with great views of the city. He enjoyed his food until he inadvertently discovered how the dishes were washed. He wasn’t supposed to see this, but he did. He saw the waiter dipping the dishes into the river, wiping them off with a towel, and putting the next course of the meal on the plate. The most disturbing part about it all is that the river is known for being polluted, full of sewage, and unfit for human consumption. Obviously, the floating restaurant is more concerned about the impression of using clean dishes than the reality of using them. This reminds me of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. He condemned them for wanting to look like they were morally pure on the outside but really being full of impurity on the inside. You live in the constant danger of being like them. Clearly, external appearances of righteousness can fool our fellow man but they cannot fool God. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). That is why the focus of Christ’s whole ministry was upon the transformation of hearts, not behaviors. In His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus emphasized the centrality of the heart in morality. To be guilty of murder you do not have to slit a person’s throat. You have committed murder in God’s eyes the moment you have bitterness and resentment in your heart toward another (Matthew 5:21-26). To be guilty of adultery you do not have to be in bed with another person. You have committed adultery when you desire and fantasize about being in bed with someone other than your spouse (Matthew 5:27-30). To be guilty of hypocrisy all you have to do is put on an external show of righteousness and good deeds in order to be seen by others (Matthew 6:1-18). Beginning with His Sermon on the Mount and throughout His entire ministry, the Lord Jesus put the emphasis on the heart, not on external shows of behavior. He knows that if we change our heart, we will change our behaviors. It is as the Lord said: No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. (Luke 6:43-45). For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean" (Mark 7:20-23). God wants to transform our lives from the inside out. True transformation is not about making yourself look good to others. It is about making your heart look good to the All-Knowing One. People often try to deal with their non-Christlike behaviors externally. They try to change without dealing with the underlying causes in the heart. God wants to make your behaviors and speech purer by first making your heart purer. He wants us to change from the inside out. A fully sanctified heart is one that is fully set free from sin and completely set apart for God’s purposes. It is clear from the Scriptures that you will never be completely sanctified in this life (Galatians 5:16-17; Romans 7:15-19; 1 John 1:10). Nevertheless, you want your heart to be as pure and sanctified as it can possibly be so that you can avoid the destructive effects of sin, have uninterrupted fellowship with God, and be a clean vessel through whom the Lord can work. Heart Checkup: To what degree do you work at changing your heart with God’s help when you have something in your life that you want to bring in line with God’s will?

Reading 12 Cooperating with the Holy Spirit Philippians 2:12-13 Mark 3 tells the story of the healing of a man with a deformed hand. The Lord Jesus issues an impossible command to him. He says, Stretch out your hand. Would you order a man with a deformed hand to stretch it out? A man with such a hand cannot obey that command unless he is first empowered by God to do so. Likewise, you cannot obey God’s command unless you are first empowered by God to do so. God’s commands run contrary to your natural inclinations and are impossible for you to obey apart from prior enablement from God. If you have ever tried to live without sinning for a day based on your raw willpower, you discovered your inability to do so. Be looking at Philippians 2:12-13 as we study it in the remainder of this reading. Think first about the word salvation in verse 12. When we see the word salvation the first thing that usually comes to our mind is being saved from eternal condemnation. Biblically, there is another use of the word salvation. We are not only saved from the penalty of sin. We are also being saved from the power of sin in our lives. That is the meaning of salvation in this verse. It is referring to your sanctification. In this verse you are being told to work out your sanctification. Notice in verse 12 that Paul does not tell you to “work for” your salvation. He tells you to work out your salvation. While you could never “work for” your salvation from the penalty of sin, you are commanded to work out your salvation from the power of sin. That means you have a responsibility to work to the outside of your life that which God is doing on the inside. The outside of your lives is where your heart shows itself in actions, speech, and attitudes. Before you can bring forth any truly righteous attitudes, actions, or speech, God must first work in you just as He had to first work in the man who stretched out his deformed hand. Philippians 2:13 says it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. God the Holy Spirit is working in your heart (John 14:7, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7-11, 13, 15; Acts 4:31; 20:22, 28; Romans 2:29; 5:5; 7:6; 8:1-2, 4-6; 9, 11, 13-15, 23, 14, 26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 12:3-11; 2 Corinthians 3:6-8; 17-18; 13:14; Galatians 5:13-25; etc.) He enables you to see God for Who He is. He enlightens your mind to understand God’s truths and ways. He helps you recall Scriptural truths in an hour of need. He makes God’s propositions, promises, and principles real to your life. He helps you identify errors in your thinking and living. He convicts your conscience when you sin. He places holy thoughts and desires in you. He gives you impulses to refrain from sin, to do right, and to give of your money, time, and self. He creates in you a hunger for that which is pleasing to God and a distaste for that which is not. He leads you in decision making and shows you the proper next step you need to take. He gives you the courage you need to live righteously. He gives you the resolve and willpower to do the will of God. These are the kind of things that are meant to be understood when the Philippians 2:13 says it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. You are responsible to act on the inner work of the Holy Spirit with fear and trembling. That means you are to be serious-minded about working God’s inner work to the outside of your life. It is akin to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:1: Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. There is a sculpture of Michelangelo’s that he never finished. When asked why, he replied, “That piece of marble just would not cooperate.” You are God’s craftsmanship. He wants to make something beautiful and Christlike out of your life. For Him to accomplish this, you must cooperate. You must work to the outside of your life all that He is doing on the inside. Heart Checkup: Does God consider you to be cooperative? Are you working to the outside of your life all that God is doing on the inside?

Reading 13 Parent-Child Tensions Hebrews 12:4-13 I went through my adolescence in the 1960s when the United States was going through a cultural revolution of sorts. It was an era when teenagers were anti-establishment. Young people did everything in their power to be different from their parents. Parents wanted their sons to have short hair so the boys wanted to wear it long. Parents wanted their daughters to have long skirts so the girls wore them short. We loved our rock and roll and our love of it was enhanced by the fact that our parents hated it. Our parents thought our clothes looked goofy and now I think they were right. What they did not understand that our clothes were designed to distinguish us greatly from them. There were plenty of moral issues parents also had to deal with-the war, drugs, sex, birth control, abortion, and so forth. Our parents had one vision of what they wanted us to be and we had another. This created much tension between parents and children. As we saw in today’s Scripture reading, our earthly fathers trained us in our youth as they thought best. They were doing their part to make us into healthy, happy, and good citizens of society. In the process, they made plenty of mistakes, just as we went on to make plenty of mistakes and just as our children will go on to do the same. In contrast, our Heavenly Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10). Do you see the word holiness in verse 10? It is the Greek word hagiotes which can be translated “holiness” or “sanctity.” Being made holy and being sanctified are synonymous. Our Heavenly Father wants to make our moral character like His. The Apostle Peter put it this way: As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:14-16). The Greek word holy (hagios) in these verses is the adjective form of which holy (hagiotes) is the noun form in Hebrews 12:10. This is our Heavenly Father’s vision for our lives. He wants us to become distinguished in moral character like He is distinguished in moral character. If you have a different vision of what you want your life to be, it is going to create tension between you and your Heavenly Father. If you want to live for yourself and set your own agenda for what you want to get out of this life, you are setting yourself up for turbulence in your walk with God. If you yield to the pressure of what others want for your life, you can expect constant tension between you and your Heavenly Father. He loves you too much to let you run your own life or to let someone else set your agenda. As you saw in Hebrews 12, every true child of God requires the training of his Heavenly Father. The easiest path is to be fully cooperative with His goals and visions for our life. As long as you are living for reasons other than to know, fear, worship, love, serve, and please God, He is going to keep disciplining your life to bring you in line with His purposes for your existence.

Reading 14 Pure Gold Job 23:1-17 The word “gold” is used 404 times in the Scriptures. It is described as “pure gold” only 51 times. Pure gold is considered rare and the metal worthy of God. It was what was used in the construction of God’s tabernacle, temple, and heaven. The difference between gold and pure gold has to do with the level of refining the gold undergoes before it is used. To purify gold in ancient times a goldsmith heated up the gold until it became a liquid. All the impurities within floated to the surface and were skimmed off. After the gold hardened again, the process was repeated. After the process was repeated seven times, you had what the ancients called “pure gold.” To purify your heart God must refine you through the furnace of affliction over and over and over again. Each time He does, new impurities surface and He removes them. He repeats this process your whole life in order to remove all of the crud and impurities found in your heart. Job was severely inflicted by God. At one point Job said, When God has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10). Job realized that God uses hardships to purify His people as a goldsmith uses the furnace to refine his gold. We do not realize the immensity of the impurity that resides in our hearts. The most devout believers down through the centuries have expressed their amazement at how much darkness God has removed from their lives and continues to remove. It feels like our hearts are a bottomless pit of filth. That being the case, you might expect God to heat up the furnace of affliction repeatedly for the duration of your earthly life. You are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). God’s inner work is God the Holy Spirit working in your life from the inside out. God’s outer work is God working in your life from the outside in. Through hardship and suffering, He causes the impurities in your heart to rise into your conscious mind where you, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, can deal with them. This is how God’s outer work interacts with God’s inner work to sanctify you. About seven years into my calling as a pastor, many things went wrong in my ministry. I went into an unprecedented bout of despondency. One afternoon I sat down and wrote out everything I was thinking and feeling. I recorded eighteen handwritten pages. A pastoral friend, who was a wise counselor, loved me enough to read it and counsel me. When I met with him he said, “You have an ungodly bent toward pleasing people.” I was shocked. Where did that thought come from? I did not say a thing about pleasing others in what I wrote. I could not see how he connected the dots in that way, but he was right! And that was the beginning of my awareness that I had a problem with trying to please everybody. That was the beginning of me trying to live out Galatians 1:10 where the Apostle Paul says, Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. This illustrates how God’s outer work works together with His inner work to set us free from sin and set us apart unto God. I wish I could say my problem with pleasing people ended there. Instead, God has heated up the furnace of affliction several times and skimmed off more and more people pleasing dross out of my heart. I know remnants of the problem continue to exist in me to this day. I am pleased to say it is not the problem it once was. I now know the joys that accompany the freedom of not trying to please everyone. Heart Checkup: Have you had any experiences like mine? (Undoubtedly, you have. You may not have recognized them as such.) How does the relationship of God’s inner and outer work in your life make you feel?

Reading 15 Sovereign and Good Romans 8:28-30 In the Book of Ruth we meet a woman named Naomi. While she believed God was in control of the circumstances of her life, she struggled to believe that He was always and only good. As a result, she grew bitter when great hardship came into her life. Naomi was a Jewish woman living in the Gentile nation of Moab. She was widowed and left to raise two sons. They grew up and married Moabite women. Both sons died after marriage and before having children. Naomi suddenly found herself in a Gentile nation without anyone who was her own flesh and blood. She was left with two Moabite daughter-in-laws. She decided to return to Israel and encouraged her daughter-in-laws to remain in their homeland, to remarry, and to raise families. Her one daughter-in-law decided to heed her counsel but the other one, Ruth, refused. In deep devotion to Naomi, Ruth joined Naomi in her return to Israel. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the women greeted Naomi by name. She replied, Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara (which means “bitter one”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi believed God was sovereign but struggled to believe He was always good. On the other hand, Job was a man of God who believed God was sovereign and that He was always and only good. Contrast his life with Naomi’s. In a matter of days, Job lost all of His wealth, most of his servants, his seven sons, and three daughters. That is an enormous amount of loss in a short period of time! Job’s response included faith in both God’s sovereignty and goodness. He said, Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (Job 1:21). Job’s wife was more like Naomi. She believed God was sovereign but struggled to believe He was always good. Her counsel to Job after their calamities was, Curse God and die (Job 2:9). Over the years I have met many people who were bitter towards God. They blamed him for their misery and did not believe there was potential for good in it. How can you suffer without growing bitter about life or bitter toward God? Romans 8:28 provides great assistance. It says, We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. It says that the good and sovereign God has the ability to bring good results out of painful, even evil, circumstances in your life. The Apostle James even said, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4). A mother may not enjoy the pain of child birth, but she can withstand it knowing that it will produce a dear child. Likewise, you may not enjoy the suffering you must endure, but you can joyfully withstand it if you know that it will produce positive results in your life. One of the most cherished gems on earth is the diamond. Did you know that a diamond is merely a piece of coal that has been put under so much weight and pressure that it transformed into something more beautiful? God must put you under much pressure to transform you into something more beautiful, the character of Christ. Heart Checkup: Are you bitter toward God for a circumstance He allowed into your life? Do you tend to experience peace in tough times from knowing that God will use them for good purposes in your life?

Reading 16 Naomi & Job Genesis 50:15-21 In Romans 5:3 Christ’s apostle Paul said, We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. The joy in suffering that Paul speaks of is not a psychological disorder known as masochism, in which some people take pleasure in pain. He is expecting believers to feel pain as pain, not pleasure. At the same time, faith in both God’s sovereignty and goodness enables us to realize that God has a good purpose and plan for our suffering and hardship. A woman was once baking pastries with her impatient, nine year old grandson. She laid out all the ingredients but the boy wanted to eat immediately. When asked if he wanted to eat any of the ingredients by themselves–flour, cooking oil, raw eggs, yeast–he responded “No!” to each offer. Only the sugar had some appeal to him. His grandmother was able to tell him, “Life consists of many good and bad parts. God is able to take all of the parts and make something wonderful out of them.” Joseph, son of Jacob, believed in both God’s sovereignty and goodness. As a result, he did not grow bitter when he suffered hardship. Joseph grew up as a spoiled child who was despised by his brothers. They left him to die but ended up selling him to some Ishmaelite slave traders. In their minds Joseph was now gone forever even though God had a different plan in mind. It was a plan that involved much suffering. It was also a plan that involved much responsibility. Joseph rose to power in Egypt to the point that he is in charge of the food reserves for an upcoming famine that God revealed to him. That famine affected Israel. It was so bad that Joseph’s brothers had to come to Egypt looking for food. They made their appeal to the man in charge of food not knowing they were dealing with their own brother. Their brother knew who they were. The negotiations went on in anonymity for a month or two. At last, Joseph revealed his identity to them. His brothers were horrified that he would now take revenge on the evil they had done to him. Listen to Joseph’s surprising response: Come close to me. I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you (Genesis 45:4-5). While it would be natural for Joseph to retaliate, he tenaciously trusted in both the sovereignty and goodness of God. His brothers were not sure he was being honest with them. They feared that the only reason he was keeping them alive was that he did not want to add grief to their aged father. When fear flooded their souls at the death of their father, Joseph reassured them that everything was going to be alright. He told them not to be afraid. While they intended to hurt him, the sovereign and good God, he told them, used his suffering for good purposes. Think about Joseph’s tenacious trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. You also can have a positive attitude in your hardships and sufferings. It can happen when you tenaciously trust at the same time that God is both sovereign and good. Heart Checkup: How does knowing that God is good and God is sovereign affect your suffering?

Reading 17 God’s Good Purposes (Part 1) Romans 5:1-5 God has many beneficial reasons for allowing us to suffer. Understanding His good purposes helps us endure hardship and not grow bitter. We will explore seven of His revealed purposes over the next three readings. When you are going through hardships, there are times when you can clearly discern God’s specific purposes and intents for it. More often than not, you must live with a generalized sense that God brings good out of hardship. Even that generalized understanding can sustain you. What are some of God’s revealed and good purposes for allowing suffering in our lives? 1. God uses suffering to make you more pure and mature. The suffering Christians of Palestine were commanded to find joy in suffering because it was God’s means of maturing them. The Apostle James said to them, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4). Clearly, God uses suffering to make you more pure and mature. 2. God uses suffering to test and strengthen your faith. James 1:3 speaks of hardships as the testing of your faith. In 1 Peter 1:6-7 it says that suffering came upon the Palestinian Christians so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6,7). God uses hardship to test the strength and authenticity of your faith. God does not test you for His benefit. He is all knowing. He already knows how strong your faith is. He wants you to know whether your faith in Him is weak or strong. Someone has said, “Virtue untested is not virtue at all.” The same is true of faith. Faith untested is not necessarily faith at all. Without testing, you may delude yourself into thinking that your faith in God and His Word is stronger faith than it really is. Trials help us see the true strength of our faith in God and his Word. 3. God uses suffering to correct you when you err. Proverbs 3:12 says, The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Hebrews 12:7-11 expands upon this idea: Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. It is plain to see that God will use hardship in your life to correct your erroneous thoughts, feelings, motivations, attitudes, actions, and speech. Heart Checkup: Has this reading enabled you to think of any experiences when God may have used hardships in your life to accomplish any of the purposes listed in this reading? List a few experiences if you can.

Reading 18 God’s Good Purposes (Part 2) 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 God has many beneficial reasons for allowing us to suffer. So far we have seen three. In this reading we will explore three more. 4. God uses suffering to increase your compassion for others who are suffering. Have you noticed how we all tend to be most sympathetic toward people who have suffered the same things as us? That might be a difficult marriage, an abusive spouse, childlessness, a miscarriage, the birth of a stillborn, the birth of a special needs child, singleness, an abusive parent, an illness or injury, a pathology, an addiction, a rape, an injustice, an economic hardship, or the process of aging. Through the countless tears that we shed, we learn to be more caring toward others who are suffering the same and similar things. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5. God uses suffering to increase your effectiveness in serving Christ. My uncle owned a vineyard for a while. Every winter he would have to go out and prune every vine because grapevines develop a woody growth on them that hinders the production of grapes. Grape growers must constantly cut back that growth. By doing so, grape production increases. If you have ever seen grapevines cut back in a vineyard, they look pathetic when the farmer is done. Most of the world is unfamiliar with growing grapes because only a small portion of God’s earth that is suited for it. However, the land in which the Bible was born was a grape growing region of the world and the Bible often uses vineyard analogies. For this reason we should all be somewhat familiar with what is involved in growing grapes. God must do some severe pruning in your life to make you fruitful in your service to Him. The Lord Jesus said: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:1-2). It is doubtful that God can use you to the fullest extent until He has first pruned you severely. Through this process you can become an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:21). Heart Checkup: Has this reading enabled you to think of any experiences when God may have used hardships in your life to accomplish any of the purposes listed in this reading? List a few experiences if you can.

Reading 19 God’s Good Purposes (Part 3) 1 Peter 1:17-2:3 God has many beneficial reasons for allowing us to suffer. So far we have seen five. In this reading we will explore our final two. 6. God uses suffering to awe you with His wonders. Our problems sometimes give God the opportunity to demonstrate His awesome goodness and power. God might choose to amaze you and others through a miracle or through His providence. (Technically, a miracle is a supernatural happening for which there is no natural explanation. Providence is God working behind the scenes to move the things around in the natural world in seemingly natural ways to answer your prayers.) God is capable of amazing you with His miracles and His providence. An example of God awing people through His miracle working power is found in John 9:1-3. It says: There the Lord Jesus encounters a man who was blind since birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” This family’s hardship gave God the opportunity to demonstrate His awesome goodness and miraculous powers. An example of God awing people through His providence is found in the life of David. In running for his life from King Saul, God did some extraordinary things to spare David’s life. We do not see any miracles in David’s escape from Saul. Instead, God altered circumstances in response to David’s prayers. On one such occasion David wrote and sang: I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3) Life’s miseries have a way of providing God with opportunities to amaze you and grow your faith in His goodness and power. They have a way of creating capacity in your hearts for joy turned into glorious praise. 7. God uses suffering to detach you from this world and prepare you for heaven. Psalm 90:9-10 says: We finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. The general pattern of life is that troubles increase with age. Old age is filled with loss after loss. And then comes that final stage of life when we finish our years with a moan. We do not have to be at the final stages of life in order to be weary of this world. It happens as we grow spiritually. Christ’s apostle Paul said: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;

but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:21-24). What gave Paul that craving to leave this life and go to heaven? Two things. First, faith in what God has revealed the believer’s glorious future to be. Second, the weariness of suffering in this sinful and broken world. The Bible says you are presently a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). The Lord taught us that we are not of this world (John 15:18-24; 17:12-19). The Apostles described us as being pilgrims, aliens, sojourners, foreigners and strangers while here on earth (e.g., Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1, 17). In 1 Peter 2:11 it says, Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Colossians 3:1 says, Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. And in 1 John 2:15 it says, Do not love the world or anything in the world. Nonetheless, we become quite attached to our familiar and material existence here--possessions, money, homes, family, friends, and interests. God uses suffering to detach us and cause us to anticipate the life to come. Heart Checkup: What are some of the greatest hardships of your life at present? Or, what are the most recent hardships and suffering you have faced? How capable are you of being joyful when you go through suffering because you know God is using it to make you more pure and more mature?

Reading 20 God’s Mysterious Purposes Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 As we have seen, God has at least seven revealed and good purposes for allowing hardship in our lives. When we go through tough times it is natural to wonder what He is trying to accomplish. You can ask yourself the following questions and perhaps discover an answer: • Is God making me more pure and mature? • Is God testing and deepening my faith? • Is God correcting me of an error in my life? • Is God increasing my compassion for others who are suffering? • Is God pruning me so I am more fruitful in serving Him? • Is God setting me up to perform one of His wonders in my life? • Is God trying to detach me from this world and increase my anticipation of the next? You may or may not be able to discern precisely what God is doing. Sometimes the good that comes out of the bad is easy to see, sometimes it takes a long time to see, and sometimes we never see it in this life. Often it seems like there is no purpose or plan behind what happens. God has at least seven revealed, good purposes for allowing hardship in our lives and perhaps dozens of unrevealed ones. God’s Word reminds us that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. The Christ-follower must tenaciously trust God’s Word even when he sees no visible evidence of its truthfulness. It is easier to trust God when you accept the fact that His plans surpass our understanding. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And Romans 11:33-38 says much the same: Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Life can be befuddling. Sometimes the things that we consider to be good, turn out to be bad in the long term and vice versa. It is hard for us to discern. We look at life through a peep hole. We draw conclusions based on the little we see. Romans 8:28 opens our minds to a bigger perspective. It enables us to see everything as accomplishing something good in our lives. Even this generalized sense of knowing the possibilities of good coming out of difficult circumstances can sustain your walk with Him and prevent bitterness from taking root in your heart. Heart Checkup: Has this reading enabled you to think of any experiences when God may have used your hardships to accomplish any of the purposes listed in this reading? List a few experiences if you can. Then think about your most recent hardships. What do you think may have been God’s purposes for allowing them in your life?

Reading 21 Take One Day at a Time Matthew 6:25-34 I got a call one day from the hospital asking me if I would visit a very depressed woman who wanted to see a pastor. I went and listened to her sad story. She and her husband had a son and divorced when he was young. All these years she had been a single mom to her only son. Economically life was lived near the poverty line. She wanted a better life for her son so she pushed him academically so he could go to college and get a good job. He was graduating from high school with honors and several awards. She was so excited that, in spite of her low income, she decided to throw a party for her son. Then, on the eve of his graduation and party, she got a terrible headache and her left arm was paralyzed. An ambulance whisked her off to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a stroke. She was in the hospital with no prospects of seeing her son graduate and the party was on hold. She was depressed about the present and worried about the future. She wondered: “Am I going to die? If I live, will another stroke soon follow? Will I lose my home? Who will care for me? What kind of medical bills will I accrue? Who will care for my son? Will he make it through college without me? What does his future look like?” I felt badly for her and I let her know it. I prayed for wisdom while she shared all of this with me. I asked myself, “What would the Lord Jesus say?” I decided He would say what He said in Matthew 6:34, Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. There is great help and strength found in resolving, “I do not have to worry about that today. Each day has enough worries of its own. I can trust God with my life. With His help, I am able to take one day at a time.” At most, you should take one day at time. Sometimes you have to take life hour by hour. Someone has said, “Inch by inch life is a cinch.” Someone else has said the only way we can make it through hard times is “Left foot. Right foot. Breathe. Left foot. Right foot. Breathe.” Just as it is easier to accomplish a big project when it is broken down into a number of smaller projects, it is also easier to handle life when it is broken down into daily units or less. Our shoulders are not strong enough to bear the past, present, and future at one time. Worry about the past and worry about all future possibilities does us no good. I once heard of a woman who worried for forty years that she was going to die of cancer. She finally did die of pneumonia. You are to take one day at a time and draw the strength you need for that day from God. Moses told the tribe of Asher, Your strength will equal your days (Deuteronomy 33:25). The strength God gives you will be equal to the trials He allows you to go through in a day. He never promises to give you the strength to hold the past, present, and future on your shoulders at any one time. Isaiah 40:28-31 says, The LORD . . . will not grow tired or weary . . . He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. In Philippians 4:13 the Apostle Paul said, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Heart Checkup: How well do you do at taking one day or one hour at a time when you are going through tough times? Do you tend to think about past failures and all of the future possibilities?

Reading 22 Feel Free to Cry Revelation 21:1-5 I hope, when you are elderly, the list of hardships you have endured in life will not be as long as that which the Apostle Paul articulated in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. There he says: I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. You will have a long list of your own someday. In a world in which the universe is under a curse from God, where our bodies are vulnerable to illness and injury and death, where people hurt each other, and where believers are persecuted for the sake of Christ and righteousness, there will be plenty of pain. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12). Pain should be expected. When we experience pain, it is natural to cry. Exactly 40 of the 150 Psalms mention crying. The word cry is used to express literal tears, to express emotional anguish, or to agonize before God in prayer. First, when painful suffering comes your way, allow yourself to cry. Nothing God has to say in His Word provides an anesthesia for the pain you are feeling. Verses like Romans 8:28 do not anesthesize the soul. The pain you feel is real. You should not deny it. You should not try to find pleasure in it. Allow it to produce tears in your eyes if they come. God created us in such a way that we cry when we experience intense emotions. It is comforting to know that our Lord shared in this experience with us (Luke 19:11; John 11:35). The shedding of tears is good for us. Tears can express emotions that we can’t put into words. Tears help us regain our emotional balance. A day is coming when God will wipe every tear from your eyes. This old order of things will pass away and be replaced by the New heaven and Earth (Revelation 21:4). But that day has not yet come. You are still living in the old order. In this order we need to allow ourselves to cry. Second, when suffering comes, you should cry out to the Lord in prayer. The Psalmists did. Psalm 5:1-2 says, Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. Psalm 22:1-2 says, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and you remain silent. Psalm 102:1-2 says, Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 142:1-2 says, I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. The Psalmists provide some excellent examples for you. In the Psalms you see expressions of pain, frustration, anger, loneliness, and depression. You are welcome to go before the throne of God and respectfully tell Him how you really feel. What a great privilege it is to unload your feelings on His omnipotent shoulders. What a privilege to express your emotions to Him in prayer. Third, when hardships come, allow yourself to cry on the shoulders of others. I suggest that you not unload your emotions on a friend until you have first unloaded them on the Lord. Everyone has their own burdens they are carrying. When you dump your burdens on others before first

dumping them on the Almighty One, you may be overburdening them. Yet, after casting your burdens on the Lord, you are encouraged to find others to help carry your burdens. God created families to assist one another on life’s journey. A functional family is one in which the family members help one another through life. In a dysfunctional family, members are not able to share each other’s burdens for one reason or another. God also created church families to assist one another through life. A functional church family is one in which the church members help one another through life. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:26). In the functional church family we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). In the functional church family we carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Many caring hands can make a load much lighter. When you are going through hard times, you need a handful of believers in whom you can confide. You need people who will listen to you and try to understand you. You need people who will still love you even after you say things that are stupid or unspiritual. You need people who will not give you unsolicited advice but will tell you exactly what they think when you ask them. You need people who will pray with and for you. Heart Checkup: Do you literally cry when you are going through tough times? Do you prayerfully cry unto the Lord? Do you find people upon whose shoulders you can cry? When you are going through hard times, who do you look to for support? List their names.

Reading 23 Continue to Rejoice 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Horatio Spafford was a prominent Chicago lawyer who had large investments in the city's real estate. On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire raged through the city and destroyed almost all of his holdings. Spafford was going through hard times but things got even harder two years later when he decided his family should take a vacation in England. Delayed because of business related to the fire, Spafford sent his wife and their four daughters ahead of him. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel. Two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives, including all of his daughters. His wife survived the tragedy and sent a telegram to Horatio informing him of their loss. He then sailed to England to join her. While going over the approximate location of where his daughters were buried at sea, he began penning the words that became a deeply loved hymn. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. Refrain: It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states three activities that you are to continue practicing in good times and in bad times. You are to (1) rejoice in the Lord, (2) pray unceasingly, and (3) give thanks to God whether you are going through good or bad times. You are to remain joyful in the Lord even when the hard times come. Just when it seems like everything is going wrong in your life, you need to remind yourself that this is not the case. Never is everything going wrong in the life of a believer. No matter how poorly things are going in terms of your earthly circumstances, it is always well with the believer’s soul. Thanks be to God! You are always loved, wanted, and accepted by God. You are still ransomed, redeemed, born again, adopted, forgiven, credited with Christ’s righteousness, justified, a citizen of heaven, part of a chosen people, part of a special order of priests, regenerated, resurrected, part of God’s Kingdom and Christ's flock, and much more. These are all positions before God over which you can and should always rejoice.

When you have the faith to see these spiritual realities as being just as real as any material realities, you realize that believers are always in a good situation in life. It was this realization that enabled Horatio Spafford to write what he did. It was this realization that enabled Christ’s apostle Paul to command the troubled Philippian Christians, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice (Philippians 4:4)! He wrote this command while under arrest and awaiting word regarding his possible execution. When the hard times come, you can resolve that you are not going to let your hardships destroy your joy in the Lord. It is a decision that you make and can keep with God’s help. Heart Checkup: How well do you do at continuing to rejoice when you are going through tough times? At what level of suffering do/would you find it difficult to rejoice? At what level do you think it would be impossible to obey the command to rejoice?

Reading 24 Continue to Pray Exodus 17:5-16 The Amalekites attacked Israel. Moses ordered his commander to fight back while he prayed on a hill overlooking the battlefield. Aaron and Hur joined him there. As long as Moses held his hands up (a symbol for prayer), Israel prevailed in battle. When his arms grew weary and he lowered them, the Amalekites prevailed. When Moses' arms were completely exhausted, Aaron and Hur held them up until the battle was won. We cannot overestimate the value of prayer in times of difficulty. In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 it says, Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. According to these verses, the second practice you are to continue to do in the hard times is to pray unceasingly. You can turn to God in prayer as you confront your trials. Hebrews 4:15-16 says let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. In 1 Peter 5:6-7 it speaks of humbling yourself by casting all of your cares on the Lord because he cares for you. Akin to that is Philippians 4:6-7. It commands us to convert all of our cares into prayers. It says, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. As you go through tough times you should be praying about anything and everything as you go. There will be times when you are attacked by trials. As long as you lift your heart and hands up to the Lord in prayer, you will ultimately prevail. When your soul grows weary in the battle you will need an Aaron and a Hur to come alongside of you to pray with and for you. Heart Checkup: How well do you do at ceaselessly praying to God when you are going through tough times? Who do you have to pray with and for you when your soul grows weak and tired?

Reading 25 Continue to Praise Psalm 86; Lamentations 3:22-26 If you forget how blessed you are even in hard times, you are bitterness bound. Few things will lift your spirit in tough times like an attitude of gratitude expressed in giving thanks to God for His daily blessings in your life. Things were going poorly for King David when he wrote Psalm 86. There he describes how godless men were trying to kill him (86:14). Those sound like troubling times to me. Within those circumstances he said, I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever (86:12). He was resolved to thank God even when going through difficult circumstances. The third practice you should continue in the hard times according to 1 Thessalonians 5:1618 is to give thanks to God. It says, Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. The words in all circumstances mean when earthly matters are going well and when they are not. Even in tough times there is still so much for which you can praise the Lord. You can thank God for His earthly and eternal blessings in your life. All of your food, water, clothing, housing, life, health, safety, family, friends, civil leaders, and possessions come from His loving hands. His compassion never fails. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness unto His own (Lamentations 3:22-23). Already this day you have experienced many earthly blessings from God whether you recognize them or not and whether you have thanked Him or not. On top of all those earthly blessings, you can praise God who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).You are ransomed, redeemed, born again, adopted, forgiven, justified, regenerated, resurrected, and so much more. Clearly, God loves, wants, and accepts you. You have so much to thank God for continuously. With God’s help you can resolve to thank Him for His many earthly and eternal blessings in both good times and bad. Heart Checkup: How well do you do at continuing to praise God when you are going through tough times?

Reading 26 Continue to Obey John 21:15-25 After the Lord restored Peter to fellowship with Himself and to his ministry, He gave him some insight into the kind of death he would die. Peter was naturally curious to see how the Lord’s plan for his life compared to His plan for John’s. Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." The Lord has different plans for each of our lives. Some will live a long life of health, prosperity, and happiness. Others will experience nothing but hardship. Nothing good can come out of comparing our lives with others. The Lord just wants us accept His unique plan for our lives and to do as He instructed Peter to do, You must follow me. You must follow Christ whether you are going through times of ease or times of trial. The Greek word behind the words “trials” and “temptations” in the New Testament is the same; it is the word peirasmos (Matthew 6:13; Mark 14:8; Luke 4:13; 8:13; 22:28; Acts 20:19; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 4:14; 1 Timothy 6:9; James 1:2, 12; 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12; Revelations 3:10). You must examine the context to see which use of the word an author intended. It is usually easy to discern. There is a close relationship between trials and temptations. Times of great trials are also times of great temptations. During trials we are tempted to sin, to act selfishly, to strike out at others in unrighteous ways, to grow bitter and unloving, to walk away from God, and so forth. It is often difficult to maintain a pure heart in times of hardship. In such times, you need to hear the Lord saying to you, You must follow me no matter what the circumstances. Times of trial never justify falling into temptation. You can never justify sinning against God and others. Heart Checkup: Have times of testing weakened your relationship with God in any way? Have such times weakened or destroyed your relationship with others? Are there impure thoughts and feelings in your heart as a result of a time of hardship you went through?

Reading 27 Continue to Trust Psalm 42-43 When the pains of life come upon you, you must continue to trust in the Lord. In Psalms 42 and 43 we read the lament of a Jewish temple choir member who has been exiled to a foreign country. He is thinking back on the joyful worship he once experienced in the temple in Jerusalem. He has become severely despondent as a result of his deportation. In Psalms 42-43 (which many scholars view as originally one psalm), the songwriter encourages himself to keep his hope and trust in God. Intra-personal communication or self-talk is a normal activity of the mind that everyone engages in at all times. A parent who has just been angered by a child might talk to himself and say, “Stay calm and clear minded as you carefully measure out a punishment.” An athlete may remind himself to want the win, to not let up, and to keep pushing until the end of the game. A husband may need to exhort himself to stay tuned in to what his wife is saying. A person going through a time of trial may need to remind himself to keep his trust in God and His promises. This is what we see in Psalms 42 and 43. That refrain keeps popping up: Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. The Psalmist sets an example for you of how you must talk to yourself when you are going through grievous circumstances. You must talk yourself into resolving to continue to trust God and His Word until He brings you through the trial. Heart Checkup: When do you talk to yourself? What are some of the things you say to yourself when going through hard times in order to persevere with God in the trial?

Reading 28 Summary for Dealing with Trials 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 God’s inner work is God the Holy Spirit working in your life from the inside out. God’s outer work is God working in your life from the outside in. Through hardship and suffering He causes the impurities in your heart to rise into your conscious mind where you and the Holy Spirit can address them. This is how God’s inner work and outer work interact to make you like Christ. Some people develop bitter hearts when God brings them through hard times. Other people develop better hearts, hearts that are more like Christ in character. The practices we studied that will help you become better rather than bitter are as follows: • Embracing both God’s sovereignty and goodness at the same time will help you benefit from trials and not grow bitter. If you embrace one truth without the other you are setting yourself up for bitterness. Remembering that God only has good purposes for allowing you to pass through hard times will help you benefit from trials and not grow bitter. He might be purifying and maturing you, testing you and deepening your faith, correcting you for an error in your life, increasing your compassion for others who are suffering, pruning you so you are more fruitful in serving Him, or setting you up to experience a miracle. For this reason, you can consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of any kind (James 1:2). Taking one day at a time will help you benefit from trials and not grow bitter. Feeling free to cry and to cry out to the Lord for mercy will help you benefit from trials and not grow bitter. Finding a few trustworthy and caring shoulders to cry upon will help you. Rejoicing in the reality that the Lord has made it well with your soul will help you benefit and not grow bitter. Praying about anything and everything while going through trials will help you benefit and not grow bitter. Giving thanks to God for all of His temporal and eternal blessings on your life will help you benefit and not grow bitter. Continuing to trust in the Lord, His revealed truths, and His wonderful promises is essential to benefitting from trials and not growing bitter. Great care must be taken throughout the hardship to continue to obey and follow Christ because times of great trial are also times of great temptation.

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According to Ephesians 2:10, God is making something beautiful out of your life. You are His craftsmanship. He is like a skilled craftsman who is taking your sinful and useless life and making it into something beautiful. He is working to give you the beauty of Jesus Christ in all of your thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes, actions, and speech. May He find you to be cooperative with His work throughout the entire process. Heart Checkup: When you go through hardships, how well do you do at following these principles? In which three areas do you sense you could use the most improvement? What do you think the Lord wants you to do differently in your life as a result of this study?

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