What I am packing into my mind, and particularly what I am filling my heart with by the choices I am making about the inputs I choose to dwell on, are determining the outcome of what will be displayed when the fireworks are set off.
The colors exhibited from various kinds of fireworks munitions are determined by the chemical content of what is packed into them during their assembly. Various chemicals and combinations produce different colors when they are burned. Of course there are also physical functions built into the shells to cause the fireworks to perform in certain acrobatic ways to entertain the crowds. But the colors are determined by the specific chemicals that reliably produce certain burns when ignited. This is very predictable and scientific so that the manufacturers know just what outcomes will be produced by what is packed inside the shells and in what order they will appear.
As I think about this in relation to the stories related to the gospel, it becomes clear that our lives are being packed with elements and beliefs that when ignited will reliably produce signature colors associated with how we view the God we believe in. I have long observed that people always act like the God that they believe in. It is not necessarily the profession about God that they talk about in church, though that will have an effect on it. Rather, it is their deep, internal, gut beliefs about how God treats them, feels about them and His intentions for them that forms their conception of Him that will always be exposed when an intense crisis in their life suddenly ignites the 'belief chemicals' packed inside.
To extend the analogy a bit further, there is a vast difference between explosives intended for mass destruction such as military shells intended to blow up and kill as many as possible, and fireworks munitions which also use similar explosive ingredients but are intended to entertain and dazzle rather than to destroy. And while they are both dangerous and must be related to with great caution, the intended results and the displayed effects of these two types of munitions are significantly different.
So, what does this have to do with our lives and our beliefs about God? I am starting to see that it may have far more impact on our testimony about God than most of us ever suspect. When I consider the statements of some of the apostles when they spoke of God counting them worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus, their words make much more sense when I first understand correctly the truth about why Jesus suffered and died in the first place. Otherwise, based on the skewed and distorted notions circulating among Christians today about why Jesus had to die, the suffering of His disciples can likewise take on all sorts of confusing implications. It is not until we get to the bottom of why Jesus came to this earth in the first place, why He suffered and died and particularly the truth about the nature and character of God, can be begin to appreciate and be attracted to Him through the suffering of His loyal followers.
The Bible makes it clear that suffering in and of itself is not something that has some sort of merit that can earn credits for our salvation. And although there is a sense in which godly suffering does produce natural rewards, in no way should this be confused with the counterfeit reward/punishment system that is so familiar to us on this earth. God's government is not operated on the reward/punishment system that is so often attributed to Him despite the insistence of millions of adherents and objectors to Christianity alike. God's government is based on principles that define and govern reality that have natural cause/effect relationships with which all life needs to synchronize in order to thrive and live in harmony.
The kingdom of heaven which Jesus came to reveal to this world is not at all patterned on how the kingdoms of this world operate, but that is where we often make a terrible mistake by assuming that it is. The methods of this world are all founded on the false principles displayed in the philosophy and sophistries from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which infected our thinking and distorted our core nature when Adam and Eve chose that option long ago. Ever since then our minds make wrong assumptions about what God is like while myriads of lies from Satan control and intimidate us in both our relationships with God and with those around us. This is what Jesus came to expose and to show us that God is not at all like what He has been made out to be in the confusing and dark ideas from religion, philosophy and the doctrines of demons.
All of Jesus' disciples had been confused by the false ideas about God that are seen everywhere in their world. They belonged to a system of religion that had been given the privilege of knowing the most information about God but had so perverted it and contaminated it with human ideas that the resulting amalgamation produced horrific concepts of God that were nearly opposite of the truth. Because of this tragic state of affairs, God sent His own Son, the perfect reflection and exact image of His own character to reveal to all the universe the real truth about what He is like.
But here is where the important part comes into display. For it is very difficult if not impossible to determine just what a person really believes is about by merely observing their daily life or examining their profession as helpful as that might be. What really exposes what is at the deepest level of a person's belief system and reveals what they are really made of is when extreme pressure is put on them and their gut reactions are exposed by circumstances involving pain and suffering. It is then, when their true character is ignited by the extreme heat of injustice, that their true colors will be exposed. The nature of their real character will always be revealed by the 'colors' of their attitude, their responses, their knee-jerk reactions as they are exposed to abuse and extreme pain.
This is precisely the reason for the cross. The sufferings of Jesus were in no way an appeasement of an angry Father's wrath against sinners as too many Christians assume. God forbid! The sufferings of Jesus had everything to do with the ignition of His life, His heart, the core of His being by the wrath of sinners to expose exactly what picture of God was at the deepest level of Jesus' being.
His claims about what God was like during His life were outrageous enough. Religious leaders found them scandalous at best and repeatedly accused Him of heresy and blasphemy. Jesus regularly offended the teachers of the law by sometimes deliberately violating specific provisions of the Mosaic code in order to display the compassion of God toward victims of sin and sickness. This brought great confusion into the church of His day and aroused increasing hatred against Him because of His teachings and His behavior undermining centuries of established religious tradition. His presence and actions were destroying the influence of leaders who were professed experts on God, and this strange new kingdom threatened every kingdom of this world with the subversive infection of His radical views of God.
But everyone knew, the Jews and the Romans alike, that the best way to expose what a person believes and is really like at their core, was to overwhelm them with injustice, abuse and extreme pain. Every person without exception who had ever been exposed to such treatment had sooner of later reacted in anger, bitterness, despair or any other number of negative emotions. Jesus' claims about a purely loving, non-violent God were so radically opposite of the stern, dark views of God shared by religious leaders that they knew the only hope they had to defend their beliefs was to ignite this man by the fires of intense persecution and torture to prove to everyone that at His deepest core He really harbored the same beliefs about God that they promoted. Of course, the Roman government founded on force that had conquered every other empire on earth and that currently occupied Palestine was more than willing to participate in this process.
When we view the sufferings of Jesus from this perspective it takes on a completely different meaning than what religion typically portrays. In essence, the character of Jesus was lit on fire like the igniting of a fireworks shell to expose what was really inside. The people around Jesus became so enraged at Him that they stopped at nothing to try to elicit from Him even one confirmation of their own dark views about God. They wanted vindication of their own beliefs, their own nature, their own oppressive religion by forcing Jesus to react with anger, with resentment, with desires for retaliation, with anything that might prove that God does take offense and wants to get even and settle a score. What was really taking place at the cross of Jesus was a desperate attempt by humans and demons alike to vindicate the world's fundamental system of rewards and punishments, good and evil. This system permeates nearly every belief and interaction that takes place on this planet. Thus it was imperative to prove once and for all that God really was not as different from us as what Jesus made Him out to be.
Peter, the disciple that had a rather high saturation of the principles of reward and punishment in his mindset up to that time, later reported the stunning results of this 'ignition' of the heart of Jesus under the most extreme treatment by fire.
God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn't make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly. Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God's approval. His wounds have healed you. (1 Peter 2:21-24 GW)
The purpose of Jesus' suffering was to expose to every thinking, feeling intelligence anywhere the clear truth about what God is really like. Only under the most extreme circumstances can the true character be revealed, which is why Jesus necessarily became a human so that He could become vulnerable and exposed to all the abuse, threats, shame and torture that could be heaped on Him. And the purpose for all of this was an attempt to get Him to react in any way like we would react. If Jesus could be induced to even have a thought of revenge or retaliation in kind, that would instantly vindicate and justify our deep cravings to do the same and would prove that God really does have a dark side as Satan has accused all along.
But Jesus disproved that overwhelmingly at the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15 NIV)
With this context clearly in place, suddenly the stories about Peter and John along with the stories of Paul and Silas rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name (reputation) of Jesus takes on dramatic new implications. Their 'worthiness' had nothing to do with any merit or righteousness they had earned or were even earning through suffering. Rather they were deeply humbled that God would give them the honor of trusting them, counting them trust-worthy, to let His character be displayed in their lives just as it had been displayed in the life and death of Jesus. The 'colors' of the kingdom began to be seen even more as the true followers of Jesus displayed His same colors as they were also ignited by the fires of persecution.
I shudder at what colors might be exposed if I were to meet a similar situation right now. I'm very afraid that in spite of all of what my head is embracing about the truth of God's character, that my heart is still so infected with dark, fearful, angry pictures of God that I would dishonor His name if I were to come under pressure even less than what many others have endured. I know that my head beliefs, as important as those may be, are nowhere near the preparation that I need to be trusted to display the colors of the true kingdom when fire is applied to my life. I am all too aware of what might come out and I don't want any of that ugliness to be exposed. What I long for is for my own heart to experience a far deeper healing, a more radical transformation, a complete renewal so that what will be exposed under pressure will be reflective of what I am learning about God with my mind.
I don't know why my healing is taking so long. But I suspect that the content that I sometimes allow into my head, the entertainment I indulge in, the news that I sometimes watch addictively or the books that I choose to read – all are storing inside of me the 'chemical signatures' that will produce their distinct colors when a burn is ignited. The ideas I infuse into my heart about God as well as all the ones already packed in there from a lifetime of experiences and teachings all have to be transformed through the renewing of my mind as Paul puts it in Romans 12:2.
The reason that Jesus reacted the way He did under pressure was because His picture of God at the deepest levels of His being were exactly what was displayed in His reactions toward those who were abusing, insulting and torturing Him. What they saw and forced out of Him was what God is really like and will always be like. And this is vital for us to understand if we are to have our own minds filled with the same mind of Jesus. To say that God and Jesus acted one way at the cross but intends to get even and wreak vengeance on His enemies at a future date is to completely undermine the message of the cross and go back to the dark views of God that prompted the Jews to kill Jesus.
What is starting to become plain to me is that when we harbor beliefs about an angry God, a vengeful God, a violent God or a God who in any way reflects any part of our fallen nature or desires, then those beliefs will always result in us reacting likewise when we come under extreme pressure. The reason Jesus could forgive without condition, love without reservation and refuse to ever take offense at anything that was hurled at Him was because His gut-level, heart reflection of His Father as well as His mental beliefs about God were exactly like how He reacted. Jesus came as our example in that He only reflected what He saw in His Father. Likewise we will reflect what we see in Jesus and in the Father when we come under similar treatment if these truths become embedded into the deepest levels of our heart. But if in any respect we cling to false ideas about God then those very contaminates will glow in dazzling colors of bitterness, anger, reactions of violence or whatever it is we think God would do.
This is why it is so vital to get our heads and our hearts straight about the true character of God. It is not just an issue of who's opinions or doctrines are best. This is not a competition between an Old Testament view of God and Jesus' view. The Bible says that everything outside of Jesus has some darkness mingled into it. Only Jesus is the authentic, express reflection of the Father. (Hebrews 1:3) And if Jesus is the only perfect reflection of the truth about God, then every other reflection must be compared to Him as the standard and not the other way around.
Father, I am terrified to think of the ugly colors and even the explosive damage that might occur if I were to be ignited right now. Thank-you for protecting me from such ignition while You continue to replace my own bitterness, anger, fears, shame and confusion about You with daily revelations of what You are really like. But why is it taking so long for the truth about You to soak into my heart? Why do I still keep indulging in things of sin that keep contaminating and reinfecting my heart with false views about You?
I love what I am learning about You, but at the same time I find a force within me that keeps getting me to feed my lower nature and keeps fighting against everything You are trying to do in me. Who will deliver me from this law of sin and death!? I can only trust that Jesus is strong enough to overcome all the power inherent in my sinful desires and will restore the true image of God all the way into the deepest levels of my soul.
Father, I want to have a new heart, a right spirit so that when I am ignited by irritations, attacked by angry people, abused by injustice or provoked by violence that the reactions elicited from me will be Your reactions and not mine. Have Your way in my life in spite of me – for Your reputation's sake.