Category Archives: Suffering

Do we truly understand what a ‘blessing’ is?

How do you define a blessing? When you pray for God’s blessing in your life what are you seeking and anticipating? Peace? Rest? Healthy relationships? Prosperity on all fronts?

If God’s goal for our lives were peace, ease, and prosperity then I would agree that those things would be His ideal blessings for us. However, if His goal includes something else (and Scripture certainly indicates that it does), then it is probable that His blessings will include some other things as well.

According to the New Testament, God’s desire for us is ongoing transformation into the image and nature of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Romans 12:1). Since this is the case, then God’s blessings must necessarily include some things that will help us transform.

If a high school sports team has a goal to become state champions, their coach must assign them grueling tests and workouts that will develop a championship heart in them. They must be stretched, pushed, and challenged until they become champion caliber athletes. When the goal is a championship the coach cannot bless them with endless rest days and easy workouts.

The same is true for us. If God wants us to grow He must bless us with situations that cause us to grow. This isn’t fun and it’s never easy, but it is necessary. Perhaps our prayers of gratitude should go beyond thanks for the sweet and easy things. Perhaps we should add: “God, thank you for the battles that teach me how to fight…thank you for the trials that force me to grow…thank you for the tests that refine and grow my faith…and thank you for your commitment to never stop transforming me. I accept these blessings—none of them will be wasted on me. By your grace, I will transform. Amen.”

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America’s original sin (a thought on Charlottesville)

The extremism of blatantly white supremacist, neo-Nazi activity, such as occurred this past week in Charlottesville, can potentially lull people into thinking that it is just that—blatantly extreme activity that does not reflect the normal state of affairs in America.

Granted, the extreme fringe is never an accurate representation of the whole, but the mere presence of radical extremism (in any group or ideology) should give us pause to consider why it exists at all.

The horrific expressions of white supremacy in America do NOT express the heart of America as a whole but it IS an existing strain of America’s original sin. America was not a purely Christian nation in all of its origins. Certainly there were some who wanted it to be so, and who sought to establish a people and a government upon noble virtues that would liberate and lift the conditions of all of mankind, but from its inception there were threads of deep sin in our country.

In 1620 the pilgrims who sailed to Plymouth Rock to build a hope-filled New World signed the Mayflower Compact, a veritable covenant with God to establish a nation that would reflect His heart, character, and love for the world. However at the exact same time that seeds of righteousness were being sown through the Mayflower Compact, African slavery was being introduced through the colony at Jamestown.

America’s history is very reflective of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, wherein both good and evil seeds were sown together. Historical revisionists who want to eliminate the truly Christian thread in our country’s founding are wrong—good, Christ-honoring seed was undeniably sown into the foundation of our country. However, Christian historians who want to position America as a purely Christian light on a hill for the world are also wrong—seeds of racism, oppression, and slavery were built into our country from its inception. Indeed, slavery existed in our country for one hundred fifty years before our Declaration of Independence was drafted, proclaiming the inalienable rights of all mankind. Slavery continued to exist for nearly one hundred years after our Declaration went into effect.

All of this is to say that when racist tragedies occur like they did in Charlottesville we must do more than plead ignorance, stating that, “I’m not racist and I would never condone prejudiced ideology”; we must repent. Our nation still bears the stain of our original sins, and someone—namely the person who claims allegiance to Jesus Christ—must repent and renounce that sin and work tirelessly at embracing, modeling, and proclaiming a better way to live.

Renouncing the tares, tending the wheat, and modeling the values and virtues of a higher kingdom—this is the calling, life, and mission of true followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s live our calling and be a healing force in our world.

Meanwhile we groan

At Grace Church we just finished a church-wide 90-day reading campaign where we read all of the words of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The unique thing about this reading plan was that we only read Jesus’ words—we ignored the entire surrounding context.

I know. I know.

We’re not supposed to read the Bible that way. We’re supposed to understand the Scripture’s context so that we don’t misinterpret or misapply its message. We’re not supposed to lift an isolated passage out of context or we run the risk of “proof-texting”. Even so, it was very powerful for me to read Jesus’ words all by themselves. Hearing Him say, “I am willing; be clean” or “I have chosen you” or “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” and just absorbing those words was exhilarating.

Although I don’t generally advocate a “proof-texting” context-less reading of Scripture, I had another experience today where a single phrase of Scripture lifted up off the page and spoke to me. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul was painting a vivid picture of our promised eternal state with God, and then he said, “Meanwhile we groan” (verse 2).

For some reason that phrase spoke to me on multiple levels:

  • Our ultimate hope is secure…but meanwhile we groan.
  • The Gospel keeps advancing in our lives…but meanwhile we still groan.
  • God will finish what He has begun in us…but in the mean time we still endure some groaning.

This isn’t pessimism! This isn’t a gloomy, Eeyore perspective on life. It’s a validation of our groaning. It’s recognition that sometimes—even amidst God’s potent promises—there is a groaning in this life that has to be endured.

Please be assured that our groaning isn’t the final word—rejoicing is. Victory is. But in the meantime, we groan. We groan as we wait for His unveiling…we groan as we wrestle with sin, temptation, and compromise…we groan as we fight for the liberation of the human soul…and we groan, knowing that He is beside us in our groaning.

Suffering, in YOUR context

sufferingChristian suffering is not limited to the extreme cases that we hear about in the media. Certainly, the horrific persecutions of Christians (and other religious adherents) by groups like ISIS, and the unjust imprisonment of ministers like Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran can make the sufferings of our context seem negligible at best. However, regardless of the relative ease or discomfort of one’s position in life, Christianity contains suffering in its essence.

First and foremost, there is the unseen, internal suffering of the cross, as God inexorably calls us to ever-increasing levels of Christ-likeness. Although God loves and accepts us exactly as we are, He is committed to transforming us into His untarnished image and plan for our life. Like a battling chrysalis prior to its release from the cocoon, it is with struggle and striving that we wage solitary battles with our vulnerabilities and temptations. For some, these internal battles are only won after enduring protracted seasons of pain.

Beyond the unseen, internal sufferings of the life of Christian discipleship, we Christians are also prone to the general, universal grief and woes of humanity. Although God is our source of protection, comfort, and strength, it is our lot as humans to experience some of the sufferings of our race. If it rains on planet earth, Christians get wet too.

Finally, there are numerous cultural persecutions that accompany faith in Jesus Christ, from mild ridicule to outright hostility.

  • Jesus said these persecutions are cause for rejoicing!
  • His disciples said they were honored to suffer in His name.
  • The Apostle Paul said that persecutions are pathways to greater levels of glory.

Regardless of the form it takes or its degree of intensity, there is a measure of persecution that accompanies our followership of Jesus Christ. It has always been this way and it always will be, and for those whose hearts have been truly captivated by Him, suffering for His cause is an honor.

We don’t need to seek it out. Indeed, we are told to live as peaceably in our world as possible (Romans 12:18), but when suffering finds us—internally or externally—let’s embrace it as true devotees of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24)