Pain is a Gift

According to John Newton, legalism is weariness. Justification is joy. We are forgiven and accepted through the work of Another. It’s done. Our job is to rejoice in that truth and serve God out of gratitude.

I think he was onto something. Paul expressed the same sentiments.

Even though we may know this, we don’t live this way. Instead we live in the mirage of self-sufficiency. It’s our default position. We really do believe there’s something we can do without God’s help. A lot of things. Broken

It starts in childhood. Babies learning to walk shove their parents away and tumble. Toddlers running into furniture when they think they have a clear path for wandering. High-schoolers who think they have the future mapped out only to make huge course corrections when they get to college.

Never mind the daunting tasks of choosing a spouse, the right job, buying a home.

Do we consult God?

No, we’ve been told it’s up to us to hit these milestones.

Some people succeed but many don’t. How many people do you know who are doing everything they want in life? Who are the happy ones in their work, with their children, and their body image?

Maybe you’re one of the unhappy ones. Have you settled in a job because of the security it gives you more than anything else, but now it’s strangling the life out of you? Are you in a loveless marriage with no way out? Or maybe you’re struggling with your health? As a friend told me recently, “I want my old life back.”

Life rarely turns out the way we envisioned it.

Thank God for that.

It’s God’s gift to us. If life turned out just as we wanted it to, we wouldn’t turn to him for anything. It’s a mercy that we struggle and suffer. It’s God’s language reminding us we were made to turn everything over to him because he cares for us. It’s his way of saying that what we long for is not here, but in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus comes back.

In the meantime, even as forgiven sinners, we suffer with our fellow human beings, knowing that Jesus himself also suffered for us so we could share in his glory one day.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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How Not to Be Popular

Witnessing for Christ can be a romantic notion for the uninitiated, but it’s a painful reality for those who do it.

If you witness for Christ, you will also suffer for Christ.

That was my experience as a brand new Christian.  photo(44)

I was so excited about finding Christ that I naively believed all I had to do was mail everyone the same book that God used to lead me to faith. So I ordered 80 copies and mailed them to every family member, friend, and neighbor I could think of. To my dismay instead of having people appreciate me, and thank me for my thoughtfulness, I got their anger. Lots of it. To this day there are some family members that won’t stay in the same room with me if we are alone for fear I might bring up the subject of Jesus.

At a recent family reunion where 120 people were present, there was only one family of four that were Christians. I had been praying for these people for more than 30 years! I expected a lot more to know the Lord.

Then in church on Sunday I was reminded of Noah. Only 8 people were saved and the rest of mankind drowned in the flood.

Clearly God isn’t in the numbers.

Peter makes it clear in his first epistle that if you witness then accept suffering as part of the package because you’re living in a world that wants nothing to do with Jesus. Hatred and persecution are the norm. Noah was ridiculed for 100 years while he preached and built the ark. He was the only preacher in his day. Imagine how he felt. Ultimately Noah and his family were vindicated. They were the only ones saved through the flood.

So while I hate suffering and loathe being ignored and avoided by anyone, I know I’m in good company with Jesus and his apostles and host of other saints down through the centuries who have been faithful to stand for God.

What about you? What’s been your experience in witnessing for Christ?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mind the Gap

If you’ve been to London and taken the tube you’ve heard the recording that says, “Mind the Gap” that comes on at every stop. It’s a mantra. That’s because there is a space between the subway car and the platform large enough to lose a shoe in. I’ve seen it happen.

The idea of a gap between two realities is also prevalent in the bible, and it’s not a tiny space like the London tube. It’s immense. It’s as large as earth to Mars, only bigger. It’s the tension of the now and not yet. We are saved now but the reality of its fullness is not ours yet. That comes when Jesus returns or we die and go to be with him, whichever comes first. photo (8)

We see this tension fleshed out in the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16. Here we see Sarah’s impatience with God to give her a son, so she takes matters into her own hands by suggesting to Abraham that he sleep with Hagar, her maid, and produce the child that way, something that Abraham did not resist, by the way.

We see Sarah’s struggles with God’s timing, which reveals Sarah’s doubt of God’s character. Why is he taking so long? It’s been ten years already and nothing’s happened. Can I continue to trust him? Underneath it all is a suspicion of God’s goodness. Can’t you hear the same echos of the devil saying the same thing to Eve in Genesis 3?

Here we see Abraham and Sarah living in the gap between what God had promised and their unfulfilled expectations.

I see this played out in my life and in the lives of family and friends. We long for close, intimate and satisfying relationships. Instead we live with distance, misunderstandings, and heartache. We long for satisfying work. Instead we grumble and complain because of the boredom. We want glory here and now, but God says not yet, it’s coming soon.

What can we learn from this? Here are three insights:

1) Living in the gap of the now and not yet tempts us to take matters into our hands. The underlying assumption is that we can fix the problems ourselves like Abraham and Sarah did. But instead of fixing things, we make a mess of things.

2) While living in the gap, we continue to be faithful to what God has called us to. We trust God’s faithfulness. That doesn’t mean we take no action, but it does mean we do things believing God is for us and not against us.

3) God doesn’t go AWOL in the gap and in our messes. He doesn’t flee to heaven and wait for us to figure out ways to make it home. If he did that, nobody would get home. He’s there working in the gap. He’s a God who sees and hears and is in the middle of the mess. That’s what he has promised to do. And ultimately he will fulfill all his promises to us. We don’t know how or when, but it will happen.

You won’t lose God in the gap. There is joy, freedom and laughter there if we trust him for the reality that’s coming.

Question: What are some of the ways you take matters into your hands while living in the gap?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

How The Gospel Changes Suffering – Part 2

In the last post, Part 1, one of the things we covered was what not to do when you’re suffering. If you’re suffering through no fault of your own, then don’t waste your time trying to ask why. It will make you turn inward and brood. That’s heaping misery upon misery, which is exactly what the devil wants because then you will be paralyzed and ineffective.

So send the devil packing.

Both Jesus and Peter explicitly stated that tribulation is part of the journey of living in this world until we get to heaven.

Nobody escapes it.

So don’t be shocked by it.

Paul, who never did anything half-way, took it a step further. He said he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ.

There is a deep fellowship to be had with Jesus when we suffer.

Paul mentions three advantages:

1) Paul said he suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ. He gave up his Jewish lineage and education and status for the richness of knowing his Savior.

2) Paul no longer counted on his law-keeping to gain God’s approval. Instead, he threw that away for a life of faith in Christ because he wanted the Lord’s righteousness as his garment, and not anything he conjured up.

3) Paul’s life of faith depended on the power of Jesus’ resurrection and with that came suffering. Suffering the death of all things that the world esteems dear. Suffering persecution, rejection and humiliation for the sake of Christ. And finally, suffering in death itself.

There is a deep mystery in all of this and few enter into this circle.

If God calls you to this, you are indeed on sacred ground.

How The Gospel Changes Suffering – Part 1

Suffering is a fact of life.

Some people suffer more than others, but nobody is exempt from suffering. The bible says so, and universal experience confirms it:

“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” – Job 14:1

Suffering in a world made by a loving God is not easy to explain or understand.

Some have tried, however. The Stoics grit their teeth. The Optimists whistle in the dark. The Mind-Over-Matter types dismiss it. Until they break a leg.

None of these positions really help. But before we look at how the gospel changes suffering, let’s be clear about 3 things the gospel does NOT do:

1. It does not prevent suffering – Christians suffer like non-Christians do

2. It does not minimize suffering – the gospel is not an anesthetic – it does not numb your heart, your body, or your mind

3. It does not remove all pain – the gospel does not promise relief in this life

Then how does the gospel change suffering?

1. By taking it seriously – by pointing you to Christ on the cross who felt intense agony in his body (physical pain), who reeled from the abandonment of his Father while he was left dying (emotional pain), who writhed in fear and shed drops of blood in the garden (spiritual pain), who lived his life in sorrow and grief and rejection from the very people who were his kin (social pain).

2. By not telling you lies that your suffering will soon be over, that it’s just for a little while – how do you know?

3 questions to avoid that add to your suffering:

1.”Why me?”

2. “What did I do wrong?”

3. “What am I supposed to learn from this?”

All three add to your misery. They make you turn inward instead of trusting God.

Instead, this is the question to ask when you’re suffering:

Q: “Where is God in my suffering?”

A: Right there with you.

How do you know God is there when you are in so much pain?

Because of the cross. It was there that Christ suffered all your pain.

Keep the big picture focus:

One day there will be an end to all your suffering. It’s the day of Christ’s return when he ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. And you’ll be there in a resurrected body that will never feel any pain ever again.

And that’s a promise.

Christians Are Human, Too

Have you had days when you feel despairing and without hope? You wallow in unbelief and self-pity accompanied by great heaving sobs? And to top things off,  you know those thoughts don’t honor the character of God, which makes you feel even more wretched.

Does God still love you in times like these?

Did God love David, Job, Jeremiah, and countless others who poured out their feelings in times of crisis and suffering? Some, like Job, even took God to task.

The answer is a resounding YES! He does love you.

You know what? Christians are human, too.

Just read the Psalms. Every emotion is there. The ups and downs, the anger, the confusion, the despondency, the hurt and the suffering.

There isn’t a human emotion that isn’t recorded there. And aren’t you glad. You serve a God who isn’t turned off or shocked by your raw feelings.

And he still loves you.

Jesus understands. He faced it all. And he suffered perfectly, without sin. And that perfect record has been given to you!

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (New Living Translation)

Whatever else you do while the going is rough, remember to run to Jesus, your sympathetic High Priest, and tell him how you feel, and  he will comfort and give you grace.

It’s Not About Sin

How do you handle suffering? (If you’re like me, I want to run and hide until it all goes away.)

Do you doubt God’s love for you? Feel his withdrawal? (You bet.)

Do you think he’s punishing you for something wrong you have done? (That’s what I think of right away.)

The truth is we’ve all done everything wrong, all the time, all our lives. That’s why we need a Savior. As Romans 3 says, none of us seeks God.

If we keep to that logic, we would deserve to be punished everyday of our lives. But even that would not be sufficient to a holy God.

The truth is we cannot pay for our sins. They are too awful, too deep, and too pervasive.

That’s why Jesus came to pay for them in our stead on the cross.

God isn’t angry with us anymore.

Let me say that again. God isn’t angry with us anymore if we have placed our trust in Jesus.

Jesus paid for every sin we have committed, are committing now, and will commit in the future.

If we believe in Jesus as God’s solution to our sin problem, then all of our sins are forgiven. We are adopted children of God. God now is our Heavenly Father. He loves us.

So with that in mind, trials and suffering are meant to mature us and build the image of Christ in us. There’s a real purpose to them. Read Romans 5 & James 1.

Don’t waste this opportunity to stretch your faith.