WARNING - Work in Progress

WARNING - Work in Progress
WARNING - Work in Progress

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why do Christians Suffer? (Part 3) - 07/30/2016


So this is my last thoughts on why Christians suffer.  In the first part I suggest that it is because we do not know or disregard the Word of Christ in its written or spirit lead forms.  In the second part I suggest that we suffer in this world simply because we live in a cursed world that is under the dominion of the evil one.  In this third and final part, I am going to suggest that we Christians suffer simply because we are Christian.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  (Luke 9:23)

These words of Jesus are words of personal sacrifice.  They are words that call to the very core of men to endeavor to die to himself each day for the benefit of his fellow man – nay even his enemy.  Too many of us Christians have responded to the minister’s call to “be forgiven and go to heaven when you die” but have never thought about the life of a Christian.  In Jesus own words, if we are going to be His disciples we are to be a living representation of Himself while we remain on earth.  I suggest that we Christians often suffer because we really did not want to be walking talking martyrs of Jesus with our lives, we simply wanted to go to heaven when we die.

The struggle doesn’t begin there though, it begins the very moment that we understand that we are sinners.  The moment we acknowledge that we really are not a “good person” we must do some self-analysis and admit that we really are self-focused self-serving people.  We suffer with the act of bending a knee in humility before Him and asking Him to take control of our lives.  Then, after that initial act, we suffer with humility all the way through.  Loving our family more than ourselves, loving our enemy at all, humbling ourselves to being taught the ways of Christ from others, and daily remembering and trusting that we have a new identity in Jesus – that the old has gone and the new has come.  We suffer daily with trying to die to self – or at least we should.  A countless number of sermons have been written and preached reminding us Christians that we are no longer as we were, but as His Children, as we now are, by the power of the blood of Jesus.  Having this sort of faith is a constant struggle.

The point is that we Christians all suffer for a variety of reasons.

Few people know of Mother Theresa’s despair and suffering as she walked with God.  She reported that God very clearly called her to begin the ministry to the people at Calcutta, but once she did she reported that it felt like God had abandoned her.  For the rest of her life she daily suffered a spiritual loneliness while begging and pleading with Jesus to allow her to feel His presence once again.  However, every day, in faith, she continued to seek Him while she diligently kept at the task of serving the people she had been called to.   

I appreciate the above story because in Mother Theresa's suffering I see a daily picking up of a cross in order to continue her faithful serving of the people Jesus died for.  I see in her life’s work, a woman who accepted the suffering of the cross, and yet continued to follow Him daily.

Have any of my words over the past few weeks been of any comfort to you?  I think that most of us are willing to suffer so long as we can understand why we are suffering.  For some it may be ignorance or a disregard of God’s will, for others it could be that they are just overwhelmed by the natural world of sin in which we live, or it may even be simply that we struggle with the fact that we are Christian and the battles of faith against the devil, or personal will and desire, weigh us down.  In all actuality, it's a combination of everything that cause us to suffer.  My prayer, however, is that in all of our struggles we will remain faithful to our savior who gave His blood that we might live.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why do Christians Suffer? (Part 2) - 07/24/2016


I’m considering the reason for Christian suffering.  Previously I wrote about the first reason that I considered as to why Christians suffer – disregard of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit [1].  You can read about that by following the link.  Now, the second reason that Christians suffer is simply because we live in a fallen world; a world that has been cursed by God.

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Genesis (3:17-19)

Let’s face it; we live in a sinful world that is decaying.  As sure as the new becomes old and the fresh becomes stale there will always be something that causes us grief and suffering in our lives.  The world into which we are born is cursed and we live in a state of falleness and sin.

"What a world!  What a world!"  ~The dying words of the Wicked Witch of West

It’s the everyday reality, just turn on the news.  You have the radical Muslims blowing up and shooting everyone else, we have what seems to be a literal race war between the blacks in America and the police, and the American government is trying its very best to make acceptable the murder of the unborn children in this country.  The world is corrupt because the devil is the rightful ruler of it.  Not only are humans animalistic toward other humans, we then have the so-called “acts of God” such as famine, tornadoes, floods, fires, tsunamis, and the like.  These occur regularly.  And all the while we grow from having skin as soft as a baby’s butt to wrinkly and calloused until we return back to the dust from which we started.  This world is simply designed to be one big box of sorrows, struggles, and suffering.

And yet amidst all of that, it is good.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.   (John 10:10b)

We are born into a world that is in fact cursed by God and we are invited to be in relationship with Him.  A relationship does not take away any of the pain or struggles that we live among but the relationship does bring us comfort during life's storms.

Yes, we Christians do struggle and suffer through many things in our lives.  And yes, we will often feel the despair and hopelessness of it all throughout our lives.  But as Christians, we have a hope because we know that no matter what we are experiencing, it is not the end of the story.  For in Christ we know that even death is not the end because our hope is in the resurrection, which is a whole new beginning.  Faith in the invisible against the physical that we see seems like an impossible way of helping us to combat the suffering that can come upon us, but this is exactly the point.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Next time, I will look at the final reason that we Christians suffer, and that reason is, quite frankly, because we are Christians and we endeavor to live contrary to our old natures in this world that does not make it easy for us to do so.  Be sure to read part 3 of Why do Christians Suffer next week.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Why do Christians Suffer? (Part 1) - 07/17/2016


Lately I have been praying about and pondering something: hardships and sufferings.  Specifically, how are we Christians to think about suffering, as people of faith, and its part in our daily sanctification.  Please note that while my thoughts are the result of my own times of prayer, I do not consider my thoughts exhaustive.

When I am able to get people to open up, and talk honestly, I learn that most all of them "suffer" in some way.  Be it great suffering or small, a great irritation of their minds or mild, or a major physical problem or minor, each of them has a prayer request that would release them from their suffering.  What I recognize is that all Christians struggle with things that make them suffer in some way.

Each denomination seems to address how they think about suffering.  The Roman Catholic tradition, for instance, will consider personal affliction and suffering as a way of personal spiritual development or that suffering shaves time off of purgatory.  The Reformed Christian will view suffering as directly given by God for His Glory in some way, while other denominations may consider it as direct punishment from God because He punishes those whom He loves.  There are more ways of thinking about it, of course, but the following are my personal thoughts, and I pray that they may help in how you think about your own times of suffering as redeemed followers of Jesus.

First, personal suffering may stem from our own wrong expectations of God.  The equation D=(E+R)[1] guides me in this.  Disappointment = Expectations + Reality.  As I observe my own struggles in life, I recognize that quite a many have been simply the result of my own personal wrong expectations.

Have you ever seen AFV (America’s Funniest Videos)?  Quite often, the videos are of someone jumping from the roof of their home into a backyard swimming pool only to hit the side of the pool with the background noise of laughter added to the track to ease our pain of watching it.  I never find these videos funny and with-in the first few frames, when I have seen the person on the roof and the swimming pool below, my mind instantly knows that this will end badly.  And when the person hits the side of pool, breaking four ribs to the music of canned laughter, I think to myself, “what did he expect?”  The Reality of the jumper’s leap proved not to meet with his Expectations, and so he was seriously Disappointed (D=E+R) and likely injured.

What I observe is that many Christians are like the jumper in the video.  They expect a certain result from God and the Christian life, but when their expectations are added to the reality, they will often become disappointed.  What will help alleviate this sort of suffering for us is two-fold: knowledge of the Scriptures and the leading of His Holy Spirit.

First, a knowledge and humble acceptance to God’s wisdom from the scriptures is an easy first step.  Let’s take a marriage for example.  While I am not at all trying to minimize the many complicated aspects of the love relationship, I have learned over the years that many people have ignored the scriptures’ instruction to “not be unevenly yoked”.  The person married another person because they “loved” them only to realize later that the person was not a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and the marriage failed.  Again, I am not trivializing anyone’s love relationship but too often people go into marriage without the slightest attempt to humbly honor God ‘s direction in the process.  

And then second, there is the direction of God's Holy Spirit in each Christian's life.  Often, people have confirmed that the Holy Spirit was indeed directing them to avoid the marriage, but they reasoned through it because they really wanted to be married. Again, I am not trying to humiliate anyone in a failed marriage, but what gives me pause is that some people pray that God will ease their pain while they begin the process of getting married again-- with the same exact disregard for the direction of the scriptures and leading of the Holy Spirit.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8
That walking "humbly" with our God is the sticky wicket for most of us.

Remember, I am talking about suffering and questioning how suffering is used in the life of the Christian’s daily sanctification.  In this very first reason for suffering (wrong expectations of God and disregard for the Holy Spirit) we discover that in order to have better expectations we must humbly approach the leading of the Holy Spirit and the direction of the sacred scriptures with a genuine humility for God to lead us.  Sometimes this leading is not in the direction that we would desire to go in life, and sometimes God says “no” to us because we are His soldiers and He desires us to do something different than what we may have thought.  However, His calling for us to do something different than what we desired does not fall under this category of suffering, but under the third which is the result of simply being a disciple of Jesus.  Before I broach that topic though, we will need to look at a second reason for Christian suffering, and that is because it is the direct result of living in a world of sin.  We live in this world of sin so we should not expect more from it than what it can deliver.

However, this will have to wait until the next installment of Why do Christians Suffer?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Symptom - 7/10/2016


A true story (I think).

A church had a problem with squirrels making nests in the church building and the congregants were at their wits end trying to get rid of the squirrels.  One day members of the church were meeting to discuss the problem when woman who had been in the church for many generations had a suggestion about how to get the squirrels to go away, and never come back.  “What we must do, and precedent proves this to be true, if we want the squirrels to leave and never come back, we need only to confirm them.”

While I think this is a true story, it feels like a satire.  Either way, it plays into an epidemic that is spoken of in churches today.  One church’s members lament that their children are no longer coming to church, another congregation complains that they cannot get young people to attend, and another church has a rotating door of new people coming in and going out despite the many programs that they have in operation.  All the leaders and ministers of these churches are seeking to figure out how best to attract and retain people.  But I think the fact that people are not staying in churches is proof positive of just one problem – Jesus isn‘t there.  

Please don’t get me wrong, Jesus may indeed be in a church but the fact that people are leaving indicates that the people leaving are not experiencing Jesus – or if they did, they are no longer.  Children not returning to an aged congregation or a high turnover rate to a young church communicates the same thing – there is a disconnect between the people and God.

What’s the solution?  Somehow the people need to connect with God through the Lord Jesus Christ in a very meaningful way.  This can be through music, bible studies, fellowship, various liturgies, and the like but people need to meet with Jesus in a real and revelatory way.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John had an experience where, in the Spirit, he encountered the Lord Jesus Christ.  John describes the event in the first chapter like this:

17 When I saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.   (Revelation 1:17-18)

My question is this.  When was the last time you or I have had an experience with Jesus that had dropped us to our faces as though dead?  When was the last time we have had a revelation of the actual living Lord Jesus Christ?

I suspect that when a church becomes good at helping people actually experience Jesus, they will no longer need to ask how to retain their people.