Posts tagged ‘Suffering’

Grace in the Wilderness

crooked-tree-in-desert.jpg

Credit: Angelique Downing from Burst

There are some incredible words the Lord speaks through the prophet Jeremiah:

The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness. (Jeremiah 31:2)

These words are written for Israel while Israel is in crisis – when she is being defeated and decimated by the Babylonians who will carry her people into exile.  While Israel is at her worst, then, God says to her, “In a place you might least expect it – the wilderness that is your exile – you will find My grace.”

God’s people have a history of finding grace in wilderness. When the Lord led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, He led them into the wilderness, where they received grace upon grace. A miracle at the Red Sea. Manna and quail from the heavens. Water to drink from a rock. There was grace there in that wilderness.

When God decided it was time to send a Savior, His coming was announced in where else, but the wilderness:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:1-3)

The grace of God’s kingdom was being announced in the wilderness.

And when the Savior did arrive, where did He go to begin His public ministry? Into the wilderness, of course:

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

While Jesus may have been tempted by the devil, He did not succumb to the devil. He defeated the devil and his temptations so that there may be grace for everyone who does not fare so well under temptation.

I think sometimes we might prefer to find grace in places other than the wilderness. In the lushness of an awesome spiritual experience, perhaps, where we feel the warmth of God’s love surrounding us. Or in the comforts of an abundance of material possessions, perhaps, where we can breezily and easily praise God for the amazing things He has given to us.

God can show us grace through these things, but this does not mean He only shows us grace through these things.

Sometimes, grace comes to us in the wilderness. Like when we feel spiritually cold inside and all we can do is cling to God’s Word. Or when our pocketbooks feel strapped and our savings accounts are depleted all we have is God’s promise of daily bread.

Sometimes, grace comes to us in the wilderness.

This should not surprise us. For God’s grace was most fully expressed on some rough-hewn timbers, cut down from the wilderness of ancient Israel. Grace did not feel good to Jesus. But the grace of the cross is the greatest grace there is.

So, don’t let a time in the wilderness crush you. There is grace there because Jesus is there. If there’s one place He knows, it’s there. And if there’s one person He wants, it’s you.

September 2, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Hurricane Harvey and Human Selflessness

The news in the wake of Hurricane Harvey just seems to get worse.  18 counties in Texas have been declared federal disaster areas.  Meteorologists are calling the flooding in Houston a 500-year event, though they admit that, by the time all is said and done, the effects of this storm may be closer to a 1,000-year event, or perhaps even bigger. In Beaumont, a toddler was found was shivering in the water, clinging to her drowned mother.  Scenes and stories like this are simply heartbreaking.

Of course, for every heartbreaking story, there are hundreds of heartwarming stories.  The picture below shows Cathy Pham, holding her sleeping baby, being carried to safety by a member of the Houston SWAT Team.

Then there was Spiderman who took some time to visit some of the children who were sheltering at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Images like these have made many people wonder out loud: Why can’t we always act this compassionately toward each other?  Why can’t we put the differences that normally divide us aside and come together like the Coastal Bend, Houston, and the Golden Triangle have?

On the one hand, it’s important to remember that the selflessness we see demonstrated in tragedies like these is not quite as universal as it can first appear.  Disasters bring out the best in many.  But they also bring out the worst in some.  From looters looking to pillage the possessions of displaced homeowners and damaged businesses to storm chasers who run from disaster zone to disaster zone trying to turn a quick profit off of beleaguered survivors by overcharging for a service and performing it poorly, or, sometimes, even not at all, there are still plenty of slick characters who will gladly trade the virtue of altruism for a windfall from opportunism.

In an article for Slate that has been widely criticized, Katy Waldman offers a somewhat cynical take on the staying power of human goodness, writing:

Humans may possess inherent goodness, but that goodness needs to be activated. Some signal has to disperse the cloud of moral Novocain around us. Some person, or fire, or flood, has got to say: now.

Ms. Waldman has serious doubts whether the goodness we see now in Texas can last beyond the storm.  The selflessness we’ve seen, she says, has only been activated by the terrible trials people have had to endure.  Once the trials pass, selflessness will ebb.  Sadly, she might be right.  But she doesn’t have to be.

One of the most compelling stories in the Bible is that of Job.  Job was a man who had it all, and then lost it all – his house, his cattle, his children, and even his health.  Job’s story recounts his struggle to come to terms with God’s faithfulness and providence in the midst of his suffering.  Throughout his terrible ordeal, Job maintains that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities that have befallen him, even boldly demanding to speak with God to protest his circumstances: “I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God” (Job 13:3). Throughout Jobs’ protestations, however, God remains silent – until He doesn’t.

At the end of the book, God speaks:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures My plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7)

God’s basic point to Job is that even when life feels unfair and God seems either absent or incompetent, He is neither.  God really does know what He’s doing.  He really does have a plan.  And He really is quite competent at running the universe, for He put the universe together in the first place.

What is especially important for our purposes, however, is not only what God says to Job, but where God says it: “Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm” (Job 38:1).  Job’s stringent sufferings have constituted a personal storm of epic proportions.  But God has been there with him in the storm the whole time.  Out of the storm, God speaks.

What was true of Job’s storm is true of Hurricane Harvey.  With so much human suffering on display in the headlines and on our television screens, it can be tempting to think God is either absent or incompetent.  But He is neither.  God is in the storm.  This is why, for all the suffering we see, we see even more selflessness.  God is in the storm, leading people to help each other through the storm.

This is also why Ms. Waldman’s contention that when a storm subsides, selflessness wanes doesn’t have to ring true.  Human selflessness in the midst of extraordinary suffering is not a result of suffering, but a gift from God.  Suffering may be a vehicle through which God reveals human selflessness, but suffering itself is not the source of human selflessness.  God in the storm – and not the storm itself – is the true source of our selflessness.  And though God is in the storm, He is also beyond the storm.  He will be there when the floods of Harvey have dried and the recovery and reconstruction projects have reached completion.  Which means that the kind of selflessness that has been so beautifully on display in this storm can last long beyond this storm.

Hurricane Harvey has put on display the divine gift of human selflessness.  And we have liked what we’ve seen.  So let’s make sure this precious gift doesn’t go back into hiding once Harvey fades from our headlines.  After all, if places like Houston can be wonderful because of people even when things are terrible because of weather, imagine what things could look like on a sunny day.

I’d love to see.

September 4, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Pain, Suffering, and Morality

AuschwitzI’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking lately on suffering and its effect on faith.  In one way, I can’t help but believe and even assert that there is every reason to question God in the face of great suffering.  Elie Wiesel’s gut-wrenching account of his time in a Nazi concentration camp comes to mind not only as a natural response to pain and suffering, but as a needed one:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget these flames that consumed my faith forever.[1]

Elie’s description of his first night in a concentration camp should arouse in us nothing other than horror, grief, and sympathy.  Although I don’t know precisely how I would react to such an experience, I would be naïve to think that Elie’s reaction could never be my reaction.  The scene is just too jarring.  The brutality is just too disgusting.  The deaths are just too agonizing.  I too could question God.

And yet…

Some did not respond to the concentration camps the way Elie Wiesel did.  One survivor of the camps, Alex Seidenfeld, in an interview with the Associated Press, said simply, “We stayed alive.  We survived.  How could this have happened without the almighty?”[2]

Elie looked at all those who died and asked, “How can God be?”  Alex looked at all those who survived and asked, “How can God not be?”  Elie looked at all those who died and angrily shouted, “God didn’t stop this!”  Alex looked at all those who survived and declared, “But God did save some of us from this!”

The question of where God is in the face of suffering is really a question of God’s role in the midst of suffering.  Is God’s role to stop us from suffering or to save us through suffering?  In one sense, it is both.  But the first role, at least according to Scripture, doesn’t find its full expression until later, at the end of days.

Ultimately, I would argue that, even if God does not stop all suffering, it is difficult to surmise from the existence of suffering that God does not exist.  C.S. Lewis famously explains why:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense.[3]

C.S. Lewis puts his finger on the reality that the problem we have with suffering is that we believe and perceive that it is, in some sense, wrong.  It is unjust.  But if we reject God, we lose the privilege of saying that anything is wrong or unjust because, without God and His ordering of the universe, standards of organized morality disappear into the ether of a universe that coalesced around the free-for-all of chance.  This world and all that is in it, to borrow a phrase from the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, is nothing more than “the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”[4]  In this view, suffering exists in the same way that a ball that lands on black 22 on a roulette wheel exists.  It just happens to happen sometimes.  There is nothing more to be said about it, at least not morally.

Arguing against a moral God in light of what is perceived to be immoral suffering, then, is an argument that collapses on itself.  You can’t argue against God using a framework that has its basis in God.  Either suffering just is, or it is somehow just wrong.  To question how there can be a good God who allows bad things assumes that, even if implicitly, there is a God and that, in some regard, He is not playing by His own rules, or at least by what we perceive to be His rules.  If this is the case, it may be fair to ask Him, “Why?”   But, as a Christian, I would propose that it might be even better to ask Him for help.  From what I hear, even if God doesn’t always stop suffering, He is quite adept at blessing people in suffering.

_____________________

[1] Elie Wiesel, Night (New York:  Hill and Wang, 2006), 33.

[2] Aron Heller, “Observant survivors keep the faith after Holocaust,” The World Post (1.26.2016).

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  Harper Collins Publishers, 1980), 38

[4] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. 12 (London: Routledge, 1985).

March 14, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Tornadoes and Satan

Moore TornadoCrises have a strange way of calling people to faith.  In a day and age where many are bemoaning that our nation is becoming increasingly secular, the devastating EF 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 gave rise to an abundance of prayers and cries to God.  Ed Stetzer paints the scene well in his article for USA Today, which is worth quoting at length:

Times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, “#PrayforOklahoma” quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed.

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex.

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve.  Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected.  News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost.  Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area.  Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through.

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy.

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?”[1]

Tragedies of the sort that struck Moore, no matter how supposedly “secularized” our nation has become, call forth faith.  And, as Stetzer duly notes, they also call forth questions.  Most often, tragedies like the one in Moore call forth the question that Stetzer poses:  “How could God allow this to happen?”  But in the wake of the tragedy at Moore, I received another question that, though less common, is certainly worthy of a moment of our reflection:  “Can Satan cause a tornado?”  When a tragedy strikes, most people wonder about God’s power to prevent tragedies and His ultimate purpose in allowing them.  But it is also worth asking what kind of prerogative Satan has to wreak havoc in our world.

Satan does seem to have some power to cause trouble in our world.  One needs to look no farther than the story of Job.  In nearly an instant, Job’s life goes from riches to rags.  A quick sequence of four calamities, instigated by Satan himself, robs Job of nearly everything he has.  The fourth of these calamities is especially instructive for our purposes:  “Yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:18-19)!  Notice that it is a windstorm that Satan sends to destroy Job’s family.  Satan, it seems, does seem to have limited power to incite natural disasters.

It is important to note that, as the story of Job clearly delineates, Satan incites calamities on a person not because a person is somehow particularly sinful or deserving of such calamities, for Job was “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  No, Satan incites calamities out of depraved delight – he enjoys watching people suffer.

Certainly we cannot know, nor should we speculate on, the transcendental cause of Moore’s devastating tornado.  The most we can say is that natural disasters are part of living in a sinful, fallen world and Satan takes cynical delight in the effects of sin on our world.

But there is hope.  For even if Satan can incite calamities, his ability to do so is severely – and blessedly – limited.  Jesus describes Satan as a “strong man” whose fate is sealed:  “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29)?  Satan may be a strong man.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  And He came to tie up Satan by defeating his favorite calamity – death – on the cross.

Ultimately, then, no matter what the spiritual causes of the natural disasters that plague our world may be, in this we can take consolation:  no matter how much strength sin and Satan may have for ill, Jesus is stronger.  He’s so strong, in fact, that “even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).  He has things under control.  And He holds Moore’s victims in His heart and hands.  May we hold them in our prayers.


[1] Ed Stetzer, “We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes: Column,” USA Today (5.22.2013).

June 3, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Sharing the Gospel…Even When It’s Hard

ShareTheGospelHow far would you go to share the gospel?  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9 constitute a rallying cry to “pull out all the stops,” as it were, to get the gospel to those who need to hear it:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Paul’s call to “become all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel” has been a topic of many a conversation about what is involved in showing and sharing God’s love to a world that is hostile to the exclusive claims of Christ.  Though many things could be said about proclaiming the gospel in a world like this, there is one thing in particular that I would focus on in this post:  Proclaiming the gospel to a world adverse to its message often involves pain.

Proclaiming the gospel involves much more than just being familiar enough with the culture around you to speak the gospel in a way that is intelligible to that culture, it involves enduring persecution from that culture when it takes umbrage with the gospel’s message.  This was certainly the case with Paul.  Paul writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (verse 20).  To become like a Jew was no easy task for Paul, especially since his Jewish comrades considered his message of a crucified Messiah blasphemous.  And the punishment for speaking blasphemy was nothing less than a beating.  This is why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24:  “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.”  Interestingly, a compendium of Jewish rabbinical teaching called the Mishnah considers lashes to be only a secondary punishment for blasphemy.  The primary punishment was that of being cut off from the Jewish people.  The rabbis wrote, “All those who are liable to extirpation who have been flogged are exempt form their liability to extirpation” (Mishnah Makkot 3:15).  The primary punishment for blasphemy, then, was that of being excommunicated from the Jewish community, but if a person could not stand the thought of excommunication, he could instead choose to be lashed.  Paul chose the lashes over the shunning.  But why?  It certainly wasn’t because he took any particular pride in being a Jew by birth.  Paul says of his Jewish pedigree:  “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 1:8).  Paul chose the lashes because he could not stand the thought of being excommunicated by his Jewish comrades.  After all, such excommunication would spell the end of his efforts “to win the Jews” (verse 20). Paul was so desperate to share the gospel with his Jewish community, he was willing to be beaten within inches of his death to do so.

The apostle Peter writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Sometimes, becoming “all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel” means suffering for the sake of the gospel.   By the Spirit’s enabling, may we be prepared to face adversity and pain to share and spread God’s message and power of salvation!

February 25, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Hope in the Midst of a Colorado Tragedy

The Century 16 Theatre at which James Holmes opened fire during the movie, “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.”

When 24 year-old neuroscience Ph.D. candidate dropout James Holmes burst into an Aurora, Colorado theatre at a midnight premier of “Batman:  The Dark Knight Rises” in full tactical gear with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol, packing as many as 6,000 rounds, the carnage was nearly instant.  Twelve are dead.  Over fifty are wounded.

Almost immediately, investigators sprung into action, trying to answer the same question they always try to answer after an act of senseless violence like this:  “Why?”  So far, Holmes hasn’t left us much to go on.

One of the things that strikes me about this mass shooting is how utterly elusive Holmes’ motive seems to be.  He has no Facebook page to scour for clues.  He has no Twitter account to review.  He didn’t host a blog.  He wasn’t connected to anyone on LinkedIn.  In an era of ubiquitous social media, investigators have not been able to turn to any of these standard-fare communal clearinghouses for insight into this man’s mind.  His police record has left investigators just as mystified.  One traffic violation in 2011.  That’s it.  No arrests.  No prior investigations.  Nothing that would lead officers to believe this man could or would explode in a rampage of mass murder.

The L.A. Times has been hard at work trying to understand Holmes’ motive, interviewing several people who knew him, albeit not very well.  Here is how they describe him:

  • “A generally pleasant guy…James was certainly not someone I would have ever imagined shooting somebody.” – James Goodwin, high school classmate
  • “He was very quiet…He was a nice guy when you did occasionally talk to him.  But he was definitely more introverted.” – Tori Burton, fellow with the National Institutes of Health
  • “A super-nice kid…kinda quiet…really smart…He didn’t seem like a troublemaker at all.  He just seemed like he wanted to get in and out, and go to college.” – Dan Kim, UC San Diego student[1]

The portrait of Holmes, even if not particularly profound, is incredibly consistent.  He was nice.  He was smart.  He was studious.  He was introverted.  And he did what?  He massacred how many?

Jesus says to the religious leaders of His day, “On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).  Jesus knew the goodness a person presents on the outside often conflicts with the darkness he harbors on the inside.  And as it was with the religious leaders, so it is with James Holmes.  On the outside, Holmes looked like a bright, promising Ph.D. student.  But on the inside, as we are now learning, he was full of dark aspiration.

The Bible has a word for this conflict between a person’s externally righteous appearance and his internally depraved heart:  hypocrisy.  This is why Jesus begins His diatribe against the religious leaders by saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13)!  In the ancient world, a “hypocrite” was an actor – someone who put on a mask to perform in a play.   Though the actor presented himself as one person on stage, he was, in reality, another person in his day-to-day life.

What is so sad about James Holmes is that, as he burst into that theatre filled with moviegoers, he was not necessarily being hypocritical, at least in a theological sense.  Instead, he was – as the doctrine of human depravity makes all too horrifyingly clear – just being himself.  He was carrying out in a shower of gunfire the sin that, exacerbated by what seems to be an apparent mental illness, had been smoldering in his heart for a long time.  And lest we pontificate on Holmes’ wickedness from a position of self-righteous arrogance, we must remember that the same depraved root of sinfulness that lives in Holmes’ heart lives in every human heart – even in our hearts.  As the prophet Jeremiah soberly says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

In a situation as devastating as this one, Christians are in a unique position both to minister to the hurting on the one hand and to speak honestly about the depth of human wickedness on the other.  To the hurting – especially to those who have lost loved ones – we can offer a shoulder to cry on and a message of hope:  “Christ conquers death!”  To those who ask “Why?” we can respond with one, simple word:  “sin.”  Sin led to this act.  Sin leads to all wicked acts.  Sin leads to our wicked acts.  But, like with death, Christ conquers sin.

As this story continues to unfold, we are sure to learn more about the gunman – his background, his possible motive, and, perhaps, his personal demons.  But no matter how much we may learn about his past, we cannot change the past.  Loved ones will still be lost.  Survivors will still bear physical and emotional scars from that dreadful night.  And the hearts of so many will still be broken.  The past will stand as it is right now:  tragic.  Only Christ can take this terrible moment from our past and redeem it in the future – when He calls those who trust in Him to rise from death to eternal life, unscarred and unmarred even by a gunman’s bullets.  And so in our distress, we hope and trust in Him.  What else can we do?


[1]Complex portrait emerges of suspected Colorado gunman James Holmes,” Los Angeles Times (7.20.12).

July 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC – Pain, Suffering, and the Gospel

"The Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of more than one person nearing the end of their life.  And it always breaks my heart to see how much pain they must often endure as their body slowly shuts down and the sickness they have been valiantly fighting slowly takes over.   This kind of suffering is truly sad.  But suffering is not only physical.  Just as heartbreaking for me to watch is the woman who is being emotionally abused by her spouse or the young boy who is made an outcast by his peers.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering can leave very real scars on a human heart, soul, and life just as physical suffering can.

In our text from this past weekend, we read how the apostle Paul was a man who, like Jesus, was “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).   As he preached the gospel, he encountered persecution after persecution and pain after pain.  In Philippians 1, we learn that Paul is encountering physical suffering.  He is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel, awaiting a hearing before the Roman emperor Nero, who is not exactly a friend and fan of Christians.  And yet, even in the midst of this suffering, and his impending martyrdom at the hands of a ruthless emperor, Paul has hope and joy.  He writes to the Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  Paul says his suffering advances the gospel.  And it does!  He goes on, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13).  As I mentioned in ABC, the “whole palace guard” could have numbered between 13,000 and 14,000 men.  That’s a lot of men who have become aware of Paul’s suffering “in chains for Christ!”  Apparently, Paul is sharing the gospel with the very men who are presiding over his suffering in chains.  He is sharing the gospel with the guards.

Much like our suffering, Paul’s suffering is not merely physical.  Paul goes on to speak of those who add to his suffering: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15, 17).  Paul has such vehement detractors of his ministry that they want to kick him while he’s down – they want to cause him trouble while he is in prison, as if being in prison isn’t trouble enough.  Thus, through their envy and rivalry, they add to Paul’s physical suffering emotional suffering as well by preaching Christ for all the wrong, selfish reasons.  And yet, even as Paul suffers, the gospel continues to spread.

The gospel has a funny – and even miraculous – way of spreading in and in spite of adversity and suffering.  In Paul’s case, the gospel continued to spread thanks to his witness to the palace guard.  Even today, adversity often serves as an unwilling and unwitting catalyst for the truth of the gospel to reach ears it might not otherwise tickle.  I think of the Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was so popular and controversial when it first hit store shelves in 2003.  Rife with ecclesiastical conspiracy theories, it became a flashpoint around which detractors of the Church and her message could rally.  But its shoddy history, theology, and ecclesiology was made quick work of by the brightest and best Christian scholars who knew the theories put forth in this book were utterly unsubstantiated.  It was only titillating conspiracy coupled with fantasy.  However, because of the big questions this book raised, many people began to study Christianity – its history, theology, and ecclesiology – and found its teachings and truths to be on much more solid ground than they might have previously expected.  Thus, the faith of many in Christ was strengthened and bolstered – and all this through a book antagonistic to Christianity.

What trials are you currently encountering?  What suffering are you currently bearing?  Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological?  Whatever form your trials and suffering may take, pray to God – that He might give you strength to endure and that He might strengthen your faith in and through your suffering.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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