Do Not Fear Your Trials: Jesus is Alive!

suffering-livesThe very last phrase in Mark 10:34 is the very best phrase. We read “And after three days he will rise.”

Christ will rise. Christ comes and suffers and dies on the cross to liberate you and me from this sinful world for his glory. He has to die in-part because we face sorrows, trials, and pains –  including death –  that we cannot overcome in our own strength.

Jesus is not just the great empathizer. Nor is Jesus the savior of Jenny Craig, of Nike, or Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Our savior is the God of the universe. He has triumphed over the grave.

We can and must trust Jesus because he saves us from every trial and even death itself. Jesus is our great savior.

And all those who trust him will triumph. We will have eternal life. Regardless of how much we suffer and regardless how much our heart is pained by our own sins, by foolishness of those we love, and by the decaying forces of nature, we will be more than conquerors. We will ultimately be ‘ok’ because God has triumphed over the grave. Our foolish decision to send that prince in Nigeria our bank account number, the hateful words of our father, and a miscarriage will not destroy our soul. Jesus is alive. Nothing can rob his love from us even a terminal diagnosis from our doctor.

The great news of the gospel does not stop there! The power that raised Christ from the dead is working in us!

In Colosians 2:11-13, we read,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

We are called to admit that our suffering is real, hard, and at sometimes almost crushing.

And then we find hope in the risen savior who has died to pay for all his sin and to bring all suffering to an end. We can handle the news of cancer, we can bury a loved one, and we can watch our children get divorced. We can witness all these bad things and more and still walk faithfully with the Lord because the power the raised Christ from the dead is working in us.

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We are not alone, seeking to navigate hurt by coming up with our own Jane Austin like satire that lesser people fail to grasp. We don’t have to panic.  God is alive and moving in our soul. He is sanctifying our hearts and increasing our faith, truth and wisdom. Jesus will see us through.

He will give us the wisdom we need to speak to our hurts and to the trials of others. He will give us the ability to walk up to the precipice of death and to cross over into heaven.

We do not have to be afraid of suffering because Jesus is alive and his spirit is working in us for our deliverance.

The gospel is what saves us, and it is what sustains us as we faces trial and struggles. If you are afraid of death, of cancer, or unrepentant children, turn your eyes to Jesus. Place your hope in him. He is able. He is alive.

Walking-With-God-through-pain-and-sufferingAnd because Jesus is alive, we also know with certainty that no suffering is pointless or out of God’s control. Jesus conquered death. He conquered sin. Because God rules supreme, Satan, creation and humanity cannot stop or alter any of Jesus’ plans for us or for our loves ones. Jesus rules!

Our trials are not good. Our suffering is not good. Jesus came and died because our suffering results from either moral or natural evil. Jesus died because he seeks to end suffering. But since God worked through suffering to accomplish our salvation and the salvation of the world, we can and should trust God to work out all of our suffering for our good. This is the heart of James 1 and of Romans 8. James 1:2-4 boldly states:

Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And lest steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.    

Since God uses the suffering of his son to accomplished that greatest good in human history, we can trust that our cancer, our wayward children, and our sorrows are being used for our good. They are being used to strip us of all of our lust, wants, and desires that our opposed to Christ. They are being used to transform us more and more into the image of Christ. Thus, we can count it all joy when we suffer because God reigns and we will reign with him in paradise one day.

Because God is sovereign and suffering, we know our suffering always has meaning even though we cannot see it. – Tim Keller

We do not have to be afraid of suffering because Jesus is alive. The gospel is true.  We have great hope because the health and wealth gospel is not the real gospel. The real gospel says we are sinners with corrupt hearts and fallen bodies who have been saved by the suffering Christ who died the cross. Ever torment, ever illness, every piece of bad news, ever sin of our children fits into this narrative.

Are you ready to trust God with your suffering?

Don’t Pretend Life Is OK; It’s Not

do-not-pretendI hate water chestnuts. You know those little crunchy devils of texture that ruin practically any casserole. Unfortunately, my mom went through of phase of water chestnut love when I was in the midst of my grade school career. The annoying little things seemed to pop up in every dish.  Every month or so, I would reach my tipping point and refuse to crunch another little circle. My mother would respond to my breakdown with these words: “You need to eat and be thankful for the good food you have. The poor, starving children in China would be happy to eat it.”

Being a gracious kid who humbly thought himself always right, I would whisper back, “Send it to China, then.”

Children and moms all across America continue to repeat this conversation day after day. Tons of kids are ready to pack up their nasty food and to take their boxes to the nearest UPS drop-off location, willingly sacrificing their allowances to cover international shipping cost. “Was it India or China, mom?”

I believe these common and inconsequential conversations are perfect analogy of how many Christians deal with pain and suffering.

We see suffering as something to be minimalized and trivialized. When we are tempted to think our life is bad, we remember that great truth:  ‘Someone’s life stinks more than my life.’

We break a bone, but our hospital mate is in a body cast. Our child leaves the faith, but Sam’s kid left the faith and is a drug addict who regularly steals money from the church. We have a miscarriage but Sally has had three. We have to eat bad food, but the kid in India featured on the latest commercial has nothing. Someone else’s life is worse than ours. With this thought in mind, we find the content and the strength to power on through life.

Ironically, we tend to find great comfort in the suffering of others. We see that our suffering is not the pinnacle of human suffering. And because there is some pain, sorrow, or grief that is worse than what we are currently walking through, we convince our soul that our problems are actually rather trite. And if our problems are trite, then they are a manageable. And manageable problems are problems that we can handle, fix, and overcome on our own strength with minimal help from relatives and our local church.

And if we can manage our problems, we do not have to admit that we need Jesus. We do not have to surrender our self-sufficiency and submit to the whole counsel of God. We do not have to surrender our demi-god status. Because if we got this, we really do not need Jesus to do much for us.

The cancer patient who is convinced that his cancer is treatable with Advil will not subject himself to the live-saving chemotherapy treatments. And the believer who is convinced that his sin, sorrows and trials are can be handled with some positive thinking will never embrace the beautiful remedies proscribed in the Scriptures. The well have no need for a physician.

Consequently, we make light of our suffering and sorrow. We do not tell anyone that we had a miscarriage. We do not talk about the death of our mother. We do not let our kids attend their grandmother’s funeral. We do not want to admit that our suffering is entirely beyond our control. We do not want to admit that we are broken people trapped in a broken world.

Thankfully, we do not have to pretend to be God any longer because Jesus saves.

Notice what Jesus says in Mark 33b-34,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.

Jesus comforts his disciples by talking about suffering.  He addressed their fears by detailing all the evil and bad things that are going to happen to him. He is going to be arrested falsely, handed over to the Romans, publicly humiliated, physically abused, and murdered.

This is not the most encouraging promo for an upcoming leadership event.

“Follow our Leader as he gets mocked, abused, and murder. You will not want to miss this exciting experience.”

These words ring hollow in our ears.

Yet, we need to hear them. We must realize that our problems are bigger and greater than us. We need to realize that we need a savior.

Walking-With-God-through-pain-and-sufferingIf our greatest problem could be solved by buying a new pair of shoes or by finding a better financial planner, then Christ would not have had to suffer and die on the cross. But he did. And he did so precisely because we are sinners who live in a sin stained universe. Christ dies because our problems truly are beyond our control and ability. To admit that we cannot control our pain and suffering is to admit that we are fallen creatures in need of a savior.

Such a mindset is not weakness. It is immensely biblical. Jesus did not come to save the well and the healthy. He came to save the sick and the broken.

To have hope in this world, we must by humble enough to admit that we need a savior. Only from our brokenness and weakness do we find hope.

When we cry out to Christ for help, we do not find a harsh father figure who spits out all our failures like an adding machine. We find a gracious, loving, and merciful God who fully understands our experience. Tim Killer writes:

There is nothing more difficult than the disruption and loss of family relationships, but here we see that “God knows what it is like to suffer, not just because he sees it in far greater clarity than we, but because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible…the agony of loss by death, the separation from a beloved…[and] the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin.

God knows what it is like to suffer. He hurts with us and for us. And he died for us so that we can escape suffering and sorrow. We do not have to pretend that suffering is a myth. We do not have to cover up our pain with positive words.

At some point, we will lose our demi-god status. At some point, we will all face death, the ultimate sorrow that no man or woman or child can escape. If we are trusting in Christ, he will deliver us from our sin because he has conquered death.

By why wait for the dark clouds of death to roll in. We need to cry out to God for help, today. We need to admit that we are broken, weak, and foolish vessels in need of healing. We need to stop focusing our other people and focus on our hearts, pleading for God to save us. Jesus knows we have problems and sent he son to rescue us.

Are you ready to admit that you need a savior?

Do Not Be Afraid. Storms Are Coming.

storm-is-comingLife is hard. Life is really hard. You might even say it is hell on earth. Picking up on this reality, one marketer said,

There are lots of hells…There’s no-time hell, stressed out hell, bored hell, out-of-shape hell, lonely hell, overworked hell, no budget hell, debt hell, bad-hygiene hell…human-relations hell, disorganized hell.

To market well you must offer salvation from the hells of this life.

The question facing you and me today is not, “Will we have trials?” The question is, “how do we handle our trials?” Such pessimistic thinking is not purely the work of secular Debbie-downers who kill puppies for fun.

The idea that our lives are lives predicated upon suffering is an intimately biblical idea. The Forty-two chapters in Job, The five chapters of Lamentations, the over 60 Lament Psalms, and large portions of every Old and New Testament books address the topic of suffering. Jesus affirms the reality of human suffering when he talks about the wise-man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish-man who built his house on the sand (Math 7:24-27). Both men are hit by the storms of life. Both men suffer. The one who stands upon the rock of Christ is not destroyed by trials. The hellish things of this fallen world do not overcome the one who built his life upon the cornerstone that the builders rejected.

We know God will carry us through our trials. We have the head knowledge. And yet, we still found ourselves fearful, confused, afraid when we see the dark storm clouds of life come sweeping across the horizon.

We come across the disciples in state of astonishment and fear In Mark 10:32-34. They are walking towards Jerusalem fearful, confused, and afraid because dark clouds hang over their future. They are afraid and amazed. The term for amazement used here is not happy amazement. This is not the amazement we feel when a homerun clears the upper deck of the Brave’s Stadium or when a ballerina spin elegantly across the stage. This is a frightful, an apprehensive amazement. It is a feeling similar to what a mom feels when the see spaghetti on dangling form the roof while her children look innocently on from the table with blank stares on their face. This is the amazement one feels as he watches a car flip across the freeway.  The disciples and those following Jesus are a mess.

Sensing their hearts, Jesus calls the twelve disciples to himself and shares these words:

See we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.

We should take time to consider and ponder Jesus’s words because they show us how to navigate the hellish trials of this life. As the famous Pastor D. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote,

“In many ways the prime business of the preaching of the gospel is to prepare men to stand up to these things.”

If our gospel is powerful, meaningful, and adequate for all of life, then it must empower us to survive the storms of life and even the great crisis of death itself. All Christians need to be about the business of understanding how the gospel sees us through trials.

But before we dive into the beautiful truth that the can survive trials because Jesus saves, I want to spend a few moments understanding why the disciples and the others following Jesus are afraid.

To get the full context for Jesus’ s words, we need to travel back a few verses. In Mark 10:24, we read, “And the disciples were amazed at his words” The more Jesus talks, the more astonished the disciples become. In verse 26, we read, “And they were exceedingly astonished.”

What were this earth shattering words? Look at Mark 10:24b-25:

Children how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

The disciples had accidentally constructed a theology that very much paralleled many of the ideas found in today’s Health and Wealth gospel. The disciples believed that wealth, health, power, and long life were all signs of God’s favor. To be successful in the world meant one was favored and blessed by God. A few verses earlier in Mark 10:13, they had attempted to keep the little children away from Jesus because the infants were insignificant in their minds. The disciples naturally assumed that God is not interested in the poor and unimportant things of the world.

But Jesus disagrees and is not mercifully ripping their bad theology apart. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus, the disciples were sure that the rich young ruler would be saved and welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.

Sadly, the opposite happens. The rich young ruler is not he leaves sorrowful because he will not give up all his wealth and follow Jesus.

And then Jesus get to these words:

Children how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Wealth is not the ultimate sign of God’s favor. God is. God love is not measured by wealth, the size of your health, or the success of your children. God’s love is measured by Jesus’s death for you and me and by the presence of his church. Those who follow Christ get Jesus and his church.

Jesus says it this way in verses 29-30: “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now In this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Often we are prone to doubt God, to panic, and to be fearful when suffering and trials come because we have unknowingly embraced a health and wealth gospel. We follow the theology that lead some churches in Nigeria to name their building things like, “The Winners Chapel.” We function like many of Ghana’s Christian couples who changed their wedding vows from: “For Better or for worse” and “for richer or for poorer” to “for better or for Best” and to “for richer or for richest.” We have equated God’s love with out stuff instead of with Jesus’s death and resurrection.

When we get diagnosed with cancer, when our child is arrested for stealing, and when our granddaughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, we are left with fear and astonishment because our false gospel was shattered by reality. We get mad and depressed and scream at God, “How could you let this happen? How dare you not give me all the things that I have demanded from you?”

We have assumed that salvation and God’s love equals a life of no suffering. And now, we have no category from which to understand the evil and hardships in our life.

We struggle because we miss that fact that Jesus promises that we will gain him and lose wealth and family and friendships. Hardships are not a sign that God has left you. As Llyod-Jones reminds us,

No where does the Bible tell us that immediately you become a Christian all your troubles end, and that the remainder of the story is that ‘all lived happily ever after.’ Nothing of the kind.

All people struggle with the storms of life.

Rather, we know God is close by. We have his church; we have fellow believers who care for us and minister to us. More importantly, we have Jesus. No matter what happens in this world, no matter what we suffer or lose, we will be with Christ in paradise. As Glen Scrivener wrote,

“Jesus entered our hell so we could have his heaven. . . . Jesus joins us in our failures so we can join him in his family.”

Do not assume that God’s favor equals earthly peace because Jesus is our goal and ultimate hope. Success and glory is find in the throne room of heaven and not in our bank account. Storms are coming. Abandon any theology that cannot make since of them.