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.


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?

Is Divorce Ever An Option?

divorceWestern society, which once used bemoan divorce as shameful, now wants to celebrate the moment when two people break their vows asunder. A quick Google search reveals that Americans can now buy divorce cake toppers featuring a groom being drag off to the trash can, divorce party banners celebrating singleness, and divorce party buttons courtesy of Pinterest and Etsy.  As a woman told the Daily Mail back in February, “My divorce party was a form of closure that made me feel in charge of my destiny…If you’ve been unhappy in marriage, why not celebrate the fact that you are free and single again?” Why not celebrate divorce?

Many in our churches are asking the same question. I have repeatedly heard church members state how their divorce is a good thing. Because a divorce will free them from their toxic relationship, they can and must get divorced. If they do not dissolve their marriage vows, they risk losing their chance at true happiness and fulfillment. As the English author and activists, Julia Stephenson said about her first marriage, “I became fixated with the idea that I’d made a dreadful mistake in settling for someone whom I had mistakenly assumed was the best I could hope for.” Many Christians agree. If they can do better than their first spouse, they should have the freedom to get divorced and remarried.

More and more people both inside and outside the church are concluding that divorce is an inescapable reality. As relationship therapist Marisa Peer said, “we’re living longer, which means those who marry in their 20s can expect to spend 70 years with the same person, which is often unrealistic.” Thus, divorce appears to be both needed and inevitable if we are to have fulfilling lives.

Although our western culture is clearly embracing divorce as a natural and needed phenomenon worthy of celebration, should we as Christians normalize and embrace the growing divorce culture? How should react to the news that our best friends are hiring attorneys? What should we tell our loved ones when they come to us detailing their marriage problems? How do we deal with divorce?

Admittedly, divorce is a tricky and difficult subject for the church to engage. In Mark 10:1-12, we read that the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce because they hoped to stump him. They hoped that discussing the topic would hurt and harm Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees knew that when Jesus addressed the topic of divorce he would be saying hard things to hurting people.  Yet, Jesus tackled the question head-on. The text says, “He answered them.” And, we must do the same.  We must bring the Scriptures, God’s words, to bear on every subject regardless of its complexity.

And now, we are back to the question that Jesus faced and that we face, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” How should we think about, approach, and react to divorce?

We must value marriage above all else. God never intended for us to get divorced. The guidelines for the divorce arise after the fall of Adam and Eve because of sin. Jesus says in Mark 10:5, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” Divorce is always and in every way caused by sin. But in supporting marriage we must neither go beyond the limits of Scripture nor take away from God’s Word.

Back in Jesus’ day, many of the Jews interpreted the Old Testament law found in Deuteronomy 24:1 to imply that a man could divorce his wife for any indecency. They thought a man could divorce his wife because she messed up his clothes or overcooked his dinner. The Jews had essentially created no-fault divorce culture and were often quick to get divorced.

Jesus wanted them to understand that this view of marriage was antagonistic to God’s design. As Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” God created Adam and then created Eve. He created one man and one women and designed them to live together forever, a life span that far exceeds 70 years.

Instead of being the outliers, the exception to the rule, Adam and Eve are the rule for marriage. Notice what Jesus says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast two his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:7-9)

divorceGod designed us to live with our spouse for “as long as we both shall live.” We should embrace marriage as good and right. Marriage is not the creation of man. God created marriage. He created Eve to be with Adam. He created the female to be the perfect helpmate and complement to the male (Gen. 1&2). God did not create multiple Eves and multiple Adams. No. He created one of each. He made one man from the dust and one woman from Adam’s rib. The union of marriage is between two people. It is not a three pronged or four pronged human relationship. God is not open to open marriages and to polyamorous relationships. No. God designed all of us who get married to be with one woman or one man for life.

As we reflect upon the church, we see this truth again. God has one bride, his church. He is committed to her irrespective of her many faults (and she has many). Jesus died for her. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:31-32,

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

God’s design is for one man to be married to one woman for their lifetime.


When a couple speaks their vows, it is not a man or a woman or a pastor or parent who is the main actor- main doer. God is. God joins a husband and a wife into a one-flesh union. God does that. – John Piper

When a husband and wife come together, they become one. They become one physically in the marriage bed. As they become one, they should seek to make much of the other. The husband seeks to fulfill his wife. The wife seeks to fulfill her husband. As each make more of the other, they both experience completeness and oneness.

But sex is not the sole definition of our oneness. As Paul David Tripp says, “Sex is not the fuel of a good relationship; it is the expression or fruit of one.”

The oneness in marriage is ultimately a covenant bond. It is a covenant of love. It is an oneness created when two people come together promising to overlook faults, promising to point their spouse to Christ, and promising always to forgive. It is an agreement based upon the work of Christ. Because Christ has loved us in our weakness and imperfections, we can and must love our spouse regardless of their imperfections. We must be vulnerable and allow them to be vulnerable with us. As we share our thoughts, receive the thoughts of our spouse, and proclaim Christ to both of our souls, we experience the oneness of marriage. Instead of running to our mom or dad with our hearts, we share them with our spouse. Instead of yelling at our wives, we lovingly confess our sins to them and point them to truth. When this level of spiritual and emotionally oneness exists, we can expect the physical to oneness to follow.

And when it comes to parenting and to God’s design for the family it is also extremely evident that both a man and a woman are needed. The family, the very core of society is rooted in this oneness. Sociologist David Popenoe writes,

“The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary – culturally and biologically – for the optimal development of a human being… While mothers provide an important flexibility and sympathy in their discipline, fathers provide ultimate predictability and consistency. Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane child rearing regime.”

Consequently, the greatest indicator of whether or not a child will succeed is not their IQ or their social standing. The best measure of whether or not a child will succeed in life is their parents. Children from broken homes are much less likely to succeed than children from families with a mother and a father. Both parents are needed because together they are one.

As John Piper rightfully notes, “Marriage is God’s doing because spoke the earliest design of it into existence, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”

God created marriage. We must value marriage. We must not and cannot celebrate divorce with parties, cakes, and vacations. Divorce is not a good thing. It is the shattering of God’s institutions. We cannot simply opt out of a marriage because we realized that we settled or did not marry up as much as we initially hoped No, marriage is God’s design. To shatter that design is to bring harm and injure upon all involved.  Malachi 2:16 says,

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

And even many of the people involved in these divorce parties admitted as much. One woman said, “’I was too shocked to eat, was prescribed antidepressants and didn’t have the confidence to leave the house,” Another said, “’I felt like my heart had been ripped out,’

Divorce is violent. It brings pain, doubt, depression, debt, despair, and all kinds of sinful consequences. It is as God said, “violence.” And those who pursue divorce, cover their family with violence. Divorce is never a good thing. Hence, Christ tells us to cling to our spouses. We should value marriage and hate divorce.

But in our desire to defend marriage we cannot exceed the bounds of God’s Word. We cannot prohibit all divorce. At times divorce is necessary and needed because we live in a fallen world. Writing about Jesus’ use of the phrase “the hardness of your hearts,” Pastor Tim Keller notes,

Sometimes human hearts become so hard because of sin that it leads a spouse into a severe violation of the covenant, without prospects of repentance and healing and in such cases divorce is permitted.

God hates divorce and is against divorce. But when an unbelieving spouse leaves his wife and when a husband commits adultery, the spouse that has been sinned against is free from judgement and may remarry. Paul restates this truth clearly in I Corinthians 7:12-13. The believing spouse, the spouse seeking to honor God should always seek to have their marriage restored, because Christ sought us out while we were still sinners. But if your wife still wishes to run off with her high school boyfriend, you can let her go and you are free to remarry. If your spouse has committed sexual immorality, if they have had an affair, you can get divorced and remarried.

But, we should never long for or want a divorce. The covenant of marriage is a covenant built on forgiveness. Yet, there are times when divorce is our only option.

I knew a man who had to have his foot amputated to save his life. The surgery was a necessary thing. Without it he would die. He knew it was better for him to live with one foot than to die with two. But he still mourned the loss of his foot. Amputation is never a great practice, even when necessary.

In much the same way, there are times with divorce is the best option. Divorce is needed because nothing else will save the innocent parties. But, divorce is never a good thing. Someone has sinned and someone has been sinned against.

As John MacArthur and the elders of his church wrote,

Since divorce is a concession to man’s sin and is not part of God’s original plan for marriage, all believers should hate divorce as God does and pursue it only when there is no other recourse.

We are to love and cherish marriage and yet, recognize as Jesus did, that sin sometimes leaves us with no other option but divorce. Divorce is permissible because of the hardness of people’s hearts. We must be sure not to go beyond the bounds of Scripture when talking about divorce.

But, we also must not take away from Scripture to justify our actions or the actions of our friends. We cannot justify those who sinned by pursuing an unbiblical divorce.

To make this reality very clear, Jesus tells his disciples “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:10-11.

If a church member decides to divorce his wife for anything other than sexual immorality, he commits adultery. If a woman decides to forsake her husband for anything other than immorality, she commits adultery. There is no gray space with God. What Julia Stephenson did was wrong. She committed adultery when she got divorced in an effort to find a better mate. In God’s eyes, she is not free to remarry. She needs to repent of her sin and go and be reconciled with her husband if possible.

We must give the same advice to the man in our church who is convinced that he can leave his wife for Susie next door because she is his soulmate. We must preach this same truth to Sally when she longs to leave her husband for the kinder coworker who can empathize with her pain. Divorcing your husband or wife so that you can be with other people is just a bad as having an affair with them. Divorce for selfish reasons is sin. Do not miss this.

It is not pleasing to God. It is sin. It is for this very sin that Christ died on the Christ. He did not die so that you could live out your sinful fantasies. He did not die so that you could call evil good. He died so that you could escape these evil desires by clinging to Christ. The solution to our marriage and life problems is not divorce. It is repentance.

When we encounter men and women considering divorce, we must speak truth. We value you marriage because God created the institution. Yet, we must never go beyond the bounds of Scripture. We must realize that divorce is permissible in cases of unfaithfulness and desertion. And, we must never take away from Scripture blessing those who sinfully seek out divorce.

Admittedly, our society is increasingly at peace with divorce. Couples will be spending more and more time together. They will need more grace from above to survive their marriages. But, the best remedy for a troubled marriage is not more divorce. Rather, we need to value marriage, showing how Christ’s reconciliation on the cross provides us with the power to survive and thrive in the covenant of marriage.

Are you ready to do this?