Surviving or Thriving in Ministry

Ministry, in general, and the pastorate specifically, can be a joy or a grind.

Ministry, in general, and the pastorate specifically, can be a joy or a grind.  Those of us in pastoral ministry tend to blame the flock if it’s a grind and pat ourselves on the back if it’s a joy.  In reality, it’s not about the flock. I realize that some flocks are easier to shepherd than others.  I realize that some days it’s a grind and some days ministry is a joy.  But when we consider a body of work, what is the overall view?  Has your ministry been a joy or a grind?  In the big view of things, it’s not about the flock; it’s about you.  Jesus died to deliver me from me so that He could live through me. That is true for you as well. That means the ministry isn’t about my satisfaction or happiness.  It’s not about the flocks satisfaction or happiness. The ministry is all about the work of God through you, and so the point is to thrive in that ministry rather than just survive.  I think there are five activities that need to be true in the lives of those who minister to thrive.  When these aren’t true, we are merely grinding our way through our days of ministry.  That’s a tragedy!

1. Preach the Word!

2 Timothy 4:1-5, I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.1

This exhortation to young Timothy is as relevant to us in the modern era as it was in the first century.  We live in an age of great apostasy, some of which is very subtle.  It is so easy for pastors to get sucked into the spirit of the age and leave the fundamentals of the pastorate, that being Biblical preaching!  The truth of the Word of God is always relevant; it never becomes outdated.  Yes, sometimes the truth of the Word hurts, but only for a season.  When it has accomplished its perfect work, the true disciple will receive it as intended, the work of the Holy Spirit.  As a minister, you are an opportunity in the body for the Holy Spirit to do His work.  If the sound teaching of the Word is rejected, don’t take it personally.  They aren’t rejecting you; they are rejecting Christ.  So preach the Word without fear and see what God will do. 

I think Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus are instructive to us. 

Acts 26:16 & 18, But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”1

What a sacred calling we have.  What a glorious task, to be used of God to transform lives.  That is why 2 Corinthians 5:19is so precious to us.  That is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.1

He has committed to us, those who preach the Word, the ministry of reconciliation!  This is not about reconciling men to men, but men to God!  What an awesome and holy calling.  If God has called you to this, He will empower you for the task.  As you are empowered for the task of preaching, the Word of God will be at work in you first.  As you minister the Word by the power of the Spirit, you will find great satisfaction in your ministry because it’s not about you, but about God in you. 

2. Keep yourself in love with Jesus.

Philemon 4-7, I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers,  hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.1

What was the first characteristic that Paul praised in the life of Philemon?  His love toward the Lord Jesus!  It’s so easy in ministry to get our eyes off the prize. The prize is not glory nor fame, nor fortune, nor full pews.  The prize is knowing Jesus and loving Him well.  When we love Jesus well, we love ourselves little.  That sort of love results in what we see in Philemon, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” 

While loving Jesus allows us to love the flock well, it also help us to endure the hardships of life and ministry. 

1 Peter 1:7-8, That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.1

Don’t miss what Peter is saying here.  Even in those times of testing, our heart issues are what really matter.  It seems that testing just brings out what is really in our hearts.  So, if we love Jesus well, if we love Him more than anything or anybody, when the time of testing comes (and it will), the character of Christ in us will come to the forefront. When we keep ourselves in love with Jesus, we thrive in ministry despite our circumstances. 

Jude 21, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.1

3. Guard your heart.

One of the dangers of ministry is becoming cynical. The problem with shepherding is that we shepherd sheep not doves. Sometimes, sheep can be blessing; and sometimes, sheep can run over you. If you get run over a couple of times you start putting up walls and expecting the worst.  Your view of the church becomes tainted and “stinkin’ thinkin’” rules the mind.  If we go back to our quote from Philemon, the second characteristic Paul praised was Philemon’s love for the saints!  “Hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,”

Paul also said of Philemon that he was a blessing to the saints. “For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” 

It’s hard to refresh the saints if we have hard hearts towards God’s people.  There is a constant need to check our attitudes in ministry. Paul wrote the following to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.1

If we are going to conduct ourselves well in the house of God, we have to make sure our hearts are open to God’s work in us first that we might be used of the Spirit to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi, which would include their shepherds.  Philippians 4:1, Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.1

While they were standing fast against oppression, we as pastors sometimes must stand fast against our own thinking. Negative thinking does not further the Kingdom of God. 

1 Peter 1:22, Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.1

This applies to us as pastors as well as to the congregation. Maybe even more so. 

4. Crown the True King!

We have been called to shepherd the flock, not to be the “king of the hill.” 

1 Peter 5:2-4, Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.1

Peter exhorts elders to shepherd with a correct attitude, that being love for God’s people, not a pay check.  He also explains that we are not the “Lord” over the flock; we are simply God’s shepherd for that flock.  He is the “head” shepherd; we are under Him.  I have seen pastors who were convinced they were doing God’s work; but in reality it was their work all along.  It was their pulpit, their church, their kingdom; and if any one rocked the boat, it was their way or the highway.  How tragic!  We are called to lead the flock, not drive it.  We are not the sovereign over God’s people; He is. After all He is the one who died to save His own.  We didn’t. 

I think sometimes pastors get caught up in the hype.  They take to heart all the praise that comes following a Sunday service and really think it’s about them when in reality they are being praised for what the Holy Spirit is doing in the hearts of men and women.  While you have been a blessing to the flock, you are not the one who blesses.  It is God who is doing the work; you are just the hammer in the Master’s hand.  Appreciate that you are appreciated, but don’t buy into the hype. 

Satan’s downfall was that he became proud and lofty and thus, lost his way.  His thought-process is recorded in Scripture. Isaiah 14:14, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ 1

I’m afraid that sometime we as pastors have this same attitude. We are convinced we are doing the Lord’s work when in reality we are serving ourselves.  We need to place the crown on its rightful head. The crown belongs to Jesus, not us.

Matthew 23:12, And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.1 We need to take this to heart. We can’t expect to thrive in ministry when we usurp God’s crown.  Instead we should live out a previous truth found in the same gospel. Matthew 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.1

This doesn’t just apply to our secular life, but our spiritual and ecclesiastical life as well. Seek God’s kingdom above your own and you will thrive in ministry. 

5. Know when to walk away

This concept cover two separate aspects of ministry, living in ministry and leaving a ministry.  As we think of living in ministry it’s important that you don’t live and breathe ministry. We need distraction from ministry or we will burn out early.  I think it’s important to have outside interests that occupy your mind. Some pastors hunt or fish, some like to play soft ball.  I enjoyed homing pigeons.  Whatever the hobby, do something besides ministry or you will go crazy!  But be aware that hobbies can become idols!  Don’t let that happen. 

I realize that as a pastor you are always on call, and that is as it should be.  But you need to limit those who will continually demand your time.  They will eat you up. Don’t let 5% of your flock take up 95% of your time. Learn to say “No” gracefully, for your sake, your family’s sake, and for the sake of the high maintenance member.

You also need to take time to rest and rejuvenate spiritually.  Psalm 23:1-3, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.1

Let Jesus lead you so you can lead the flock!  Take some time off.  Take time to rest.  Take time to pray.  Learn to be quiet. 

Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”1 This is a wonderful promise from Jesus to us, but please note there is a yoke to be taken.  That means we come under His tutorship continually and find rest. 

I love what God said to Moses in Exodus 33:14, And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”1

That is exactly what we want.

The second aspect of walking away is literally walking away, leaving a ministry.  Sometimes pastors leave because they just can’t take it anymore. The flock has treated them badly and they are hurting and battered and have had enough. Make sure you aren’t leaving for the wrong reasons. Leaving should be about the calling of God.  He called you to this ministry and He will call you to another. If God is moving you on, then embrace it, but don’t run from a difficult pastorate.  God may be making you restless because the flock needs someone else’s gifts for this particular body and another flock my need your specific gifts.  Be aware of the moving of the Spirit in your life.  Where God is leading you, follow.  If He leads you to stay, then stay; and if He leads you to move on, do so graciously and leave the flock healthier then you found it. 

2 Peter 3:13-14, Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;[1]

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (2 Pe 3:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Vacation Time!

It’s summer vacation time! Time to get away! But do we take a vacation from God?

It’s summer vacation time!  Time to get away! But do we take a vacation from God?  I hope not. God goes with us wherever we go.  That means that even when we are away on vacation, we still worship God, we still serve God, we still represent God.  While you may be on vacation from your secular life, let’s make sure we aren’t also on vacation from our spiritual life.  Take your Bible with you and while you are on vacation, take a vacation to God! 

When we take a vacation, we usually ask four questions: 

(1) Where will we go?

(2) What route will we take?

(3) Where will we stay?

(4) What will we do?

1. Where will we go? 

This is usually our first problem in taking a vacation, where to go?  One of our favorite places is the Pacific Ocean.  By the seaside we find peace and rest.  What a great way to get away from it all and just listen to the waves roll in. 

Matthew 11:28, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.1

We find that place of spiritual rest in Jesus.  The labor He is speaking of here is the burden of religion.  Religion can be a lot of work!  Religion is all about us reaching up to God, while true Christianity is God reaching down to us. It seems to me that is what Christ is speaking of here. So while you are on vacation make sure you take some time to be alone with Jesus. Don’t be so busy that you don’t truly rest. By all means, have a good time but also refresh your soul. 

Isaiah 55:1, Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.1

Wow, think of it, going on vacation without expense!  That is what we can do when we take a vacation to God!  Here is the offer, just come to me and find rest for the soul.

Revelation 22:16-17, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.1

Come and drink freely!  No expense to stay, no motels to book, no food to buy.  Just come as you as are and drink deep from the blessings of the Bright and Morning Star! 

Ephesians 5:1, Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.1 An “imitator” is another way of saying a “follower.” To find that place of refreshment, we have to be willing to follow God!  Spiritually, we will go towards God or away from God. I don’t think you can stay in the same place. Not moving forward is moving back. If we want to lead our families, if we want to lead our church, we lead by following!  If we don’t lead by following then we are leading by wandering! Where are you leading?  To God or away from God? Make a conscience effort to lead your family toward God. 

So when you physically go on vacation, follow well to lead well.  Don’t take a vacation from the spiritual.  Have family devotions. Attend church wherever you are.  Pray together.  It will be the best vacation you’ve ever had! 

2.  What route will we take?

Usually when we are headed out on vacation, we get out the maps or we bring up Google on the computer and research the roads we will be driving to reach our destination. It’s important for us to know how to get where we are going or we will spend all our time needlessly wandering about. 

God’s Word says a lot about the path we should take. 

Psalm 16:11, You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.1

Proverbs 4:14-19, Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; Turn away from it and pass on. For they do not sleep unless they have done evil; And their sleep is taken away unless they make someone fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence. But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know what makes them stumble.1

I like the writer of Hebrews’ take on this: Hebrews 12:1-2, Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.1

The “cloud of witnesses” are all the folks listed in Chapter 11 of Hebrews who walked by faith, no matter the cost. We are exhorted here to lay down the weights of life and the burden of sin that keep us from running the race and look at Jesus! 

Once we are on that path we need to stay on it.  Ephesians 5:2, And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.1

The path of love is way to go. It is interesting that we are brought together by truth, but we are kept together by love!  Love overcomes. Let’s not forget the verses just before this exhortation to love. Ephesians 4:30-32. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.1

Love overcomes the flesh! The flesh keeps us from following Jesus.  The path Jesus asks us to walk is the same one He walked. Love says: “Take up your cross and follow.”  Salvation is free, but Christianity will cost you something.  Travel this path, dear friend, knowing there will be a toll!  Yet, the joy of the journey! So be willing to pay the price.  Do we love Jesus enough to follow?  To pay the tolls?

But there is another route.  It may seem easier, it may seem faster, it may seem like a shortcut; but in the end, it leads us away from the destination, not to it.

Ephesians 5:3-7, But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.1

Here we see the exhortation “Be not partakers with them.”  Yet, we find all of these things among God’s people!  How can that be?  Many have chosen the route that appears to have no toll.  Yet, there is a hidden tax!  The idea of a “no cost” Christianity is a falsehood.  In reality, the price of wandering is far greater.  The loss of fellowship, the loss of relationships, the loss of family, the loss of joy and the loss of love. It’s a very steep price to follow the wrong path. 

3. Where will we Stay?

We know where we are headed and we have the route planned. Now where will we stay along the way?  On my fiftieth birthday, my sweet bride surprised me with a trip to the Oregon Coast where we stayed in a hotel right on the beach. It was wonderful!  To look out at night and see the moonlit waves rolling in, to hear the breakers and to smell the sea, it’s almost heaven on earth. 

When we take our vacation to God, it is important that we stay in one and only one place.  John 15:4, Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.1

When we abide, we stay put. Jesus is teaching us here that we need to continue to draw our strength from him by surrendering our lives daily to His Holy Spirit.  When we abide we produce good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.

John 16:33, These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”1

When we abide in Christ, the brokenness of the world, while it may well hurt, cannot overwhelm us.  We are in Christ and He has overcome! 

But if we choose to take the easy way, the “no cost” Christianityroute, here is where we stay; Ephesians 5:8-12, For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.1

The exhortation here is not to have “fellowship with darkness.” When we fellowship with the darkness, we are dwelling there.  We are choosing to stay in a very dangerous place.  We have the light of God, but sometimes we let it get pretty dim. 

We have a couple of biblical examples.  Lot, Abraham’s nephew who dwelt in the gates of Sodom, found himself in a dangerous place.  The light had gone dim.  The prodigal son who left the abode of his father to embrace riotous living found himself starving and eating with pigs.  The light had gone dim. What happened with these two? They chose to abide in the wrong place. When you go on vacation, the last thing you want to do is put yourself and your family in danger. Don’t put yourself and your family in spiritual danger by abiding in the wrong place!

Where will we stay if we desire to truly follow Christ? According to vs. 8-10, above, we will abide in the light! 1 John 1:7, But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.1

Our fellowship with God and with one another is based on walking and dwelling in the light of God. The only way I know to do that is reading the old Book! God’s Word is a lamp to our feet, (daily guide) and a light to our path (for a lifetime). (Psalm 119)  If you really want to stay in the light of God, spend time in His Word and time on your knees. Ephesians 5:13-14! But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”1

4. What will we do? 

It seems to me there are two types of vacationers out there.  Those who really work at play and those who don’t!  Kathy are I are in the latter category.  When we go on vacation, we like to eat, sleep, and walk on the beach.  When we take a vacation to God, what will we do?  What is the activity? Worship! 

John 4:14, God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”1

Psalm 29:2, Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.1

Psalm 95:6, Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.1

Revelation 14:7B, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”1

When you take a vacation to God, you leave the world behind and you worship!

So if we truly want to enter into to worship, we have to be intentional in where we are going spiritually.  Ephesians 5:17-18,See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit. 1

Vs.18 is talking about control.  When a person gets drunk, they are out of control.  They do stupid things. What influence will control your life? That is the exhortation here. 

What will we do? We will worship and walk in the Spirit!  The word “circumspectly” means “exactly” or with a purpose.  Not wandering like Israel in the wilderness.  Not driving around aimlessly like a lost tourist.  God has purpose for your life.  That purpose is His glory. So we will redeem the time….or let it slip away. Redeeming the time isn’t making every moment productive in a secular sense. It’s using the time to know God, to worship Him, and to then live in a way that makes a difference in the culture. 

So in taking a vacation to God, we ask the same questions we do in taking any vacation. 

Where will we go? Either to God or from God. It’s our choice. 

What route will we take? Either the way of love or the way of the flesh.  It’s our choice. 

Where will we stay? Either in Christ in the light or in the world in the dark.  It’s our choice.

What will we do? Either worship and fellowship with God or go our own way.  It’s our choice. 

Matt. 11:29, Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.[1]

Summer Vacation time is here!  When you go on that vacation, take a vacation to God!!   ENJOY HIM! REST IN HIM!  FIND RESTORATION FOR YOUR SOUL! In so doing, you glorify Him!

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Mt 11:29). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why does God allow suffering

The question is often asked, “Why does God allow suffering?” Disease strikes the good and the bad equally, accidents happen to great people and innocent folks. Oftentimes, missionaries suffer while serving God in a foreign land. We wonder, why? Couldn’t God protect them? Couldn’t God have kept them safe?  In this article we want to make the connection between suffering and sin; God and suffering; and lastly, the Christian and suffering.

Suffering and Sin

Ecclesiastes 3:11, He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.1

In the beginning, God made everything perfect. There was no suffering, no death.  What happened?  How do we go from no suffering to mass suffering?  In Genesis 3, we see the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and with their disobedience came consequences.  With their sin came suffering and death. 

Genesis 3:7-8 & 16-19 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

To the woman He said:“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:“Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”1

Suffering is directly related to sin.  If man would never have sinned, there would be no suffering, but man did sin and ushered in all manner of suffering. 

God is not the author of sin nor is He the author of suffering.  Suffering is the result of man’s rebellion.  That said, you may suffer, not as the direct result of your sin, but simply because you live in a sin-cursed world.

John 9:1-2, Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”1

The disciples believed that all suffering was directly related to one’s sin.  Their assumption was simply not true.

There are 3 categories of suffering:

(1) Natural causes. Birth defects, disease, accidents may or may not be directly related to your actions.  If you smoke, you may well get lung cancer.  Unfortunately, you may be perfectly innocent and still get cancer. This does not seem fair to us; however, we must accept that this is part of living in a sin cursed world. 

(2) Man-inflicted suffering. Cain killed Abel.  The Holocaust happened. School shootings take place.  Abortion is a common birth-control method. All of this is by the evil actions of men.  We wonder why would anyone do such things.  The answer is because they yield to their fallen nature.  Their minds have become reprobate, without moral conscience. 

(3) Mental and emotional suffering.  Consider what Adam and Eve must have gone through after the murder of their son by his brother. Worry, anguish, anxiety, stress, depression were probably all emotions they experienced. The human condition is conducive to this because of the fallen nature.

So there is plenty of suffering to go around because we live in a sin-cursed world!  Those who have active faith are better able to cope with suffering than those who do not.  People of faith realize God is sovereign, and the sovereign God cares for me! Job said “Though He slay me yet shall I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)

God and Suffering

In returning to the interaction of Jesus and His disciples concerning the man who had been born blind.  John 9:3-5, Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”1This suffering was for a purpose.  “That the works of God might be manifest”. 

We also have the example of Lazarus death. John 11:1-4, Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”1

Suffering always has a divine purpose, ultimately God’s glory.  God uses the suffering to bring us or others to Himself.  (Your suffering may allow you to minister to others who are themselves suffering 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  God may heal those who are suffering for His glory. God may use suffering to purge rebellion from the life of the believer.  While ultimately suffering is the result of living in a broken world with a fallen nature, God does use it for His own divine purpose. 

Suffering often brings us to our knees. It is through the difficult times of life that we learn dependence on God. While sin is the cause, God is in control!  He chooses to allow us to suffer for a purpose. 

We also need to consider the Law of Sowing and Reaping:

Galatians 6:7-8, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.1

There are consequences for our actions. If you eat poorly for many years you shouldn’t be surprised if you have bad health.  God expects us to use the brain He gave us!  He expects us to care for our bodies, our minds and our spirits.  Oftentimes we sow a mess, and then expect God to clean it up, but we must reap what we have sown. That is true for nations as well. 

We also need to understand that bad things happen to good people

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them.1

Life isn’t fair. God allows life to happen. God’s will isn’t that people should suffer and die.  He originally made mankind perfect and eternal.  But the wages of sin is “suffering” and death.  Because we live in a sin cursed world, we suffer and Christians are not immune. In fact we may suffer because we are Christians.  Infact, that is normal in most cultures in our world. 

1 Peter 4:12-14 & 16 & 19, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.1

The Christian and Suffering

So when suffering comes our way how should we respond? 1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;.1

Let us never forget what we have been saved from and to!  When suffering comes our way, let us remember that we are in Christ redeemed! 

Hebrews 4:14-16, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.1

We must hold fast to Jesus.  We must come boldly to his throne. We need to see Jesus with fresh eyes!  He knows our suffering.  He suffered on our behalf! 

Paul wrote of this in Philippians 3:10, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,1

When we suffer we have a living glimpse of the wages of sin. 

If we are suffering, let’s not blame God but blame sin.  Could God have prevented it, or taken this suffering away? Yes!  This we know GOD HAS CHOSEN NOT TO. That’s all we need to know. 

Romans 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.1

2 Corinthians 12:9-10, And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[1]

We don’t have heaven on earth, but we do have Jesus! 

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (2 Co 12:9–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Bumper Stickers

When you identify with something you represent it.

Something interesting happened on the way to the office the other day.  I was following an SUV up Front Street that had a bumper sticker proclaiming the joys of YOUNG LIFE.  Now, I personally have no experience with Young Life, but we have friends that were very involved and so we have had positive exposure to this ministry.  As I followed this SUV down Front, I had good vibes.  Here, in front of me leading the way was a fellow follower of Jesus.  We are in this together!  I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy because it’s comforting to know there are fellow believers out there.  Then the SUV stopped.  There were any number of empty parking spaces at this early hour; but no they just stopped in the middle of the road.  Because they stopped, I stopped and the people behind me stopped and on it went.  Then the door to the SUV with the prominent YOUNG LIFE bumper sticker opened.  Out stepped a woman who was obviously being dropped off by her husband.  Okay, that’s fine, I get it, hubby is letting her off in a convenient spot.  Then the woman stopped.  She began to talk to the driver, whom I assumed was her hubby.  I imagined the conversation.  “You’ll pick up the kids right?”  “No I’ll be running late” “Ok, I’ll make arrangements.”  So their domestic chat continues and the line behind me gets longer.  Now, I realize my view of Young Life seems to be changing!  I am identifying this ministry with these people who seem to be so self-centered that they don’t care that the rest of us are waiting on them. I’m thinking, “Really, is this the type of people who are in Young life? Are they really this self-absorbed that they are clueless that other people need to get to work as well.  Could they not have had this conversation before they stopped in the middle of the road and blocked traffic?”  About this time, I’m really hating Young Life.   Finally, all the domestic problems are worked out and mercifully the conversation ends.  The door shuts and the lady walks in front of my truck and gives me the little “Prom Queen” wave as she merrily goes on her way and hubby proceeds down the road.  The rest of us follow; but of course we don’t matter. 

Now before you start e-mailing me, yes I know that Young Life is a great ministry.  I know that this couple does not represent the average person involved with this ministry.  In fact, maybe they bought the SUV with the bumper sticker already on it.  I don’t know.  In fact it could have been an AWANA bumper sticker, or any other ministry, but here is my point.  When you identify with something you represent it.  Whatever entity or ministry that you bear the name of, you model that ministry or entity to the world.  So in this case, I identified Young Life with this couple who thought their
convenience. was more important than everyone else’s time.  At that moment, they represented Young Life to me as being led by self-centered, selfish people.  Let’s make sure we don’t do that.  When we name the name of Jesus, we represent Him to the world.  What are people seeing?  Do they see Jesus?  Do they see selfless followers of the King of Kings or do they see us in our selfishness. 

Let’s examine the Scriptures for a moment:

2 Corinthians 8:18, And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches. 

The “brother” here is an unnamed Christian accompanying Titus.  Note how he is identified, “Whose praise is in the gospel.”   He represented Christ well.  He lived up to the bump sticker. 

2 Corinthians 5:20A, Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ. 

If we are indeed Christ’s ambassadors, then we represent Him to the world.  What does the world think of Him when they see us? 

Here is what we want:

Romans 1:8, First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

When people see our lives, when they speak of us, what is the outstanding characteristic they are speaking of?  Is it selflessness or selfishness? 

Let’s be careful to walk well in the world, because you never know who is watching.