Brothers and Sisters of Other Mothers

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It seems like eons ago when I was preparing to be a professional jazz guitarist and vocalist. I was in college studying jazz, and it was the only music on my turntable.  I practiced jazz tunes for hours every day. I sought out gigs of my own and live performances by some of the best musicians in the world. This was New York in the 1980’s for me.

Sometimes my father would come into the city to hear me play or attend a jazz concert with me. He was always mystified by the non-verbal communication that takes place when a jazz band is improvising together. I would explain to him that the musicians are rooted in a common repertoire, moving through familiar harmonic structures, listening for a melody or rhythm to creatively add color and texture to the familiar landscape of each song.      

To this day, wherever I might travel, I could track down some jazz musicians, and we could play music together immediately even if we spoke different languages. The sound, the swing, the history and library of songs and the adventure of improvisation would unite us. We’re like brothers and sisters of other mothers, to borrow a phrase.

This phenomenon came to my mind while reading excerpts from Oswald Chambers’ writings on prayer. I experienced some perplexity because of his lofty, old-school way of phrasing things. But then he quoted Scripture, and I felt instantly connected.

This can happen when exploring theological works of any previous generation of “God chasers” throughout the history of the church. They all have different styles of expression that reflect the era and distinct cultural environment in which they lived.

It may take some effort to get to the core of their theology because of their context-specific idioms and cultural references. But it’s worthwhile to take in what seems obscure at first, digest it, and contextualize it for our time and place. We can do this if we are convinced of the integrity of our same source, God’s perfect book.

The Scriptures are our common language and heritage. They transcend all time and space and cultural nuance. They connect you and me to the heart of Oswald’s faith, or Luther’s, or Edwards,’ and that faith looks just like ours in the end.

Of course! They are brothers from other mothers, enlivened by the grace of the same Father, reconciled by the same Jesus, led by the same Holy Spirit, instructed by the same words of wisdom. We ought to look alike on the level of our saved souls.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this phenomenon when you’ve visited a church in a different cultural environment. The worship style is different, and the service and fellowship have a different feel. But if brothers and sisters are preaching and worshiping in accordance with the truths of Scripture, there is a comfortable familiarity. Instead of distancing ourselves, we can come closer and enjoy their unique ways of loving God and each other.

As Bible-believing disciples of Christ, we have a family bond that goes much deeper than race, ethnicity, education level, social status, or any of the other categories that often divide us. Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:29), and we are those brothers and sisters!

God does not show partiality to individuals within his flock (Deut. 10:17; Acts 10:34), and we are not supposed to show partiality either (James 2:1-9; 1 Tim. 5:21). God’s love compels us to walk in familial love for our brothers and sisters everywhere.

Like players in a jazz ensemble, members the body of Christ can jump into the creation of new sounds, colors, and rhythms, knowing that we are all drawing from the same source. All of our unique contributions come together into a holy song that rises to the throne of God.

God rejoices in the united song of his people. And he rejoices when we understand and experience our family ties, when we recognize that we are brothers and sisters of many mothers.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

(Psalm 133)

God Uses Evil for Good

I was with two other women in ministry recently, talking about how the COVID virus has impacted just about every aspect of our daily lives and ministries. Where we go, who we see, how we earn a living, how we plan our next steps.

It’s been frustrating on the human level for sure. But we know that God is at work, and we have a common desire to see what he is doing through it all. As we’ve been singing recently:

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working, even when I don’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working, You never stop, You never stop working
(Leeland)

I believe, based on spiritual discernment and Scripture (John 10:9), that the COVID-19 virus is a work of the devil. If his assignment is to “steal, kill, and destroy,” then it fits perfectly that this virus comes from him, because that is what it is doing. Stealing lives and livelihoods. Killing vulnerable bodies and killing hope in the hearts of millions. Destroying business, governments, social structure, and community.

If you think that this is a crazy, superstitious idea, then you don’t trust the teaching of Jesus, because it was Jesus who identified this as the enemy’s job description. Satan, the great liar, loves to bring hopelessness, and ultimately, to steal worship from our God.

The more we focus fearfully on the virus and its effects the happier he is. All that energy is not going toward the advancing of the kingdom of God.

But there is good news.

God doesn’t just use the good things in our lives to fulfill his purposes. He uses the evil things too. In our personal lives, if we look back at the times of greatest growth and breakthrough, often we find that it was during times of calamity, pain, and hardship. Conversely, when we recall seasons full of “trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), don’t we also see that spiritual fruit matured within us as we persevered?

Think about the devastating hurricanes of the past few decades. Recall how individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, businesses, organizations, governments, and first responders worked together to rescue, support, and pray for one another. God does not delight in the devastation, but he is well pleased when people show their best selves amid the wreckage Satan brings.

Think about someone you know who has received a terrible diagnosis and had to endure months of frightening, painful treatments. They emerged on the other side so much stronger, braver, deeper in faith, more thankful, and more wholehearted in every way. God received glory and honor for his transforming healing and grace.

Years ago I facilitated a support group for women who had survived breast cancer. Every one of them said that hearing their doctors utter the word “cancer” was one of the worst moments of their lives. They wouldn’t wish it upon their worst enemy. Yet every one told me that they wouldn’t give back the way their hearts and lives had expanded in love and gratitude through the ordeal.

Scripture comes to life in so many places on this topic, but most vividly in the story of the crucifixion. As a human, Jesus recognized himself in the prophecies of the Old Testament as the “mediator between God and man” (1 Tim. 2:5) that would confront and do away with the sin of humanity on the cross. All four Gospels verify that he knew he would be killed, how he would be killed, and that he would be raised from the dead on the third day.  

Jesus knew he would drink the bitter cup, to purchase the pardon for our iniquity. He said yes to the Father. But isn’t it interesting that God used evil-minded, vicious people to carry out his plan?

God allowed Satan to enter Judas, prompting him to betray Jesus to the authorities. God allowed the Jewish leaders to falsely accuse Jesus and unjustly sentence him to death.

God allowed the bloodthirsty Roman soldiers to torture Jesus, drive thorns into his scalp, and nail holes in his hands and feet. God allowed Herod and Pilate to sit idly by while all of this happened. God allowed the crowd to shout, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

God is light, and there is no darkness or shadow in him. To create the conditions in which Jesus could take on all our sin—all of it—he allowed people filled with darkness to play parts in the drama of redemption.

In the final analysis, we must never forget that these evildoers didn’t kill Jesus; Jesus gave himself freely. He could have come down from the cross, but for love of the world, he finished his part.

So, what can we learn and apply as we navigate through a time of unprecedented tension, confusion, isolation, and fear. What does God want to do with this COVID-19 demonic bug? He’s not afraid of it, that’s for sure. And he doesn’t want his people to be afraid either.

Maybe he is teaching us to represent him in some new ways. Do we continue to speak boldly of his goodness, declaring our complete confidence in him, however things appear?  

Maybe he is teaching us to trust him more fully, to protect our health or provide for our needs.

Maybe he is testing our faithfulness. If we aren’t in church to give our tithes and offerings, do we still give? If we don’t have a live band in front of us, and lyrics on a screen, do we still worship? If we cannot meet with our brothers and sisters to intercede for each other, do we still pray?

Maybe he is teaching us what it means to take up our cross and follow him (Matt 10:38). When we see the enemy at work, do we go headlong into the work of the kingdom, taking our stand? Do we oppose him, standing firm with our armor on, brandishing the sword of the Spirit, the word of God?

I believe he is doing all these things. He is speaking especially to his church in this crucial moment.

I’d love to hear from you! Would you please share what you see and feel God doing in your own life, in your family and community, in your local church, in our country or in the world? He is surely doing great things. Tell me what you see!

“Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.” (Ps. 107:8)

Photo Of Rainbow Under Cloudy Sky

Making an Argument

We often hear people these days yelling at each other, full of emotional fury, but unable to make a clear defense for their strongly held positions. Presenting a thesis and a coherent argument to support it is becoming a lost art.

We don’t all have to be high-level debaters, rhetoricians, or apologists to acquire skill in presenting a case for what we believe and why we believe it.  

Granted, it is sometimes hard to discern when it is the right time or place to argue a case, and with whom. Please, not on Facebook with your Aunt Sylvia!

One of my daily prayers has been, ‘Lord, show me when to speak, what to say, and more importantly, when to be silent.’ If I can’t state my case on an issue in a way that is honoring to God and his word, and with the genuine desire to peacefully edify and inform others, it is probably best to hold my tongue.

What not to argue about…and with whom

Scripture gives us guidance on issues that God’s people are not to argue about. In Luke 9, the disciples disputed like children in the schoolyard about which of them would be the greatest. Let us not be found engaging in this kind of ridiculous argument with our brothers and sisters!  

John the Baptist’s disciples argued with some Jews about the need for ceremonial washing (John 3:25-26). The Pharisees were always trying to pick a fight with Jesus about his healing people on the Sabbath. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time for disputes about religious practices that are not essential to faith in Christ and his salvation.

Several times Paul warns about those who get caught up in genealogies or obsess about angels. These are distractions from sincere faith in Christ. We shouldn’t give them space in our heads.

And there are warnings in the Proverbs and in Paul’s letters about avoiding arguments with certain types of people: fools and heretics. Proverbs repeatedly points out the futility in trying to convince fools of anything. That is what makes them fools in the first place—they do not receive instruction and despise true wisdom.

Paul says about a person who persists in arguing against the commandments of God, “If anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Cor. 14:38). He warns Timothy,

“If anyone…does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness,he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (1 Tim. 6:3-5).

These are some strong apostolic warnings and we should take heed to them. His description unfortunately applies to quite a few troublemakers out there right now.

Demonic arguments and human arguments

The father of lies continually stirs up strife and sets up deceptive arguments against faith-based convictions. These then become culturally normalized, so that if we dare to object to what we perceive to be lies, people who promote them will call us names and try to silence us. This is true right now on issues of sexuality, abortion, Covid19, environmentalism, and many others. It’s being called “cancel culture.”

When we recognize demonic work like this in our midst, we must counter with the correct weapons—Scripture, spiritual admonition, prayer, and prophesy. We use our spiritual authority in the name of Jesus Christ to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).

We demolish arguments, not people; we are not fighting against flesh and blood. This is a spiritual calling, and it requires faith, determination, and plenty of courage. Even in the midst of severe spiritual warfare, we do our best to keep loving people. They often don’t know they are being exploited by the enemy.

We don’t give in, as Eve did in the garden, when the serpent flatly contradicted God’s clear direction. God had said, “Don’t eat of this tree or you will surely die.” Satan said, “You will not surely die, because…” Satan brought an argument, and Eve had no counterargument to demolish his. I don’t think there is a plainer illustration in all of Scripture. We must be prepared to demolish demonic arguments.

Not all arguments are demonic, however, and certainly not all who argue against Scripture are evil. They may be inculcated in a different system of thought but are open to an honest discussion. This calls for the art of apologetics. This is where being an ambassador for Christ gets interesting and can even be fun.

The best-known biblical example of this skill is Paul’s message to the curious Athenians in Acts 17. Paul acknowledges their religious, cultural, and philosophical worldviews, and makes his own case from that platform. He shows the skeptics a path to faith in Jesus Christ that makes sense to their Greek mentality.

Paul can do this because he has taken the time to understand their cultural context. He doesn’t yell at them to win them to Christ. He reasons with them using their own cultural vocabulary.

There are also some contemporary apologists I admire greatly, Ravi Zacharias (whose brilliant voice we sadly just lost a few weeks ago), Tim Keller, Lee Strobel, and Michael Brown, to name a few. What I appreciate about these men is their ability to stay objectively grounded in truth, while showing great grace and respect for their debate opponents.

It is a pleasure to watch Ravi or Tim patiently listen to a debate opponent’s or skeptic’s challenge to Scripture and then respond with disarming wisdom, grace, and kindness. They’ve learned to make an argument and defend it, using chapter and verse, but not only chapter and verse. They also use reason, philosophy, literature, logic, experience, history, and best of all, common sense.

Like the opponents of Jesus, their opponents are often left speechless. Not disrespected, just corrected. Challenged to think more deeply, their curiosity aroused.

In this highly charged, conflicted atmosphere we are experiencing, it is tempting to just ride with the downstream flow of the cultural current. But if we do, we forfeit our opportunity to offer an alternative to the increasing barbarity and depravity that grieves our hearts and the heart of God.

Let us look to Jesus, The Apostles, and the honorable apologists of our day and follow their examples. When called to take a position on a controversial issue, we will do well to learn how to make an argument based in Scriptural truth. We approach people with respect for their differing worldview. We then can speak with authority and grace, and not merely react from our emotions.

Ideas about Debate

In and Out of Order

I have come to realize that order is essential to maintaining my peace. I don’t function well with clutter and disorder in my home, my workspace, my thoughts, my words, or my relationships. I don’t meet the criteria to be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I do have a need to keep things clean and orderly if I am to be at my best.

I also have an aversion to disorder on a societal scale when it escalates to anarchy and lawlessness, as it has recently in our nation. When people become enraged, however legitimate their reasons, they are prone to disorder, and disorder often turns to violence. This is true in families and in communities. When we fail to maintain a minimum standard for orderly conduct, people get hurt and things and relationships get broken.   

Our God is orderly. His sublime preference for orderly design, movement, and purpose is seen in the circuits of the planets, the interdependency of species on the earth, and the arrangement of subatomic particles. Consider the human body with its nerves, muscles, organs, and the intricate communication systems that allow them to work together to sustain our lives. We are the best exhibits in the universe of God’s symmetry and order.

 God placed the first miraculously designed couple in a garden, not a weed patch.  A garden is a display of order and intention, containing only the specimens the gardener has chosen to plant. When weeds pop up (because of the curse in Genesis 3, by the way), they bring disorder to the garden. If allowed to proliferate, they can choke the fruitfulness of the other plants.

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Unfortunately, unredeemed, fallen humanity finds itself in a weed patch, afflicted with disorder. Weeds are not people in this analogy, but behaviors and attitudes springing from the sin nature that put us at enmity with God and with one another.  

What is to be done?

First, let’s see how Scripture comes to life, revealing God’s intended order in creation and in human life. Isaiah declared,

This is what Yahweh says, heaven’s Creator, who alone is God. He created the earth, shaped it, and established it all by himself. He made it fit and orderly and beautiful for its inhabitants” (Is. 45:18).

Using the night sky to illustrate, Isaiah also declared,

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Ps. 147:3-5).  

God structured reality with days and nights, seasons and cycles, land, water, and sky. Clearly, God desired for his creation to reflect his beauty, stability, and orderliness.

The Hebrew word translated “order” in the English Bible carries various shades of meaning. As a verb, it means to arrange, set or put or lay in order, set in array, set in place, prepare, order, ordain, furnish. It connotes deliberate, conscious action.

As a noun, “order” is used to describe a state of tidiness, a peaceful condition. It is used to denote a group of people who choose a cloistered, disciplined life, as in “a religious order.”

Applying the concept to government, the writer of Proverbs observes, “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order” (Prov. 28:2). Good leaders provide order, which instills a sense of peace and safety.

We speak of things being “in order” or “orderly” which also can imply efficiency and correctness. It is desirable for conditions, plans, processes, and machines to be “in order.”  When these things are out of order, they are broken and unfit for use.

Do you ever find yourself feeling broken and unfit for use? Out of order?  Isn’t it hard to find peace in that condition? And when social discourse becomes chaotic and out of order, aren’t we apt to fall into a state of fear and lack of peace?

Paul tells us that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). This suggests that the key to peace resides in our minds. But this applies to minds that are infused and informed by the Holy Spirit of God, “because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (v.7). Without the Holy Spirit’s transforming touch, our minds are out of order!

Scripture also reveals that in an unredeemed state, human beings are naturally tribal, isolating themselves from those who are different. Again, the key to peace with one another resides in our submission to the Lord’s redemptive work in and among us:

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation,having abolished in His flesh the enmity…so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Eph. 2:14-16).

Do you see the tension and disorder in this passage, and the resolution? Without the presence of the Lord, Jews and Gentiles were in disunity, separation, enmity, slaves to legalism and religious prejudices–and so are we.

But when he who “is our peace” comes into view, the Lord Jesus Christ,” we are reconciled to God and one another. Separation or enmity based on race, tribe, skin pigmentation, or language no longer have any place. Order has been restored to the souls of individuals, and to the spaces between us.

Obviously, however, we must keep our minds renewed day by day to experience this reality. We must take individual responsibility for respecting Lord’s order, conducting ourselves in an orderly way. “The steps of a good person are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23). Intention without corresponding action doesn’t cut it. We don’t experience order until we commit to walking in it.

We also reflect God’s beautiful order by how well we love one another, “doing all things in a beautiful and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40) in the church.  Some of the worship videos released recently give me hope and vision for this. We see men and women, old and young, of varied appearances and skin colors, caught up together in the beauty of holiness, unified and joyful in their expression of love for the Savior. They exemplify order and excellence, and my heart becomes full and healed as I join them with my own voice.

Lord, I pray that this would become our new normal!  Restore us to your beautiful order. Help us to reflect here the perfect peace that pervades the kingdom of heaven, where saints from every tribe, tongue and nation bow before the throne of their King!  

  

The Stories We Tell

A dozen years I ago, I went through one of those perfect storms of life that had me reeling. Maybe you know what I’m talking about—when you think you’re doing a decent job of coping with difficult circumstances, and then life takes a few more blows at you and you start to drown.  

I lost my parents within 6 months of each other, while also dealing with a very stressful, dysfunctional work environment.  And this was when our family was still adjusting to our new surroundings in Texas after moving from a little town in West Virginia. I had seriously underestimated the potential impact of that much change and loss on all of us.  

The hardest part was that I felt very alone. We hadn’t had time to build a support system yet. To top it all off my husband had a sudden onset of severe anxiety that required lots of mind-numbing medications. He wasn’t fully capable of grieving and growing with me through these very significant events.   

Throughout that time, each week a colleague and I commuted together about an hour across town for staff meetings at the main office of our company. On our way home one evening, I poured out my lament to my friend, telling her my complicated tale of woe. When we arrived at the lot where her car was parked, I turned to her and apologized for talking so much. She’s a lovely, patient fellow counselor, so of course she told me she had been happy to listen. But I heard myself say to her, “No, I’m boring myself with the story I’ve been telling. I need to find a new story to tell.”

This was a turning point.

You see, as a counselor drawn to cognitive therapies, I’ve been telling clients for years that it isn’t the events in our lives that cause our emotional reactions, but what we believe about them. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves and others. Our stories either keep us in the wreckage of the past or turn us toward a future that is braver and more hopeful.

I’m not saying that we ignore or deny our pain. To the contrary, it is important to acknowledge it, and call it by name. But when we find ourselves repeating and rehearsing the story, and staying depressed and stuck, this might be a clue that it’s time for a new story.

Scripture comes to life on this topic of the stories we tell. The Bible is full of stories. Stories of catastrophes and victories, war and peace, bondage and deliverance, sickness and healing, betrayal and reconciliation, sin and forgiveness, judgment and grace. They are stories about broken, flawed people—people like us–in their journeys with God.

So often in the Psalms, God’s beloved David cries out to God about his story, complaining about his hardships and pain. What I so love about David is the vulnerability in his laments, and then his ability to find strength and courage from his history with God. He enters the secret place, his sanctuary with God, and gazes into his face. David acknowledges that he finds himself “in a dry and weary land where there’s no water,” but then begins praising God, and the new story he tells is,

I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
   I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

There are dozens of examples like this in the Psalms of telling one story, and then pivoting into a new story about the same reality, one with a new plot and different outcome.  

The Apostle Paul provides a great New Testament example of choosing the right story to tell. Paul experienced a lot of dire circumstances. He knew very well the cost of taking up his cross to follow the call of Christ. For the sake of his ministry, his sufferings included: imprisonment,  flogging, stoning, 39 lashes with a whip—five times!, three beatings with rods, a pelting with stones, three shipwrecks, constant moving,, “in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false believers.”  LOTS of dangers! Add sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness. And he concludes with his work stress: “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:23-29). 

What a story, or bunch of stories Paul could tell!  Yet this was the meaning he pulled from all of that suffering: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…..For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10). This was the man who told us that as believers we can do all things through Christ’s strength working in us (Phil. 4:13). He proclaimed that whatever his circumstances, he had learned to find contentment in the Lord (Phil. 4:11).

Paul vowed that even when old and tired, he would keep pressing toward the “mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Check out Philippians Chapter 1, where Paul rejoices in his imprisonment, interpreting it not in terms of how it affects him, but in in terms of how it advances the gospel. He will run his race until he crosses the finish line. Paul was a master of relating the story of his experiences in a way that would glorify Christ and encourage other believers.

David and Paul (and many other Bible heroes) provide examples of acknowledging, explaining, enduring, and coming through victoriously by choosing to tell a story that makes God the hero.

There’s a new song by Maverick City called “The Story I’ll Tell.” If you haven’t heard it, look for it on YouTube (as soon as you’ve finished reading my blog of course 😊). It’s incredibly anointed and beautifully executed by Naomi Raines and the choir, and is what inspired me to write about this topic this week. Here’s a portion of the lyric:

The hour is dark and it’s hard to see
What you are doin’ here in the ruins, and where this will lead
Oh but I know that down through the years
I’ll look on this moment I see your hand on it, and know you were here

And I’ll testify of the battles You’ve won
How You were my portion when there wasn’t enough
And I’ll testify of the seas that we crossed
The waters You parted, the waves that I walked

Oh…my God did not fail…Oh…it’s the story I’ll tell
Oh…I know it is well…Oh…it’s the story I’ll tell

As we go through these tumultuous times together, let us not get stuck on a narrative that leaves us frustrated and discouraged. Let us go, like David, into the secret place, abiding there until we can hear God whisper into our spirits a new story. And then let us look for opportunities to share our encouraging, life-giving stories with one another.

God bless us every one!

Fire in the Bones

yellow flame

In these perilous times, it is a constant temptation to shoot my mouth about this issue or that. I know I’m not alone in this; we feel our blood start to boil as we read or watch news stories or follow a thread on social media. There is a rising pressure to speak our minds and set people straight.

I’ve learned to immediately hit the pause button when I feel that impulse to react with my own opinions about the controversies at hand. I’ve learned the hard way over the years that emails, texts, and social media platforms are some of the worst places to have a constructive debate or resolve a conflict.

Attempting to do so, in my experience, is more likely to make the argument worse. And if I do, who’s the judge of whether I am right or wrong in what I say?

When clients ask me if I’d like to read the text threads on their phones so I can understand how bad or wrong the other person is, I usually will say, “Actually, no, I would prefer not to.”

The other day, as I was reading in Psalms, I came to this:

“I said to myself, ‘I will watch what I do, and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue   when the ungodly are around me.’ But as I stood there in silence— not even speaking of good things— the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words: ‘Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is…’” (Psalm 39:1-4).

Jeremiah the prophet, who was persecuted and ostracized nearly every time he opened his mouth, said something similar,

  “…If I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart           like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in!  I can’t do it!”             (Jer. 20:9).

It’s comforting to know that those who have prophetic gifts and feel this pressure to speak are in very good company with the prophets of old. The need to speak, given the possible consequences, can feel like a fire shut up in the bones. There is an urgent need for release.

But in such a contentious environment, we must ask, what can I say without sowing strife, and how should I say it, and when and where, and to whom?

I can’t answer this question for anyone else. I can only share with you how Scripture comes to life for me, helping me find some answers. I hope it helps you as well.

Generations come and go, and social issues wax and wane. Only God and his word endure and remain the same forever. Because of this, I have recommitted myself to exercising the fruit of self-control and considering Scripture consistently in my use of words.

As difficult as it is to tame the tongue, nearly impossible, according to James 3:1-9—we still have responsibility to do just that, as well as we can. If we speak carelessly, James says,

By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell” (v. 5-6, MSG).

According to Proverbs, it is “scoundrels” who create trouble with their words, lighting a “destructive blaze” (Prov. 16:27). And it is the “quarrelsome” person who “starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood (Prov. 26:21). The rather cynical Preacher of Ecclesiastes warns us, “God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better” (Eccl. 5:2, MSG), and I take this to heart.

Maybe you’ve experienced this recently as you’ve dared to speak into the swirl of controversy. You had only good will, and someone was offended. It seems lately that if we don’t speak, we risk being accused of silent complicity with perceived enemies of social justice.  But if we do, someone is bound to be offended, no matter what we say. How do we wisely manage the risk?

The first principle is that as followers of Jesus, we can say the kinds of things he would say and do the kinds of things he would do. He brought glory to the Father, comfort to the brokenhearted, conviction to the sinner, eternal truth to those struggling with doubt and confusion. If our words are in this territory, we can be assured we are on the right track.

Holy Spirit, please help us with our discernment of this!

We can preach the gospel of the kingdom and apply it to the problems in front of us. We can tell people everywhere we go that God is good, and his mercy endures forever. We can say that God gave his Son as a gift, so that whosoever puts trust in him can be saved (Jn. 3:16), be filled with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6), come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), and be set free by it (Jn. 8:32).

We can tell people, when they ask, why we have hope when there is so much darkness all around (1 Pet.3:15). We can express a belief that all will be well in the end, because that’s what our trustworthy Book says.

We can listen to people’s honest questions, and reveal how Christianity provides solutions to our human problems. Many have only heard unsatisfactory ideas or have given up their search for answers entirely. What a blessing for us to serve something that can satisfy the desperate longings of their hearts.

If I don’t—if we in the body of Christ won’t speak of these things, who will?  Paul asks,

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).

We must tell others of the transformative truth we have found in Jesus Christ and the word of God.

Within the church, the standard is clear: we are to seek to excel in the edifying of others. Whatever we say or do, prophesy or impart, pray or serve, our primary purpose is to build up the people around us. Never to enflame them or sow strife among brothers! (1 Cor. 14:5, 12, 26). Never just to prove ourselves right and another wrong.

If we suffer, we suffer for saying right things rather than wrong things (1 Pet. 3:14-18).

The Apostle Paul explained that his preaching of the Good News was not something he could boast about (1 Cor. 9:16). He was compelled from within. He had the same fire in his bones that Jeremiah had. So did the first apostles in Jerusalem who boldly declared, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20).

We can focus on issues sometimes, and devote time, money, and energy to them—abortion, racism, human rights, for example. It is fitting for those who represent the Lord to confront unrighteousness, injustice and cruelty when we see it. But our zeal to advocate for these causes must be enfolded within an unwavering commitment to speak the gospel.

Our words must be seasoned always with his grace. This is where people will discover true words of hope, peace, and life.

If we follow this rule and people are offended, we stand on the same solid ground where Jesus and the Prophets stood. We are blessed and rewarded for suffering persecution for Jesus’ name (Matt. 5:11). If we can’t follow this rule, it seems to me we should heed the Preacher’s advice and keep our mouths closed.

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Please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you, as long as you take into consideration what you’ve just read!

Attachment

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Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions–is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.

–1 John 2:16-17

The concept of attachment is a big deal in the therapy field these days. The basic premise is that adults who present in therapy with personality, relationship, and behavioral disturbances often failed to attach to their parents or primary caregivers in childhood and are ineffectively attempting to heal that disconnection.

When it comes to mental health, attachments to other human beings are essential. Therapy focuses on addressing the damage created by absent or unhealthy attachment and helping clients to form healthy attachments to safe people in their lives.

In a sense, our regeneration in Christ occurs when we attach ourselves to him as our primary love relationship. When this happens, our attachment to the material world weakens. Or, it should, according to his word.

I’ve experienced this myself as a lack of concern about where I live, what I own, what I drive, etc. I seek to live where Jesus plants me, acquire only what helps me represent him well, and drive the most reliable vehicle to get me to his next assignment. Everything beyond that can become a distraction or a burden.

Jesus makes it very clear in several of his extended teachings that attachment to possessions is in the least counterproductive, and at most, evil and idolatrous. He doesn’t say that we are not allowed to have nice things or enjoy them. But the prosperity gospel is not what he is about. We can have possessions and enjoy them as long as we don’t make them more important than our following and emulating him.

Let’s see how Scripture comes to life, helping us understand the dangers of attaching to material things at the expense of wholehearted participation in kingdom living.

Attachment to things can cause conflict, competition, and a poverty spirit. Back in Genesis, Abraham and Lot struggled to keep their relationship intact while competing for land and resources. Their families and entourages quarreled over management of all the stuff they had accumulated on their way to Canaan.Two generations later, Jacob fought with his father-in-law Laban over land and livestock they had cultivated together.

Once wealth becomes conspicuous, it often breeds jealousy, resentments, and negative competition. It reminds me of some of the divorces I’ve witnessed.  It can become a “zero-sum” game, where participants believe that when one person prospers, the other must suffer loss, because there is not enough to go around. This is one way of defining a spirit of poverty—despite the presence of wealth, people are driven by fear of lack.

Attachment to things is foolish, because things do not last. The Psalmist writes, “They rush around in vain, gathering possessions without knowing who will get them” (Ps. 39:6). Knowing how brief and fleeting life is for us on earth—a vapor—it is futile to occupy ourselves with acquiring things that we can’t take with us.

Jesus tells us that these treasures on earth will eventually be destroyed by moths and rust or stolen by thieves. Instead, he exhorts his followers to store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. (Matt. 6:19-20).

Jesus also warns his audience to “be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). The consequence of making greed a way of life is that when our earthly journey is complete, not only do we lose our stuff, but we are in danger of losing our souls. Our hearts and intentions must stay attached to the provider of every good thing, not to the things he provides. 

Attachment to things hinders our trust in God to provide for us. Another regrettable aspect of attachment to things is that it displays a lack of trust that God knows exactly what we need and will provide it. The Father is displeased when we worry about how to get our needs met.

Jesus contrasts the worrying child of God with wild birds who stay fed without sowing, reaping, or storing food. And he tells us to consider the wildflowers clothed in splendid colors, that don’t sew, or spin, or toil to be beautiful. He will see that we are fed and clothed. He promises that when we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, all other good things come with it.

Jesus encourages us go even a step further in our trust. He advises us to sell the possessions we don’t need and give the proceeds to the poor. This is how we lay hold of lasting treasure, and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:22-34). This lofty, beloved Scripture is a constant challenge to apply in a materialistic culture!

Attachment to things can make us selfish, unwilling to share.  At the beginning of the Church age, the model for community life looked like this:  [The believers] sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:45); and, “Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common (Acts 4:32).

These accounts reveal that the hearts of these new believers had been released from greedy attachment to their stuff to such an extent that they gladly shared their possessions with those in need. The opposite response is found in the next chapter of Acts, when a couple brought an offering dishonestly, unwilling to surrender all to support the new Christian community. They perished instantly at Peter’s feet because their sin couldn’t stand in an atmosphere of repentance and holy conviction.

The discipline of tithing is an acknowledgment that all we have and all we are belong to God. Our tithes support the move of the gospel, which is important. But on the personal level, tithing detaches us from our reliance on money, and attaches us to the source of our money. He is the one who gives us power to gain wealth (Deut. 8:18). This is a continual exercise of faith, trust and submission to the goodness of God.

A beautiful proverb states, “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest; then your barns will be completely filled, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9-10). Giving freely of our first fruits signals that we understand how to steward well the gifts of God without becoming overly attached to them.

Attachment to things limits our freedom and our willingness to follow Jesus fully. When a rich young man asked Jesus how he could be good enough to inherit eternal life, Jesus reminded him of the need for obedience to God’s word. But Jesus went further, saying, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man didn’t like this plan, but went away grieving, because he had many possessions” (Matt. 19:21-24). The problem was not his possessions, but his inordinate attachment to them. He missed out on the grand adventure of following Jesus because he had too much stuff.

There is pure freedom and joy in letting go of attachment to our material possessions. This is not an instantaneous process for most of us. It is one of many ways that we grow in intimate attachment and trust in our God day by day.  As we do, we are set free from worry. We become freer and freer to love and share with others. Free of envy, greed, jealousy and resentment. Free to follow our Lord and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

Bless you as you detach from stuff and attach yourself more and more to our precious Lord and Provider.

God-Fearers

I’ve encountered many souls who, learning that I am a Christian, will respond with something that I’ll paraphrase like this: “I’m not religious–like you—I’m just spiritual.”

The message, when decrypted by my own spirit, is that they believe they are spiritual enough to have no need for Christ or his salvation. They imply that they are more spiritual than I am because they need neither a Savior nor the doctrines of any faith teaching. Maybe they sense a spiritual connection to nature or see being spiritual as tapping into the universal ocean of love and harmony.  They seem to believe their own goodness sufficient to guide their path in life. Though they don’t deny God’s existence, they are unwilling to commit to any existing religious system that might make demands upon them.

In these conversations, I explain that I’m not very religious either; I’ve simply decided to follow Jesus. I’ve chosen him over other gods, other teachers, and other loves, and therefore I align myself to his teachings and values as best I can. This is the source of my spiritual empowerment.

I don’t despise people who choose not to believe in Christ as the Redeemer and Savior. I don’t claim to understand how Christ will deal with them when he sorts things out in the end.  I know that some people either ignorantly or arrogantly reject Christ because of a cultural bias against Christianity that has taken hold in Western cultures for several generations.  This is a great tragedy with serious ramifications for the health of those individuals and those cultures.

In the first century Roman Empire, Christianity started with Jews who were taught and led by Christ’s apostles. Many Gentiles soon came to the faith also as the Jewish Christians fanned out, delivering the gospel message. God made it clear to them in supernatural ways that his salvation and deliverance were for everyone. The price of admission was and still is simply to acknowledge his Son as Lord, and to believe in his resurrection from the dead.  Despite lots of resistance then and now, there are always some who hear the message and are ready to believe it.

There is a category of persons mentioned in Scripture called “God-fearers.” These were Gentiles who were drawn to the God of the Jews and Christians or had an unusual sympathy or affinity for God’s people.

Cornelius the centurion is a great example.   He is described as a “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house.” He gave generously to the poor, and “prayed to God always” (Acts 10:1-2). God recognized his humility and openness to new information. Holy Spirit orchestrated a miraculous plan for him to meet Peter and hear the good news about Christ the Messiah. Before Peter even finished his speech, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who had heard the message.” They spoke in tongues, prophesied, and were baptized into the faith. A God-fearing man was saved and transformed, with his entire household (Acts 10:44-48). They became spiritual.

Ironically, sometimes the God-fearers in the book of Acts were sympathetic toward the religious Jews and joined them in persecuting the “followers of the Way.”  In Pisidian Antioch, “the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50). I guess it can go either way with God-fearers.

In this case, because they were not Jews, the God-fearers were better accepted and listened to by the secular authorities. And because they were sympathetic to the Jews, the Jewish leaders exploited them. Some of the God-fearers were people of power and influence who pulled others away from the God they claimed to reverence. Even so, as one sources states, “the fact that Christianity continued to grow and prosper suggests it was a fight they were losing.”1

Paul and Barnabas typically preached the word in synagogues before venturing out amongst the Gentiles. Some in those synagogues may have been proselytes, Gentiles who practiced the Jewish religion.  Others were God-fearers, allowed to attend synagogue meetings, but not fully embracing Jewish law or doctrine.2

On one occasion Paul addressed his teaching to the “People of Israel, and…devout Gentiles who fear the God of Israel” (Acts 13:16). In his conclusion he said, “Brothers—you sons of Abraham, and also all of you devout Gentiles who fear the God of Israel—this salvation is for us!” (v. 26). It evidently was just as important to Paul—and to God—to acknowledge the God-fearers, those who might be hungrily seeking greater truth. Scripture tells us that “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10). Through the preaching of the word these folks were starting to wise up.

Later, Luke recounts Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, where after three weeks of preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, “some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women (Acts 17:4). With persistence and dedication, the apostles and defenders of the faith reached some Jews, some Gentiles, and some God-fearers.

My focus on the God-fearers has challenged me to look for them in my own life, and I hope to challenge you to do this also. These are people that have a hunger for God, however pagan, esoteric or muddy their concept may be. If people say that they are not religious, but spiritual, this shouldn’t stop us from saying more about our God. Maybe they are God-fearers. They know that there is something or someone that is drawing them, and maybe it is you or I assigned to invite them to come closer.

I know this because I was one of these people. My father was a secular Jew, and my mother a disillusioned daughter of a Presbyterian minister who took my sister and me to the Unitarian Universalist Church. When I look back at the path that led me to my love for Jesus and his church, I recognize that I was a God-fearer! Something was drawing me (the Holy Spirit, I now know) to the God of the Bible, long before I had any understanding of religion. It was a spiritual thing, not a religious thing. When I put my trust in him, he made me truly spiritual by imparting his Spirit to me. Holy Spirit then began teaching me the deeper things.

If that could happen to me, I know it can happen to other God-fearers also. Let’s find them and love them into the Kingdom.

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1.https://www.biblewise.com/bible_study/questions/god-fearers.php

  1. http://www.biblestudymagazine.com/bible-study-magazine-blog/2016/6/3/who-were-the-god-fearers

God’s Purpose on Purpose

bloom blossom flora flower

These days of angst, anger, and existential dread are trying to the soul of anyone who loves God, loves people, loves justice and peace. They are days of an increased sense of futility. As in the garden, our work has been cursed and plagued, and our relationships strained.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, because that is the nature of life in a fallen world. Those who are without God and without hope sometimes give up on the whole enterprise. They are consumed and ultimately destroyed by addictions and despair.

But I’ve observed that even within the body of Christ, some people fare much better than others in trying times. These people seem to have a clear and unshakable sense of their purpose in God while here on earth. They may flounder at times, not understanding exactly how to execute that purpose, but they never forget that God has called them to relentlessly pursue it.

When I speak of purpose in this context, I’m not referring to occupation or ministry or raising a family, as important as these things are toward feeling purposeful on a daily basis. I’m talking about purpose in God. How well are our earthly purposes aligned with the overarching purpose of God as presented in Scripture and confirmed by the Holy Spirit? How well are we as individuals, families, churches, and cultural groups fulfilling his purposes?

David cried out to God asking him to fulfill his purposes in David’s life (Ps. 57:2).  Solomon acknowledged the reality that we can make all kinds of plans, “but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (Prov. 19:21). When we work apart from his revealed will and desire, we are apt to lament, like Isaiah, “My work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose” (Isaiah 49:4).

Well then, what is God’s purpose for me and you?

There are many ways to answer that question, but I’ll start with the stated purpose of Jesus Christ, because he is our head. He is our leader and teacher in all things. He is the author and finisher, the beginning and the end. If we mindfully and faithfully join with his purposes, we will be worthy of the name Christian, “little Christ.”

Long before Christ came, Isaiah declared that the word of the Lord always hits its mark; it always accomplishes what he desires and achieves the purposes for which it was sent (Is. 55:11). Then Jesus came, destined to fulfill every prophecy of Scripture, so that “not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” (Mt. 5:18).

This is a very important clue. If we are to live within God’s purpose, we must be intimately familiar with his word. This is where we find strength, hope, and courage to keep running our respective races. This is where we understand our connection to God’s very big story of the ages, surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us (Heb. 12:1).

A second clue to our purpose is found in the way Jesus draws the contrast between his purpose as our good shepherd and the purpose of the thief—the enemy of our souls. The thief steals, kills, and destroys what is righteous and good. Jesus’ stated purpose toward his sheep “is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).

To receive what Jesus wants for us, we must purposefully watch, with a warring vigilance that thwarts the purposes of the enemy. We must employ the spiritual weapons of praise, worship, prayer and the spoken word of God. Our battle is to keep our grip on the kind of life Jesus desires, a life that glorifies him in its fruitfulness and joy, even while we are at war. Oswald Chambers wrote, “God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us.” We must be prepared to be squeezed sometimes.

Thirdly, God has purposed for his people to represent his goodness to the world. There are many ways we can do this. But in order to come into the fullness of this purpose, we must nestle securely in the truth that God causes all things to work together for our good because we love him and have been called to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

All things…. the good, the bad, the mad, the sad, the comedy, the tragedy, all the drama of human experience. We trust him when we understand the why’s, and more so, when we don’t understand them.

Paul’s writings to the Church are especially helpful in understanding how we are to represent him. The message is clear. We are to fulfill our mission in Christ being “in harmony with each other…united in thought and purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). We are to work together, each contributing to the planting and watering of the word, encouraging each other, and reaching out to the lost (1 Cor 3:8).

God wants us to be a suitable display of “his wisdom in its rich variety,” for an audience that includes not only humans, but “all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). We are living displays of his goodness and wisdom! This is God’s plan, and we have the privilege of walking in the center of it if we are willing. In all that we do, we seek to please God, not people (1 Thess. 2:3-5), and we hope to inspire others to seek his pleasure also.

So, whatever our individual purposes day by day, we fulfill them staying mindful of God’s greater purposes of loving and obeying his word. We accept and offer to others the ministry of the good shepherd, while fighting the good fight of faith. We give unselfishly and in unity with others to build up the body of Christ and minister to those still outside of it. We get revenge on the devil by living the abundant life Christ offers and spreading it as what C.S. Lewis called a “good infection” to everyone we encounter.

I’ll end with another quote from Oswald Chambers, who so often taught his students to surrender fully to God’s purposes:

“I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him. … When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance…”

Good Suffering

Many years ago, a wise counselor told me, “God doesn’t waste good suffering.” Strange statement, right? How can suffering be described as good? Over the years I have become convinced through many interactions with suffering people that there is indeed such a thing as good suffering.  As someone who hates to waste anything, I find it encouraging and comforting to know that God will use every experience, including suffering, for his good purposes.

The statement implies that if there is good suffering, there must be less good or bad suffering. I’ve observed, and the Bible confirms, that good suffering eventually brings good fruit in our lives, while the bad kind can make us unfruitful, helpless, and hopeless. In other words, we become better or bitter depending on why we are suffering and how we deal with it.

Let’s see how Scripture comes to life on this challenging topic.

Good suffering often comes from obeying the Lord and doing what is right. When we choose the narrow, righteous path instead of the easier, wider path, we are guaranteed to suffer opposition and rejection, and this is painful. The apostles of Christ often reminded disciples that they should expect to suffer for their faith; God is pleased with and rewards this type of suffering (1 Pet.2:20; 3:14).

Paul told his protege Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12). When we become true believers in the word of God and carry his Spirit, we will be drawn to godly living. If this invites persecution from unbelievers, we are called to face this suffering with joy because it is temporary, while the “better things waiting” will last forever (Heb. 10:34).

Paul takes this further, claiming, “We must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He said this as to encourage the believers!  It is just as encouraging today to know that when we endure suffering for Christ, we demonstrate our citizenship in his Kingdom and our alliance with its distinct values (2 Thess. 1:5). Good suffering follows and imitates Christ as Lord and King and teaches us to serve him faithfully in all seasons.

Good suffering identifies us with Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. As children of God and joint heirs with Christ we inherit his glory. But “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” Our suffering now leads to greater glory later, and therefore isn’t “worthy to be compared with anything we have to go through now” (Rom. 8:16-18).

We suffer with Christ, “sharing in his death” and in due time, his resurrection life! (Phil 3:10-11). Peter taught Christ followers to be “very glad” when we experience “fiery trials” because they make us “partners with Christ in his suffering.” We will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

On a personal note, I remember that when my mother was in her last months of life, I began grieving before her death. I would visit her in assisted living, and driving away, would weep in my car. Dementia had changed my beautiful, brilliant, brave mother into a lost, helpless, confused person I barely recognized. In those moments of deep sorrow, I would sense the sweet, tangible presence of Jesus, revealing to me that he fully understood my suffering. I had entered into a fellowship of suffering with him, and with others who had experienced these agonizing losses that life brings.

Good suffering connects us to others who are suffering. As one body, members are called to rejoice with the rejoicing and suffer with the suffering. Good suffering is shareable. We’re not to leave our brothers and sisters alone in their suffering but are to join them in it. This is how we produce “harmony among the members” and care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25-27).

We can do this because we have first been comforted by God. Good suffering elicits the help and comfort of God, who is with us in all our troubles (Ps. 91:15). Because God our Father is so ready to help us, we can help each other endure suffering without being crushed by it (2 Cor. 1:4-6). And because Jesus our High Priest suffered and was tested in all ways that we are tested, “he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Heb. 2:17-18).

Finally, good suffering brings us to the feet of Jesus. There is a marvelous story of a woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years and suffered greatly. We know her story because eventually she squeezed through the crowd as Jesus passed by and touched the hem of his garment. She was instantly healed. Her desperation led her to just the right place (Mk. 5:25-27).

In a similar way, when we suffer pain and hardship in life, we are instructed to pray (James 5:13) and seek him with our whole hearts. In comfortable, safe times, we might neglect our devotion to Jesus, forgetting to bring everything to him. Good suffering humbles us and reveals our need to come boldly and constantly to his throne of grace (Mk. 5:25-27).

The admonition embedded in this message about good suffering is that the Christian should only suffer for being and doing good, and not evil. Sin usually brings suffering, and this type of suffering brings no reward with it. But good suffering brings great reward, including the maturing of the fruit of patience (James 1:2-4).

Also, we learn from the Israelites in the wilderness that whining and complaining is not how we endure suffering. We all have very legitimate causes for suffering in this world, but we are admonished to suffer differently from those who are without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). This is good suffering.

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