Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
Romans 8:19-24a

I just got back from a prayer walk around the condo complex that I live in. It's not really that spectacular, mostly just a big parking lot that encircles a bunch of buildings from the 70's. But somehow just being outside, seeing the sky, the moon, a tree over makes me feel closer to God. God's creation lifts my gaze from my everyday problems to the bigger reality that we live in.

Even so, the above Scripture reminds us that our world is only an image of its former glory. It's still beautiful. It still proclaims God's glory quite effectively. But it's broken. It's not what it once was. It has been marred by sin and it groans in eager anticipation of the day when it will be restored to its former glory. Animals weren't meant to attack and kill humans. The natural elements were not meant to create hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and earthquakes that all destroy the earth and kill humans. This world was built to house mankind, not destroy us. So it groans...and it waits for the day when it will be set free from the bonds of sin.

So too we groan for we have also been subjected to futility. Like our world we are marred, just a shadow of  what God intended us to be.  All of us see these marring effects on our lives. Some of these imperfections are shallow vanities but some are legitimate marks of sin. These legitimate marks of sin are what Paul is talking about. Some of us wear these marks more obviously than others, but all of us have physical, emotional, mental, and moral deformities because of the Fall. This is why Jesus performed so many miracles that involved health. When he gave a blind man his sight or healed a lame man, He was removing the chains of sin from their physical bodies just as sure as he was removing spiritual chains when He cast out demons. So we also groan for the redemption of our bodies. This is the great hope of the Christian faith: to be resurrected and given a body like Christ's so you can live in the Kingdom of God and see Him face-to-face.

But for now we (and the world) continue to live marred by sin. That's why we spend a lot of our time groaning. There is an innate sense that we all have that the world shouldn't be this way. It's not fair. It's not right. In fact, something is terribly wrong. Every time we experience this feeling we groan and look forward to the day when the world won't be this way anymore...the day when our bodies won't be this way anymore. One day "in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet...the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed" (I Cor. 15:52). Until then we'll continue groaning and I'll continue taking prayer walks around an old parking lot searching for remnants of God's beauty in His creation. 

For further reading this week…
   - I Corinthians 15: Check out this entire chapter devoted to how important the
     resurrection is for Christians.
   - Philippians 3:20-21: A body like His.
   - Luke 7:18-23: When John the Baptist doubts see how Jesus convinces him that He
     is the one who is ushering in God's Kingdom on earth.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish [trash], that I may gain Christ…
Philippians 3:7-8

Oftentimes I pray and ask God for perspective. That might seem like an odd thing to pray for, but a person’s perspective on a situation can make all the difference. I’ve noticed that it’s easy for me to lose perspective. I start looking at all the hard things about my life like: 
  • the fact that my hair always sticks up a little bit in the back
  • I don’t have enough money to do everything I want
  • the guy in the car in front of me didn’t go quick enough so now I have to wait through another red light
  • they forgot to take the pickles off of my burger and now the entire burger has been tainted with pickle juice!
 …and I completely lose perspective about just how blessed I am. I forget that God has raised me with Christ and seated me with Him in the heavenly realms and has blessed me with every spiritual blessing available (Ephesians 1:6 and 2:3). I forget the precious promises of hope and a bright future that God has given me, and I get focused on the pain in my life. Sometimes that pain is in reality somewhat comical (like getting upset about pickles on my burger) and sometimes that pain is true suffering (like the last time I saw my grandmother before she passed away... lying in a bed in a nursing home, her muscles rigid and unable to move, almost completely unaware of her surroundings because of Alzheimer’s).

But whether my suffering is comical or truly painful, Romans 8:18 says that it is not even worth comparing to the future glory that waits for me. And Philippians 3:7-8 says that all of my loss and pain pales in comparison to the fact that I get to know Jesus now in the present. It’s easy for us to realize that we have lost perspective when we throw a temper tantrum in the middle of Burger King. But when we’re facing real pain, when we lose our joy because we are battling cancer or because our spouse is, then it’s not so easy for us to see. It is real pain that Paul is talking about in Romans 8 though, and he says that not even the most painful suffering is worth being mentioned in the same sentence as the future glory that God has promised to us. They are so immensely different that there isn’t a unit of measurement that would allow them to be compared. It would be as impossible to compare them as it would be to compare the weight of the world to the weight of a word on your lips.

That doesn’t mean that suffering isn’t painful. It doesn’t mean that we have to smile all the time. It just means that nothing can take our joy away. In everything we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:36-38). If we battle cancer and the threat of death, then we are more than conquerors because we know that even if we die we will be raised. If we are watching our Christian spouse battle cancer and the threat of death, then we are more than conquerors because we know that even if they die they too will be raised and we know that their suffering is only momentary when considered in light of all of eternity. And if we are persecuted for our faith, even to the point of death, then we know that we will be vindicated at the last day and that they may take our life but they cannot separate us from the love of Christ or the hope that is set before us. 

Knowing God and His promises for us changes our perspective on everything! It gives us the proper perspective on all our pain and all the suffering in this world. We don’t ignore the pain that surrounds us, and we don’t act like it doesn’t matter. But we view it always in light of the bright future that God has promised us and in light of the rich blessings that He has already given us. Already in the present God has given us the blessing of knowing Him and being known by Him. And already we have fellowship with Him because He has placed His Spirit inside of us.

This world is our Calvary. It is in this world that we share in the sufferings of Christ so that we may also share in His glory in the world to come. As Christians, this world is as close to Hell as we’ll ever be. So in light of our future glory (Romans 8:18) and in light of our present joy in having known God (Philippians 3:7-8) our suffering in this world is really rather insignificant. It isn’t worth comparing to the surpassing greatness and joy that we possess now in our fellowship with the Spirit or the hope that we have because of the promises He has given us for our future inheritance.

For further reading this week...
    - Lamentations (esp. 3:21-26): Check out the entire book of Lamentations. It is a
      lament written about the fall of Jerusalem during its destruction by the
      Babylonians in 587 B.C. Pay special attention to the perspective that the author
      finds in 3:21-26. The fact that God is in control during times of suffering causes
      many of us to question His goodness, but the author of Lamentations finds
      comfort in the fact the His Lord is still in control.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Share in His Sufferings (Part II)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:16-17

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11

These two passages make me think of college and of my friends who joined fraternities. All moral issues about hazing aside, the suffering that they endured together as pledges moved them from strangers to brothers. They shared an experience with one another that no one else could understand. They suffered together and relied on one another to get through it. And because of that they became close friends.

I’m not condoning hazing, by the way. I only bring it up to say what fraternities and sororities have known for a long time: suffering affects our relationships in powerful ways. This is especially true of our relationship with God. Suffering either draws us nearer to Him in sweet fellowship or it drives a wedge of bitterness between us. Very rarely, does suffering leave our relationship with God unaffected.

There are many questions surrounding suffering that I don’t know the answer to, but the one thing I am confident of is that at the end of the day we decide how we respond to it. No matter how tragic our suffering may be, we choose whether it will strengthen or harm our relationship with God.

One choice that helps us draw nearer to God in times of suffering is to avoid thinking that we are suffering for Jesus and instead consider ourselves as suffering with Jesus. This may seem like semantics but there is a big difference between suffering for Christ and suffering with Him. Certainly, the Bible says that we will suffer for Christ, but even in those times we can choose to fellowship with Christ in our suffering.

That’s what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:10 where he is bold enough to say that he “wants to know… the fellowship of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings.” Why does he say this? What does Paul mean by the fellowship of Christ’s suffering? Simply put, there is a level of relationship that can only be attained through shared suffering. Like hazing in fraternities, Paul wants the closeness that comes from sharing suffering with his Savior. By sharing Christ’s sufferings we learn more about Him and we learn to rely on His strength for our deliverance.

In Romans 8:17 the Greek word for “suffering” clearly indicates that we must suffer with Jesus if we are to be glorified with Him. Of course, this isn’t exactly a popular idea. We don’t like suffering. In fact, many people in our society have been made rich by inventing gadgets that remove any hint of inconvenience from our lives. But Paul makes clear that it is only those who have suffered with Christ who share in His glory. And, it is only those who have suffered with Him that can say along with Paul, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” There is a greater knowledge of Christ to be found in his shared suffering, but only those who are willing to endure the suffering will receive that blessing.

How do we suffer with Christ then? Are we supposed to ask God to make us suffer? Certainly not! In this world, we all suffer enough. It’s more a matter of choosing to walk with Christ through suffering when it comes. And remember Christ’s suffering extended past the cross. We don’t have to be martyred for our faith to suffer with Christ (although that would be the highest form of suffering with Him). Christ also suffered in the following ways:
  • He was rejected and despised by men and religious leaders.
  • He suffered temptation at the hand of the devil.
  • He suffered the loss of His possessions and comforts for the sake of His ministry.
  • He suffered the terrible loneliness of knowing that even His closest family and friends didn’t understand what He had come to do.
  • He was openly ridiculed and embarrassed.
  • He was assigned a place with the wicked.
  • He agonizingly surrendered His fate to God the Father in the garden of Gethsemane.
Anytime we suffer in the above ways that He suffered then we are actually participating in the sufferings of Christ. And when we are rejected because we proclaim the name of Christ, then we are quite literally suffering with Him. But what is more any suffering or pain that we are confronted with in life offers us an opportunity to know God more, to draw closer to Him. Anytime we suffer we can surrender it to Christ and ask Him to use it for His will, for His glory and for our good.

Certainly we can’t avoid suffering. It is inevitable in this world. But our God is good enough to offer us a blessing even in the face of the worst suffering and that blessing is knowing Him more. The question is, will you turn to Him when suffering comes? And will you proclaim His name knowing that it increases your risk of suffering with Him?

For further reading this week check out…
- II Corinthians 1:5- Our suffering matched by His comfort.
- I Peter 4:13- Pretty much all of I Peter 4.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Share in His Sufferings

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:16-17

This is ecstatically good news! God's Word tells us that we are God’s children and as His children we will inherit all that is His (which is everything!), and we will be glorified with Him. But Paul says that this is all conditional on one thing: our willingness to share in Christ's suffering. What a downer. Why would a Heavenly Father who loves us so much wants us to suffer?

Well this is too big of a question to really answer in a few paragraphs, but I have two passages I want you to consider as you seek to answer that question in your own life. The first is Hebrews 5:7-9:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

Jesus didn't exactly skip happily all the way to the cross. In fact, in the garden of Gethsemane He was so dismayed over His looming suffering that He sweated blood and asked God for a way out (Luke 22: 39-46). In this way Jesus is no different from the rest of us; even He doesn’t get excited about suffering. The passage says that God the Father heard Christ's prayers, but in the end still asked Him to suffer because through that suffering, Christ was made perfect (or complete). His obedience and submission to God’s will was there before He suffered but it hadn't been proven yet. It hadn't been tested. The suffering made His obedience complete. It went from a theoretical willingness to obey during difficult times to actually obeying in a difficult situation.

It's the same with us. We can say that we have completely surrendered our life to Christ, but we haven't proven it until our obedience has been tested. Suffering reveals the true nature of our relationship with the Father. Its easy to say that we are willing to obey. But actually obeying God when it is difficult and painful... when we don't understand why He is allowing painful things to happen to us, that's where the rubber meets the road. In short, God allows us to suffer in order to develop proven obedience in us.

The second passage of Scripture that I want you to consider is II Corinthians 1:8-9:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Paul and his companions were enduring great trials even to the point of fearing for their life, but Paul explains that God allowed it to happen so that they would learn to rely more fully on Him. The simple truth is that most of us are pretty self-reliant. We are able to get through everyday life without having to rely on God very much. We have everything under control. It's only when things get out of our control that we are forced to reach out to God for help. Suffering gives us this opportunity. It is out of our control. It teaches us to depend on the Lord even when we don't understand what He is doing. It teaches us to weather the storms of life hiding in the shelter He provides.

So in the end the question isn’t really “Why would God allow me to suffer?" The better question is "How is God teaching me through this suffering? How is He growing me through this suffering? And how is God going to use it to my good?" (Romans 8:28)

For further reading this week check out…
- Matthew 16:21-27: Suffering has always been a part of the plan for Christians.
- Acts 5:40-42: How's this for a right perspective on suffering?
- Philippians 1:29, 3:10-11: I want to know the fellowship of His sufferings.
- I Peter 4:1-2, 12-14: Count yourself blessed.