Christianity 201

December 24, 2018

Despite the Festivity, Many are Suffering; Many are Broken

This is a shorter excerpt from a longer piece at the site Lake Ridge Student Ministries, which we are featuring here for the first time. Click the title below to read the full article.

Christ Our Comforter at Christmas

During Christmas time we all seem to become even more sensitive to the suffering of others around us. It is a lesson in contrasts. Christmas is a time set aside for joy and gladness, light and spectacle, celebration and community, laughter and gift-giving, peace and goodwill. Yet because of the nature of our world, we quickly see all the ways that the season does not live up to its promise. Instead of gladness we see sorrow, instead of joy we see despair, instead of light, darkness; instead of spectacle, poverty; instead of celebration, mourning; instead of community, division; instead of laughter, tears; instead of gift-giving, selfishness, instead of goodwill, bitterness; instead of peace, suffering.

I think this is one reason why the character of Tiny Tim shines forth so brightly in everyone’s minds when we think of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. He stands in stark contrast to the festive nature of the season. With his wooden crutch and metal braces on his legs, he is a hard reminder that all is not right in the world, that despite the festivity of the season, sin, brokenness, and suffering remain. They do not disappear at the stroke of midnight after Thanksgiving, nor should we act as though they have. In fact, Tiny Tim himself meditates well on the necessity of acknowledging suffering during the Christmas season, telling his father as he carried him home from church, “he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tiny Tim, like all those who face various challenges in life are more than their disability, but his perspective is instructive. So we will take the time, on his recommendation, not only to acknowledge the presence of suffering during this festive season, but more importantly to see how Jesus uniquely ministers to us in our suffering.

We begin in Hebrews 4:14, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Heb 4:14) Here the author of Hebrews reminds us that since Jesus has now ascended (passed through the heavens) to the very presence of God the Father, we can hold on tight to the confession of faith that he taught us to believe, specifically that by belief and repentance, we have forgiveness of sins and new eternal life in his name. But often Christians struggle in holding fast to the faith exactly because of Jesus’ current position. We know that it is good that Christ is in heaven now before the Father because he is able to act as our High Priest, always interceding on our behalf and pleading our cause (Heb 7:25). But somehow the remoteness is discouraging. We fear that this high and exalted Jesus might be disconnected from us, might see our world, so full of suffering with the indifference that comes from distance. Yet this fear is quickly pushed away.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16) Jesus is not a remote heavenly being, utterly detached from our human experience. This is Jesus we are talking about! This is the fully God, fully man, incarnate God. This is the guy who ate with tax collectors and sinners. This is the guy who hung out with fishermen, and preached the gospel among the poor. This is the guy who made the lame walk, the blind see, and raised widow’s sons back to life. This Jesus suffered in agony in the Garden as he submitted himself to the will of his Father even when it meant death on a cross and the weight of the sins of the world. Jesus is thoroughly aware of our sufferings and weaknesses.

Not only is he aware, but he experienced them. He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil to misuse his divine power when he was really hungry, and his belly ached after forty days without food. He was tempted to display his Messianic identity by throwing himself off the temple to be caught by angels. That would certainly silence those nagging Pharisees! Yet he knew that God was not one to be tested, and that the way to show himself to the world would take a different path. He was tempted with power, prestige, and even a chance to gain the whole world without having to go to the cross (Matt 4:8). If anyone knows anything about being truly tempted, it is Jesus…

…[The book of Hebrews] continues, In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:7-10)

When you see “made perfect” think “brought to completion”. Jesus had to go through what he did in order to be for us what he is. Jesus went through his suffering so that he might save us from our suffering. He experienced the consequences of our sinfulness so that we might not experience them. Jesus became a human being for the purpose of suffering, so that he could walk alongside us in our own suffering, and one day deliver us from it forever. Because the good news is when he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death”, “he was heard”. His grave was borrowed, he needed it only for a little while. Since Christ has experienced our suffering, he is able to offer us the grace and strength we need in the midst of it, and the hope we need for the day our suffering will be brought to an end.

Starting in verse three of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul gives us a way to understand what Christ does for us as our High Priest, and how we should respond.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)

click here to read the entire article

 

 

March 10, 2016

Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something

Today we pay a return visit to John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. This is the opening to a series he’s doing on the Book of Job, and we’ll include a link to another article at the bottom. Click the title below to read at source and if you’re arriving here a few days after this was posted, you should be able to navigate his blog to find more in the series. (We don’t normally poach graphics, but the picture below is an essential part of the story!)

Stop, Look, and Listen—Pain Does More Than Teach Survival Skills

No matter how sizzling any topic might be at the moment, nothing has more enduring relevance than personal pain.  We always want to talk about it.

Christian publishing says so.

A significant percentage of new books every year deal with how to process suffering.  The titles are original, but many seem to retread the same verses and sometimes the same logic. We don’t mind. Pain is the most terribly experiential fact of human existence.  Everyone wants to know how to survive it.  We never get tired of hunting for scraps of encouragement.  Personally, I need all I can get.

God has a book called Job.  It’s a perennial favorite, but doesn’t offer easy answers.  At least not the kind that fit in shoeboxes.   You have to spend meditative time in the narrative to strike oil anywhere in it.

Job 1:12 is downright chilling:  “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”  It doesn’t look good for Job.  In fact, the devil inflicted on that poor man the very things most of us spend our lives trying to avoid.

In one day, he experienced complete financial loss.  He endured a so-called “act of God” that killed all his children.  Later, the final blow came with the devastating loss of his health, which the Bible describes as “loathsome sores.” As an additional piece of garnish to his crowded plate, he found out what it was like to be kicked when you are down, a lesson which his wife and friends provided.

Under these circumstances the temptation becomes severe to begin thinking of God as an adversary (actually, the word “Satan” means “adversary”).  We want to get angry with Him.  What good is faith?  We toy with the idea of consigning it to the junk heap along with bent hula-hoops, broken blenders, and all the other things that don’t work.

Flawed interpretations of the event make matters worse.  Job saw himself a victim of purposeless divine brutality, singled out and beaten to a pulp for no good reason.  His wife believed him to be hopeless and urged him to get it all over with—“Curse God and die,” she said (2:9).  Job’s friends assumed he was being punished for some hidden evil.  Even the devil was operating under a wrong impression, assuming that God had allowed Job’s sufferings only as part of some sadistic chess match.

And then it’s over.  Satan disappears at the end of chapter 2, having thrown everything in his arsenal at Job.  His team loses, and so he quietly leaves the narrative humiliated and without concession speech.  Job still stands. But it’s not actually over.  Otherwise, the book would not have continued for another forty chapters.

God was not in this drama to win a wager with the devil, although that was what the devil signed up for.  God wasn’t looking for bragging rights.

He was in it for Job’s sake.

Yes, at this point everyone else is done with the poor man.  Even he himself concedes complete, irredeemable ruin.  Where they are all finished, however, God has just begun.

You see, pain works.  Its immediate result is focus and attention.  Job was effectively stopped in his tracks.  His daily multitude of concerns ground to a halt.  His interests stopped.  His dreams stopped.  Job’s world stopped turning.   All lesser priorities ceased.

Nothing seemed to exist anymore except him, his pain, and the silhouette of the One who loomed over it all.  And now all he can think of is seeking, searching, wondering what God is doing and why.  This good man is no longer focused on the smaller good things of life.  As if traveling around a corkscrew, He will begin an ever-deepening trip into the big questions.  And at the bottom of the pit, he will unexpectedly find something he had always known about and taught, but never personally visited.

While watching this happen, we begin to hesitantly conclude that maybe pain is not something we simply survive.  It’s functional.

In 2004, Hurricane Charley swept through Florida.  At the time, it was the second most destructive Hurricane on record.  Among the things trashed in the wake of its 100 mile-per-hour-plus winds, were numerous signs and billboards.

But one billboard survived.  The wind had peeled back its surface layer advertisement, revealing an earlier message underneath.

“When the sun rose the next morning on Sand Lake Road in Orlando the words on the billboard clearly read:

‘We need to talk.

–God.’”1

billboard

Pain is a billboard.

God will stop at nothing to get our attention.

There is probably no thought in the world more unsettling and yet more encouraging.


1 Quote from Jared Smith, Lake Forest, Il.
Main photo credit: Aracell Arroyo
Link to Part two of series on Job

August 29, 2015

Does God Cry?

Today we pay a return visit to Faithviews which, like us, features different authors. To read this at source, click the title below.

Does God Suffer?

Dr. Jeffrey Johnson is a humanitarian, author, and sought-after lecturer on Jewish roots and Bible Prophecy. He was a pastor for over 17 years and received his Master’s Degree from Moody Bible Institute and his Doctorate from Louisiana Baptist University. He is a member of the American Society of Church History as well as Evangelical Theological Society. He has authored several books including God Was There, Childhood of Jesus, and Life After Death: What Happens Next? His latest book, The Moses Papers, will be released this fall. For more information visit http://www.IsraelTodayMinistries.org.

The last few years, we have found ourselves in a position to minister to and comfort the suffering people of Israel, both Jews and Arabs. We have helped those who have lost their homes in northern Israel, being victims of rockets launched from Hezbollah’s lair in Lebanon. We have wept with families who lost their children in suicide bombings. Daily, the school children in Israel race to bomb shelters when they hear the “red color” sirens sounding the alarm that Hamas in Gaza fired more rockets into their town. They wet their beds and rock back and forth in fear. They suffer from nightmares; parents weep and struggle because they have no money to buy food. Holocaust survivors live in poverty within the walls of Israel. And now, the new threat of the so-called Arab Spring with the change of power and the emboldened nefarious leaders, clanging swords and killing their own neighbors. Does God feel this suffering and fear?

The early church fathers, both Latin & Greek, insisted upon what is called the “impassibility” of God. Basically, this means while man, created by God, experiences suffering, God himself does not. Yet, portions of the Hebrew scripture narrative imply God does have feelings and does react to His creation.

Understandably so, those who advocate a strict “impassibility” realize that God is not completely apathetic. On the other hand, when the scripture narrative describes God in human terms, i.e., hands, eyes, etc., we understand that God is a spirit and is bigger than our physical universe, or our ideas and understanding of personifying God. Notwithstanding, is something to be learned from the scripture when it ascribes human emotions and human features to God – does reveal something about the Creator God?

Before the Incarnation of the Messiah we find it stated of God:

1. “His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel (Judges 10:16).”

2. “Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD (Jeremiah 31:20).”

3. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred (Hosea 11:8).”

After the Incarnation it is stated of Jesus:

1. “Now it happened, the day after that He went into a city called Nain;…And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow…When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, Do not weep…(Luke 7:11-13).
2. “Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled…Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, See how He loved him (John 11:33-36).”
3. “But when He saw the multitudes He was moved (Matthew 9:36).”

Looking at these passages, we learn that before the birth of Jesus, God was directly affected by the trials and anguish of his creation. After the Incarnation, we find God identifying with human pain and responding with immeasurable love.

Our suffering causes God to grieve; God cries when we cry; God hurts when we hurt. This, of course, does not diminish who God is in terms of his essence, being all power, all knowledge, everywhere present. If human beings, created in God’s image, can make suffering their own through their love for others, how much more can God, who is love, make suffering His own. In other words, if a human being is affected by another’s sorrow and pain, God is more affected. Why? God created us out of an act of love, and is not indifferent to the angst we experience. He created us and is involved and identifies with us – even proving his involvement by taking it to the ultimate expression of love and concern– the Cross.

Simply, God cries when someone dies; He has compassion on those who are ill; He sorrows for the children who do not have a meal; His heart yearns for the one gone astray; He has sympathy for those in need.

Our sorrow is mingled with joy because Christ, the Passover Lamb, brings hope and answers in our time of need. God expressed his love through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The resurrection proves that he is God. God is not indifferent to the sorrows of this world – and that brings an amazing comfort to our hearts.

Being created in God’s likeness we can emulate Him by being His hands and feet bringing comfort to fellow human beings. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalms 30:5).”