13 December 2008

To the dear ones from your pastor,

To the dear ones facing the testing of their faith,
To the marriage on the brink, awash in loss and betrayal, stumbling forward,
To the tired mom at the limit of her ability every day,
To the family sick with division but hopeful for a foretaste of heavenly unity,
To the father (and son) wrought with anxiety, sleepless and weighted down with Herculean responsibility,
To the young man with a broken heart still trusting in a good Father,
To the dad and mom longing for justice and redemption,

It is a privilege to witness your faith in these difficult times. Today, you may be most sensitive to a shroud of darkness and a nagging sense of weakness but they only intensify the light of Christ in you. In real and heartbreaking pain, a marvelous sustaining power is being revealed. I am grateful to be your pastor. My love for you deepens in every exchange. May you grow in the knowledge of God in these trials and find eternal joy and hope in Jesus.

Although you do not know each other, you form a fellowship of significant trials occurring in our church today. You are not alone. Tearful conversations have abounded this week and, in each conversation, my burden to encourage has increased. I pray that Christ's Spirit would attend to these words and richly encourage your hungry souls.

First, a narrow path to a glorious truth. Survival is not an option. God has not commanded us to merely "get by" but to "Rejoice in the Lord always." This doesn't mean the pain of suffering will disappear magically this side of heaven. Life is infused with bitter futility, injected by design (Romans 8:20-21), that will remain until we return to the ground (Genesis 3:19). It means, being commanded and thus supported (Psalm 37:3-4, Phil. 4:4-5 and 1 Cor. 10:13), joy and delight are available always for those who suffer (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Contentment with anything less is contentment with disobedience.

Listen to Christ's admonishment to the church in Ephesus:
“ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:2-5 ESV)
Jesus can see works, toil, patient endurance, rejection of evil, wise testing of false "apostles" and persecution (all without growing weary) and if that is all he sees in us, His calls us to repent. We are just "getting by." Christ died to give us His righteousness, to write the law on our hearts so that our patience and endurance may be attended with joy (Col. 1:11). So "hang in there" will not cut it, the only biblical encouragement I can give you is "be filled with joy and accept nothing less." This is the repentance He seeks - a return to first-love joy.

"You have abandoned the love you had at first."
That first-love was fresh, alive, flavored with amazement (Eph. 1:6) and rejoicing (Psalm 16:8-9). Any time we don't possess that joyous love for Christ (regardless of the circumstances), He simply tells us to repent. Can you even imagine happiness and joy in your circumstances? Beyond our imagination we are commanded to experience it. This is a narrow path but good news as God intends "pleasures forevermore" for each of us and nothing less. Where we find these pleasures is the real issue.

If joy seems impossible while suffering remains, we have our first clue to the purpose of our suffering. The pain of suffering is loss. It may be a loss of comfort or time or love or reputation or security but it hurts because we have lost something. If our joy in God is dependent on the reduction of our suffering then our loss is superior to our God. Paul tells us that his source of joy was to make God superior to his loss.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)
So, God is carrying to completion the good work he started in us (Phil. 1:6) and we are complete when our love for Him is central and all-consuming (Rev. 2:2-5 and Matt. 22:37-38). Allowing us to aim our affections anywhere else would be allowing us unsatisfying idolatry which is counter "completion."  Therefore;
the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrews 12:6 ESV)
he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10 ESV)
He uses our hardship to strip from us affections that will leave us destroyed and wanting that we might share in his holiness.

"So this is God's intention? How can I possibly love a God who would hurt me so deeply?"
For at least 7 reasons...

1) He loves you (1 John 4:10). That love has already been demonstrated (Romans 5:8) in His suffering.
2) He is not punishing you. God punishes with separation (2 Thes. 1:8-9). For the believer punishment occurred on the cross (Isaiah 53:5) once for all (1 Peter 3:18). His discipline is drawing you near (Hebrews 12:6).
3) He is leading you to lasting and complete joy (Psalm 16:11).
4) He is merciful, faithful (Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 2:17) and close to you who suffer (Psalm 34:18) because you share in His sufferings (Phil. 3:10 and 1 Peter 2:19,21).
5) He keeps your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).
6) The glory that will be revealed in you isn't even worth comparing to your present suffering (Romans 8:18). Jesus says the conquering ones will:
  • eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God (Rev. 2:7)
  • not be hurt from the second death (Rev. 2:11)
  • be given hidden manna (Rev. 2:17)
  • receive a the white stone (a unique identity - secret between them and God) (Rev. 2:17)
  • have authority over the nations, (Rev. 2:26)
  • receive the morning star. (Rev. 2:28)
  • be clothed thus in white garments (Rev. 3:5)
  • never have their name blotted out of the book of life. (Rev. 3:5)
  • hear Jesus confess their name before the Father and before his angels (Rev. 3:5)
  • become a pillar in the temple of God bearing the name of God, the name of the city of God and Jesus' own new name.
  • sit with Christ on His throne (Rev. 3:21)
7) He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). If you face an Everest-sized test you will receive Everest-sized grace (2 Cor. 9:8) and share in his resurrection power (Phil. 3:10). His reputation depends on it (1 Peter 4:11).

Jesus Christ is lovely. He is worthy of our worship and joyful devotion in any season! So pursue happiness with all your heart. Saturate your life with Christ. Read, pray, listen and sing. Fix your gaze on Him. Feed on Him (John 6:51) until you overflow with joy! In this time of great need (as in any time) may the joy of the Lord be your strength (Neh. 8:10).
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV)

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 ESV)
With a loving desire for Christ to be your wellspring,


1 comment:

  1. From OYB on 12/14/08:
    Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. (Jonah 2:8 ESV)