A Word About HOPE
Below is a “family” update that I wrote for my wife’s blog.
It contains a message that I believe is CRITICAL for you to not only survive in 2013, but to actually thrive.
It’s about the key importance of hope.
This Christmas message is sponsored by the letters:
I know it sounds strange.
With a recent shooting in an elementary school, a growing national socialism, runaway debt, a fiscal “cliff,” and double-digit unemployment, you would think this year’s message would be…
But we tend to disagree.
This year, we have been blessed to see 3 children into a greater understanding that they are loved. Faith is 7 and serves as our resident expert-on-all-things and is becoming a budding ballerina. Jack is 5 and is becoming our math whiz and no-training-wheels mountain biking hero. And Dean is 4 and has turned into our resident hugger and Guinea Pig antagonist.
Joy In Suffering – Possible? (Part V)
Part 5: Ease Others’ Suffering
You have heard the song that goes, “Man of Sorrows, what a name! For the Son of God who came.”[i] Here is the point: whatever you may be experiencing right now pales in comparison to what Christ experienced. Truly he bore our sorrows. Truly he carried our shame. Truly he suffered more than any man has ever
Even then, truly, in the midst of a pain so deep it would kill any one of us, he also chose to ease others’ suffering. Jesus helped others during his time of suffering for at least two reasons. First, it was in his character to serve, and so he did not stop when he was suffering. Second, he was giving us an example to follow.
Here are three (of many) occasions where Christ unselfishly helped others during his suffering.
Let’s look first at Mary, his mother: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26–27).
Now imagine this. Jesus could barely breathe because to do so required him to push up on a nail driven right through the frail tendons in his feet. He could hardly see because there was caked blood, sweat, and someone else’s dried spit on his eyelids. He could barely smell because his nose was swollen shut. And he could hardly hear because the noises were drowned out by the sulfurous cackling taunts of the evil one.
Yet, he cracked open his eyelids to look with compassion on his mother, and he cracked open his mouth to ease her pain.
This was Mary—the same woman who heard the angel Gabriel say Jesus would be great. Where is that greatness now?, she thought, and for that matter, where is that angel?
This was Mary—the same woman who heard twelve-year-old Jesus say he must be about his Father’s business. How can this be his Father’s business?, she thought, and for that matter, where is the Father?
This was Mary—the same woman who heard Jesus on the cross say, “John, take good care of my mom. She needs you now. And for that matter, you need her too.”
I am stunned as I witness this scene. That’s because I immediately see how very un-Christlike I am in my suffering. One of my biggest revelations recently has been how selfish I am during suffering. My journals are full of prayers to God about what I want. However, sadly, precious few journal entries are about what others need. It’s humbling to say the least.
Jesus, on the other hand, while in the midst of suffering so horrible just the thought makes you wince, chooses to spend one of his very last breaths to take care of two people who needed him in their suffering. It is truly one of the most remarkable, most courageous, most unselfish moments in history.
Next, let’s look next at the soldiers, the rulers, and the crowd.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:32–38)
Let’s face it—if anyone deserved swift and immediate punishment from the hand of God himself, it was the soldiers, the rulers, and the crowd.
The soldiers treated all this as a game—another criminal whose only worth was another set of clothes to sell on eBay.
The rulers treated this as retribution. “You see! This is exactly what happens when you mess with the rightful kings of the Jews. Stay out of our way … or you’re next!”
The crowd, well they only came along for the show—just another crucifixion and another chance to make fun of someone who couldn’t possibly defend himself. “You think you are so special Mr. Clean-Out-the-Temple. We told you not to do that and now, look. You are finally getting what you deserve! King of the Jews, my nose. He saved others, but he can’t save himself? Pathetic.”
No, actually, he was getting what they deserved. The perfect Son of God; the Creator of Orion, the Big Dipper, and Pleiades submitted himself to the accusations, the jeers, and the jokes of a crowd whose very hearts were being simultaneously held together by the “word of his power.”
He could have remained silent, you know. He could have simply thought to himself, Laugh it up. I’ll see you on judgment day.
Instead, as an act of final, shocking contradiction, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Here is the interesting thing: the soldiers, the rulers, and the crowd didn’t even ask for Jesus’ forgiveness, yet he still chose to forgive them.
Do you know how hard that is to do?
Actually, I’ll bet you do. My guess is people are in your life who have hurt you deeply, and to make matters worse, they never even asked for your forgiveness. In fact, they never will. Perhaps your husband or wife cheated on you; your father abandoned you; your mother beat you; your co-worker maligned you; or your friend betrayed you. The examples are endless, so just fill in the blanks with your own pain.
You know this much: you are right and they are wrong. And yet somehow, you end up hurt and they get of scot-free. How is that fair? Well, it’s not, and that’s why when that happens, you must do exactly what Jesus did. No matter how difficult. No matter how right you are. No matter how much you want to punch them in the face. You forgive. You simply forgive. You give it to God and say along with Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
When you do that, when you can find the strength to forgive, you will find (wonder of wonders) the one who becomes free is you.
Finally, consider the thief on the cross.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43)
If there was anyone at Calvary who got exactly what he deserved, it was the thief. Think about it. He never defended himself. He never blamed his bad lawyer or the angry judge. He never made excuses. He was guilty and he knew it. He broke all the Ten Commandments and would do it again if he had the chance. He beat his wife and abused his kids. He lied, cheated, and stole. He even joined in on the first round of abuse toward Christ.
Then, as a final act of supreme inconsistency, he literally did the thing right for the first time in his life. He simply asked the King to remember him—and nothing more. He didn’t promise perfect obedience, nor did he promise to sell his possessions and give to the poor. He had nothing to give—no time, no money, and no property. The only thing he had was the Man next to him and a few last breaths. Incidentally, it’s the only thing we have too.
Christ’s response is enough to make you want to dance. He looked the thief in the eye and told him there was a party that afternoon and he was invited. There would be wine, food, and song, and the thief was going to be Emmanuel’s guest of honor.
Words cannot begin to plumb the depths of Christ’s compassion. He was the most amazing, loving, and kind man who ever lived. As the song goes, “Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!”[ii]
Mary found a shoulder to cry on. The soldiers, rulers, and crowd found forgiveness. The thief found a home. And here is the most amazing, astounding part of it all: because Christ had compassion on others, you can too.
In your life, there are people who need compassion, and, frankly, most of them don’t deserve it. Either way, the call is clear. When you’re suffering, your job is to ease others’ suffering. It doesn’t make sense, but neither does God dying.
Paul tells us the mission of the warrior is to:
In other words, do your job.
Your King set the example. Now follow in his footsteps. Endure suffering. Reject the lies. Believe the Word. Focus on the result, not the suffering. And ease the suffering of others.
Once you do that, you will receive the endurance to fight alongside the King. He is the Conqueror after all. And that will be the subject of our next section.
Being a Christian (Without Being A Weirdo)
I have shared my faith in Christ at many times and in many ways. I done it right (sometimes) and I’ve done it wrong (a bunch more times).
After years of experience…and after watching a lot of very well meaning believers screw this up (big time), I offer these helpful suggestions.
Key Rule – Be Normal (To Put it Another Way, Don’t Be A Weirdo)
Here are 4 examples of what I mean by being a weirdo…
Wierdo Example #1 – Door-to-Door Evangelism
I hear this one all the time. Very well-meaning and serious Christians will tell me how they really feel guilty because they are not bold enough to share their faith while going “door-to-door.”
Let me clear the air right now.
Back in the 50’s, salesmen would go door-to-door. Have you ever watched reruns of Leave it to Beaver or some show set in the 50’s? That’s the way they rolled back then. It was cool to walk up to someone’s house, start a conversation, and sell a vacuum cleaner or two.
As you can imagine, times have changed (slightly) in 60 years. The only people going door-to-door now are:
– guilty Christians trying to feel good about themselves by going door-to-door.
Since the Christian church often distinguishes itself by its seeming lack of progress, we still somehow feel like God would be super-stoked if we could just muster the courage to look like a weirdo for a day while knocking on people’s doors.
The result often tends to have the opposite effect. No one wants to come down and visit Wierdo Community Church and certainly no one wants to be a member. That’s because once they do, they will inevitable end up guilted into witnessing door-to-door too.
(side note – my spell checker just tried to change “guilted” to “quilted.” Interestingly, MS Word has no concept of being “guilted.” But Christians do. The good news is that the sentence would have worked well either way. But I digress…)
Weird-o Example #2 – Out-Dated Music
Listen, just because something is old and out-dated doesn’t mean that it is more spiritual or holy. There are a lot of Christians out there who love pianos, but hate guitars and drums based solely on the fact that pianos are much older…
The issue of music has never been about old vs. new, but more like “Which Century?” In other words, if you make a big deal about music, you’re a dork. The Bible encourages us to sing a new song (Psalm 33, 98, 144, just to name a few). And I am pretty sure that verse wasn’t limited to 722 B.C. and before.
So, be normal with your music. Some Christian music is awesome. I listen to that, some classical (while I work), and then some Indie too.
Weird-o Example #3 – Street Signs
This one goes without saying. Don’t stand on a street with a big sign that says people are going to hell…or that the end is near…or that you need money (“God Bless”).
I was actually sharing my faith one day with a friend. (We were having a beer). Just then some weirdo came up with a sign and a tract. My friend later told me, “I will never, ever do that. So if being a Christian means carrying a sign, I am out.”
It was another year before he accepted Christ.
Thanks a lot, sign guy.
Weird-o Example #4 – Being Legalistic
For someone to be a believer, they have to do one thing very well: surrender to Christ. That is basically all it takes. It’s saying, “Your right. I’m wrong. You’re big. I’m little. You’re strong. I’m weak. Help me.”
If you want a friend to know the true Christ, then it’s high time you introduced him (or her) to the true Christ. He’s the one who knows everything you’ve ever done and still loves you (a lot). Honestly, if your Mom knew half of the stuff you’ve done, she’d disown you. Same with me. Jesus knows all of your secrets – even the ones you would never tell anyone (ever), and yet he still thinks you are pretty cool.
He has one rule when it comes to knowing him. It goes like this…
You get his righteousness. He gets your sin, shame, and blame.
It’s a GREAT deal…and all you have to do is ask for it.
Ok, now compare that to the legalistic way a lot of people witness.
Listen, do you really want to be a Junior Holy Spirit? God knows how to bring someone to him. He also knows how to make someone holy. Your job is to bring them to Christ. Then, let him do the heavy lifting.
Ok, now here is the remedy for all of the weirdness.
Ed Rush Evangelism
Now I know it sounds very vain for me to name an entire evangelical method after myself. But, then again, I didn’t start it. I just did it…and some friends started calling my method that name.
So I hereby exonerate myself from any cheap guilt coming my way.
Tell ya what, just do it…and then you can call it “(Your Name) Evangelism.”
My method goes like this:
Step #1: You get to know unbelievers.
This isn’t hard. They are basically everywhere. Getting to know them means really getting to know them. Just be normal and be their friend. With some people you will immediately connect. Others, you won’t. Don’t sweat that. Just be a friend.
Step #2: Engage in normal life.
Have a beer, play softball, catch some waves, read a book, go for a walk, or just hang out. You decide. What would you normally do with a friend or a group of friends? Just do that. And while I am on the subject, don’t set up some spiritual ambush where your friend thought they were going hiking and you “magically” end up at the Wednesday night service.
Step #3: Listen and Pray for an Opening
Let me tell you this, buster. If you are hanging with someone you know…and they know you are a Christian, the topic will come up.
It has to.
I’ll give you an example. I was having a beer (or three) with a good buddy of mine who was (notice I said was) an atheist. He was waxing eloquently about the non-existence of God when I asked him,
“Tim, do you see that painting over there? Who do you think painted that?”
“But you know someone painted it right”
“Well, it’s the same way with the earth. You know someone created it. It’s here after all.”
A month later he stood up at dinner in front of 20 people and declared,
“I am no longer an atheist and its because of Ed Rush! I just realized that the (expletive) didn’t happen by accident.”
Pretty cool huh?
Step #4: Be a Friend and Serve
The last one is easy. Just keep being normal. Keep praying and keep serving them as a friend. You’ll get a few more chances. And eventually, you never know, Jesus might show up and the person’s life will change overnight.
Just do it. OK?
P.S. You may have noticed this, but I like beer. (Hey, I’m actually drinking one right now. It’s 11:43 pm and not Noon, so it’s ok right?).
I know I’ll probably get tried for heresy or something for saying this, but alcohol can be a very effective evangelistic tool. Jesus used it. If you remember, he was accused of drinking too much wine and hanging out at too may parties (Matthew 11:19). Example – Jesus went to Cana (John 2) and created the sum total of 700-900 bottles of wine. In other words, Jesus loved a good party.
We in the church have screwed this up so bad that we end up looking weird (again). Like a bunch of Pharisees we revile alcohol as “the devil’s instrument.” Here is your clue: the Pharisess never got invited to parties. So if you don’t ever get invited to a party (ever), then maybe it’s not because you are so Christ-like after all.
Having a beer (or two) at a bar can be a very fun, loose way to get to know someone and get the conversation going. The key, of course, is to have fun, share life, but not get drunk.
My life with awesome…
My wife is amazing – she really is.
If you want some inspiration, go read this.
What the Heck Does “The Lesser of 2 Evils” Mean??
Thoughts on tomorrow’s election.
In the past week, I have heard 2 very well-meaning Christian people say,
While that may be right, you have to remember that we willingly “vote” for the lesser of 2 evils (every day) – and we gladly accept the lesser of 2 evils (every time).
For example –
1. Given the choice of spending one hour in traffic or taking an alternate route, still being in traffic, but for only 20 minutes, I’ll take the latter.
The lesser of 2 evils.
2. Given the choice of being thrown violently from an airplane…or…being thrown violently from an airplane (while wearing a parachute); I will take the latter.
The lesser of two evils.
3. And, when given the chance to vote for someone who has never run a business (much less worked for one) and someone who has run a business, I’ll take the latter.
The lesser of two evils.
Oh…and while I am on the subject…a lot of people have made a big deal about the fact that Romney changed his mind on abortion. Fact is, I have changed my mind on really important issues so many times, it’s hard to keep track. As humans, we grow, learn, and even evolve in our decision making. We often change our mind. It’s a part of our maturity.
And I, for one, appreciate a politician who is not afraid to change his mind.
Frankly, that’s refreshing.
So, yes, I am voting for Romney.
It’s not a perfect world. We are not a perfect country. And we don’t have perfect candidates.
I’m happy to take the lesser of 2 evils.
I reduced it to $.99 today for release.
Joy In Suffering – Possible? (Pt. IV)
Believing His Word – Even When The Chips Are Down
Once you reject the lies, listen carefully to God’s Word and do what he says. During suffering, there is precious little to cling to other than his Word. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to figure out why you are suffering. You will know that later. In fact, the not knowing why is often a part of the suffering.
Believing God’s Word was not just something Jesus told us to do; it was something he did. And if Jesus did it, it stands to reason we should too.
When Christ went to Calvary, he carried nothing with him except a cross and the Word of God. He didn’t need anything else. Jesus already knew what the Father thought of him, and this encouragement alone was apparently enough to get him through the silence. Twice in the Bible, once at his baptism and once at his transfiguration, God the Father broke through the silence and spoke audibly, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
That must have been pure joy to Jesus’ human heart.
The Father is pleased … with me.
So when the whip scourged his back for the thirty-ninth time, he must have raised his head briefly and whispered,
The Father is pleased … with me.
When the five-inch thorns pierced his forehead and one exited through his left eyebrow, he must have raised his head briefly and whispered,
The Father is pleased … with me.
When the nails pierced his hands and feet, he must have raised his head briefly and whispered,
The Father is pleased … with me.
When he struggled for breath for the millionth time …
When the crowd laughed at his naked, exposed body …
When the soldiers played a dice game under the Maker of the Universe …
When he cried out to the Father, pleading, grunting, and sucking in more blood than air … he must have raised his head briefly and whispered,
The Father is pleased … with me.
And when he finally took his last breath—that struggling, complicated last gasp of air—and gave up his spirit as his chin slammed on his chest, he must have raised his head in heaven—all the heavenly hosts silent (for what could the angels say?)—and looked his Father in the eye. Then, the heavenly silence broken, he must have seen the Father’s smile, felt the Father’s wide hand, and heard the Father exclaim,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!”
And like the end of the symphony only multiplied a million times over, there was utter silence for a few seconds, and then in unison heaven exploded into thunderous applause, which has lasted even until this very day.
Jesus our example endured the cross, despising the shame. He did it because he steadfastly refused to believe in any other voice than the Father’s. If Jesus needed to rely on God’s Word, then how much more do you? In this world, you will have suffering. That’s pretty much a fact of life. It’s what you do with the suffering that counts. And there is nothing more important than hearing, listening, and believing in the Word of God.
In his epic novel, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis pens the advice from one senior demon to his younger student. The human “host” hadn’t heard the voice of God for a while, and he was tempted to believe God was not there or at least he wasn’t listening. The elder demon’s advice was, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[i]
It is essential during suffering to spend time in God’s Word and ask him to deliver specific Bible texts you can hold onto through the difficult time. Once you find those, make copies and put reminders everywhere. You will need them. Then, get one-on-one with God and ask him for some words of encouragement from his throne.
Learning to hear God’s voice is a process, but it’s something you can learn to do—like learning French. When you listen to the voice of God, more times than not, he will give you something to hold onto—and very often it links directly to the Bible texts he has already shown you.
Neil Anderson tells us, “We take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. We are not called to dispel the darkness—we are called to turn on the light.”[ii]
I don’t know why it works this way, but one of the main results of suffering is a closer walk with God. We just tend to hold fast to him when things get tough. A lot of voices are out there—friends’, family’s, the enemy’s, and yours. None of them can be completely trusted. But you can trust God’s voice. That’s why drawing near to God during this time is so very important.
I can attest to that fact through my own suffering. My family and I have been going through a particularly rough financial time over the last year. It has been tough sledding. And while nothing has changed in our financial condition, a lot has changed inside my heart and inside my wife’s heart.
Last year at this time, I ran and managed up to seven different businesses. The income was incredible, and I was able to use that income to help a lot of good causes. However, over the last year, and by God’s specific leading, I shut down three business ventures entirely to make room for writing this book and for speaking on the topic of being a warrior for Christ. That decision was met with significant financial loss. To put it bluntly, my income was cut to about a fifth of what it was last year.
That hurt. That hurt a lot.
So for the last year, my family and I have been living week-by-week and waiting for God to provide. It has been one of the most difficult times of my life, but the results have been worth it.
I used to stay awake at all hours of the night worrying about money, bills, and taxes. My wife used to “mentally pack the house up and move to an apartment.” I am glad to say that after a year, we are both sleeping better and we’re not worried about money as much anymore. The situation didn’t change—we changed. God skillfully used this situation to weave a deep and abiding trust in his heart and in his provision. I can honestly say I never wanted this kind of suffering, but I am truly thankful for it.
My recovery started with God’s Word. One day, during a hike, I was pouring my heart out to God. Between you and me, I was angry. The money was gone, and I was pouting like a three-year-old. It was right then God, in his still small voice, said,
I will take care of you.
I honestly thought I was making things up to feel better, a sort of spiritual head trip. That’s when I asked God for some specific verses to back up his promise. The following words popped out of the pages of my Bible: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:11).
I asked, “When, Lord? I know you will come through, but when?” I flipped through some more of my Bible and these words popped off the page: “I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22).
Another day, I was praying on the beach. I asked God again if he was really going to take care of us. He said,
I will take care of you. Love provides.
Another day, he took me to the passage in Genesis 22 that tells the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac—the first place God calls himself, “Yahweh Jireh,” The Lord Who Provides.
All I can say is this: the evidence of God keeping his promise has been overwhelming. I am not exaggerating when I say several times we were simply out of money. I figured we would need a sizeable loan or to sell our house or to move to a different city.
And yet, every time, when just on the edge of despair, God came through.
Sometimes it was a paid speaking event that came out of the blue. Other times it was a past due check that came right in the nick of time. Sometimes, well sometimes, the money just appeared. It occurred so often and so timely I started taking pictures of the checks and filing them in a folder called, “Crazy Things God Did.”
How in heaven’s name could anyone invent what has happened to us? Hollywood can’t write stories better than this. We have literally experienced wave after wave of “just-in-time blessing” greater in magnitude than any “head trip” could ever produce. It’s been almost a year, and we still have not missed a bill. It’s been touch and go for sure. Not everything got paid on time, and we have had to clamp down on our spending. But, even with all that, we have still been able to give generously. We still buy the more expensive organic food and all natural milk for our family. We still have a date night every week or so. And I still get to make a batch of home brewed beer and watch UFC every once in a while too.
During this difficult time, I battled accusation over my sin. I battled former business partners for monies due me. I battled health attacks on my family. I battled attacks against my character. And I battled discouragement. I have failed many times, but more times than not, I have simply rested on that simple promise:
I will take care of you.
And that’s because when God says he is going to do something, he does it. Period. His word is sure. He doesn’t change his mind, and he doesn’t go on vacation. There is nothing (and I mean nothing) like the Word of God to get you through suffering. And what was true for Christ is doubly true for you and me.
There are times, to be sure, when it seems like God is all but gone. He does that on purpose, you know. He uses suffering to strengthen our faith in his promises. When we choose to obey him in suffering, even when it feels like he is long gone, the enemy will be defeated and we will win.
[i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: Time Incorporated, 1963), 40.
[ii] Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2006), 121.
Joy in Suffering? Possible? (Part III)
The Enemy’s Lies and God’s Silence
Face it. You are not perfect. And this is where suffering can get sticky. We know Jesus’ suffering was undeserved. We know he was perfect, sinless, and spotless. And we know immediately he was right, and they were wrong.
Our suffering, however, is not so clear-cut.
That’s because deep down inside we know we are sinners, and because of that, there is a part of us that secretly thinks we deserve to suffer. But don’t you believe that for a minute. One of the chief tactics the devil uses to keep us from breakthrough is to whisper in our ears that suffering is the result of our sin—and we deserve what is coming to us.
It’s a lie.
The truth is you are indeed a sinner. But the cross of Christ canceled all that along with any claim the devil has on you. Listen carefully to what Paul says: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:13–15).
Paul makes this point quite clear: the devil has no claim on you. When you come to Christ, he forgives you, and when he does, any claim the evil one has over you is officially broken and disarmed. Your sin has been canceled. It was nailed to the cross 2,000 years ago, and God has forgotten it completely. It is totally true, even as much as it is totally hard to believe. That’s why it is helpful to claim your freedom out loud.
When you are tempted to blame yourself for your suffering, say this: “I have been set free by the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Any claim against me has been canceled, broken, and disarmed.”[i]
Say it over and over again. Say it today, tonight, and tomorrow morning. Say it until you believe it. That is precisely because, at first, you will instinctively refuse to believe it. Then, you will start to get a glimmer of hope. Eventually it will stick. And that’s when the enemy will flee. He will run because you displaced him with something greater. In other words, you have gained the ground.
Another lie the enemy whispers into your ear is that God is a long way off, and, to be clear, he is not all that interested in your petty little problems. We readily believe this lie based on the clear fact that, first, we have been praying, and second, we have not had an answer to our prayer. This lie is particularly insidious because it carefully matches all of the evidence. When you are tempted to believe that God is far off, go right to His Word and grab a hold of it like a life raft.
Try praying the Psalms—they are so honest. For example, read the end of Psalm 44.
Let’s put this Psalm into a modern context to see how different Bible-praying is from our praying. Imagine you are at church this next Sunday morning. You’ve just finished singing all four verses of “How Great Thou Art” when the pastor stands up and asks everyone to bow their heads. Then, to your shock and amazement, he looks up into heaven and screams, “What the heck God! Wake up! We have been worshipping here for about thirty minutes, and now we can’t even tell you are here. Are you sleeping or something?”
If ever a pastor had the guts to pray like that, the sound guy would immediately turn his microphone off and the deacons would drag him off the stage.
Needless to say, Psalm 44 is a long way off from the prayers we often hear,
Listen, as of the twenty-first century, the word “art” is a noun.
Seriously, can you believe God allowed Psalm 44 to make it into the Bible? Frankly, if I were God, the Bible would have about twenty fewer Psalms in it. The point, of course, is that he is God; he has left that Psalm right where it is … and I am pretty sure he’s planning on keeping it there.
So, let me clear the air right now. Does God sleep? No, in fact in another Psalm God clearly says, “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). So then, why is there a prayer where someone asks God to wake up? It sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?
The Psalm is there for two reasons.
First, it is there because when we endure suffering, we are often tempted to believe the lie that God is far away, asleep, or just not listening. That’s because we expect him to show up on our timetable, and he is quite content to show up on his timetable. The feeling of his absence leads us to believe he’s not there at all—or perhaps he has better things to do than to help us out.
Second, the Psalm is there because it is 100 percent acceptable to tell God exactly how you feel. Think about it. He knows you are suffering. He knows you are upset. And he knows you’re secretly blaming him for all of your problems. So, you might as well go ahead and tell him. This kind of honest praying gets through. I have no idea why this works so well, but it does. Just tell God your problems; tell him about your cares; and tell him you’re upset because you feel like he went on vacation. If you feel guilty about sharing your pain with God, then use the Psalms. He wrote them, so use them. When you pray like that, God will listen. And even better, when you pray like that, he will change your heart.
Jesus himself was not immune to unanswered prayer. At times Jesus asked for something, and the Father said no. Worse, there were times Jesus asked for something, and the Father simply said nothing. Can you imagine the pain Christ must have felt when the Father remained stoically silent? Here was a man who, for most of his human life, experienced unbroken communion with God the Father. Then, he came to ask for a simple request and heard nothing except the faint sound of crickets chirping.
Luke tells us the story, “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:41–44).
Jesus prayed so hard blood, instead of sweat, came out of his pores. He pleaded, and begged, and cried. What was the Father’s answer?
It must have broken Jesus’ heart.
This from Frederick Buechner:
The Father’s silence in the garden may be the most shocking story in all of the Scriptures—more scandalous even then the death of God on the cross. We find our answer to God’s apparent silence as we sit with Jesus in the garden. But to truly understand the nature of God’s silence to our prayers, we must first really and truly believe that Jesus was a man, all man—100 percent human, flesh, bone, emotions, and foibles, right down to the time he accidentally left his zipper down. Once we see him as a man, we then can join him in the garden as he cried, grunted, and screamed to a God who simply seems as if he is sound asleep.
When you experience the silence of God coupled with the lies of the enemy, you have one choice and one choice only. It’s the same choice Jacob made in the goat pasture. It’s the same choice Joseph made in the jail filth. It’s the same decision David made in the cave. And it’s the same choice Jesus made in the garden.
You must choose to get up, brush yourself off, and get back into the fight. The entire battle is won when you reject the lie that God is far off and embrace the truth that he is near. The victory comes when you toss every shred of external evidence and choose instead to believe God cares deeply, passionately, and vehemently about every aspect of your suffering.
The following exercise has proven quite helpful for me. Try this, especially when you are discouraged. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Find somewhere quiet, and turn off your phone, radio, and TV. Then, simply pray this one question out loud:
Then, just listen. Whatever comes to your mind, write it down. Don’t edit your answers and don’t try to understand them. Write down whatever you hear, see, sense, or feel. Just write it down.
Once you have done that, simply pray this (out loud):
Keep doing that until the list is complete. You will feel silly. You will feel foolish. And you will feel like it’s not working. That is from the enemy so reject that as well.
Then, ask God this question out loud:
Same drill. Write down everything you hear, see, sense, or feel … no matter how strange or silly. Don’t make any interpretations or judgments (at least not yet). Then simply say:
What you believe about God will affect what you believe about … everything. Once you get clear about God, you will get clear about yourself.
The first time I asked God what lies I was believing about him, here is what I heard:
When I asked God what was true, here is what I heard:
Oh, he is good. He is good indeed.
Victory over suffering often comes hand-in-hand with victory over your beliefs. The lies of the enemy when coupled with the silence of God have been enough to bring many a saint to the end of their faith. Don’t let that happen to you. Do what Jesus did and reject every lie, especially when it feels like God is far off. Then, once you have done that, go to his Word for something good.
[i] There is a very helpful “Daily Prayer” that has a longer version of this line. It is available at: http://www.ransomedheart.com/sites/default/files/assets/prayers/daily_prayer_script.pdf (or just search for “Ransomed Heart Daily Prayer”).
[ii] John Eldredge, Walking with God (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 100.
[iii] Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, 38–39.
[iv] Richard Foster, Prayer (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2008), 49.
Joy in Suffering? You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me (Pt. 2)
Control What You Can Control
Jesus’ composure under stress was breathtaking. He was whipped, beaten, harassed, ridiculed, nailed to a cross, and left for hours to either bleed or suffocate to death. Through it all, he didn’t miss one word and he never got upset. Jesus endured his suffering for the most part, silently. Compare his composure to that of his enemies. They endured no suffering, yet they made absolute fools of themselves.
To really understand the surprising self-control of the Suffering Servant, you must first use your imagination and place yourself in the story. Far too often, our Bible reading is quick and cursory, and by virtue of that, we fail to grasp the details. Think of it this way. When we read our Bibles like a trip through the multiplex movie theater, spending five minutes in each movie, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t know the details. So, for a moment, let’s use our imagination and experience Christ’s suffering from his point of view.
This first vignette comes from Luke: “Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him” (Luke 22:63–65).
Now, take a moment to absorb this: the men punched God in the face, and he did … nothing. Seriously, have you ever been punched in the face? I have. Do you know what happens when you get punched in the face? You go wild. I am not kidding. The second that jab lands on your chin, emotion takes over and you become a crazed lunatic. Our very instincts demand us to react like that—it’s that whole fight-or-flight thing.
Now imagine for a moment you are the Son of God. The temple guard blindfolds you and starts pounding on your face. You feel your nose break and blood drip down your throat. In your all-knowing mind, you go back twenty years to see the guard as a child. You witness him stealing money from his mom’s purse. Then you fast forward to this afternoon where you earlier had seen him looking lustfully at the local Jerusalem wench.
Wouldn’t it be tempting to drop those two tasty tidbits on him?
Hit me again, Johnny Lebowitz, and I’ll tell your mom you stole her money, and I’ll tell your wife you’re in love with the town whore.
It would be so good.
And yet Jesus kept his mouth completely shut.
Here is another scene—this one from Mark. Again, place yourself in the story:
Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. (Mark 14:55–59)
The scene is ridiculous. By Jewish law, at least two witnesses were required to deliver flawless accounts in order for a defendant to be rightfully prosecuted. Instead, the Jewish leaders invented this entire story. And even though they practiced their lines over and over again, the witnesses still got it wrong. No one could agree on what happened in their little made-up accounts.
Imagine once again you are Jesus. In your mind’s eye, you witness the meeting three weeks ago where the Jewish leaders paid two village idiots ten shekels apiece for their made-up story. Wouldn’t it be tempting to jump in and say,
Hey, Yusef, I hope that ten shekel Happy Meal was worth it. You still can’t seem to get this story right. Maybe you should have paid closer attention in Mrs. Rosenberg’s 9th grade Hebrew class!
That alone would have dropped them to their knees. And yet Jesus kept his mouth completely shut. That’s because Jesus understood his place in the battle. He knew, at least for the next twenty-four hours, vengeance was decidedly not his. He knew he could only control what he could control—namely his reaction to the situation.
The same is true for you and me.
You see, just like Christ’s, your suffering often comes at the hands of evil men. Here are a few examples of real-life events I have either seen or heard.
Your boss constantly talks bad about you behind your back. So far, she has purposefully sidetracked two raises. That’s because she doesn’t like you. First, you are a threat to her job because you are better at it than she is. Second, you are a Christian. And she hates Christians. You have the goods on her, and you know you could take it to the head office. You choose, instead, to forgive her (and to keep forgiving her). You choose to give it to God. And you choose to let it go.
Your co-worker suddenly turns against you. He used to be your ally and now he hates your guts. To make matters worse, he owes you more than three thousand dollars. You know you could take him to court and win. You also know you could easily smear his public reputation. Both of those would be perfectly justified. You choose, instead, to forgive him (and to keep forgiving him). You choose to give it to God. And you choose to let it go.
Your mother-in-law always has you on pins and needles. Every time she comes to visit, she takes every opportunity to compare you to your in-laws. She offers a steady stream of unwelcome and unhelpful suggestions about the way you raise her grand-kids. Worse, you know for a fact she talks bad about your parenting decisions to the other members of the family. Basically, you want to pop her in the eye. Instead, you choose to see her as a broken woman in need of the love of Christ. So for her, you become the love of Christ. It is done with much difficulty, but you love her nonetheless. You choose to forgive her (and to keep forgiving her). You choose to give it to God. And you choose (for the hundredth time) to let it go.
Incidentally, the same kind of betrayal happened to just about all the famous Bible characters. Here are a couple of examples.
Jacob’s uncle Laban tried to cheat him out of about everything he rightfully earned. He even switched wives on Jacob just before the wedding vows. (Now that was cold.)
Joseph’s brothers planned to kill him, but instead they made a few bucks by selling him as a slave. Potiphar’s wife planned on having sex with him but instead had him thrown in jail on trumped-up charges. The king’s cupbearer planned on helping Joseph get out of jail, but instead he forgot and enjoyed another drink with Pharaoh.
And David, well, you know his story. He planned on being king. Heck, he even slayed a giant when most adolescents were home playing Angry Birds. Instead, David spent much of his young life running, ducking, and hiding in caves to keep from being killed by Saul.
Like Christ, they did not entrust themselves to man. They simply kept their eyes on the goal and stayed close to the Father who promised, “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 2:20).
Sure, at times you must fight. At times you should speak out against your boss, confront your mother-in-law, and take someone to court. But more times than not, the victory that comes through suffering is a victory best endured silently.
Know this, as long you endure as God would have you endure, you will win in the end. God will come through, and when he does, it will be awesome.
Just look at history.
Jacob became one of the richest men on earth and the father of nations. Joseph became second in command of all of Egypt and saved an entire generation of Israelites. David became king.
And Jesus won “an inheritance of nations.”
But before any of that occurred, they all simply controlled what they could control—their reaction to their situation.
Similarly, when you are going through suffering, the first thing you must do is to simply control your reaction to the situation. More times than not, your best reaction will be total silence. You simply turn it all over to God and let him do the rest. In the midst of the whirlwind of sickness, loss, financial strain, and broken relationships, this is often the only thing you can control. And this is the first step toward victory.
The second step is to reject the enemy’s lies and fight through the silence of God and we will cover that in Part III of this series (coming soon!).
Joy in Suffering? You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me (Pt. 1)
Do you want to know the number one lie in the airline industry? I will give you a hint. It’s not gas prices, arrival times, or where your luggage ended up. It’s not why its twenty-five dollars to check a bag or fifty dollars for “more legroom.”
The biggest lie in the airline industry has gone completely unnoticed, but I’ll bet you’ve heard it a thousand times.
Here it goes:
It’s total baloney. And here’s why. If safety were actually their number one priority, then why in heaven’s name are they shoving 220 of us into a steel tube, surrounded by gas and oil, then light a match on the ignition and fly up to 36,000 feet and 500 miles per hour?
That doesn’t sound safe, does it?
If I had to bet, safety would probably come around number three or four on the priority list. First would be mission accomplishment—getting you there. Second would be profit. Third would be customer satisfaction. Then safety,fourth.
I would pay money to hear this broadcasted over the loud speaker of a Boeing 737: “(Un-naturally deep and raspy voice) Ahhhhhhhhhhhh … Hello, ladies and gentleman, I am Captain Mumble-Mouth, and this is First Officer Lands-Too-Hard. We want to welcome you to flight 342 with nonstop service to Atlanta. And as a reminder, here at Delta, Safety is probably our third or fourth concern. Seriously, it’s way down the list. So buckle in and enjoy your short flight.”
To be fair, airlines are not the only ones who fake it when it comes to their missions. Have you seen any military recruiting commercials lately? Think about this. The military wants recruits to donate their time (and maybe their lives) to the cause of freedom. They want them to spend several years in a foxhole or in Afghanistan, or both. And they want them to be away from their families for six to nine months at a time.
Here is how they do it.
(As an aside, this last one is particularly insidious. That’s because it’s from the Navy. It should actually sound like this: “Come float on the ocean alone for nine months, get seasick, and paint our ships for eight hours a day!”)
I am thankful the Marine Corps has pretty much stuck to their guns:
(I am so biased.)
Just like Delta, the military cloaks the real issue. Real battles are fought with real guns and real bullets. People really shoot at you, and people really die. It occurs every day, and you better get used to it because in the military safety isn’t anywhere close to the number one priority.
The good news is, unlike the airlines or the military, God is 100 percent unambiguous when it comes to his warrior recruiting slogans. His reads like this: “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3 NLT).
That’s it. No money for college. No G.I. Bill. The call of a Christian warrior involves suffering, and there is nothing you can do about it. Yet every single day, brave men and women enlist in Christ’s army, and many lose their lives in the fight. Why? What could possibly be so appealing that literally millions have answered this call?
Well, the answer is twofold: Christ is the best Commander to fight for, and this war is the only place where you are guaranteed a win.
Even though the battle is fierce and lives are at risk, we know we have, as Hebrews tells us, “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14). He has endured and he has prevailed. And so when it comes right down to it, nothing can beat us. We will win. That is a given. And so the only thing the enemy can really do is harass and slow us down.
Paul confidently tells us we will win, even in the midst of suffering: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39).
In the meantime, the recruiting slogan still holds true. If you are going to serve the cause of Christ, you are going to suffer. I hate to put it that way, but the Bible treats suffering as a fact of life. It is going to occur whether you like it or not. In fact, it’s actually a part of your training.
But whatever you do, do not skip this section (I know it’s tempting). After all, who wants to talk about pain and misery? Heck, I didn’t even want to write this section because to ethically write about something means you need to have lived it.
Even though I am going to be talking about a somewhat negative subject, believe-you-me it has quite a happy ending. That’s because Christian suffering is not permanent. Suffering is never, and I mean never, supposed to be an unending state for a Christian. It is a temporary means to a permanent end. Now I know at times suffering may feel permanent. But sooner or later, in this life or in the next, you will get your breakthrough. You will get your victory. And as the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, the breakthroughs will come more here on earth than in heaven too.
That is really good news.
So now that you know Christ’s recruiting slogan and now that you have enlisted in Christ’s army, let’s together learn more about suffering so we can get past it and onto victory.
As usual, we will look at the life of Christ as our example in battle. Having unpacked the warrior themes in all four Gospels, we now turn our attention to the one event all four Gospels highlight as the great climax of their respective stories: the death of Christ.
When we look at the suffering of Christ, we see there are several keys for enduring suffering as a good soldier.
We’ll cover them in the next few posts…
[i] Steven DeSilva, Money and the Prosperous Soul (St Royal Oak, MI: Chosen Books, 2010), 48.