Suffering

Different on Purpose

This outline continues a series preached in 2002. However, since my original outline for 1 Peter 1:13-16 is missing, the following is new.

Introduction

What do you say to people who are suffering? More to the point for us, what do believers say to believers who are suffering?

It’s fascinating to me what Peter communicates to the suffering believers who were the original audience for the epistle we call 1 Peter. Though their suffering was apparently of the persecution variety, Peter puts his message in terms that speak to the heart-need of the Christian experiencing any kind of serious difficulty.

What the suffering saint needs to hear is what we find in this epistle—and what we find is a bit surprising. Peter reminds the believers of who they are in this world (displaced but God-beloved strangers) and who they are in Christ (reborn heirs of a salvation so great even angels wish they knew more about it).

But then Peter burdens these struggling recipients of grace with a solemn three-fold responsibility. He commends them to firmly embrace something, to reject something, and to pursue something. To look at it another way, the Scriptures here command us to think differently, desire differently, and do differently.

Note the word “therefore” at the beginning of 1:13. The responsibilities that follow are being revealed because of the privileges already revealed in the preceding verses.

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Keep Going - 1 Peter 1:5-9

This outline continues a series preached in 2002. For the curious, these outlines don’t look much like what I actually took to the pulpit. Those notes were color coded and heavily abbreviated, usually fitting on roughly one side of a single letter-sized sheet of paper. I often found that my desire to communicate with the people in the room made it difficult to actually read complex sentences. If I was going to speak extemporaneously, the notes had to be of the sort I could take in with quick glances. Of course, if you preach the text, you always have most of your structure and content right there.

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Sinful Fear, Corrective Comfort

The congregation kept singing, but I couldn’t. I just stood there alone in my row and shook with sobs I could only barely keep from being audible. I was alone because my family had stayed home that Sunday fighting head colds. I was sobbing because truth was hitting me in a very sensitive, yet very hungry, place. Fear can be a sin, and if we’ve been committing that sin in a big way, the moments that bring us to awareness tend also to be moments of overwhelming comfort. The conviction-comfort combo can just about knock you down.

At the time, I was a good five months into the most painful and terrifying period of my life (so far). Painful because, among other reasons, I was walking away not only from the pastorate I’d held for thirteen years but also from pastoral ministry in general (for the foreseeable future). Terrifying because time was running out on the (very generous!) severance pay and housing, and months of job-hunting and literally hundreds of job applications had produced no good leads. The job openings I was finding were mostly inadequate to provide what I knew we’d need for rent. But even these low-wage opportunities were failing to reach the interview stage.

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Book Review - Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

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Timothy Keller wades into the depths of the human experience with Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. It’s a book that “take[s] life seriously … [and] want[s] to help readers live life well and even joyfully against the background of these terrible realities [of pain and suffering]” (p. 3). He does this by pointing out that Jesus Himself experienced suffering and pain. He shows how other worldviews attempt to address the concepts of pain and suffering but are bankrupt.

Suffering refines us

Walking with God is a full blown treatment of pain and suffering. There are some excellent books that tackle the philosophical questions, the theological foundations, and the devotional approach, but very few do all of these well within a framework the average person could find useful. Keller has combined all of these into a single volume. He doesn’t side step the tough questions. He doesn’t avoid the hard passages. He doesn’t sugar coat suffering. He drops his head, squares his shoulders, and runs straight for them. Central to holding these approaches together is the image of “fiery furnace”—seeing suffering as something we all experience and which, from the biblical perspective, refines us. Keller says it does so because Jesus suffers. He is our trailblazer even in this regard. “In Jesus Christ we see that God actually experiences the pain of the fire as we do. He truly is God with us, in love and understanding, in our anguish” (p. 10).

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The Limits of Outrage

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Sep/Oct 2013.

Recently I read a blog post written by a conservative political columnist and radio host for whom I have mixed feelings. Even though I find that I agree with many of his political views, I find his tone and style of politics not to be my particular style. Still, he’s a gifted writer and this time he shared something I think Christians need to hear. His point is that while he cares about politics and advocates for his point of view, outrage is not all there is to life.

This columnist wrote:

I’m sorry, but I can’t live my life constantly fixated on the political outrage of the day and I can’t be outraged about every…thing under the sun. I go out with friends and talk about stuff other than politics, I play with my kids, I love my wife, I cook gumbo and make fantastic ice cream, I watch a bit of TV, don’t read as much as I should, I go to church, and I try to focus on the good in a world filled with sin and bad and evil.*

There is such an important message here for Christians. A message for me, particularly. While it is good and right to be outraged at injustice in the world, we can’t live on outrage. While it is good and right to roll up our sleeves and make a difference in the world by our lives and our actions, we can’t live on activism. You see, the narrative of the Scriptures is not just about what’s right and what’s wrong in the world and in our own hearts. The grand story is that there is good news available.

God didn’t ignore the evil that the Fall produced by sin. He spoke by the entrance of His Son, Jesus, into the world (Hebrews 1:2). When Jesus cried those anguished three words on the cross, “It is finished,” it signaled the beginning of the end. The power of sin and death, which so strangles the human soul, which ravages the planet, which obscures the glory and grandeur of our great God—this has been defeated, and like a helium balloon, is dying a slow death. Evil, my friends, is not winning.

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