Suffering Sucks: Only God Can Turn Adversity Into Advantage
Many of you have followed my family in our “recently-made-public” struggle with some major health challenges.
I’d like to tell you that suffering somehow improved my piety, it didn’t, it just pissed me off. I carried a hidden grudge toward God for a long time (past tense). I probably sound selfish, but I feel good about being honest.
I’ve let most of the pain go. I’ve come to understand that blaming, shaming, and scapegoating are a way of discharging pain. It’s basic human psychology.
I’ve let my grudge go. Yes, I’ve asked God for forgiveness. I never really believed that God was somehow incensed by my paltry anger anyway.
Quite the contrary, I’ve come to understand that He understands suffering like no other.
I recently reread how God had repented or relented after Moses prayer recorded in Exodus 32:14 (based on which translation you prefer).
Maybe you weren’t aware of that?
There are many verses of text in scripture that can throw your sense of theological certainty into the murky paradox of living by faith.
Let’s move forward fifteen hundred years from the death of Moses to the life of Jesus. Studying the life of Christ has been one of the few things that has helped me to cope with overwhelming levels of stress, fatigue, and grief I’ve struggled with over the last few years. Seeing your wife on the edge of death over and over again will do that to you.
The suffering of Christ proved to me that God isn’t indifferent.
Seeing the suffering of Christ and reading about His angst ridden plea to the Father in Garden of Gethsemane reminded me that God understood suffering.
Suffering is unavoidable. Everyone will encounter suffering. Jesus struggled with it and taught us how to endure it. The Good News is the resurrection of Christ showing us the path to transcending our suffering.
Like I said earlier, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that God isn’t indifferent to human suffering.
Even when people accuse you of having unforgiveness in your heart, or hidden sin, the grace of God shows up in some unusual ways.
Suffering can be your teacher, if you’re humble enough to be its student.
•I’ve learned more about compassion and empathy.
•I’ve learned more about the nature and character of God.
•I’ve learned how little I actually know about God.
•I’ve learned how ugly my false piety made me.
•I’ve learned that I am rather judgmental.
Like Jacob, I’ve wrestled with God. Suffering taught me that God was holding me back from walking into the dangerous territory of depression, complicated grief, and post-traumatic stress. Wrestling was actually restraint. God was restraining me and retraining me.
I now understand it to be an unusual manifestation of His grace. Now I can honestly say that I walk so close to my Savior that I am now covered in the dust from my Rabbi’s feet.
God bless you.
A Dusty Disciple,
Pastor Jeremy E.
A few thoughts on Spiritual Leadership:
If you want to challenge the status quo, then ask a question rather than making an accusation.
1. A great question inspires dialogue by valuing everyone’s input. You can have agreement even while arguing, because people know they’re thoughts are valid and their opinions are valued. Asking a question creates a culture open to change, and responsive to being challenged. It doesn’t take criticism as a personal knock, but rather sees opportunity knocking on its front door.
2. People tend to resist any statement that sounds like an indictment or an accusation, especially if they’re in leadership. Questions are better than accusations. People won’t be defensive or on the offensive if you challenge them by asking a question.
Here’s an example:
Wrong Way: “That preaching sucks, we need a better teacher of the Word, someone who will teach the Bible the right way (my way).”
A Better Way: “I love their passion for that text, but six weeks on that chapter is feeling a little redundant. Maybe we should ask the preacher about teaching from another area of scripture! Let’s take them out for coffee and ask them how their life is, I bet that would be a blessing to them!”
People usually respond well to genuinely skilled spiritual leadership.
The best leaders aren’t always in a visible position of authority, but they can influence the masses because of their humility and integrity.
Pastor Jeremy E.
Is It Wise To Judge Others?
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”James 1:5 ESV
Have you ever made a silent judgement about someone that resulted in you treating that person differently?
It’s not an easy thing to admit. I’ve done it. Almost every time I can recall making a judgement about someone or a situation they were in, I was wrong. I was wrong because I didn’t have all the facts, nor did I take the time to understand their journey.
What’s worse, is that I’d even talk about them behind their back, without even taking the time to pray. Does that make me a hypocrite?
Is suppose it does.
Many of us spend more time polishing our halos than we do on our knees in prayer. Maybe I am generalizing, but I don’t think that I am to far from the truth.
None of this is about making accusations, it’s about being honest. I am glad that James 1:5 talks about asking God for wisdom. I need the wisdom of God to influence me to pray more intelligently for others without the judgement attached to it.
I seldom understand what’s going on in someone’s life until I take the time to come alongside of them in a supportive manner. If someone lets you into their life, treat it as a sacred privilege, not an opportunity to get the goods so you can gossip (i.e. start a prayer chain).
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?” Matthew 7:1-4 ESV
Be blessed my beloved friends.
Pastor Jeremy E.
One of the biggest gripes I hear from atheists, agnostics, and everyone in between towards Christians is that our walk and our talk don’t tell them same story. They have the integrity to call out the inconsistency in our lives that is obvious to them, but oblivious to us.
We really should stick to watching our own bobbers, so to speak. Insight and self-awareness are something we should mutually strive for.
I usually don’t give too much time or attention to the opinions of those whom I don’t know, but I think it’s worth paying attention to.
I know that I can be inconsistent in my faith. For example, my relationship with God can often be more intellectual than intimate. My love for people can grow cold. I can be incredibly selfish.
I’ve pointed these facts out to people who don’t believe in God like I do, they appreciate the honesty, but seldom have I seen them acknowledge their own inconsistency.
Maybe that’s not even the point?
Maybe it’s an opportunity to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. I want to follow the example of Christ in all I think, say, and do. I’m not performing for their approval, nor am I people pleasing. My only desire is to live consistently so I can be a shining example of living free to those who are still bound.
Pastor Jeremy E.
Blogging on the Road...
I have a thoughts spinning around in the foggy electron-cloud called my consciousness this evening.
I’ve noticed an increasing trend over the last few years of believers who once had a simple and compelling faith falling into a dystopian view of God and those who follow Christ.
I understand and accept that spiritual formation involves seasons of deconstructing ideas and doctrines that come into contradiction with changes in how we think about life, God, and our faith. Unfortunately, we often overestimate the profundity of our deconstructive prowess. It can turn an even uglier corner when we no longer limit ourselves to deconstructing ideas, but now we go after people.
If we cannot eradicate an idea, we go after those who endorse or defend the idea instead. Pretty gross, right?
We’ve all got grass stains on our knees and dirt under our fingernails on that one. None of us are innocent.
Many folks seem to define themselves by what they’re against rather than what they truly stand for. They never get around to explaining why they believe what they believe because they’ve become so defensive.
It doesn’t help when people use the most inflammatory rhetoric possible to simple provoke the ire of those whom espouse a theology they now reject.
I’ve known many provocateurs in my life and ministry. I think they mean well, but they end up looking more like schoolyard bullies.
Showing grace and theological hospitality sometimes feels like lost art, but hopefully we’ll find a way to communicate that’s kind and respectful.
Pastor Jeremy E.
I enjoy theological debate, but I always insist on being respectful and making it known that I am not always right.
Here are a few thoughts in rebuttal to a Facebook post my beloved friend Bill W. of a quote from J.I Packer's book titled, Knowing God.
J.I. Packer in "Knowing God" states…
J.I. Packer states: “Power is as much God's essence as wisdom is.”
My Response: The Greeks would love this description of God, I don’t disagree with this statement but He is also defined by loved (1 John 4:16).
J.I. Packer states: “Omniscience governing omnipotence, infinite power ruled by infinite wisdom, is a basic biblical description of the divine character.”
My Response: Yes, I’d agree, but a scriptural proof text would be very helpful…we mustn’t forget that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of all humanity, He is a Jewish Rabbi, not a Greek Philosopher. It’s dangerous to reduce the character of God to a Greek inspired definition that was also used to describe the character of the mythological god Zeus. Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I do care deeply about this subject. Debate stimulates theological inquiry, or the Bible states, “Iron sharpens iron.”
J.I. Packer states: “Wisdom without power would be pathetic, a broken reed; power without wisdom would be merely frightening; but in God boundless wisdom and endless power are united, and this makes him utterly worthy of our fullest trust.”
My Response: 1 Corinthians 1:24 rings true. The power of God is always rooted in his wisdom, but it also never operates apart from His great love. A great syncretistic definition of wisdom and power for a theologian in the hallowed halls of academia, but it makes God virtually inaccessible to the laymen who simply needs know that God is trustworthy. Christ shows us how trustworthy God is. I agree with the statement, but it requires we be the visible evidence to the weary Christian and the unbeliever alike, demonstrating that God is utterly trustworthy and the only source of true life in this broken-down world.
J.I. Packer states: “God's almighty wisdom is always active, and never fails.”
My Response: Yes! What is lacking is our willingness to look through the eyes of faith to see the wisdom of God playing out in our lives and the circumstances of others. We have to trust God that He will accomplish something truly miraculous in our lives. We don’t always get what we want in prayer, but we are always led to what we need. I see that as the wisdom of God.
J.I. Packer states: “All his works of creation and providence and grace display it, and until we can see it in them we just are not seeing them straight.”
My Response: Many things can distort the clarity of seeing God and our lives through the clear lens of faith (and scripture). Whether we’re believing a lie about God, living in the delusion of sin, or justifying a way of thinking/living that the Bible clearly says will destroy us…we have a promise from God that grace, not judgement will abound to us in greater measure. That’s not to say we deliberately sin to test the limits of His grace, which would obviously be unwise, if not foolish.
J.I. Packer states: “But we cannot recognize God's wisdom unless we know the end for which he is working. Here many go wrong. Misunderstanding what the Bible means when it says that God is love, they think that God intends a trouble-free life for all, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, and hence they conclude that anything painful and upsetting (illness, accident, injury, loss of job, the suffering of a loved one) indicates either that God's wisdom, or power, or both, have broken down, or that God, after all, does not exist.”
My Response: I could not agree more. The Incarnation of God the Father, in Christ the Son is evidence that God isn’t indifferent to the plight of humanity. He clothed himself in flesh and took on our distress. There will always be debate about what God causes versus what God allows, but understanding that He is love and that His interaction with humanity is motivated by the logic, or the wisdom of His love immediately redeems any distorted ideas we’d be tempted to think about Him. Especially any theology that further maligns His character or diminishes His love.
J.I. Packer states: “But this idea of God's intention is a complete mistake: God's wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable."
My Response: The irony of this statement is the godless are quite comfortable, whether it’s in their sin, or their academic sanctuaries where their ego is enshrined like royalty sitting on a throne. God really does offer us comfort in our distress, but He doesn’t always make us feel comfortable, after all the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus as the Comforter…so let’s not be hasty in our conclusions about the comfort God desires to bring to His people. God has intervened in the lives of people who were not technically following Him, but because of God’s providential, or divine intervention, they saw the loving intention of God in His actions. That has led many to believing in Him through Christ Jesus alone.
A few thoughts to ponder while you enjoy a cup of coffee.
Much love to you all.
Pastor Jeremy Evans
by Jeremy Evans
An excerpt from my upcoming book..
Truth brings us into a state of clarity, while the duty of a lie is to birth confusion and double mindedness. Truth is the antidote.
Remember, God never promised us a life free of pain or suffering. But he did promise to bring healing if we experience it! The existence of pain and suffering doesn't diminish the love of God nor does it call into question the depth of his intention in loving us. When we experience pain, it only triggers his grace to flood our lives with divine resources. This really frustrates the enemy in his mission to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
Grace frustrates every attack of the enemy by converting it into a blessing.
Satanic strategies only play into the Holy Spirit's Master Strategy to enhance our lives in Christ! In other words, everything the devil meant for our destruction the Holy Spirit uses for our divine reconstruction. With God on our side, Satan the deceiver, the destroyer, isn't really powerful enough to be our adversary.
It's all Good News.
Everything, every circumstance, and every trial is in already in Christ. The Holy Spirit is always on standby with God-breathed solutions to the problems you've not even experienced yet! That reassures me that God is always for me, not against me. I hope you feel the same way.
Blessing's to you my beloved friends. If you like what you've read, leave a comment, share it on your social media feed. Thanks for checking in.
Pastor Jeremy Evans
The Dusty Disciples