Suffering is Not Optional

American Christianity is ridiculously happy.

We are living in the most prosperous nation in the most prosperous time of history. We revel in our abundance, comfort, and ease.

Rather than chalking it up to fortune for being born in this time and an amazing amount of hard work by those who came before us, we instead convince ourselves our abundance is a result of our faith.

We show our faith by pointing to all our stuff. “See how much God has blessed me? I must be doing it right.”

Christians are not allowed to mourn these days. If you do, you’ll get a lecture, “Hey, we don’t mourn like the world does. Knock it off, you’re making us uncomfortable while we sing our happy songs.”

The most amazing thing about this embrace of happiness, comfort, and ease is that the New Testament is pretty much against happiness, comfort, and ease!

There are several verses neglected by our modern happy Christianity.

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
–Romans 8:17

If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
–2 Timothy 2:12

There are many verses in the NT about suffering, trials, tribulations, and testing. We are following Jesus Christ, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. We’re following a crucified Savior.

How this gets interpreted as happy, happy I have no idea. Notice these verses are saying you won’t reign with Christ, nor will you be glorified with Him, if you don’t suffer. Suffering is like a big thing, a determiner of your salvation.

The Bible does talk about joy and rejoicing frequently. Typically they come up in weird places though. Take 1 Peter 4:13 for instance:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

We rejoice when we are suffering. We tend to think rejoicing and joy show up when I am comfortable and everything is going great. The NT puts joy in the opposite experience.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
–James 1:2

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,
–1 Peter 3:14

And, of course, don’t forget the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Blessed are you when terrible, rotten, nasty things happen to you.

It takes no spiritual strength to be happy when everything is happy. But you know the Spirit is working in you when you can have true joy when all earthly things are falling apart.

Suffering is good for us. People don’t get nearly as depressed in suffering as they do in overloaded comfort and ease. Just observe our culture.

I once heard it said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

Indeed. If you follow Christ, you will suffer. If you suffer for following Christ then you know you are a child of God. If you are a child of God then you know you have an inheritance that is undefiled and fadeth not away.

The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Suffering teaches. Tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.

I could go on and on, because the NT is all over this issue. Modern American Christianity pretends it doesn’t exist and carries on ignoring page after page of God-breathed writing.

Read the Book. Follow Christ. You will suffer if you do this. But He promises it’ll be worth it in the end.

6 Things to Do When You Have a Bad Day

My family recently adopted a dog. She is precious. She is adjusting well to life in our family.

Today, however, was a little rough. She was a bit hyped up today. She was jumping on people and yelping and just all-around getting carried away. Then she peed on the kitchen floor.

This wasn’t one of her best days.

As I put her in her kennel for the night, I patted her precious little head and said, “Do better tomorrow there little dog.”

As I walked into the house I thought, “You know, that’s not bad advice.”

Sometimes you just have a bad day. You fall into laziness. You give in to temptation. You snap at someone. You regret what you did or didn’t do. You had a bad day.

What should you do when you have a bad day?

  1. Review the day. Analyze what went wrong. Why do you feel crummy? What led you to fall? If any glaring sins pop into your mind, agree that they were bad and talk to the Lord about them. Learn from what you did.
  2. Look forward. Nearly every day before nodding off, I sigh a prayer that says, “Well, Lord, one day closer to being with you.” Look forward to the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
  3. Resolve for tomorrow. One thing to do before nodding off at night is to make a list of things to do tomorrow. Put things on there that keep you busy and address the errors of today.
  4. Wipe the slate. Another good thing is to apologize before sleep. If you hurt, lost your patience with, or wronged anyone, address the hurt and apologize. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath or anyone elses!
  5. Read the Word. A great thing to do before bed and right when you wake up is to read a couple pages of Scripture. Put some living word in your brain before bed. Can’t go wrong there.
  6. Do better tomorrow. Remember the crummy feeling you have when you mess up a day. Whatever fleshly lust you indulged that momentarily felt good; the gross feeling removes any joy. Learn from the sorrow and do better tomorrow!

The Downfall of Institutions and Pride

The central point of Romans 9-11 that is missed because of our fixation on Calvinism, is the warnings about rejoicing at the fall of the “others.”

Paul explains the interaction between Jews and Gentiles in those chapters. The Jews were chosen to bring forth the Messiah. Through them, by way of the Messiah, all nations would be blessed.

Unfortunately (if that’s the right word), the Jews rejected their own Messiah. In so doing, they were cast aside for a time. But also, fortunately (if that’s the right word), through the rejection of the Messiah salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection is fully revealed, so much so that Gentiles will be drawn to The Light.

Paul warns Gentiles not to get arrogant. Gentiles will think Jews were set aside because Gentiles are better. Paul says not to go there!

“Don’t get a big head, Gentiles, if God cut out the original people, you better believe He’ll cut out new rebellious people.”

This issue has implications for other contexts as well.

Last week the Catholic Church got busted and I saw many a Protestant Evangelical proudly preening. “What’d you expect from them? You don’t see that problem in our churches.”

Willow Creek is falling apart and many with small churches like to point out the megachurches and the flashy suburban Christian stuff. “What’d you expect from them? You don’t see that problem in our churches?”

Republicans and Democrats trade these shots on a daily basis, pointing out the fault in the other side. “What’d you expect from them? You don’t see that problem on our side.”

Here’s the thing: Is is on your side, you just forget it or justify it more easily.

When we point out the failures of others, our own ego gets a boost. When our egos get boosted, we soon fall into our own pits.

Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Pride comes not only through your own success, but also by observing other people’s failures.

Pride will knock you down. Legitimate wrong should be addressed and punished. But gloating over sin, over destructive behavior in others, is not helping; it will only foster the same arrogance that produces sin to begin with.

Pursue righteousness. Other people being sinners does not make you or your side righteous. Doing righteousness is what pursuing righteousness is. Do that.

How to Un-vain Your Vain Life

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” is the cry of Ecclesiastes.

This was written by a man who experienced everything, so he knew what he was talking about.

One of the reasons his life was vain is because he focused it on himself. The pronoun “I” shows up about 50 times. “My” shows up 17 times and “mine” appears 8. “Me” shows up a lot too.

Ecclesiastes is not a long book!

I gave my heart to know wisdom. . .
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure. . .
I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine. . .
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards. . .
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees. . .
I got me servants and maidens. . .
I gathered me also silver and gold. . .

Solomon gave himself to various pursuits, all fine things, nothing wrong with any of them. But he went all in for these things. He experienced each to its full.

When he was done, the thrill was gone and he concludes:

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

The world thinks we only have one life. That being the case, you better live it to its fullest. Grab all you can. YOLO!

Solomon did and it was empty.

If you go after life, act as if this is the only life you’ll get, you will live a selfish, narcissistic lifestyle. It will be all about you. And there is nothing more empty than that.

Solomon’s conclusion goes like this:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Solomon’s conclusion is that temporal things are empty, but we can live for something higher. Fear God, which means keep God’s commandments.

Here’s the cool thing: God’s commandments are called “the law.” There is one word out there that fulfills the law: LOVE!

Love is something you do FOR OTHER PEOPLE!

When Solomon lived for himself, his life was empty. Nothing lasted, nothing brought true pleasure and there was zero eternal fruit.

You can take Solomon’s word for it and learn young to stop living for yourself. Instead, live in the fear of God by doing what God says, which is summed up with love.

Give yourself for others. Spend your money on others. Use your time and energy to help and encourage others.

If nothing else you will get eternal reward. But on top of that, you can live in such a way as to not feel entirely pointless, fruitless, and vain.

Love is what you do to un-vain your vain life. Give it a try.

When the Bible Interferes With Your Doctrine

Occasionally, when you read the Bible, it will become apparent that what you were taught is not what the Bible says.

What to do when the Bible disagrees with your doctrine?

Usually you start by asking your teacher, “Hey, how comes this here verse don’t say what you done told me?”

Your teacher will more than likely explain the verse away, or list 14 other verses that distract the issue, and let you know that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. They will tell you that the problem, of course, lies with you and your uneducatedness. Good thing you have such a wise teacher!

You will then go back and read the Bible some more and you will come across the same question. You will remember what your teacher told you. You will look up the 14 verses that were listed, which you are now also more familiar with. Sometimes your understanding really was off and the teacher was right.

But other times you will figure out that the answers you were given don’t quite seem to jive with Scripture. In fact, often times, they conflict with verse after verse.

For many years I, along with just about every evangelical, was taught that we are saved by faith alone. I assumed the Bible said this. There are 14 verses people will list to prove that we are saved by faith alone. None of those 14 verses says we are saved by faith alone.

In fact, the only time the Bible mentions being justified by faith only is in James 2, where it clearly says we ARE NOT justified by faith only.

There are volumes written to explain why we are justified by faith alone and how you just don’t understand James, or you don’t understand why you don’t have to listen to James, or some other explanation you don’t understand.

You can hear the answers and have it explained to you 4,000 times and still not be able to get around James saying we are not justified by faith only.

So, at a certain point you have to decide: will I go with the doctrinal gymnastics of my group, or will I simply take the plain language of the Bible and go with that?

Most go with the group.

Some go with the Bible. I recommend going with the Bible.

Take the simplest explanation of each passage, which can only be seen by the context. Pretend that every verse means exactly what it says, stop trying to cancel out one verse with another one, and you’ll be amazed at how much more easy the Bible is to understand.

Stick with that simple message and act as though it were true.

If the simple message of the verses disagrees with your doctrine, make appropriate adjustments to your doctrine. Do not adjust the verses to your doctrine!

Everyone knew what James was talking about until Martin Luther invented justification by faith alone. Ever since then people have been trying to reconcile man’s ideas with James’ inspired message. And this is one example of about 5,000 where our man-made doctrine disagrees with Scripture.

Everything is simplified if you just drop man’s ideas and stick with the God-breathed words of Scripture.

You will be amazed at how consistent and simple the Bible is once you decide to stop defending your doctrinal camp. It’s truly beautiful and I highly recommend it.

Act as though the Bible is true. Do the work to find out what it means based on the context. Put those words into action. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word. If you are following man’s doctrine and not God’s Word, then faith is not what you are doing.

God’s Word is what has life. Don’t let man’s ideas keep you from the living Word of God.

Two Challenges to Learning Doctrine

Learning doctrine is pretty straightforward:

Learn the doctrine!

That’s it! Pretty easy, eh?!

Doctrine is just a fancy word for teachings. Learning doctrine means to learn what the Bible teaches. Note it does not mean learning what people say the Bible teaches, but what the actual Bible actually teaches.

Learning what the Bible teaches is pretty straightforward:

Learn what the Bible teaches.

That’s it! Pretty easy, eh?!

One would think so. It seems all a person would have to do is read the Bible and learn what it says.

If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Hardly anyone is. I think there are two hurdles that prevent us from learning what the Bible teaches. Two thing we must clear first in order to be taught from the Scriptures.

1. You can’t be afraid to leave wrong teaching.
All of us have learned poor doctrine. All of us have gone along with a teacher or a group because we didn’t know what else to do. We didn’t fully understand the Bible, how could we? We just started learning what we were taught! While trying to learn it for ourselves, we trust other people who’ve been around longer to steer us in the right direction. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those who teach you haven’t learned themselves. They are merely teaching what they were taught with little personal examination in between.

You can’t be afraid to leave old, bad teaching. If something is bad, it seems it would be easy to drop it. You would be wrong! There is reputation: I’ve staked things on this teaching; if I leave it now I’ll look like a fool. There is peer-pressure: this is what my group thinks; if I reject it they will turn on me. There is respect: just because your teachers were wrong, doesn’t mean they are bad people, but if you disagree with them they might interpret that disagreement as disrespect. There is safety: it’s easier to stick with what you’ve got than to let go of the safety line and swim out into the deep alone.

Your desire to learn truth needs to get to a place where your desire overcomes your fear. Where regardless of the cost or inconvenience or sheer terror, I must get to the truth. Paul reached a place where he counted all his life as dung for the excellency of gaining Christ. That’s the moment; that’s the feeling; that right there is faith. Faith is scary.

Do you have the guts to let go of those things that are behind in order to grab hold of what lies before you in Christ?

2. You can’t be afraid to adapt to new teaching.
Once you’ve convinced yourself to let go of the old, faulty teaching (and not everything you learned before is faulty necessarily. Don’t throw out the good old baby with the dirty old bathwater!), you now have the challenge of learning and adapting to new teaching.

Learning means getting more information. When you get new information it will change what you do. You now know more and this new knowledge will bring added insights and perspective. You can’t keep doing the old things with the new information.

When you learn biblical doctrine, your new life in Christ will be radically different from your old life in the flesh. Old things are passed away, all things have become new. There is a new training and a new discipline to bring about a new life. Getting yourself to act on that new information is scary. You’ll feel stupid, self-conscious, foolish, and tentative. Does this really work? Is this worth it?

Remember when Israel left Egypt? They hated enslavement in Egypt. They got the guts to leave it and immediately started complaining about their new free life. “Can’t we go back to Egypt where we at least had good food to eat?”

This is the struggle of faith. That’s why the OT was written for our learning! Israel struggled to believe that God knew what He was doing. We laugh at them and mock their wimpiness while we run from new freedom in Christ today!

We’re doing the same thing.

Living with God, learning His ways, is terrifying to your flesh. Your flesh wants no part of it; it still wants to be in bondage where at least decisions were taken care of for you.

Learning aint easy because learning changes things and change is tough. Learning aint easy; but it’s totally worth it. When you become a man, put away childish things. Adulthood is freaky, but totally worth it. Grow in Christ. Learn. Live with confident hope that what Christ calls you for will indeed set you free. The just shall live by faith. Live by faith.