Suffering

Hardship: Anticipated or Shocked? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

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Real life is full of ups and downs.  Good days and tough moments or even seasons when life can feel like an incredibly hard uphill battle.  It’s been said that its not a matter of when you and I will face hardship, sorrow or trials but rather just when.

And yet so often we are knocked off our balance entirely by hardships and or suffering as believers.  Why is this?

In part I believe that there is an unhelpful belief/teaching that makes out as if the Christian life is just victorious, just joy, just plain sailing…  And when real life isn’t like this, such teaching/belief leads to a potential crisis of faith (God’s not faithful, loving or sovereign) or unhelpful spiritual introspection or even depression believing that the root cause must be lack of faith or an underlying sin issue that’s not been dealt with.

However, a simple reading of the New Testament letters reveals a different picture for us regarding suffering/hardships.  Paul expected affliction/hardship, as did the Thessalonian believers because Paul had warned them in those first three weeks of their faith that hardship would come as a result of their faith in Christ.  Paul says to them;

“For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)

Paul wanted “no one (to) be moved by these afflictions” (vs3) that’s why he had warned them before the time that they would come.

I don’t believe Paul was morbid, negative, stoic or resigned to just enduring suffering and letting people walk all over him like a ‘welcome mat at the door’…  I believe Paul was REAL, he knew that the enemy although defeated on the cross and having ultimately destiny with destruction at the Lord’s second coming was still the enemy and able to inflict pain and hardship, able to hinder the Gospel and able to hinder believers.

So, he anticipated hardship so was not shocked by it, not knocked off balance by it, but rather he and those he lead could be fortified in it and know how to respond to it with faith.

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When suffering is not wrong…

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Concept of a stressed businessman under pressure

All too frequently I assume that if there is suffering or a trial of some sort in my life or the lives of those I love or in the lives of those I am responsible for as a church leader – I assume that something is wrong.

Are you ever like this too?

When we have to make a decision and then after that decision things don’t go as smoothly as we would like them to, we can find ourselves re-considering whether we made the right decision after-all.

We feel this because we think that if we made the right decision then why is this circumstance feeling so hard, why did I get sick, why did that accident happen, why, why….?

When God called Nadine and I to come and serve Him by serving Oasis Church in Amanzimtoti I needed to sell my stake in a business so that we could buy a house to live in.  We knew God had spoken, what had been a 15yr journey of working out my sense of call had become clear as we were called by Oasis Church and sent by Jubilee Community Church in 2003…

And then it happened!  I had sold my shares in a business to someone so as to pay for the house.  The agreement was signed and sealed and on that basis we bought our home…

However, then the trial started as the person I’d sold the stake in the business to began to delay proceedings and payment.  

Eventually after delaying and delaying he eventually reneged on the deal entirely and we had a house that we had moved into but didn’t have the money to pay for it and couldn’t afford to have a bond big enough to pay for it!
Why? Why Lord?  Did we make a mistake? We thought we had heard the Spirit’s leading in coming, in finding the house, in finding a buyer for my stake in the business….why this, and why now?

Today in my reading of Matthew 4:1 I was struck by these words;

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

You don’t see that on Jesus t-shirts and bumper stickers and Pinterest posters!

We don’t like the idea that suffering can come from the hand of our loving Father through the agency of evil.  But read it again, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into a place of temptation by the devil.

It reminds me of Jospeh’s declaration to his brothers at the end of his tumultuous and tragic journey from his dad’s house to the palace in Egypt- “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a in NLT)

Suffering and trials are never pleasant but they can produce incredible fruit that doesn’t grow under any other circumstances, fruit/character that our loving Heavenly Father wants for us and wants in our lives (Hebrews 12:7-11)

I remember that after struggling with our crisis for a number of months worrying and at times waving my fists at my Father, I had a moment where I stopped fighting the circumstance which actually I knew wasn’t ultimately the making of this man but actually under the sweet sovereignty of my loving Father and I came to appreciate that my Father had brought me to this place for His purposes in my life, to produce the type of fruit that only grows in contexts like this…

Remarkably, not long after that ‘aha moment’ another buyer emerged and the deal was cancelled with the first guy and another was concluded and the money was paid and we could move on.

Jesus was lead by the Spirit into a trial for something within the purposes of Father God, could it be possible that a trial you are in might be similar? Hebrews 12:11 makes it clear that the fruit that could come from enduring a trial only comes to those who have been ‘trained by it’.

Will you be trained by it if all you ever want is for the trial to stop, if all you could ever consider is that this hard thing is the work of the devil (which it may well be but still under the loving control of the sovereignty of Your Heavenly Father)?

We are suffering averse, I know I am!  But a truly biblical perspective can help us in our suffering and can alert us to possibilities that could transform the impact on us from something that is merely negative to something that God uses for incredible good.

By Gareth Bowley

Life is hard!

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As I grow older I realise more and more that nothing on this earth has true security.  Time is constantly changing, money easily loses value, property prices are unpredictable and if the political situation in a country is perceived to be unstable, all the securities in terms of investment goes out the window.

Families often drift apart as siblings grow older – whether emotionally or, in the case of many South Africans, many people emigrate and then families are literally torn apart.  Friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but even this can be lost through misunderstanding, conflict or a change in one or the other’s circumstances.

In this life we are constantly challenged to find a firm foundation, an immovable rock on which to stand. A place of security and rest.

How easily we become distracted from putting all of our hope and trust in God.  This one thought is like a repeated chorus in Psalm 62:

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.”

David reminds himself and us, that there is only One who can fulfil that role.  There is only One who can give us hope, who can be a fortress of true safety in the midst of uncertainty, who can be our Refuge when the storms of life are raging all around us. God alone!

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

by Lise Oosthuizen

He hit me!

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By Gareth Bowley

If you jumped into the boxing ring with someone like Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao – don’t be surprised if they started throwing some punches!  After all, they’re boxers, this a boxing ring…!

Or to put it another way, if you lived in Bhagdad or Jerusalem or Gaza and you heard air sirens wailing you wouldn’t think – “I wonder what that noise is?”  You’d run for cover, grabbing loved ones and maybe prized possessions in the seconds before the expected air or rocket strike.  After all these cities have been and to some extent are still war zones…!

Understanding clearly the context, the place, the time in which we live can dramatically affect how prepared or unprepared for are for what might happen next. If you were scheduled to get into the boxing ring with a famous heavy hitter you’d prepare, get some training or even cancel the appointment.  If you live in a war zone you prepare yourself with a wartime mentality. And that mindset, that readiness could well save your life.

And yet as believers in a country like South Africa where it is acceptable to attend church, to read your bible and pray we can make the mistake of having a peace-time mentality, thinking that we live in peace-time and so being surprised by things that according to Scripture ought not to surprise us.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Don’t be surprised beloved Christ follower, don’t be shocked when trials, troubles, difficulty, opposition come even when ‘fiery trails’ come – don’t be surprised as if something strange, something out of the ordinary, something unexpected was happening!

The apostle Peter’s perspective is not a ‘peace-time mentality’.  This life is a boxing ring, he knows that there is an opponent, an enemy who’s throwing punches, launching missiles at God, at the church and at God’s children…  He knows that life is not like a war, life is not a metaphor, this life, this age is literally a war, the in between now and not yet age within which the devil is real, is ugly and is breathing out threats and opposition towards us as Christ followers.  Seeking to discourage, to disrupt us from passionately being steadfast in our followership of Jesus and our serving of His purposes on His planet.  He knows that the fiery trial comes to test our faith to prove its genuineness…

A wrong mind-set leaves us both unprepared for trials and also leaves us vulnerable to making wrong conclusions.  As a church leader over and over again I have heard, watched Christ followers grappling, floundering in their faith in God even when they have undergone trials, tests & faced opposition.  They have looked, sounded shocked, surprised that these things were happening, some have even had crises of faith wondering whether God is loving towards them, doubting whether God is good and sovereign, doubting their own faith because of the trials they’re up against.

We need a biblical theology of suffering that produces robust Christians who since Christ suffered, have as His followers also ‘armed themselves with the same way of thinking'(paraphrase of 1 Peter 4:1), Christ followers; ‘who rejoice in that they share in Christ’s sufferings so that they will rejoice when Christ’s glory is revealed’ (paraphrase of 1 Peter 4:13-14) and who have “entrusted their souls to a faithful creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19), Christ followers who know that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9) and who are convinced that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)!

Brother, sister, a right mind-set, a correct perspective on this life will prepare you for the trials that will come, will help you in the midst of them to not have a crisis of faith but to secure your faith in the one who will rescue us, will restore, establish and strengthen us in this life and into eternity.  Life is a war!  It’s not like one, it is one.  But we know how this war ends, we know who wins…  His name is Jesus, and we are His forever and ever, His beloved ones who will reign with Him forever and ever.  Amen.

Keep calm and know…

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Keep calm and know I am your God, very near to you, your secure & safe place, I am sovereign and omnipotent & in my wisdom I have joined together my passionate commitment to my name & my glory to your well being and protection! So be still and know that I am God.

What are the foundations of peace, what enables us to be still in the midst of threatening circumstances, from this Psalm?

Covenant relationship (God is our refuge & strength, God has joined Himself to us vs1, God has named Himself according to the resolution ship He established with us ‘the God of Jacob’ vs11)

Proximity (God is ‘a very present help in trouble’ vs1, God is with us, like a river within the city walls ‘in the midst’ vs5, ‘the Lord of hosts is with us’ vs7&vs11)

Power and authority (God speaks and nations are directed/silenced vs6, God is in authority over all that happens on the earth vs8-9)

Certainty – God will work for the exaltation of His name vs10 and God will be exalted!  The Psalmist weaves together our need (for protection, safety and peace of mind) and God’s primary purpose (His glory).  Nothing is more certain than that God will work towards His own glory and that He will be exalted.  The good news for us is that God has tied His name and His glory to us His people. What that means for us is that the solid rock undergirding why we know God will act on our behalf will act for our good is that what happens to us is tied to the fame of His name because we are His people… And so we can be absolutely certain that our God will be with us, fighting for us, will be our refuge and strength because He is committed to glorifying His name through us!

Is God sleeping?

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Why God

Have you ever felt like God has seemingly forgotten you, even maybe rejected you, possibly disappointed you, felt like God might have fallen asleep on the job and so maybe He needs some rousing..?

You’re not alone.  The Psalmist who penned Psalm 44 writes on behalf of God’s people who have faced some unknown national calamity in the face of their enemies.  They feel disgraced, alone, helpless and confused…

As believers, as Christ followers, what do we do when our admittedly tiny perspective on life appears to lead to these types of questions and raises these sorts of feelings?

As a Christ follower and as a church leader I personally identify at times with this psalmist and with this psalm because I know how God has moved in mighty power in the past.  Mighty acts of intervention and blessing cover the pages of Scripture and fill the pages of church history too.

“Our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days” (Psalm 44:1)

So what’s happening now..?  Why does the church not always seem glorious or full of mighty power?  “Why is there so much hardship and pain even for Your people God?”  And what should we do in such times?

In times like this we are helped when we interpret what we don’t know from what we do know from Scripture.  We make a mistake when we seek to redefine what is clear in Scripture because of what is so confusing to us in the moment as we look through the distorted lenses of our experience and or feelings.

We might feel like God has rejected us, left us alone or forgotten us, that maybe God is sleeping on the job of being God & Father but in fact we know that God has made an everlasting covenant with us, He has promised to never leave us, has promised that nothing can remove us from His love…

“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.” (Jeremiah 32:40)

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)

“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 8:38-39)

Just like the Psalmist acknowledged his feelings, expressed them even, we too can be honest with our thoughts, our feelings our questions directed at God.  We don’t have to put on some stoic face and pretend we feel differently!  And yet our faith is not resting on a foundation of feelings which are so transient and unstable, our faith is founded on truth, on promises made by the God who can not lie, is unchanging, the God who is faithful even when we are unfaithful!

And so like the Psalmist we can conclude praying with total confidence to our Father in heaven saying;

“Rise up; come to our help!  Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 44:26)

We know, we are the beloved children of Father God, our Redeemer, our Immanuel, our Comforter, Counsellor & Helper and in these rock solid truths we rest even when the circumstances of our lives are anything but restful.  We choose to trust not in ourselves, not in our bow or our sword (vs6) or our ability to wield them but choose to trust Father God in the midst of trials, delay or disappointments.

The Problem of pain 

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pain-emotion

We live in an age of incredible medical knowledge and technology.  Just the other day I myself needed a diagnosis for something and had multiple blood tests, ultrasound, echocardiography and computerized tomography all to give the doctors an understanding of what was going on inside of me.  I am so grateful to all that technology and medical knowledge and skill…

But then I read a passage like Luke 13:10-17 about the woman who could not stand up straight for 18yrs and the bible’s assessment of the source of the physical problem was not medical at all!

Luke the author was a medical doctor writing this gospel from eye witness accounts and he records the source of this woman’s pain and suffering over all these years not as some medical condition but as a result of a spiritual condition or influence.

Jesus, seeing her one day while teaching in the Synagogue heals her with a simple command declaring freedom for her from her infirmity and she is instantly healed, and she stands up straight there and then!

No operations, no physio rehab just freedom of movement and absence of pain.  Unsurprisingly, she is elated and glorifies God for this remarkable miraculous healing.

You could reply, but medicine in that era was unsophisticated and intertwined with the prevailing worldview of the day and so unknown conditions could have been attributed to spiritual forces but simply because of the deficit in medical knowledge when compared to today…

However, in vs16 Jesus is recorded by Luke as giving His perspective on what was the source of her problem.

“And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Jesus makes it plain in making his argument with the synagogue ruler that the source of her pain and suffering had been bondage from satan, a demonic oppression sin her life.

The source of pain and suffering are not merely medical.  The source of pain can be physical, psychosomatic or spiritual or a mixture of these, and it will not always be easy to discern what’s happening.

In our modern era of incredible medicine technology and knowledge the source we are most likely to miss entirely is the spiritual one which the Scriptures indicate was the source of this woman’s suffering.

May I, may we have the discernment of Jesus to know how to help people in pain and suffering, not ignoring sources of pain merely because of our culture’s prevailing world view and so not praying as we ought to some times.

The good news is, regardless of the source of our pain or the pain of others, Jesus has authority in all realms, the physical, the mental and the spiritual!  So let’s thank God for medical technology and let’s pray with faith in the name of Jesus.