Leverage: Suffering (part II)

A single event can change perspective.  It is funny how an isolated encounter, a single experience, or a chance meeting, can radically alter the way things are perceived.  The world will never be viewed in the same way after 9/11.  Technology was in question after Apollo 13, Challenger, and Columbia.  Something as trivial as Lebron’s Decision (and in a smaller scale Durant’s move to San Fran) has changed the way athlete’s are viewed.  A single event, in this case, the Cross, changed forever how suffering can be viewed.

All the guys from the previous post had something in common; they all wrote on the other side of the cross.  The cross became the leverage point of suffering.

On the one side of the cross stood death and the other a resurrection that overcame death.  The empty tomb emptied suffering of all that it held.  That is why James can write: “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1.2)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, knew suffering.  He led the church in Jerusalem.  It struggled financially (see 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32).  It struggled doctrinally: “should the Gentiles be circumcised?” (Acts 15).  It struggled with persecution (Acts 8.1-2) and eventually James would be martyred by stoning.  Suffering was a major part of the ministry to which he had been called.

James leveraged his suffering though.

In the same way that our doubt can be leveraged into belief; hope can be born out of our suffering.  James knew that suffering would come.  Since is inevitable, James argues that we can learn perseverance in it.  I ran cross country in high school.  I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I enjoyed it.  It taught me to push through pain, to persevere and to endure the suffering.  The only reason I could do that was the finish line ahead.  Perseverance for James (James 1.3), obedience for Jesus (Hebrews 5.8) and Paul’s enduring example of Jesus (2 Cor. 4.8-12) came as a direct result of their suffering. But what for us can come about through our suffering?  What can suffering give rise too?

Suffering is a casual (don’t try to convince the one suffering of this) reminder that this world is not permanent.  We were created for paradise and partnership with God.  When our sin severed this pact, our world and our relationships in it were changed, but not permanently.  Temporarily, for or 100 years or so on this earth, we struggle in relationships, with the world, with identity, and with purpose.  In other words, we suffer.

John paints a picture in Revelation 21 of a different place:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

The garden of Genesis 1-2, the “good garden” where God resides with man with no barriers, returns in Revelation 21.  A place where paradise and partnership is reinstituted.  This is a welcomed sight in Revelation because of all the books of the Bible, Revelation probably has more suffering talk than any of them.  Think about this:

  • John is writing from the island of Patmos, where he has been exiled for preaching the Gospel. He even call himself a “companion in the suffering”. (Rev. 1.9)
  • To the church in Pergamum, he reminds them of Antipas martyrdom (Rev. 2.12)
  • The Lamb (Jesus) wandered around heaven with a gash on his chest, a reminder of the suffering he endured.  He looked as if “he had been slain” (Rev. 5.6, 9, 12)
  • The seals, the trumpets, and the bowls, all brought with them an element of suffering, be it war, famine, or plague.  Suffering was a key theme in them all.
  • The beast made war against the saints (13.7) and “this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (13.10)
  • The woman on the beast was “drunk on the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (17.6)
  • God will “avenge on her the blood of his servants” talking about the blood spilt by the temptress Babylon. (19.2)
  • John “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.” (20.4)
  • The theme of “victory” or “overcoming”, the Greek word nikao from which Bill Bowerman built the company Nike, is woven throughout the book.

But then…

The New Heavens and the New Earth arrives and pain and suffering are no more.  Suffering is the reminder that this type of world was never a permanent landing spot.

So we leverage, suffering as an opportunity for hope.  Jesus suffered the very worst this world had to offer.  He bore the weight of every sin ever committed and will be committed by humanity, on his body.

But death could not hold him.  The empty tomb is an image of hope.  The dark hours of crucifixion, followed by the quiet bleak hours of Saturday, gave way to the rolled-away stone and the empty tomb of Sunday.

Like Paul says in Romans 8.37:

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The word for conquerors that Paul uses in Romans 8: nikao!  Since Jesus has overcome death, we too can conquer, not physical, but spiritual death!

Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch a loved one waste away from cancer.  All will watch abuse or neglect steal the future of a child.  We will suffer!  But we know that because Jesus overcame, we too can prove victorious!

So we live with hope that Christ gives us that ultimately we will be in the place John describes.  And hope is leveraged suffering.

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The Rest of God

282402_10100160606116021_17006450_45588034_4109272_nHay season means different things to different people. For those of us between the ages of 12 and a long 55, that means hot temps, hay hooks, sultry eves, and short water breaks. It’s the best stay in school lesson a boy can have. The short breaks are greatly welcomed. I am glad life is not lived at hay season’s pace. I learned this twice in the during a week in July.

The week began on the first day, Sunday, preaching at Hartford. We left there and drove to Greeley, Colorado and spent the night. The next morning we hung out in Greeley and visited some awesome people that I will write about at another time. My family reunion began Monday afternoon in Larkspur, so we headed down there after seeing all that Greeley had to offer. Wednesday night brought the Franklin County Christian Youth Rodeo where I needed to be at 5pm. I left Colorado Springs at 6:30 am to get to the rodeo. After a 9 hour drive, 2 stops, and 15 sermons on the iPod, I arrived at my destination where I fought bulls horribly. My performance that night has haunted me ever since. I came home around 3 and slept a short few hours before getting up to do some chores…I am still hazy on how I got home.

This nect Sunday morning (a day of encouragement) I preached in Hartford as well. We had left early, but a flat tire had delayed us. Thinking I would have plenty of time to get my head right before preaching, my down time was gone before I had to preach. As I stepped up on stage, my mind was racing and my thoughts garbled. As I began the message that morning, the rodeo and my current situation spun around my brain and I came to this realization: rest has got to be a bigger part of my life.

Sleep is not the issue. I have had plenty of sleep. Rest is not sleep. Rest is “time between”. It’s that time where you are doing things that fill your spirit, ease your mind, challenge your heart, and get energized. It is “time between” the tasks before you.

Much has been made of the term “between”. Some have called it “margin” or “fill”. God called it “Sabbath”. But until recently, I didn’t realize that God had practiced it on occasion.

Three times in Scripture, God “rested”. Not because of exhaustion or weariness, but because of accomplishment. When there is nothing left to do, no more on the list, with the finishing touches complete, the only thing to do is to rest, to enjoy the “time-between”.

At the end of Creation: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed [hb.-kala] in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished [hb.-kala] the work [hb.-mela’ka] he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested [hb. shabat] from all his work[hb.-mela’ka].” [Gen. 2.1-2] The first verbal form of k-l-h is in the pual stem which is intesive but passive, “heavens and earth were completed”; whereas the second form is in the piel stem which is intensive and active, “God finished”.   And when He finished, he rested. The hebrew verb shabat, which the NIV translates rested, is the same root as the hebrew noun Shabbat, which is transliterated as Sabbath. So when God finished, he took Sabbath; a “time between”. God would no longer be creating, but providing for His creation.   God will now be partnering with man to accomplish his purposes and plans.

At the Cross. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19.30)    Tetelestai meaning “It is finished” or “complete”. It is a perfect verb. Not just a fitting verb for what is happening both locally meaning Jesus death on the cross, or cosmically the atonement of sins, but the tense of the verb is the “perfect” tense. In Greek the “perfect” tense showed a completed action with lasting consequences. Our current salvation is assured because of the completed action of Christ’s work on the cross. Our present state of “saved” is because of the finished work of Christ on that day. God rested on that day, but his work would continue on because of the “perfect” tense of Tetelestai.

The Inauguration of New Heaven and the New Earth. “He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev. 21.6) Done is a fantastic word to hear. A few verses prior, God has said that He will dwell with man and he will live with them (3). God walked in the morning cool of the Garden, dwelt among men for 33 years in human form, and now will live amongst His people forever. The work may be done and God is resting, but God is still God. Just because the work is complete, doesn’t mean God has checked out.

What is fascinating about these three instances where God completes a task, be it creation, salvation, or complete redemption, is that though the work is done, he never leaves it behind. Make sense?   After creating it, He sustains it. After saving it, He guides it. After redeeming it, He dwells amongst it. The work is done, but not abandoned.

All to often tasks, once completed, are left to their own devices. God has never treated humanity that way. From creation to inauguration and beyond, God chose to partner with humanity, to be in relationship with us, in order to accomplish his purposes, namely to receive His due glory. In the midst of the struggle when God seems at His farthest, though we live in a completed action, it must never be thought of as an abandoned project.