Do You Know What Is Glorious?


Egypt Coat of Arms Muslim Persecution Christians

 

Christians in Egypt are glorious. Or, more precisely, Christ is being glorified through the lives of Christians in Egypt.

 

Since the so-called “Arab spring,” which toppled Hosni Mubarak and other leaders throughout the Middle East, Egypt has become increasingly more hostile to freedom and more open to Islamic rule.  As a result, Christians have suffered as the targets of horrific violence. And the results of their suffering? Glory.

 

According to this report from Charisma News, more than 10,000 Christians from all over Egypt traveled to a secret location in the desert north of Cairo for the sole purpose of worshiping Jesus Christ in the midst of their suffering. The effort—called “One Thing”—was designed to encourage believers to stay true to the one thing that matters in life:

 

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.”

 

While we can certainly join them by praying for them, we can also take great delight in seeing the glory of Christ once again being glorified through suffering. Isn’t this indicative of the original gospel work He completed? It was for glory that Christ endured the cross.

 

Christians understand that the glory of Christ is on fullest display through suffering. Whatever suffering the saints endure is multiplied into an eternal weight of glory. So Paul says, For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17).

 

If you want to know what is glorious, look to Egypt. No doubt, there is glory in Egypt.

 

Thoughts on Death and Suffering


What is it with all this death and suffering in our world?  Has science not yet eradicated the inimitable Grim Reaper? In the age of nuclear medicine and MRI’s, we seem to be capable of better identifying the diseases which cause our suffering, but we still can’t seem to eliminate the pains. And as for death, well the funeral business hasn’t died.

Suffering, dying, and death are part of this created life. Since the Fall (in Genesis 3), humankind has been placed under a curse so heavy that it causes many to curse God (ask Job’s wife, Job 2:9).  But for those who are in Christ, the burden of death has been lifted (even if the process of it still lingers in place). Jesus took on flesh and blood so that He might taste death for His followers. He swallowed death’s poison, draining death’s cup. Then, He showed it had no power, as He triumphantly rose from the tomb. Thus, Christ delivered us who had once lived under the power and fear of death.

The writer of Hebrews says it this way:

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Christians are free from the slavery of death. That being the case, why does death still wreak havoc over our emotions?  Why does it still haunt us and threaten us? We fear dying, and we still fear having our loved ones die. Why? Two reasons come to mind.

First, we are ultimately weak in the flesh. Though we build ourselves up pretentiously with great strength, we are always brought uncomfortably low in the face of death. Death shatters our illusions of strength. We see very big, strong, and tough men weep under the burden of death. Death shows no pity, no remorse—just raw power to shut down hopes and dreams and plans.  Death is an uncommonly powerful foe. This fact is not lost on the evil one who intends to wield the power of death to keep our weakness out front. He hopes to keep us forever weak by reminding us of death’s strength.

God, too, uses death to expose our weakness, but He does not seek to trap us in the bondage of despair. He shows us His strength through Christ and the Resurrection.  God knows our frames that we are but dust. He knows our weakness. He does not seek to exploit it as Satan does. Instead, He seeks to expose it to show us the full-on power of the gospel of our Lord which culminates in His defeat of death through the Resurrection and ascension to the throne of Heaven.  God has a place for death to display the perfection of His great power toward all who believe. The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1).

So, second, we fear death because we forget God’s perfect power.  His power is on display through Christ’s victory over death.  The perfection of His power is on display through our faith, as we suffer through the consequences of death.  Nowhere in Scripture does God minimize the power of death. There is no greater foe. Death is the last enemy of God to be eradicated.

We must deal with death.  The only way to deal with it faithfully is to believe the Christ who reigns victoriously over it.  Notice, the key is not to believe “in” the Christ (that’s the way we normally hear it phrased). The key is to believe Him. He claims to have rendered death powerless.  Believe that He has taken away its power.

In believing that Christ has taken away death’s power, we have reason to trust Him with every death. Every death is now redeemed.  There is a redemptive order to all things (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).  God promises that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purposes. Surely, such redemptive promises can be trusted because they are secured by the One who has overcome death.

Our response to death, then, is two-fold. First, we believe Christ has actually defeated it and taken away its power. Second, we believe that God is wise in His ordering of life and death events. In Isaiah 28, the prophet warns Judah of the judgment which is to come upon them. He implores the people to trust the wisdom of God.  Just as the farmer knows that “dill is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a club,” so, too, God knows the best way to bring forth the grain harvest for His people through their suffering. There is a proper order to the events of harvest. We can trust the farmer to know how to bring out the grain. We can trust God to know how to bring forth the grain of victory through suffering and death. Christ is God’s proof.

Adoption Yearning


Any pastor worth his salt (as the saying goes) must, at times, identify with the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was more than a preacher to God’s suffering people—he was a vicarious enactment of their plight, having to lay siege against Jerusalem (Chapter 4); eat “unclean” food; pack his bags for exile (Chapter 12), and lose his wife.  Ezekiel suffered with God’s people.  God told him from the beginning not only that he would be required to suffer with God’s people but that he would also need a head as hard as theirs in order to bear the suffering without seeing much of a reward.  The people would mock him, scoff him, listen to him for the entertainment value, but not obey what he taught them.  Ezekiel’s ministry was difficult indeed.

Pastors understand. Frequently suffering with God’s people, pastors surely understand what it is like to plead with folks to yield their full allegiance to a sovereign God—only to have those folks too often walk away toward a secular solution to a genuinely spiritual problem.  That can be a tough assignment.

Lately, however, I have suffered an assignment that might be more difficult—suffering with God’s people who suffer well.  OK, it isn’t more difficult. But pain is painful even when it is beautiful.  Lately, I have experienced a kind of sweet agony as I have suffered with a people who portray the brightest ray of beauty from the clouds of pain.

For several weeks now, I have been preaching a series of sermons from Hebrews 12 on the discipline of the Lord.  Basically, I have called us to trust God’s instructing love through suffering.  God’s instructing love is His discipline.  After first rejecting the suffering, we can be trained by God’s instructing love to learn something of the nature of God and thereby be humbled into what the Bible calls the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).  The process must be something like the joy of a mother holding a new baby girl after suffering hours of labor.

So, here we are as a congregation suffering. Here I am as a pastor suffering.  I am suffering with the weight of what I am preaching, knowing that in the congregation are mothers who have lost their daughters, fathers who have buried their babies, and a young man whose wedding party was crashed in the most inconceivably bad manner he could imagine.

I am also suffering my own setbacks, which on an agony scale don’t measure up to the loss of those who have buried children.  Still, I am suffering a degree of agony, longing to know why I have 2 children in Africa who are being needlessly withheld from their home, their family, and their father who desperately wants them in his presence.  How can I (a pastor) make sense of it all?  I am so frustrated with the injustice of a bureaucracy which keeps my boys away from me.

I have some options available.  My natural response is to fuel a deep-seated cynicism against my own government.  Trust me when I say my Republican roots run deep!  It would be easy to grow powerfully indignant against the current administration and buy into the fervor of adoption activism—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! But that isn’t my thing, not right now.  For now, I am a shepherd of a suffering people who are listening and learning (by watching?) about God’s discipline.

I must receive the Lord’s discipline.  So, what can I learn from my suffering, Lord? Surely, no good can come from the forces pulling my little boys from me and holding us an ocean apart against our wills.  What is this situation saying about you, Father?

Perhaps you, Lord, are painting a picture of the church through my life (and the life of my boys).  I am thinking of unexpectedly sober picture of the church presented in Revelation 6:9-11,

9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

Here with the Lord are those who have run their race as faithful Christian soldiers. They have died as faithful witnesses, martyrs.  Their concern is for justice—understandably so! They not only were killed unjustly on account of loving Christ, they are also now subjected to seeing others mistreated and even killed in the same unjust way.  Like Abel’s, their blood cries out.

But what is God’s reply to them? It is wait. But it isn’t a simple wait to which God is calling His people.  It is a specific wait.  It is a redemptive wait.  While the martyred saints are crying out for God’s justice, God is saying wait for my full mercy.  They cry for justice because God’s mercy is taking too long.

What this means is that God is certainly as aware as they are of the injustices against His people.  Heck, He is infinitely more aware of injustice than they could ever be!  The reason He does not act in the face of such injustice is that He is more focused for now on accomplishing the fullness of redemption.  “Be patient,” he tells His faithful.  “I have more aliens and strangers yet to adopt into our family.  As time welcomes them into history, I will be dispatching the Holy Spirit to give them eternity.  In the meantime, while that is taking place for my children, other injustices will occur. Don’t worry. I am keeping track and will repay. Vengeance is mine.  For now, trust me while I work through time to complete our family.”

We want justice while God is working redemption.  To say it another way, the only reason God delays justice is so He can fully express His mercy toward His people.  A God like that is worthy of our trust and our patient endurance.

So, I wait for my baby boys.  And I wait for the further redemption of Crystal’s death and Tommy’s loss. 

Homesick Children


I’m not sure what one ought to tell his homesick child, but I do know what Jonathan Edwards said to his daughter Esther after she had moved away and then fallen ill.  Edwards (as we all have come to expect) offers profound wisdom to his daughter which is, at the same time, a soft correction and very strong consolation.

“I am glad to see some of the contents of your letter to your Mother…that you have been enabled to make a free-will offering of yourself to God’s service, and that you have experienced some inward divine consolations under your affliction, by the extreme weakness and distressing pains you have been the subject of.  For these you ought to be thankful, and also for that unwearied kindness and tender care of your companion, which you speak of.  I would not have you think that any strange thing has happened to you in this affliction: ‘Tis according to the course of things in this world, that after the world’s smiles, some great affliction soon comes.  God has now given you early and seasonable warning not at all to depend on worldly prosperity….  Labour while you live, to serve God and do what good you can, and endeavor to improve every dispensation to God’s glory and your own spiritual good, and be content to do and bear all that God calls you to in this wilderness, and never expect to find this world any thing better than a wilderness” (Quoted in Ian Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 402).

Sovereign Suffering


In a couple of weeks, we begin our new Kerusso Corner program on Wednesday nights.  We will be holding conversations about the places in life where God’s Word meets the world.  We are beginning those conversations at the heart of the gospel with a series of discussions on the sovereignty of God.  I know that when His sovereignty is brought up, there are always questions about 2 things: free will and evil.  So, we will have some conversations about those things.

In preparation, I am reading some materials on these topics, and I just came across a glorious little book I want you to know about: The Suffering Letters of C. H. Spurgeon.  This book is classic Spurgeon.  He is unequaled for his wit and his ability to speak with the clarity of high definition.  His pictures in words are more powerful than our pictures on a flat screen TV.

For instance, he says that when we suffer, we tend to question God’s goodness.  Then, Spurgeon nails us on that very point, saying that our questioning God’s wisdom in removing us from active service would be like a fly on the mail cart thinking the mail could not get delivered if he were shooed away from its wheel.  In other words, God does not need us at all.  If He removes us from service through a suffering, He is doing so for our sakes, and He will show us yet more His great power.  It is both an humbling and strengthening word to us from Spurgeon, and this little book is full of such help.

(For those of you interested in the conversations, please show up on Wednesday nights, beginning September 1st.  If you do not live near Cedar Grove, you should be able to watch these conversations on video.  More information about that later.)