Tag Archives: Christian Suffering

I Want an Easy Life

I want an easy life.  For all my blustering claims about being willing to “sacrifice all for Jesus,” at the end of the day, I long for ease and comfort.  I suspect most do.  Christians seek comfort rather than Christ because we do not really believe He is worth any amount of suffering and sacrifice in this exceedingly fleeting life.

It’s one thing to want an easy life from God, but another thing entirely to expect and demand it.  Philippians 1:29 reminds us that we have been granted to not only believe in Christ, but also to suffer with and for Him.  This means that it is a gift and a grace to suffer for the sake of the gospel!  Later in chapter 3 of Philippians, Paul goes on to say that knowing Christ is, for him, better than anything or anyone else.  But in so saying, he expresses his longing to be like Christ in every way, including the way of His suffering and death.  Why? Suffering is the path to maturity and growth, and death is the path to resurrection life.

It is also inherent to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ—He suffered and died for us.  We are therefore called to complete His self-sacrificing suffering as the church, His body (Colossians 1:24).  We suffer because we are different than and hated by the rest of the world—insistently, incessantly, and explicitly so.  And we suffer because Jesus suffered, giving an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21).

I’m not saying that persecution is a wonderful thing, but at the same time, God is not averse to letting it happen—in some cases to a shocking degree, even unto death.  We may at times stand aghast at the depths of evil God allows in a world marred by sin and where a genuine degree of human freedom has been granted.  But we also have to guard against the secular humanist claims that given the chance, human beings will naturally be kind to one another, and that the goal of life is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

In the end, people are often willing to suffer for something or someone they believe to be worthy of great hardship and sacrifice.  In our church here in Singapore, for example, when one of our attenders became a member, his family literally held a funeral for him.  He clearly understood that knowing Jesus now and being a member of God’s family for all eternity was in this life worth the complete loss (for now) of his earthly family.

As Christians, we must honestly wrestle with our willingness to experience difficulty and hardship for the sake of His greater honor and glory.  Even a cursory look at 1 Peter makes it clear that suffering for the greater glory of Jesus Christ is both normal for and expected of the believer.  In fact, as Acts 5:41 makes clear, it is a glorious honor.

Jesus promised that our lives would be troubled and difficult precisely because we are His followers (John 15:18-20).  As such, we should not sell people a false bill of goods when sharing the gospel with them or calling them into genuine discipleship.  Quite frankly, if you want to follow Jesus, you’re asking for trouble in this life, but you’re also promised His presence and peace alongside eternal life with Him in the life that is to come.

It is only in the light of eternity that we can appreciate the true nature of our sufferings here for Jesus’s sake.  That is why Paul calls them “momentary and light” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  They are real enough, but they pale in comparison to the magnificent things God has in store throughout eternity for those who have come to know, love, and trust Him now.

I want an easy life, but even more, I want Jesus to be glorified in and through me, and that means experiencing suffering for His sake.  What kind of life do you want?

The LGBTQIA Movement: How should the church respond? Part 1

Church and Same-sex Movement

The LGBTQIA movement has recently gained great power and momentum, and it’s unlikely their influence will diminish or be reversed anytime soon. Christians can no longer ignore what is happening both in the church and all around us. If Christ calls us to “shine like stars” in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15), how can we do this with regard to the LGBTQIA movement?

Although there are many ways we could respond, I suggest there are at least six responsibilities Christians should especially keep in mind as we seek to follow and become like Jesus. There are many more, of course, but these are the ones God has currently placed on my heart.

I will share three in this post and then three more in my concluding post, but before proceeding, some words of caution are in order. These responsibilities require great wisdom in their concrete application, and some of us will be called to participate more in some and less in others, depending on opportunity and gifting. We also have to seek God continually, asking Him what our role might be in specific situations, and to what extent we should be involved. As you read, take time to ask God how He might want you to respond to the LGBTQIA movement. We begin by trying to understand why the issue is so emotionally charged.

Understand and Appreciate Why the Issue Is So Emotionally Charged

Sometimes it’s hard to understand the intensity of the arguments regarding issues of sexuality. Why do people get so upset and angry when disagreements arise in this area? There are many reasons for this, but central are questions of identity and sexuality. As we have already noted, these are integrally related, and what is at stake in the mind of those who struggle with their sexuality is far more than just a lifestyle choice. Many evangelicals have been notoriously simplistic in their condemnation of homosexuals (for example) by assuming most people with same-sex desires simply chose to feed these feelings and then acted on them. But the situation is far more complicated than this.

Sexuality lies at the core of who we are. We are male. We are female. But if we grow up in a context where identity is not clearly understood or defined, we are likely to become confused and succumb to sinful expressions of our sexuality. Worse, we are unlikely to even know or understand that certain understandings and expressions of sexuality work in opposition to the design plan of the Creator. Instead, we are told over and over that expressing and fulfilling these desires is the way to authenticity and personal health and wellbeing. Now, couple this with the fact that one of the results of the fall is that sometimes our normal desires like heterosexual attraction can become disordered in such a way that they are still normal sexual attraction, for example, but directed toward what is not normal, namely members of the same sex.

It is easy enough for heterosexuals who do not struggle with same-sex attractions to consider such desires repulsive or strange, but they often forget that many of their own desires are and easily become disordered as well. The desire for security, for example, is a good and normal desire, but when it becomes a justification for refusing to take risks, it becomes a fear and perhaps even a phobia. Healthy fear of dangerous situations is good and normal, but it becomes disordered when it puts hope and security in someone or something other than God, and when it reaches a level that paralyzes normal human life.

But let’s move back toward sexual desire for a moment. When a normal desire for heterosexual sex becomes directed toward (for example) pornography or extramarital sex, it becomes disordered. But as Jesus taught us in Matthew 5:28, it can become that long before any of these actions are fulfilled. Even in marriage, sexual desires easily become disordered when sex is used as a way to dominate or punish one’s spouse. Because of our sin, human beings are excellent at taking normal desires and distorting and twisting them in all kinds of ways. Just because heterosexuals can legitimately fulfill the sexual impulse within marriage does not mean those desires will therefore be used in a noble, God-honoring fashion. Honest married couples will tell you that the sexual aspect of the relationship is often fraught with pain, frustration, and heartache—because the desires are so easily misused and disordered.

In short, a sinful world, normal and good desires can be directed in the wrong place or given the wrong amount of attention, but not always in the same way and to the same extent. We don’t always recognize the disorder from the desires themselves, but only through reference to a design plan which tells us more about the appropriate fulfillment or restraint of those desires. Nearly everyone has sexual desires, but scripture tells us they must be fulfilled not only in the right context (marriage), but also in the right manner (lovingly). Choice is involved at the level of application, but not often at the level of origin. The desires are there, whether we want them or not. What we do with those requires external instruction, great wisdom, and ongoing self-restraint.

In addition to all this sin-infused complexity, our culture has a very distorted understanding of what love really means. We have somehow confused and conflated sexual feelings with love, and assumed that relational intimacy somehow must include a sexual aspect to be truly intimate. But this is an incredibly superficial and fallacious notion of genuine love and intimacy. As Kevin DeYoung puts it, “Nothing in the Bible encourages us to give sex the exalted status it has in our culture, as if finding our purpose, our identity, and our fulfillment all rest on what we can or cannot do with our private parts. Jesus is the fullest example of what it means to be human, and he never had sex. How did we come to think that the most intense emotional attachments and the most fulfilling aspects of life can only be expressed sexually?” (What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, 119.)

It is true that when we trust in Christ to forgive our sin, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), but it is also true that our sinful flesh continues to wage war with our new nature (Galatians 5:17). Believing in Jesus does not always result in a change of orientation or desires, and certainly not immediately. Because of temptation and sin, most of us will wrestle with our disordered desires for life. We must not make superficial declarations about having a new nature in Christ as if this solves every dysfunctional aspect of our being instantaneously. Perhaps we would want it so, but apparently God has different designs for our life of discipleship in Him. It takes hard work, wisdom, sublimation, and accountability.

The bottom line is that for many, homosexual feelings will NEVER change or subside, and for those who wish to honor the Lord in this area of their lives and remain sexual pure, God is asking them to embrace a life of single celibacy. In our sexually charged social context, that is not an easy pill to swallow, nor an easy pledge to keep. It is not impossible (just ask Henri Nouwen, for example), but it is difficult indeed, and we would do well to have a much deeper appreciation and compassion for the immense challenges Christians with homosexual desires face when they want to remain faithful to Jesus.

In the end, we cannot see people as nothing more than projects for “fixing.” Sometimes God allows temptations and thorns in the flesh to remain (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). This is not because He hates or does not care about us, but because He loves and wants us to experience His grace in the midst of the difficulties those thorns and desires entail. But that is a terrifically hard message to embrace. We would do well to appreciate and understand the truly heart-wrenching difficulties such feelings and temptations entail, especially for someone living in our society today, a society that ridicules and discourages holiness while celebrating and promoting a lack of it at every turn.

Play an Informative and Exhortative Role

I am always a little reluctant to call the church to speak because the way in which we speak matters so much to the way in which we are heard. Jesus was a master of communication and always seemed to know when to rebuke and castigate, when to encourage and show care, when to answer questions with a question, when tell a story, when to give instruction, when to weep with those who weep, when to forgive and let go, and when to keep His mouth shut. We, it seems, seldom know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it best within the contexts we are placed. As a result, we sometimes—perhaps even often—speak like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

Nevertheless, if we remain silent for fear of speaking poorly, we may not speak at all. Yes, sometimes silence is better than speaking poorly, but we can also learn from our mistakes and listen to feedback from others as we speak. And speak we must, for there are numerous false ideologies and assumptions being loudly and continually promoted in contemporary culture, and these lead to a severely distorted picture of what it means to be human and how our sexuality relates to our identity. As a result, many people are deeply hurting and confused.

The church needs to know more clearly and voice more consistently a comprehensive biblical understanding of human nature, marriage, and human flourishing. We need articulate spokespeople who can communicate a Christian vision to those in the church, in authority, in the government, in the courtrooms, in the media, in the classrooms, in our families, in our neighborhoods, and on the street. And we must do it boldly, winsomely, persistently, and frequently, regardless of how unpopular it might be.

Parents and grandparents need to repeatedly talk about these issues with their children and grandchildren. They need to ask good questions and listen carefully to what their progeny are hearing and believing, and provide thoughtful and relevant biblical perspectives and answers. The same must be done with our friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

We must also do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), but again, our gentleness and respect cannot become an excuse for saying nothing for fear of being offensive. Sometimes the message itself is the source of offense, no matter how kindly and clearly we say it. We cannot assume that if we speak about this subject appropriately we will always get a warm hearing and positive reaction. Jesus never did or said anything wrong and He got crucified for what He was saying and doing. We simply cannot afford to succumb to the temptation to be liked by everyone. We won’t be, and too much is at stake if we think we can be.

In the end, if we remain silent, or leave the job to others, we abdicate our God-given responsibility to teach God’s ways to the generations who come after us (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). And if Christians are silent, who will provide the Christian perspective? We may face opposition and ridicule, but Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:11 that it is a blessing to be persecuted and ridiculed for His sake. He also warned us in John 15:18 that, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” These verses lead us to another important responsibility.

Be Willing and Ready to Suffer

American Christianity has especially enjoyed an extended time of peace, prosperity, and favor. But throughout the world and throughout history, this has often not been the norm but the exception. Difficulty, hardship, persecution, and exclusion have been the far more common experience of the church.

As the LGBTQIA movement gains power and influence, those who oppose them will not be left alone or ignored. Movement advocates will try to intimidate and silence all who stand against them. This has already been one of their most effective weapons in their cause. People are increasingly scared to disagree publicly with the movement.

But the opposition will go beyond mere intimidation and ridicule. As we have already noted in the previous post, it is very likely churches, schools, organizations, and even individuals will suffer real hardship if they refuse to support the movement’s agendas. No doubt, some will lose their jobs over the issue. There will likely be verbal abuse, and perhaps physical abuse, confiscation of property, even imprisonment.

This may sound like sensationalism, but it is not outside the realm of possibility for God’s people to suffer this way for the sake of righteousness in a society that is increasingly disinterested in honoring Him and doing what is good. Those whose deeds are evil love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19). As His followers, we should expect and embrace suffering for the sake of righteousness (1 Peter 4:12-16). Churches and seminaries need to stop teaching Christians a health and wealth gospel—which is no gospel at all—and teach a biblical theology of suffering. We need to learn that hardship normal; that we need to learn how to suffer well; that suffering is one of God’s primary ways of molding us into the Image of Jesus. We need to humble ourselves and gain wisdom from the perseverance, faithfulness, and even mistakes of the suffering church worldwide, as well as the church throughout history.

In Philippians 3:10, Paul expressed his ardent longing to be like Christ in every way—including His sufferings and death. Do you long to suffer like Jesus so you can know Him more intimately? Do I? Scripture also tells us it’s an honor to be considered worthy to suffer for Him (Acts 5:41). Are you worthy and ready for that great honor? Am I?