Category Archives: Suffering

The Dark Night Rises In Colorado

If anyone needed a reminder of the reality of suffering and sin, we have seen another example this morning in the early hours of The Dark Knight Rises premier. Reports are still being clarified, but the alleged suspect arrived and threw a tear gas like gas in the theater and then proceed to fire an unknown number of weapons and rounds of ammunition. As of this writing twelve are reported dead and over forty injured in a variety of ways. As many may be asking at this point in the day, “What was the point?”

The sad truth is that there may never be an answer that will satisfy those of us that are wondering. There will never be an answer that will ease the pain of the loss of life. Events like this occur far too often, but it is not until a sensational event takes place, like the one this morning that our attentions are sharply drawn. I am frustrated by this. I am angry that this has happened again. But, some of my frustration and some of my anger is pointed at a culture that insists that it understands the deepest longings of the human heart, mind and soul. We have become so enlightened that we are more ignorant and more perverse than ever before.

I find it somewhat ironic that James Holmes, the suspect that was arrested, was released from the University of Colorado where he was a PH.D. student in neuroscience.

While I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I had to read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It is an interesting tale of a man by the name of Tomáš. His defining characteristic is that he has an insatiable sexual appetite. And yet, he never seems to find any peace or satisfaction. Instead of finding a weightiness to his existence, Tomáš realizes that his being is unbearable light. There is no substance, no significance, nothing of value or worth to his life. As you read the book you find that it is not in the abundance of pleasure that you find meaning. This is the strange existential reality of life. While many of us who heard about this terrible event feel sorrow and mourn with those that have lost; and while we feel a righteous anger toward the one who committed these heinous acts, we eventually all turn our attentions inward.

We turn inward because we think about what we would have done if we had been there. We turn inward wondering how we would feel if we had been injured, known someone who died or second guessed our decision to get out without helping others. We turn inward because we all are faced with the undying and unrelenting question, “Am I doing anything with my life worth remembering?” This is a fundamental reality.

If we were honest with ourselves we would have to acknowledge the general self-centeredness of our lives. I hate to even admit it, but it is true. We more often than not are looking out for “good ole #1.” What do we have in our lives that helps us to counteract this? The only example we have is Jesus’ self-less love for sinners. Jesus died for those that deserved it least. We are the reason for his death and suffering and he is the reason for our life and joy.

Paul says it this way in Philippians 2:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NKJV)

The mind of Christ, as Paul calls it describes the change that takes place within those who follow Jesus. This change affects everything that we do, especially how we see and respond to tragedies like the one that occurred this morning. I do not make any claims in knowing how Jesus would respond to this event. I do think that it would include sorrow, weeping and a desire to serve those affected.

A dark night rose last night. It just was not the one that everyone was looking forward to.

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A Tribute to Jay Williams | “He Loved Jesus”

Jay Williams

(July 11, 1980 – June 30, 2012)

A Tragic End

Around 4:45 pm this afternoon Jay Williams died from injuries suffered from falling off a roof while at work, eleven days shy of his thirty-second birthday. That may have been the cause of my friend’s death. But, that will never be what I remember most about him.

It is during events like this that we are confronted with some of the most difficult questions of faith. We are consumed with our sorrow and pain. We are riddled with questions that may never be answered. We are shocked into the unchanging reality that the one who died, we will not see again… this side of eternity. And here in lies the hope of the disciple of Jesus. We do not mourn like those who have no hope, Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

God never promised that our lives on earth would be long and filled with every pleasure we could fill it with. What he promised was that we would never have to go through anything by ourselves. Taking advantage of all of the wonders and opportunities of life will never be a sin. We just can not expect those things to fill our hearts and satisfy out deepest longings. I never knew what that meant until I met Jay Williams. He taught me how to see the good in every situation and how to fill as many moments as possible with all that you have to offer.

I was praying for a different outcome. I wanted to see Jay again. I want Jay to be at the Chrysalis Journey Weekend in five weeks talking about serving God and helping others see their own potential. That’s what I want, but that is not the truth. Jay has walked THROUGH death’s door. That is what death is. It is a door we have to go through because Jesus has not come back and shut it for good. And, until Jesus comes back and makes everything right again we will have to deal with tragedies and losses like this.

But, do you know what I hate more than the fact that I will not see Jay again until I die or Jesus comes back? I hate the crazy things that people will say to try and make his family feel better. I want to clear some things up right here.

  • God did not need another angel. He has all the angels he needs.
  • It was not Jay’s time. Jay had an accident because that is what happens in a fallen world, and that accident cost him his life.
  • Jay is not looking over us. Jay is looking into the eyes of his Savior and is enjoying the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to him. Jay is better than he has ever been.
  • Jay would not choose to come back. This is the hardest of all. If Jay would choose anything, it would be for all of us who love him to be with him, where he is with Jesus.

I do not say any of this to hurt, but to remind us all of what, I believe, Jay would want us to remember. Our loss and grief is great because we loved him and we will miss him. But, if we see death as the end of everything rather than as the passage to everything we will deny ourselves the peace of knowing that he truly is in a better place.

The Life and Legacy of Jay Williams

There are three things that characterize Jay to me. I found all of these characteristics to be true as I worked with Jay during Chrysalis this past year.

1. He loved Jesus.

Man, did he love Jesus. He was not willing to lose sight of him. In everything that he did and said, Jay wanted to help others understand what he had come to know and love about Jesus.

Jay was not a religious person, but he had an undeniable faith. He was not trying to impress anybody, and yet, we were all impressed with him. His faith was rich and deep and true. He did everything he could to let you know that you were a child of God without making you feel like there was something wrong with you if you were not yet one. Jesus defined who he wanted to be.

I have to say that Jay was one of the most Christ-like men I have ever met.

2. Because he loved Jesus, He loved others.

In the time that I knew Jay (which was not long enough), he never met a stranger. He may have found you strange, but that never stopped him from talking with you and engaging you in conversation. I may have been the only one he did this to, but he had an awful tendency of not looking me in the eyes when we talked. I know he was not intimidated, I do not think Jay was scared of anything. I guess he was just a humble guy and did not want to make anybody else feel uncomfortable.

It always amazed me how he could talk people into doing or trying things they would not have done on their own. I remember him tying a tight-rope thing to a tree and the back of a truck and trying to teach a few people how to get on and off without hurting themselves. That was just his way. He did not believe that people could not do things. They just needed somebody to believe in them. So, there was Jay ready to believe. He believed in others because Jesus believed in him.

3. Because he loved others, he tried to help others see Jesus.

Everything Jay did and everything he was gave Jay an opportunity to be a light for Jesus. Jay was not a preacher or an evangelist, but everything he did reflected his faith in Jesus. That is what he wanted most of all, for people to know the one who had changed his life.

I do not expect any words of mine to capture all that Jay was. I just hope to remind myself of all that Jay was to me and how I am a better man having known him.

I will miss you my friend, but the wait will not be long. I will see you soon enough.

The Epistle of Joy and A Theology of Suffering

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians there is an interesting dichotomy developing. Paul gave thanks for what God was doing in his life and in the life of the believers in Philippi. He then turns his attention to what is happening to him. And what is that? He is in prison because of his preaching of the Gospel. He is doing exactly what God wants him to do and he gets thrown in jail.

There is no easy road to evangelism. It is paved with the rough stones of adversity. There is no beautiful scenery. There is only the destruction of sin and the carnage of willful disobedience. Jesus never promised that the task of communicating the message of salvation was going to be easy. Whenever we grumble that it isn’t we have not paid attention to what Jesus taught us on the matter.

There are several passages in the first chapter that truly reveal this paradox of faith. How can Paul write such encouragement when he is shackled to a wall or guard all day long? How can he rejoice because of his situation? I just doesn’t make sense. What are we missing that Paul seems to have understood?

Here are a few samples of what I mean.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel… 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

These three verses are Paul’s introduction to what he believed about his current state. He did not see being in jail and suffering as a concern. He was actually pleased at the effect that it was having on those around him. The entire guard had heard the Gospel, and many of the believers outside had been stirred to action as well. It really does challenge our modern, American sensibilities to think that going to jail for our faith is a good thing. But, Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes and says the following.

15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Paul knew that there are some people preaching the Gospel for the wrong reasons. They were out there for profit, for acclaim or, as Paul writes, to make it more difficult on Paul! Can you image that. You are sitting in prison and someone dislikes you so much that they are intentionally trying to make things worse. And yet, Paul looks past all of that and says that the reason is irrelevant to him because the truth is being proclaimed. Now, those preaching for the wrong reason will be held accountable, but God is so good that he will even use these wrong motives to accomplish his ultimate purpose.

But again, this is not the end of what Paul said. He continues.

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 

Really?! It is hard for you to decide whether you want to stay on earth or go to heaven? I sometimes wonder why we don’t talk like this? And then I realize that many of us are not willing to go where Paul went. Paul knew and understood something that many in the Western church have not learned to even acknowledge. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I believe that Paul’s commitment to the proclamation and spread of the Gospel had a lot to do with it. The power of evangelism to motivate and refocus the believer is largely lost in our day.

Here is Paul’s final salvo in the chapter 1.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul really does lay out for us his theology here on the subject of suffering and the Gospel. There is a mysterious way in which our faith in Jesus will lead to some form of suffering. If we are not making any effort to spread the Gospel to those whom God sends along our journey, we will find no resistance. The intentional advancement of the Good News of Jesus is what causes friction between what we believe as followers of Jesus and what the world is leaning towards. We are not merely interested in propagating a religion. We want to produce fruit because of a relationship with Jesus the Savior.

Worshiping God when suffering IS a part of His plan.

I was reading this morning in 1 Peter and came across these two verses.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17, ESV)

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19, ESV)

Peter seems to imply that there my be times when suffering IS included in God’s plan for us. Not only does this sound wrong, there are many within the Christian community that teach and believe that this would never happen. But, they do this in contradiction to what the Bible plainly says. This is an inconvenient truth. We have to deal with the reality of what God says in His word, rather than trying to make it say something that it does not.

While there may be times in our lives were we live in fear that suffering may come into our lives, we should remember that God is fully aware of all that is taking place around us. There is nothing that escapes God’s observing eyes. If we believe in God’s love; if we believe in God’s grace; if we believe that God will work all things out for our good, then we have be careful not to make every experience of suffering into a time to complain and gripe and doubt God’s plan. If and when we suffer, we must make sure that we suffer justly. The fact that we do not suffer more is the true miracle if God’s love.

The question that took shape this afternoon was this:

Can I worship God if the suffering I
endure IS because of something in God’s plan which
God has chosen not to reveal to me?

When we think about what is happening around us it can be so easy to lose sight of the greatness and grandness of God. But, suffering has a way of adjusting our focus. If suffering happens outside of God’s will then we have no reason to fear. God will see us through. So, what do we do when we are confronted with the possibility, and according the Peter, the actuality that suffering is a part of God’s plans? Will we retreat from what the Bible says, or will we allow God to shape our view of the world? Because suffering has such a powerful effect on us, we are confronted with the varied array of assumptions that we may have made about how God works in the world. Assumptions that must be changed if we are going to live in obedience to God and His Word.

The challenge that Peter sets before us is this: when we find ourselves suffering from the concussion that suffering inflicts on our lives and heart, will we be able to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator?” A faithful Creator. God’s faithfulness toward us should never be called into question. As pilgrims on the journey of faith, we need to trust that God’s view of the events and circumstances of history are controlled and guarded against sabotage by His sovereign reign.

I came across this song some months ago and I found that it captures, in a powerful way, what Peter is communicating here in his letter.

You can hear Laura Story tell the story behind the song here.