Can God Trust You With Pain?

-What An Odd Question!

That probably seems like an odd question because it makes it sound like “pain” is a good thing, doesn’t it? A good thing that you could be “trusted” with? We might ask if you could be trusted with your best friend’s car; but, not “pain”! The question may also seem confusing because it suggests that pain is something that comes from God & everything inside us wants to rebel at the notion that pain & suffering might be choreographed into our lives by God! That can’t be true, can it?

-We Are So “Coddled”!

Most Christians, here in the west, have been coddled! I have & so have most of you! We suffer very little for our beliefs. Several months ago, I went, with a couple of our men, to visit a faith-based community center in another city. It was a Friday; and, Friday is typically my day off. But, I had had a number of interruptions, that week; and, I didn’t get my work done. So, I was whining that I’d have to go into the office for 2-3 more hours, when I got back, to finish up my work! And, the Lord convicted me! As we pulled into the church parking lot, I apologized for complaining about my “suffering.”

-Real Suffering Looks Like This!

The Holy Spirit had pressed in on me & planted the thought that there were probably brothers & sisters, in Christ, in other parts of the world, who had died for their faith that day. Still, others had endured harsh treatment, for their faith; and, I was whining about working an extra 2-3 hours.  We’ve bought into the lie that coming to Jesus is like playing a Country Western song backward— we get our dog back, our truck back; and, our girlfriend back! Funny! But, that’s not what Jesus said. He said that if the world hated Him, it would hate us! That if they persecuted Him, they would persecute us! That if we followed him, we’d have to give up our life! We have to deny ourselves & count the cost!

-More Like Jesus!

You see, the Father intends to use all the “junk”, in this sin-cursed world, to make us more like Jesus— who was, in fact, a SUFFERING Savior, right? Someone said, that, we tend to “…read the Bible, not with a desperate hunger for evidence of God’s triumph in pain; but, with a view to improving our private pleasure.” Clearly, Bible characters, like Moses & Joseph, were not overly concerned with improving their private pleasure! On the contrary, they endured great difficulty on their way to spiritual success; and, it was because of the great difficulties, in part, that they experienced spiritual success. For Moses, Scripture says “…he CHOSE to SUFFER…” rather than enjoy sin’s pleasures (Heb 11:25).

-He Chose To Suffer!

It says he CHOSE to suffer! As the adopted son, of Pharoah’s daughter, he had a choice— short-lived pleasures; or, suffering! Which would you choose? Be honest! Most of us would choose short-lived pleasures, wouldn’t we? Long-lived pleasures, even better! But, Moses CHOSE to suffer! I never choose to suffer! But, I will tell you that when suffering has been my lot, that I grew more deeply, in my faith & my walk with God & others, than I ever did enjoying the short-lived pleasures of this life! I’m not suggesting that we live our lives with a death wish! Rather, we learn to submit to whatever course God directs our lives; and, by faith believe His intentions are good! We need to learn that during this difficult time in human history! Amen?

 

Broken Relationships!

-The Way Of The Transgressor!

During the early years, of my kid’s lives, I often quoted one verse of Scripture, to them, more than any other. It was from the Old King James version; and, I quoted it whenever they had gotten themselves into some kind of trouble. It’s Proverbs 13:15; and, it says “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Many times I gave them no additional words of correction! I just shook my head & repeated those words, “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” It means that there are consequences for sin & disobedience! Sin is HARD! Sinful actions reap painful, cruel results!

-Hard Circumstances!

And, my wife and I would speak to our kids from our own experiences. We’ve experienced the hard circumstances of transgressing against the Word of God. Nothing good ever comes from disobedience to God! Never! Only pain and suffering! And, one of the most painful circumstances we endure is the broken “relationships” that lay scattered in the wake of our sinful conduct. Some relationships will never be reconciled because the damage is perceived as being too severe.

-The Toxicity Of Sin!

The Scriptures, from its early chapters in Genesis, with Adam & Eve’s sin, expose the toxicity sin brings to our human relationships. Just flip back to Genesis chapter 3 for a moment. God confronts them after their sin; and, demands an explanation for their disobedience.  “What is this you’ve done,” God asks Eve in v.13. And, Eve shifts blame, “It was the serpent.” She avoids the question. God asked her, “…what have YOU done…” And, she shifts blame to the serpent. But, she wasn’t the 1st person to shift blame! She had just heard her husband, Adam, respond to God’s question, “It was the woman YOU gave me— she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

-The Ultimate Blame Shift!

Did you catch that? Who is Adam ultimately blaming? GOD, right? He shifts blame to God, “…the woman YOU gave me…” So, Adam & Eve’s relationship, with God, is broken! And, their marital bliss also came to a very abrupt end because of their sin. In outlining the curse, because of sin, God told Eve v.16, “…your desire will be for your husband, yet he will RULE over you…” Sin would forever mar their relationship; and, though God, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, will work to sanctify our marriages, it’ll require work & great effort to overcome the harmful effects of our sin.

-What A Nightmare!

And, what a nightmare, that we pass our sinful nature on to our children, who in turn, make many of the same sinful decisions we made; and, also make up a few of their own. We read, in Genesis chapter 4, of the tragic history of humanity’s 1st murder; and, incredibly, it happened within the family, as one brother (Cain) murdered his brother (Abel).  We bear, as the human race, the consequences of our sinful natures. You can try & deny it or ignore it; but, “…be sure about it, your sin will catch up with you” Numbers 32:23. Also, “…don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap” Galatians 6:7. Why? Because “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Only God can fix the mess we’ve made!

 

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

Compassion Ministry Validates Faith!

-What Does Faith Look Like?

If you’re one that believes your salvation is solely about what and whom you believe in, James epistle has to be a bit unnerving for you! I say that because James lays down 3-part evidence for what genuine saving faith looks like; and, it includes (1) Self-control over one’s speech; (2) A Ministry of compassion to the needy; and, (3) Practical Holiness. I am alluding to the words, written by James’ hand while inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— ”If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26-27.

-Compassion Ministry!

James places the ministry of compassion on an equal plane as living a holy life & getting rid of your potty mouth! Unfortunately, many believers tend to separate them and elevate one area over another! Many think that becoming HOLY— or, “…keeping oneself unstained by the world” as James says here— is more important to God than taking care of widows & orphans! God doesn’t see it that way! Each one plays an equal part in living out our faith in Jesus, which is exactly what James means by “pure religion.” Ignore the chapter break— which isn’t inspired; but, added by well-intended individuals— and; discover something even more scandalous! James declares it “favoritism” to look past the needs of orphans & widows.

-Pure Religion Shows No Favoritism!

See how it flows without the chapter break:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:27-2:1. Failing to minister to the needs of orphans & widows is FAVORITISM! Don’t do that, he says! He then goes on to illustrate favoritism, for us, in ch.2. So, I think it’s biblically accurate to say that the “pure and undefiled religion” in 1:26,27 is the same thing as “faith in Jesus” in 2:1. So, is this how you would define genuine faith? If not, perhaps you need to redefine faith the way that God does! It’s His definition that counts!

-Let God Define Genuine Faith!

That may seem obvious to those of you who are passionate about serving Jesus! But, unfortunately, that’s not the case with many in the church who claim to be Christians! I’m referring to the authority, of Scripture, to dictate every area of our lives! EVERY AREA! There is not one part, of my life, that I can claim authority over! God & His Word have complete authority over every area of my life— my thought life, my work life, my sex life, etc. God’s Word has complete authority over all of it! What “I think” and what “I believe” have to be submitted to the Revelation of Scripture; and, repented of & changed when what, “I think” & what “I believe” doesn’t match up with it! Are we in agreement? That is a fundamental of authentic faith in Jesus Christ! It’s no longer a Holy Bible when we start cutting out those parts we don’t like!

 

How God Wants Us To Pray!

-He Wants Us To Repent!

So, let me tell you what I believe God wants us to do if our prayer life looks like the typical Christian! I believe He wants us to repent of our prayerlessness! I believe He wants us to denounce all our human efforts & admit our total helplessness when it comes to getting God’s work done in our human strength! And, I believe, that in order to accomplish that, He wants us to change some habits in our lives— He wants us to ADD TIME to PRAY into our schedules! That means we might need to actually move some other things OUT of our schedule! And, then, He wants us to pray with absolute dependence on Him!

-Pray Over A Crisis Of Faith!

I believe all these things, about prayer, based on the many and various texts of Scripture on the subject! Take Acts chapter 12, the first 5 verses, for instance. It begins:  “About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread.  After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.” We can draw a prayer principle from that reading. When trouble comes our way, God uses our crisis of faith, in His Sovereignty, to get us engaged, with Him, in prayer!

-The Human Way We Pray!

There’s something dreadfully human about the way we pray when life is great! When the job is secure, when the marriage is healthy, when there’s plenty of money, when life’s great… WE DON’T PRAY! That says, “We got this”, doesn’t it? We have the false sense that the job’s secure, the marriage is healthy, and, there’s plenty of money because, “We got this!” Because we’re so good at living life! We credit ourselves for the good life. But, God knows how self-deluded we are! When Israel entered the promised land— AFTER God had miraculously delivered them from slavery to Egypt;  AFTER God had dried up the Red Sea so they could safely cross;  AFTER God had fed them with manna & quail in the desert;  AFTER God had preserved their clothing & sandals for 40 years in the wilderness— He knew they would be tempted to take credit for their good life. He warned them!

-Be Careful Not To Forget The Lord!

God knew how Israel would respond to His going before them & dispossessing the land from wicked nations & handing over to them homes, and cities, and land that they hadn’t earned. He warned them: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large & beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig & vineyards & olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat & are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Deut. 6:10-12. What do we have that God has not given us? But we get comfortable & forget, don’t we?

What Do Your Prayers Look Like?

-Are You Willing To Get Honest?

Are you willing to take a good hard look at your prayer life? Of what do your prayers consist? Are your prayers consumed with “requests”? Are they filled with requests that God would change your circumstances? Make your life easier? Make more money at your job? Or, are you asking for a new job? What if none of that is God’s will for your life? Have you ever considered that? Have you ever considered that, for reasons beyond your ability to even comprehend, that it might not be God’s will to heal someone you’re praying for? Have you ever considered, that in God’s eternal plans for His glory & your good, that it might not be His will for you to get the job you’ve always wanted?

-The Proper Motive For Prayer!

The only proper motive, for prayer, is God’s will! In Jesus’ model prayer, he taught His disciples to pray, “…your kingdom come.  YOUR WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Matthew 6:10.  Perhaps the implication is that rather than praying for God to change our circumstances, we ought to pray that God would use the circumstances to change us! Not until after Jesus taught the disciples to pray for God’s will does He turn His attention to praying for our own individual needs. Only after submitting to God’s will, in prayer, does He teach them to pray, “…give us today our daily bread” Matthew 6:11. There is so much we could say about the simplicity of that prayer request! Just give us what we need TODAY! That’s it! Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble! Just ask for the Father’s provision TODAY; and, leave it there!

-God Already Knows What We Need!

Earlier, in the same text, Jesus had said:  “When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him” ch. 6:7.  Don’t babble lengthy prayers about your needs, Jesus said, because the Father already knows! Then, Jesus turns His attention to praying for others. Again, this is a MODEL prayer! “When you pray, pray LIKE THIS…” He said.  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” He said,  ch. 6:12.  In other words, pray that God would forgive you in the SAME WAY that you forgive others! Be so thankful for the Father’s forgiveness that you forgive others in the same way that He forgave you— TOTALLY! COMPLETELY!

-God’s Absolute Forgiveness!

There is nothing anyone has ever done to you that could ever be compared to the quantity & level of depravity that you’ve sinned against God! And, yet, He forgave you! It’s not until we are truly thankful, for His absolute forgiveness, that we are truly able to forgive others! After He’s finished teaching the disciples how to pray, He shared these disturbing words with them:  “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” ch. 6:14-15. In essence, He’s telling them to take a hard look at themselves! If they’re unable to forgive others, it’s evidence that they may never have been forgiven themselves!

God’s Design For The Family!

-We’re All Someone’s Son Or Daughter!

Family & parenting are subjects that all of us can relate to! We’re all part of a family. We’re all someone’s son or daughter. If we’re married, we’re someone’s husband or wife. If not, we’re probably hoping to one day be someone’s husband or wife.  Most of us either have kids; or, we HOPE to have a family someday! Our infinitely wise Creator designed a husband & wife to complement; or, complete each other. And, He’s also designed the family to work together a certain way!

-Something Beautiful Happens!

When the family works the way that God designed it, something awesome and beautiful happens! Families bring glory to God; and, joy to each family member, when God’s design specifications are followed by faith. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter, to the ancient Church of Colosse, that is hated by the world! But, if, by faith, you will believe God’s Word; and, live it out— by the power of God’s Holy Spirit— your family will bring glory to God; and, you will find joy! Your life will be a blessing to your family; and, to everyone you rub shoulders with in life.  “And whatever you do,” Paul begins, “in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them. Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” Colossians 3:17-21.

-Do It God’s Way!

Whatever you do, Paul says, do it God’s way, according to His design—including husbands, wives & family! That’s the context here! Wives! He begins with wives— if you wanna bring glory to God & live a joy-filled life—Be submissive to your husband! Now, the order has perplexed a number of believers. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to begin with instruction to the wives? I don’t know! There are a number of differing opinions; and, I do have my own opinion. I think it has to do with the meaning of that word “submit” or “be submissive.” The word, in the original language, meant “a VOLUNTARY attitude of giving in, assuming responsibility & carrying a burden.” The key word is “VOLUNTARY.” The wife VOLUNTARILY submits to her husband.

-Not Meant To Lord It Over Her!

So, here’s the message I think the Spirit wants to convey— the husband is not meant to LORD it over his wife by demanding that she submit! Rather, the wife is to willingly, voluntarily, submit! If the husband were addressed first, we might have read into it that the husbands’ responsibility is to demand that his wife submit. So, God removes any inclination the husband might have, to demand submission, by addressing the wives first:  “Ladies, you need to voluntarily give in to your husband’s lead.” God commands this— not, because the wife is incapable! Not because she’s not his equal! Don’t confuse “submission” with “inequality”! We submit to our bosses at work; not, because of inequality; but, because of order! God designed an order to the home. Even Jesus submitted to His parents as part of the created order!