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?

 

Is God Okay With That?

-What About That Behavior?

If you’re a new follower, of Jesus; and, reading through the Bible, for the first time, it may seem like God approves of certain behavior recorded on its pages. Like, is God “okay” with having multiple wives? What about lying? And, adultery? And, killings? It seems like God must be okay with some of these things! Let me emphasize the word “seems.” It may seem that way when we pull one story out of the Bible and look at it separately, from the rest of Scripture. But, God doesn’t intend for the Scriptures to be read like that! We need to approach the reading of God’s Word as a whole!

-The Truth About Man’s Behavior!

The rest, of Scripture, will serve as a commentary & help to clarify the truth. God’s Word records the truth about man’s behavior, while not necessarily endorsing it. In other words, the Bible, at times, unpacks a story— sometimes, in fact, a DISTURBING story— without any kind of divine commentary; not, because God endorses that behavior; but, to encourage us to pause! And, to ask questions, of the text. To talk, with God, about it. And, to study out the rest of the Bible; because, invariably God speaks to that behavior elsewhere. Always remember that the very best commentary, on the Word of God, is the Word of God!

-Stories Of Broken Relationships!

And, that’s especially helpful to know as we connect with some of the stories about broken relationships. For example, God’s Word tells the truth, about Abraham’s behavior when he lies about Sarah, his wife. It tells the truth about Jacob exploiting his brother, Esau’s, hunger. And, God is not endorsing their behaviors! In fact, the Scripture also records the truth about the outcome that their sinful behaviors had on relationships. God doesn’t always need to remind us when a certain behavior is sinful; because, the consequences that result bear that out!

-See Yourself In The Broken Stories!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll see yourself in these stories. And, it’s my prayer, for you, that you’ll be truthful with yourself, with God, and, perhaps with someone you’ve harmed through similar behavior. Let’s quit living in denial! Let’s resolve our personal conflicts! In Genesis, chapter 24, Abraham, whom God had promised to make a great nation, was old and concerned that his son, Isaac, would marry a good girl that God would bless! So, he makes his servant promise to find a wife that fit his demands.

-About Abraham’s Servant!

Who is this servant? Back, in ch. 15, before Isaac is born, Abraham is wrestling, with God, about not having an heir. He tells God that all he has to pass his inheritance to was his servant named Eliezer. Now, according to the Jewish targums, Eliezer was the son of Nimrod. Remember Nimrod? Back in Genesis 10, after the flood, Nimrod was the ambitious man who led the rebellion to build the Tower of Babel against God’s command. That’s really all we know about Eliezer! We know nothing of his faith. But Abraham seems to be at work convincing him to come to faith in Yahweh. As he sends Eliezer off to seek Isaac’s bride, he tells him, “…God will send His angel before you…” v.7. That would change his life!

 

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!

 

Give Yourself Away!

-That’s True Greatness!

True greatness, in God’s Kingdom, is not shown by exercising power; but, in giving yourself away to others! Jesus contrasted the leadership style, of the kingdoms of this world, with that of God’s Kingdom, when He called His disciples together and said to them:  “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.

-Jesus Made Himself A Slave!

Jesus didn’t use His title—  “GOD” —as a big stick! At the incarnation, when He became flesh, Paul said, in Philippians, that He assumed the form of a “SLAVE.” The Greek word used there, “Doulos”, is the same word Mark uses in v.44. Jesus came to be a “SLAVE” in order that He might serve us & give away His life for us! In God’s economy, He calls you great when you, like Jesus, voluntarily ENSLAVE yourself to the people of the world & serve them! Don’t miss the significance!

-Not To Be Served!

Even God, Himself, did not come to be served. He came TO serve by making Himself a ransom for sinners. We generally think of a ransom as a payoff or a redemption demanded for the release of a hostage. It’s money that’s “given away” so the person, taken hostage, can be released from their bondage. Jesus was teaching His disciples that He didn’t come as a Gentile ruler, showing off how powerful He was! He could have! But, He didn’t! That was not His way.

-Jesus Made Himself A Ransom!

He came to give His life away as a ransom, for us; so, that we could be set free from our bondage to sin. That’s the good news of the Gospel! And, we’re called to live out our lives in the same way— to give them away, “Jesus-like”! So that the world will take notice that the followers, of Jesus, are not like this world’s leaders! We don’t strut! We serve! Jesus served us ‘til it hurt— ’til it killed Him! I’ve known very few Christians who’ve served ‘til it hurt! I can’t say that I have personally experienced any kind of pain from serving others! It’s never cost me blood!

-Make It Count!

Don’t give yourself away to a company; or, to a house full of stuff! Give yourself away to people! Be available! Make your time count for eternal things! If you’re too busy, repent & give your agenda to Jesus! One day we’re all going to stand before God & He’s going to ask us, “What did you do with what I gave you? Your talents? Your abilities? Your background? Your experiences? Your education?” You don’t want to tell Him, “Well, I was kinda busy with my own ambitions and plans.” Or, God’s going to say, “What were you thinking? Do you really think I put you on My earth to live for yourself? I put you here to represent Me & to serve the lost who don’t know Me!” Trust me, all you want to hear that day is:  “Well done, good & faithful servant!”

 

Lead Like Jesus!

-Not Like Rockstars!

The more I read the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ interactions, with His disciples, the more convinced I am that the prevailing world view, of His day, was really not much different than that of our own. The disciples all wanted to be “ROCKSTARS.” That’s why they followed Jesus at the start! He was popular! They thought He was going to be king over Israel & deliver their people from the Romans. Who wouldn’t want to latch onto that star, if given a chance, and, ride it as far as it would go? If ever they were going to be His disciples, Jesus would have to retrain & reteach them! His kingdom was not of this world, He told them!

-Jesus’ Kingdom Way!

The way of Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different from the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Jesus told them, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In essence, Jesus is teaching them to live their lives out in the hidden places of service rather than the public places of being noticed. One of my favorite pastors & authors challenges us to make that our prayer! We’ll have to pray that God changes our heart & makes us a servant; because we’ll never choose the place of obscure service in our flesh.

-Jesus Is Attractive To Many!

You see, Jesus & His Gospel have been misrepresented by much of the western church! So many self-identified “Christians” live such a selfish, mean-spirited, ugly way of life that our unbelieving neighbors want nothing to do with whatever it is they’re peddling! But, many unbelievers do find Jesus attractive! And, many find the true church— that strives to follow Jesus & His teachings— to be attractive like Him! Just think about it church—Jesus won us over because He served us at our deepest need! He loved us in spite of our sinful brokenness! Our cities & our neighbors will begin to pay attention to the church again when we serve them, in their need, like Jesus served us! When we love them like Jesus loved us!

-Jesus’ Model Of Greatness!

That’s how Jesus discipled His followers, according to Mark’s text. This is what true greatness looks like, in Jesus’ kingdom! Don’t steal the world’s model for greatness because it doesn’t look anything like greatness in God’s realm! True greatness, in God’s kingdom, is counter-intuitive to this world’s standard. The “…rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them…” If you’re going to rule or lead, in the Gentile world— or, among unbelievers— you have to dominate them! You have to show ‘em who’s in charge! Like the former Russian Communist leader, Lenin, once said: “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.” That’s worldly leadership! It’s not Jesus’ way!

The Humility Of Jesus!

-Our Lack Of Humility!

Our general failure to serve others, as Jesus did, stems from our failure to humble ourselves as Jesus did! As Jesus washes the feet, of His disciples, He finally comes to Peter— “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” John 13:6-10.  Peter’s words express his shame; that, he had been unwilling to humble himself & wash the feet of the disciples, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” His words express a brokenness among the disciples now.

-Overcome By Selfishness!

They were overcome by their individual selfishness & humiliated by their pride that kept them from washing each other’s feet! And, the occasion provided Jesus the opportunity to exhibit true humility! That seems to be Jesus’ intent when He tells him,  “…you don’t understand now, but you will know after this.”  “Peter, you’re protesting because you’re ignorant,” Jesus was saying, “I’ve been telling you, for 3 1/2 years, that I came to minister to people, not to be ministered unto. I came to be humiliated & humbled! Someday you’ll understand.” After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did understand. He had observed the total humiliation & humbling of Jesus on the cross.  But, not now! As Jesus washed his feet, the complete picture, of what Jesus came to do, was not evident yet to Peter. He still thinks Jesus is about to launch His Kingdom! This is the King— “What are you doing down there washing my feet, King Jesus?” “Peter, you’re just not tracking with me,” Jesus was saying, “I must humble myself! That’s why I came! And, if you won’t let me humble myself, in your place, you can have no part of Me! If I don’t experience the ultimate humiliation of death, on the cross! If I don’t take your sin & the sin of the world! If I don’t make atonement for your sin, you can have no part of Me! You’ll never spend eternity with Me!”

-I’ve Given You An Example!

He finishes washing their feet & says, “You call Me Teacher & Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” John 13:13-15. The “example” He gave was NOT the practice of foot washing! The example He gave us was HUMILITY!  His ministry, as a SERVANT, didn’t appeal to the religious leaders! Serving others made Him weak, in their estimation. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! Judas Iscariot came to the same conclusion! So, he determined to cut his losses & make a little profit from his wasted 3 1/2 years with Jesus! How sad they missed the Servant King!

 

Called To Serve!

-A Day Away From Crucifixion!

Jesus began His ministry quite impressively! The gospel accounts reveal that He kind of burst on the scene! He attracted huge crowds because He spoke differently than anyone had ever spoken before! Especially Israel’s priests and other religious leaders! When we get to chapter 13, in John’s gospel account, Jesus is a day away from His crucifixion. By now, the crowds have abandoned Him, in part, because He began preaching a message of sacrifice & service!

-Take Up Your Cross!

He told them they needed to crucify “self” and take up their cross daily if they wanted to be His follower! He preached an upside down kingdom where those who led must serve! That the way to be FIRST was to be LAST! He turned the world’s leadership style on it’s head! This was what His church would look like! And, many of His original followers, wanted nothing more to do with Him! They had followed for selfish reasons! But, Christ’s kingdom would be a selfless one! So, Jesus is left with 12 followers— and, one of them, Judas Iscariot, would betray Him! So, they’ve met back in Jerusalem, in an upper room, to celebrate the Passover together.

-Jesus Washes His Disciples Feet!

And, John writes this:  “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist” John 13:1-4.  Their feet were dirty from their trip. It was common, for most travelers, to walk. A horse or burro was an expensive luxury for most! “Roads” were little more than dirt paths! They had no sidewalks, or bike paths, as we’re accustomed to! Depending on the weather, you either moved through inch thick dust; or, liquid mud caused by rain. It was impossible for sandals to keep the dirt out! Most Jewish homes kept large vessels of water, near the front door, for every visitor to wash their feet. It was typical, in this time period, for a slave to wash the visitor’s feet.

-Jesus Serves Like A Slave!

But, when the disciples get to the upper room, there is no slave! No servant is prepared to wash their feet & no one volunteers to wash feet! In fact, this is the same group that Luke tells us (ch.22) had been fighting over who was the greatest among them. Who would sit at Jesus’ right hand & left hand when He setup His kingdom? So, with that going on, what were the chances that any of them would humble themselves & wash the feet of the other disciples? The bowl of water was there! The towel was there! Everything needed to serve was there! But, no one was willing! The text seems clear that they were in the middle, of their meal, when Jesus rises from the table (v.5) to show them what it means to serve!