Friday, May 31, 2013

The Christian Paradox of Suffering

In the last two months, My wife and I have have had relatives impacted by cancer diagnoses and a stroke.  In the last two months, our country has experienced a bombing in Boston, tornadoes decimating Oklahoma, and the horror associated with the Kermit Gosnell trial.  Suffering seems to be predominate on the world scene as well as in our own personal lives.  I had a pastor who once said that a person is either  about to go through a period of suffering, is in the middle of a period of suffering, or will soon go through a period of suffering.  It is inescapable, and we are all exposed to it.

I call suffering a Christian paradox because of how the Bible refers to these times of trials in our lives.  Suffering is awful, but the Bible not only tells us to expect it (John 17, James 1) but to take joy in it (James 1).  This is where the paradox lies.  The darkest times in  the life of a believer is often where they sense the joy of the Lord the strongest.  There are three things I believe God's word teaches us about suffering.

Suffering Exposes our Weakness and Highlights God's Strength

In 2 Corinthians 11:22-27, Paul gives a list of his sufferings.  He mentions his imprisonments, beatings, and being near death many times.  At one point, he received 39 lashes.  He was persecuted by the Romans and the Jews, stoned, and shipwrecked.  He literally faced danger at every turn along his journeys.  Paul said many believers were boasting in an unspiritual way about their accomplishments.  Paul's point was that if he was going to boast in anything, he was going to boast in his weaknesses because they exalt the strength of God.  In Chapter 12, Paul even says he was given a thorn in his flesh to "torment me so I would not exalt myself" (v.7, HCSB).  God refused to remove this ailment so that Paul would see that God's grace was sufficient enough for him. We are weak and broken vessels, but God has chosen us to display his strength and power through.  It is a mystery, but the glory of God's strength is made more evident to us and to the world when it is displayed in our moments of weakness.

Suffering Matures Us As Believers

James 1 is clear that suffering is inevitable, but we are to take joy in it.  It also says the trials develop our character in a way that matures us as believers.  According to James 1, suffering and trials help us develop endurance, gives us wisdom, and increases our faith.  All of this leads to a better understanding of who we are as believers and followers of Christ.  It also increases our hope.  James 1:12 says that the "man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him." (HCSB)  God in his infinite wisdom knew this fallen world would bring suffering on His children, but because He is sovereign over suffering, He can use it shape us more into the image of His Son.

Suffering Gives Us a Clearer Portrait of God

My suffering is nothing compared to what many have suffered, but I know that in some of the darkest periods of my life is where I learned more clearly who God is.  You see examples of this in Scripture as well.    Daniel learned this in a lion's den.  Joseph, Paul, and Peter all got greater glimpses of God from a jail cell.  John received a powerful revelation of God while exiled on Patmos.  But my favorite example of this is from Job.  We all know his story.  He lost everything.  His wife had turned on him, and his friends were attributing his suffering to his own sin.  Job never cursed God, but he did demand an answer from him.  And what an answer did God give (read Job 38-41).  After all of Job's suffering, Job received an image of God he would never forget, and Job's response is one we should all have:  "I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You;  therefore, I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes".

Suffering affects us all, but let us never forget that God is sovereign over suffering and has a purpose for it.  Also let us never forget that he is not immune to it.  The greatest example of suffering was endured by Him after all.  He became man and walked among us.  He bore the weight of our sins on His shoulders.  He endured His own wrath for sin on our behalf.  He faced the sting of death we deserved.  He indeed knows all about suffering.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Three Things I’ve Learned From My 19 Month Old Daughter

Being a dad has to be one of the most rewarding and, at the same time, one of the most challenging tasks a man will ever face.  I tried to prepare myself for fatherhood.  I really did.  But I am finding out that nothing prepares you like experience.  Only experience can teach you how to handle that first diaper blowout, or how to comfort them after their first major boo boo, or how not to accidentally say a dirty word after stepping on a plastic Abby Cadabby figure in the middle of the night.  One of the major ways I am learning as a father is by observation.  Not only am I learning how to be a better father by observing my daughter, but she is also teaching me how to be a better man and husband to my wife.  Here are three things my daughter, Madie, has taught me the last 19 months.

    1.  Never lose your sense of wonder or adventure

      Going outside is like visiting another planet for a 19 month old.  Her eyes get wide, she gets this giddy look on her face, and she explores everything when we are outside.  She acts like coming back into the house after an outside adventure is the most traumatic thing in the world.  She loves adventure and she is beautifully wonderstruck by everything she sees outside.  This has encouraged me to keep my sense of wonder and adventure alive.  I need to always be willing to take my daughter and her mother on new adventures.  As a husband, being married is the greatest adventure I could ever be on.  I need to love my bride the way Christ loved His, and I need to never lose my sense of excitement and wonder at being a father and husband.

      2.   Always be mindful of your words and actions

Madie is at the stage where she tries to mimic everything her mother and I do.  If we go into a room, she follows us.  If I drop something and say, “uh oh”, she says, “uh oh”.  If I bang my head on  a cabinet door and say, “ouch”, she grabs her head and says, "ouch".  She is a copycat, and she follows in her parents footsteps.  The older she gets the more she will observe how I treat others.  She will observe how I treat her mother, and may seek a mate that treats her the same way.   I want to be a godly husband to my wife, so she will seek that type of mate for herself someday.  Someday way in the future. 

     3.   Always take time to laugh

The other day my wife , Rebekah, and I were in the living room laughing hysterically about something on television.  Madie was in her room playing.  All of a sudden she burst into the living room and started laughing hysterically with us even though she had no idea what she was laughing at.  Madie loves to laugh, and she often does so for no reason at all.  I tend to get so wrapped up in what I’m doing that I don’t take time to just relax and have fun.  I recently made it one of my goals to do something every day that makes Madie laugh.  Whether it is wearing her Tinkerbell bucket on my head or chasing her around the room on my hands and knees, I just want to make her laugh.   In doing so, it brings joy to my day as well.