Two Truths and a Lie?

We often assume Satan is all about lying, and he is—John 8:44 says he is the father of lies. But often, he gets to us believe the lies because they masquerade as truth. It’s like that game we used to play as teenagers–two truths and a lie. You said three things about yourself that all could be true, but the person had to guess which one was the lie. The lies are easy to believe because, at least on some level, many of the taunts of the devil are quite true. God does call the weak, the meek, the lowly, and the poor, and we may easily identify ourselves in that way.

If we dwell on that alone, we might be tempted toward despair or self-pity. We want our lives to look better, so we end up defending ourselves and what the world sees as important—our status, our job, our cause—instead of defending the gospel.

But we don’t have to defend ourselves, because we know a more powerful truth. We know our standing is with Christ and that His word is true. We can defend the gospel while admitting we are weak, because our strength is not in ourselves, but in Him (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So next time Satan, or the world, tells you these things or similar thoughts—cling to your standing as a child of God. It is our only sure hope.

  • When you hear, I don’t belong here. It’s true; I don’t. Nothing on this earth feels quite right. But, this world is not my home, and soon I will be with Christ in heaven forever (Hebrews 13:14).
  • When you hear, I am worthless. It’s true; any of my good works apart from Christ are filthy rags. But my worth is found only in Christ and I can never do anything to earn His love or forgiveness or salvation; it is only by grace that I am saved (Ephesians 2:8-10).
  • When you hear, I look awful (or old, or ugly…). It’s true; outer beauty is fading. The cares of this world are many, and it can show. True beauty is found in the one who created us in His image.
  • When you hear, I just did that again. I am hopeless. It’s true; I do fail often. I am a sinner and I will never be perfect this side of heaven. But God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:8-14), He gives good gifts to his children when we ask (Matt 7:9-11), and He is pleased to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32). My hope is in Christ alone. However, He does continue to sanctify me and I must be teachable in order to grow in Christ-likeness.

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We Have This Hope

We are never really prepared to lose someone. It is hard to find anyone, except perhaps a young child, who has not been affected by the curse of death. Whether it is the sudden death of a child, or the expected death of an elderly adult, or anything in between, we are never really prepared for the specific ache each loss brings.

My brother in Christ, Mark, is now in heaven with Jesus. We have this assurance not because of anything he did; not because he was a good person, and not because he did any good thing; but because he put his trust in Christ, repented of his sin and believed that Christ’s blood shed on the cross was sufficient to save him and give him new life (Ephesians 2:4-9).

God loves us and will never leave his children, even through suffering and trials and loss too painful for words. Please read Mark and Anna’s story here. It is the story of our faithful God, and how this family continues to live out the gospel, and trust that God is good, even in the deepest valleys.

Because Mark was saved, we can say that for him to live was Christ, but to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). So though it doesn’t feel like our gain, we know that it is his. We rejoice that Mark is now beholding the glory of the Lord, but we weep at his absence. There is deep pain at the loss of a beloved son, husband, father, friend and brother. Some wounds never fully heal this side of heaven. Some do, but the scar remains. Mark will always be missed.

Mark was a fighter. Yes, he fought the battle of cancer, but more importantly he fought the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:11-12). He fought to the very end, all the way to the feet of Jesus, where I imagine he has already heard, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Mark’s legacy of faith will continue. Not because he was famous or well known, but because he was loved by those who knew him, and always will be, and because he was a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. We will tell his story. He will not be forgotten.

We have this hope! And it is a glorious hope. God will make beauty out of ashes, he will give joy instead of mourning. He will wipe away every tear, and death will be no more. He will make all things new.

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Persevering Through Suffering

In my previous post, Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, I talked about how, though no one is free from suffering, knowing what it looks like can help us love others through suffering, persevere through our own suffering, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who loves us, knows our frame, and knows what it’s like to suffer. Romans 12:12 commands us to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer. I found this to be a helpful reminder as we endure trials of many kinds.

REJOICE IN HOPE.

How do you rejoice in suffering? How do you rejoice in hope?

  • Remember the gospel and where (who) your identity is. It was because Job did not put his identity in health or family or reputation or wealth, etc, that he was able to worship and say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” when he lost everything. He lost everything that most people find their identity in. If we lose something we believe we need or even deserve, we become bitter. But if we have our identity anchored in Christ, then loss and suffering will drive us deeper into our source of joy, not away to something else we think will fulfill us (even good things can become idols). What we lose will be nothing compared to having Christ. Suffering does not rob us of joy, idolatry does.
  • Be thankful. Suffering is not only meant to draw us toward God in our weakness, but it is also assurance that God knows the end of our story. He would not allow us to go through something hard without giving us the strength to handle it. I have found seeking thankfulness in the midst of suffering to be so helpful to keep a right perspective.
  • Know that there is an end to suffering. Ultimately, the only final end to suffering is death. And death is not the end! Death is what God uses to ultimately bring you to life and fullness with him.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Revelation 21:1-5)

  • Allow emotion. Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (Job 1:20) I just think Job’s response is amazing. I can so often hide my emotion under the pretense of looking strong, or thinking that because this is for my good it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. But look at the patterns of Job and the psalms…grief and anguish are so often in the same breathe as the rejoicing. Grief and worship are not opposed to one another. We can be free to experience our grief and still rejoice in the goodness of God.

BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION.

How is suffering fruitful?

What does it look like to be patient in tribulation? Although suffering is not what we were made for, it can bring fruit in ways we could never imagine. I love Genesis 50: 19-21—But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

God meant it for good.

It is important to note that we may not see every (or any) good outcome, or all the fruit of our labors or suffering. Moses didn’t. Abraham didn’t. For me, because I know that God has a purpose in suffering, I want to know why he gives a particular trial, or how he will be glorified through this suffering — how will he use it for good??! I want to know! It seems like it would make the suffering more bearable.

But when Job asked why, God did not give an explanation; instead he reminds Job of His greatness and power. If God had explained to Job what was going to happen, and how everything was going to turn out, then Job would not have been relying on God alone in those dark trials. He would have been placing trust in the outcome in order to have strength to persevere. And God knows that the only way we will make it through the hours of darkness, through the silence and pain, is to trust him no matter what. Not in the outcome. Not in the explanation. Explanations are ultimately a substitution for trust, just like having faith in something you can see, is no faith at all. (Romans 8:24)

I always want to know the why and the how and the when…but his ways are higher than ours, and we don’t need to know them in order to trust Him. Here are a few of the ways we can see some of God’s purposes in suffering, as he shows us in his Word.

  • To rely on Christ. Suffering makes us cry out to God for help in a way we may not when life is going well. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
  • To learn obedience. “Although he was a son, he [Christ] learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
  • That the works of God may be displayed. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)
  • To produce steadfastness. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
  • As discipline. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7. 11)
  • To remind us to remember the gospel. It’s hard not to think that we’ve had our fair share of suffering and it’s time for a break. But there is no “fair” in the Christian life. Well, there is, but we don’t want it. In the past I have been told that I “deserve” certain things, and was actually encouraged in sin because of it. But the reality is we deserve hell so everything else is not only mercy, but it is actually better for us than any alternative we can think of, because God has designed our steps and he is for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
  • God’s comfort enables us to comfort others. Because we have received comfort from God, we can comfort others in any affliction. We don’t have to have experienced the exact suffering they are going through, or even anything close. We are sharing the very comfort of God. Just as we carry each other’s burdens and share in each other’s sufferings, we also share in comfort. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER.

Plead to Father. Cry out in weakness. Sometimes all I can say is, “Oh God, please help.” At times all you may hear is silence. But He is a loving Father and hears the prayers of his children. And His purposes for you are good. Always.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (James 5:13)

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:16-20)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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Everything Sad is Coming Untrue

What does it mean to suffer in this world? It could be the result of any number of things, including temptation, sin, being sinned against, unfulfilled desires, death of a loved one, physical or emotional pain, sickness, etc. Sometimes it’s sudden and unexpected. Sometimes it’s a steady ache that seems to never go away. Whatever it is, we should recognize that we all struggle, though it may look different for each person and it may not always be “visible” to you.

Sleeping for Sorrow

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:45-46)

The disciples were so burdened by their sorrow, so saddened by what was taking place, they could not even stay awake. And Jesus knew that this state of sorrow could easily lead them into temptation. Sorrow can feel paralyzing. They could not see past their pain. They could not see that their sorrow would soon turn to joy. So what does he tell them to do? Watch and pray! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Watch and pray!

Knowing what suffering looks like can help us stay awake and fix our eyes on Jesus, our only hope.

Suffering is real. I have a tendency to feel that my suffering is somehow less significant or less real than others.  Just like we might think we don’t have a good testimony if we haven’t experienced drugs or a difficult childhood, we don’t think our suffering is valid because it’s not violence or poverty or persecution, or whatever “worse” suffering you are comparing yourself to that day.

It’s easier to see suffering and have compassion when it’s something that is easily identifiable by the world as suffering: death of a loved one, cancer or other sickness, effects of violence, or natural disasters. But when you talk about what I like to call invisible suffering, like loneliness or difficult parenting or headaches or a hard marriage or past sin or guilt, or maybe just anything that seems like a daily or continuous struggle or temptation; accepting it as suffering can become more difficult. At least for me—I feel like people would look at me and wonder, “What’s so hard about your life? Why do you say you are suffering?” But often many of us suffer silently, so we must show compassion in all suffering, and know that God cares about all of it, and we too should pray for eyes to see it in others. The sufferings of the world seem endless, but we have a Savior, Jesus. There is the gospel that is sufficient for all of life’s troubles. There is hope!

So, admission of suffering should not be interpreted as a lack of faith—it is in faith that we admit our weakness and rely on the One who is strong, who will wipe away every tear in the end.

Suffering always hurts. Just because suffering isn’t dramatic or sudden or tragic, or shared publicly, doesn’t invalidate it. God is interested in every part of our lives, in all of our suffering. And he knows. He knows what it is like and he is able to sympathize.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Suffering is universal and expected. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)

So even (especially) for the Christian, it is not just a possibility that we might suffer, it is a certainty. It can come in the form of sudden hard news, or in the daily reminders that we are still on the wrong side of heaven. It can be physical or emotional, temporary or long-term. It could be something like watching someone you love suffer, or loving someone who is hard to love, who may hurt or disappoint us often.

Even if you don’t think you have ever really suffered, sin and the fight against it is a cause for suffering. If it is true that we are all sinners, then it is true that we are all sufferers. I find that a lot of my suffering comes from my own sin or the effects of sin in the world, but that is not always the case. Whatever it is though, all this suffering points to the reality that we are meant for something greater. And the truth is, Christ promises to meet us in our suffering and be with us always—he does not promise to take it away.

Since suffering is proof that the world is not as it should be, and that won’t change until heaven, we will always be experiencing some type of suffering while we’re here.

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 sake… (Philippians 1:29)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Christ’s blood has already been shed and the battle is already won. He will wipe away our tears and pain will be no more. Everything sad is coming untrue.

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I’ve Got Nothing to Say

Ah, yes. The first blog post.

I probably won’t have anything unique to say here that you haven’t heard before. But if you are like me, I forget things. I forget to see the beauty in everyday life. I forget to remind myself of the truths of the gospel, of the goodness of God. I forget to be thankful. I forget to fight the good fight of faith.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much for me to forget. A suffering friend. A difficult memory. A lonely moment. An old fear. A hope deferred, again. And when I forget, doubt and unbelief creep in and steal my hope and stifle my joy. So I write to remember. My hope is that it will remind you, too.

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