Suffering Viewed Through the Lens of Faith

A few weeks ago Jimitri and Ruby Green, much-loved members of our congregation, learned that little Jimitri Jr. (whom they call Deuce) has a rare form of leukemia that is difficult to treat.

Yesterday Jimitri sent an update on Deuce’s condition. He’s making good progress, in answer to many prayers!

Peace in the storm

What impressed me most is the upbeat attitude they have chosen to take through this ordeal. Jimitri wrote:

“The following statement may sound weird, but I am blessed to have the opportunity to go through what we are experiencing. Although it is hard, there is a great deal of good that has come from it, and we’ve spent the multitude of days thus far in pure and perfect peace, knowing that God is with us. It’s amazing to know that so much peace comes with faith and trust. We’ve realized that God has not promised us a life without storms. But what He has promised to those who trust in Him is “Peace” in those tribulations.

“Please let the church know that we love them so much and that every word of encouragement, every card and every visit are not overlooked nor taken for granted. It fills our hearts with so much cheer to know that we are not in this alone.”

Joy in suffering

If Jimitri and Ruby did not have their faith and the encouragement and prayers of their church family, how well would they be doing?

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

The paradox of joy in suffering may seem to some to be unrealistic and nonsensical, but to Jimitri and Ruby, it makes perfect sense.

They’re living it!

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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How Can We Help in Time of Loss?

A woman has a miscarriage. A middle-aged man is laid off at work. A family’s house burns. Parents lose a teenage son to suicide. A child is diagnosed with cancer. A surviving spouse must now go on without the other.

Responding to loss

A common response to the suffering of people we know is to do nothing—not because we don’t care, but because we just don’t know what to say or do.

When Job’s friends came after he suffered the triple loss of his children, wealth, and health, they may have meant well but succeeded only in adding to his grief by their ill-chosen words. “Sorry comforters” is what Job called them (Job 16:2).

How can we effectively show concern—especially when we haven’t experienced what others are suffering?

For starters, we can educate ourselves on what is and what is not helpful to say to someone in distress. Here’s an example of such a resource: https://www.healyourlife.com/10-best-things-to-say-to-someone-in-grief.

How best to help

In marked contrast to Job’s so-called friends, Jonathan was a great encouragement to David during a dark time in his life. Jonathan found his friend and wept with him (1 Samuel 20:31-42; 23:15-16).

Many years later David was again on the run. Barzillai along with others brought bedding and abundant food supplies for David and those with him—“for they said, ‘The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness’” (2 Samuel 17:27-29).

When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he so appreciated the loyal support of his friend Onesiphorus, who “often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me” (2 Timothy 1:16-17).

Many of us know what it’s like to be on the receiving end when friends show up with a hug, a kind word, a listening ear, a prayer, a gift of food—and who even run errands for us and help with household chores.

Knowing the comfort others have been to us in our own time of need, how then can we pass along the kindness the next time we learn of a loss?

With so many hurting people around us, we shouldn’t lack for an opportunity!

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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How Empathetic Are We?

There are at least three ways we can view a fellow human being:

As someone to exploit

Jesus told a story about some thugs who rob a traveler, beat him up, and leave him severely wounded by the roadside.

Who would be so cruel? Apparently, those who are concerned only about themselves and don’t care who gets hurt, as long as they get what they want.

As someone to ignore

Another traveler comes along—a priest. When he sees the victim lying helplessly by the road, he passes on by.

Then comes a Levite. He does exactly as the priest did—he sees but does nothing.

Surely these two religious people would never stoop so low as to rob and beat a stranger. But do they feel anything for the man? Do they help?

They distance themselves from the man’s suffering—both physically and emotionally.

They leave him lying there—bleeding and alone.

As someone to serve

Then comes a third traveler—a Samaritan. Like the priest and Levite, he too sees the poor fellow.

Unlike the priest and Levite, he feels for him.

But he doesn’t just feel sorry for him—he acts immediately.

He dresses the man’s wounds. He takes him to an inn where he can be cared for—and even pays the bill!

And we?

So how do we view others—as people we can use for our own selfish purposes? As problems to ignore because getting involved can be messy, expensive, and time-consuming? Or as souls to serve?

Jesus’ parable graphically illustrates the Second Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus told the parable in response to a lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?”

After describing how the priest, Levite, and Samaritan each responded, Jesus asked him, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”

“The one who showed mercy toward him,” said the lawyer.

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’”

Did he?

Will we?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Jesus, Yes! Church, No?

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It’s probably true to say that most people who know anything about Jesus truly admire Him.

He showed such compassion for the downtrodden. He sacrificed Himself for others—including those who crucified Him.

No wonder so many find Him appealing!

And yet . . . .

These positive feelings often don’t transfer to the church. Why not?

“Church members don’t practice what they preach.”

“They think they’re better than others.”

“They’re intolerant of those who don’t believe as they do.”

“They can’t even get along with each other.”

“When I tried going to church I did not feel welcome.”

Etc.

Guilty as charged?

Sad to say, many of these charges are true. Christians are often poor advertisements for Christ.

But let’s see if we can put things into perspective.

If we are to see the church accurately, we must view it through the eyes of its Founder.

In the New Testament Christ reveals His will for His church.

We read of congregations that greatly pleased Christ (like the Philippians), but also those He was extremely upset with (such as the Galatians).

Even the best churches had their faults. The letters of Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude and the book of Hebrews show what was right with the church and what was wrong.

Where churches fall short, repentance is called for (Revelation 2-3).

The same is true today

Only Jesus is perfect.

The plan He left for His church is perfect (1 Timothy 3:15).

Those who profess to belong to Him are often far from perfect—including me.

Jesus warns that on Judgment Day He will say to many who call Him Lord, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Jesus does not accept all who claim Him: “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).

He is the only Head of only one body, His church (1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:16; 4:4).

What Christ establishes, Satan counterfeits.

But Jesus embraces His true disciples who humbly and penitently admit their failures and who make a sincere effort to grow into His likeness.

Jesus never gives up on His church.

Nor should we.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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The Church: Who Needs It?

Since before I can remember I’ve been closely associated with the church. I am now 70. I’m so thankful that my parents taught me to love and appreciate the church. The church was their life, and is mine as well.

While being actively involved in the church can sometimes be painfully difficult, I would hate to think what life would be without it. The positives far outweigh the negatives.

The longer I live, the more obvious it is to me that Christ knew what He was doing when He founded the church (Matthew 16:18).

Christ’s wisdom as seen in His church

Christ brings people together from a wide variety of backgrounds—economically, educationally, culturally, ethnically, etc. (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:11-22). It’s good when we can learn to love and appreciate people we would otherwise never know. This broadens our horizons and reduces our prejudices.

Christ unifies in His church our various talents and resources to accomplish wonderful things for the good of many, both inside and outside the body of Christ (Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 6:10; 1 Peter 4:10).

Christ intends for us to be mentored by those with more understanding of Scripture and longer experience in dealing with hardships and temptations. We have so much we can learn from one another! (Acts 11:21-26)

Christ provides in the church the help and encouragement we can receive from and provide for one another. Life is hard, but the burden is eased by the mutual fellowship, prayers, hugs, and supportive words of our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 5:13; 6:2; Ephesians 4:29).

So who needs the church?

I know I do.

Do those who think otherwise know what they’re missing?

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Can We Get Along without the Church?

I heard it again last week: “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”

Either this is true or false. Which?

Since what we know about being a Christian comes from the New Testament, isn’t that the best resource for learning whether the church is essential?

Check it out!

Although reading the entire New Testament would certainly answer this question, let’s focus on just one book: Acts.

In Acts we read of the church’s beginning in Jerusalem, its spread to other lands, how it was organized, how believers worshiped together, and how the church’s enemies so strongly opposed it.

Ironically, their efforts to stamp out the church served instead to spread and strengthen it (Acts 8:1-4; 11:19-21).

So what do we learn?

If we read Acts with an open mind and a sincere desire to know what we should do regarding the church, what will we find?

“And all those who believed were together . . . . And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44, 47).

In Acts we find Paul establishing congregations in Western Asia and Eastern Europe. He made sure they were equipped with capable leaders (14:23; 20:17, 28).

Paul urged the Ephesian elders to “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Question: If God values the church that much, how valuable should it be to us?

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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