Thursday, February 20, 2014

From the Newsletter: Thoughts: Four resources Christianity gives us for suffering

Over the last few months we’ve had 2 funerals, and many other maladies at our church. From accidents to illness to death, the church family has encountered suffering and hardship. Something I wanted to say in my recent sermon on suffering from Romans 8, but needed to cut, is that Christianity offers us rich resources to lean into when sufferings come. Often Christians don’t lean into them, but they are there inviting us to lean into them.

There are four key doctrines that make up the foundation of these resources for dealing with pain, suffering and evil. Together, these four key doctrines stand over and against the secular or deistic view that sees suffering as an interruption to be pushed away or drowned out, and show you how you can move through it with hope.

The first is the belief in a personal, wise, infinite, and therefore inscrutable God who controls the affairs of the world–and that is far more comforting than the belief that our lives are in the hands of fickle fate or random chance.

The second is that, in Jesus Christ, God came to earth and suffered with and for us sacrificially–and that is far more comforting than the idea that God is remote and uninvolved. The cross also proves that, despite all the inscrutability, God is for us, and more than that, it shows us that "Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.

The third doctrine is that through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can have assurance of our salvation–that is far more comforting than karmic systems of thought. We are assured that the difficulties of life are not payment for our past sins, since Jesus has paid them. As Luther taught, suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you. Secularity cannot give you that, and religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that teach variations of karma and provide salvation through virtue and good works cannot give it either.

The fourth is the doctrines of the bodily resurrection from the dead for all who believe. This completes the spectrum of our joys and consolations. One of the deepest desires of the human heart is for love without parting. Needless to say, the prospect of resurrection is far more comforting than the beliefs that death just takes into nothingness or into an impersonal spiritual substance. The resurrection goes beyond the promise of an ethereal disembodied afterlife. We get our bodies back, in a state of beauty and power that we cannot today imagine. Jesus’ resurrection was corporeal –it could be touched and embraced, and he ate food. And yet He passed through closed doors and could disappear. This is a material existence, but one beyond the bounds of our imagination. The idea of heaven can be a consolation for suffering, a compensation for the life we have lost. But resurrection is not just consolation–it is restoration. We get it all back–the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life–but to  new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength. It is a reversal of the seeming irreversibility of loss" I mentioned this thought during the meditation at Al’s funeral. When JJ was told that Mr. Blood had died, he said that he didn’t want him to be in heaven, and when Veronique told him that now Al’s not sick, he asked "does that mean he has two arms now that he’s in heaven?" The resounding answer is yes. That’s the promise of the resurrection.

In this life, we will all face hardship, and the question we will face is, "How can you be to-tally sure when you look at all the horrible stuff that has happened in your life and out in the world that someday God is going to make it all right? How can you not just hope so, but be absolutely sure that in spite of your own failures, God loves you and will never let you go? How can you know that when you face death it is not the end? Only if you know that Jesus rose from the dead and there-fore so will you. You know what else this means? You can have incredible hope in suffering. Tim Keller, whose incredible book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering supplied most of these thoughts, points out that what this knowledge means for us is that "While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy". Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you, but the more you dive into your resources, the more you are able to face it.

From the Newsletter: Winter Miscellanies

I mentioned during Al’s funeral that he and Dick have taught me so much about building maintenance. They don’t give you any training on it in seminary. “Go to seminary, become a building man-ager- with no experience. Not what you expect”. Thankfully, they taught me. One of the things Al taught me was that you need to do things right, and in order. He always insisted on doing things right. He wanted to put this place right, but it had to be done in order. starting with the foundation, working up from the rotting sill.

Which brings me to an update on the entry-way project. Currently, we have a paint picked for the entryway, thanks to everyone's good natured voting (and if you lost, remember that every one of the very similar colors would have looked good, so whether your pick won or not, it should look great). Once things warm up, we will be able to get the entryway project going. When Jeff Gates, our painter, met with me to put up the pain samples, he pointed out that we don’t have adequate heat in that space to do plaster and paint work in the winter. Paint, and plaster repairing material need things to be at least 50. We’re lucky if it’s at 50 on a Sunday morning. While I would have liked to have launched the project 3 days after we voted, the wisest course is to wait for the warmer weather. But we are so close. In a month or so this brutal winter will be a memory.

On another front, I would like to tell you about upcoming events. First, VBS is coming. Last year, the church took part in a community VBS with the two other protestant churches here in town. This year, we are doing it again. VBS will run from Au-gust 18 -22. Parents, mark your calendars. Adults, if you could volunteer, we’d love to have you. Last year was tons of fun, but more importantly, kids heard the gospel. I’d like to encourage you to take part.

Second, Westgate Church, in Weston, is pastored by my friend, Brandon Levering. On March 21-22, they are hosting a weekend conference entitled “Life on Mission”. The speakers are Bland Mason, and Jared Wilson. I am excited about this, especially Wilson, a pastor near Rutland VT. I heard him at the Gospel Coalition New England two years ago, and he was excel-ent. There is no cost, but they do ask that you sign up. Many conferences are aimed at pastors. The cool thing about this conference is that it is aimed more at everyone. The theme of the conference is "Gospel-Centered Mission."

Third, messianic Rabbi Nathan Joiner will be coming back on April 5, and we will once again be hosting a Passover Seder encounter. If you have Jewish friends, invite them to take part in it. It will be a time of learning and a really great experience. Hopefully, it will open the door for dialogue and opportunities to discuss the gospel as you seek to live on mission for Christ.

I would encourage you mark these things on your calendar, and plan on attending and helping out.

Finally, I know that this has been one of the hardest winters in recent memories. Let me encourage all of you with the words of one of the hymns that we sang at Al’s service, a hymn that I was unfamiliar with, but is near and dear to the heart of many here. God will take of you. Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you; Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you. God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way; He will take care of you, God will take care of you. Through days of toil when heart doth fail, God will take care of you; when dangers fierce your path as-sail, God will take care of you. God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way; He will take care of you. God will take care of you.