Suffering and Glory

Luke 9.23-24
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

The realities of suffering for faith seem top of mind right now. It’s something Christians focus on as the season of Lent begins during this time of year. Our awareness seems sharper however, with the preceding weeks’ coverage of the martyrdom of nearly two dozen Coptic Christians. Prior to that Kayla Mueller’s letter to her family was released after her murder by the terrorist group ISIS.

Mueller gave herself not just in death, but in life. “This really is my life’s work, to go where there is suffering,” she said before devoting her life and work to Syrian refugees. This is the case with many of the missionaries and aid workers who ISIS has abducted. It was their faith which led them to put aside comfort, money, status, and likely a list of worldly hopes to serve the marginalized and oppressed. 

The martyrs’ final moments of suffering are public. Their long-suffering journey in faith is private. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was later executed in a Nazi concentration camp, says,

“Time is short. Eternity is long. It is the time of decision. Those who are true to the word and confession on earth will find Jesus Christ standing by their side in the hour of judgement. All the world will be called to witness as Jesus pronounces our name before his heavenly Father.”

We should focus on the beauty of the prize set before us, not the pain of sacrifice, during this season of Lent. 

“The hope of our reunion is the source of my strength,” Mueller wrote to her family and friends. It’s a hope which will go unfulfilled in this world. Yet she is not without greater reward. The glory of resurrection will bring not only the reunion she longed for, but an eternal reunion with her Heavenly Father whose glory vastly outweighs suffering on behalf of his name.

Prayer
Father God, we hold fast to your promise that you will return to vanquish evil, rebuke death, restore the broken, and fulfill every desire. Reorient us to see our sufferings not as crushing burdens but as light and momentary when measured against your eternal Kingdom. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

(Prayer adapted from Revelation 21.1-5; John 10.10; 2 Corinthians 4.16-18; Revelation 22.20)

Joy in God
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 6 (Listen – 3:56)
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

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When Suffering Lingers

Exodus 3.5
“The angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”

The burning bush appeared at the height of Israel’s suffering. Early rabbinic writings understood the bush to be a symbol of ancient Israel, persevering under the flame of Egypt’s brutality. 

The Greek philosopher Philo expanded the rabbis’ imagery to include all of humanity. “For the burning bramble was a symbol of those who suffered wrong, as the flaming fire of those who did it,“ he explained in his work, On the Life of Moses.

Philo was a contemporary of Christ, although the two never would have met (Philo was an aristocrat in Alexandria). The philosopher spent his life exploring the synergy and tension of Jewish scriptural study and Stoicism. Among other things, his writings revealed through scripture what he could not find in philosophy — like meaning in suffering.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful,” says Timothy Keller In Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. “There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

Though we burn, we are not consumed. This is the mere beginning of God’s grace. Endurance is the deposit guaranteeing great reward. God’s promise to those who suffer is not only that the flame will be extinguished, but that all it has burnt will be restored. 

The prophets joyfully proclaim God is the one who will return the wasted years. The New Testament crescendos with no more tears, no more death, no more pain — all of it replaced by new life. 

It is the cross that is the enduring symbol of the Christian faith, not the burning bush. The bush reminds us that God always hears the cry of his people. The cross shows us that God stops at nothing — moving heaven and earth, even sacrificing his beloved — to bring them restoration.

Prayer

Lord, we trust you, even in the face of suffering. Because of you, our suffering will not drive us to despair. You will not forsake us. May we always carry the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our lives.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 3 (Listen – 3:59)
Luke 6 (Listen – 6:46)

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Exodus 4 (Listen – 4:17); Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)
Sunday: Exodus 5 (Listen – 3:15); Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

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TBT: A God Who Hears Prayers

Exodus 2.23-24
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

A God Who Hears Prayers | by Jonathan Edwards (January, 1735)

“You who answer prayer, to you all people will come.” Psalm 65.2

With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgment of our dependence on him to his glory. As he has made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures. And it is fit that he should require this of those who would be the subjects of his mercy, that we, when we desire to receive any mercy from him, should humbly supplicate the Divine Being. 

For the bestowment of that mercy, is but a suitable acknowledgment of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honor paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.

With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us in order to the bestowment of mercy, because it tends to prepare us for its reception. Fervent prayer many ways tends to prepare the heart. Hereby is excited a sense of our need, and of the value of the mercy which we seek, and at the same times earnest desires for it, whereby the mind is more prepared to prize it, to rejoice in it when bestowed, and to be thankful for it. 

Prayer, with suitable confession, may excite a sense of our unworthiness of the mercy we seek. And the placing of ourselves in the immediate presence of God, may make us sensible of his majesty, and in a sense fit to receive mercy of him. 

Our prayer to God may excite in us a suitable sense and consideration of our dependence on God for the mercy we ask, and a suitable exercise of faith in God’s sufficiency, that so we may be prepared to glorify his name when the mercy is received.

Prayers from the Past
God can do anything. Let us beg him to take pity on us and make us not merely listen to what he tells us but do it as well. May he send the flood of his waters over our souls, destroy in us what he knows is in need of destruction and give life to what he considers should live, through Christ our Lord and his Holy Spirit. To him be the glory, age after age, for all eternity. Amen.

— Origen, c. 250 C.E.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 2 (Listen – 3:18)
Luke 5 (Listen – 5:04)

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The Pain of Being Forgotten

Exodus 1.8-10
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them.”

It’s intensely painful to be forgotten. When we’re forgotten professionally it costs the accolade of others, the promotion we hope for, or the compensation we’ve earned.

In friendship and dating, it launches a restless search for a reason. 

In divorce, it cuts to the deepest parts of the soul.

In disease, like Alzheimers or dementia, it destroys dreams, lives, and families. 

The book of Exodus begins in the darkness of being forgotten. In a matter of a few generations, Israel went from saving Egypt to being enslaved by them. Now they toil and suffer because pharaoh has forgotten.

Being forgotten is a fruit of the fall. It’s a condition of a broken world that people can cease to be mindful of others who are made in the image of God. It’s no wonder God’s words to Moses are the words of someone who remembers — who holds close — the cry of his people. “I have seen… I have heard… I know… I have come to deliver…”

When the authors of scripture say God remembers someone they are not contrasting it to God’s forgetfulness, but the world’s. The book of Exodus chronicles God’s remembrance of Israel alongside their pain of being forgotten by Egypt.

Evil has no regard for our wellbeing in the world. Yet God remembers. It was the Son of God’s hands which were nailed to the cross because God refused to forget us — even in our sin. It was his body that was bruised and broken so that we could be known.

The true and greater exodus is found in God’s redemption of his people. The forgetfulness of the world may wound us deeply, but it cannot diminish, in the least, the vibrant life and work of Christ in our lives. In him we are remembered. In him we are restored. In him we are loved and known in a way that the forgetfulness of this world cannot take away.

Prayer
Father, you know the numbers of hairs on our heads. Our names are etched in your hand. While we were yet sinners you gave your life for us. Thank you for not abandoning us — for sacrificing so profoundly for us. May our lives be fundamentally reoriented by the love you have shown us.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 1 (Listen – 2:32)
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

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A Vocation Hostile to Faith

Genesis 50.26
So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The earliest dated Egyptian mummies happened naturally, preserved by the relentless heat and arid climate of the ancient Near East. Around 2,600 B.C.E, long before Joseph’s time, Egypt formalized a mummification process.

The Greek historian Herodotus was among the first outsiders to document mummification. “The embalmers [first] took out the brains and entrails and washed them in palm wine… they began to anoint the body with the oil of cedar, myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia.” 

Mummification is not simply a medical practice, but a spiritual rite. Archaeologists have unearthed amulets believed to provide blessing, and canopic jars which pair individual organs to gods for protection. Many mummies held a papyrus scroll containing spells from the Book of the Dead.

The Bible makes a point to show that Joseph asked for his father to be embalmed by doctors. Egyptian priests would have been normative, and Joseph’s maneuver likely exempted Jacob from some of the spiritual murkiness of mummification. But as a ruling official under Pharaoh, Joseph would have had a full Egyptian burial ceremony.

This isn’t the only place in scripture where faith creates tension with vocation. The Syrian army commander Naaman, after placing his trust in God, had to sort out his job requirement of assisting his leader in bowing before Baal’s idol.

God abhors idolatry. (Great reward is given to Daniel, as well as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for purity in worship in pagan lands.) Yet, after hearing Naaman’s case, Elijah tells the commander to, “go in peace.” He is to carry the tensions of his faith into his workplace.

God knows the true resting place of our hearts. There is not only tension, but great purpose in a person wholly submitted to God yet embedded in a foreign culture. How else will the nations be reached? How will each vocation be redeemed?

The inaugural book of the Bible ends with two of Israel’s patriarchs in Egyptian sarcophagi. The author seems unconcerned by this point. He knows it’s the end of a book, not the end of the story. More importantly, his faith wasn’t in men for redemption, but in the coming Messiah.

Prayer
Lord, we long to see our vocations redeemed, but daily life in them can be inhospitable to your word. Be the resting place of our hearts. Be the center of our aspirations and desires. Give us your peace as we live in this tension as an act of faith.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen – 4:54)
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

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