Suffering is Not for Nothing

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5.3-5
Malcolm Muggeridge said, “Supposing you eliminated suffering. What a dreadful place the world would be because everything that corrects dependency of man to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now. But he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.” Muggeridge gets at the heart of what I want to say. It’s not for nothing. Now how do I know that?

The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. Out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God. The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering. The greatest gifts of my life for example have been marriage and motherhood. And let’s never forget that if we don’t ever want to suffer, we must be very careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.

When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee.” You can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, “But Lord, You’re with me all the time. What I want is Jim. I want my husband.”

We had been married twenty-seven months after waiting five-and-a-half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead, and God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God—my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is—who He is in a way that I could never have known otherwise.

Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not man so desperately wanting a god that he manufactures him in his mind. It’s He, who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain—and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.

*Excerpted from an interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. For more see Elizabeth Elliot’s 7-part video series, Suffering is Not for Nothing.

Today’s Reading
Job 1 (Listen – 3:38)
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

The Freedom of God’s Forgiveness

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” — David, Romans 4.7-8
There are two ways in which a Christian can become trapped in sin. The first is readily recognizable—perpetuation of pride and brokenness despite awareness of their darkness. The other way a Christian can become trapped in sin is to go on living as if he has not been forgiven.

It’s the equivalent of Lazarus shouting back at Jesus from his grave—refusing to come out because he knows he has died and ought not be able to walk normally again among the living. The weight of sin, not the act itself, has become the trap.

Oftentimes people will say things like, “if I could just go back.” This sentiment (it is clearly not a viable solution) is our confession that we would rather solve our greatest problems on our own than have to humble ourselves and accept God’s unmerited grace.
Forgiveness of sins cannot be such that God by a single stroke, as it were, erases all guilt, abrogates all its consequences. Such a craving is only a worldly desire that has no idea of what guilt is. — Kierkegaard
We are truly shocked when we become aware of our sin. Prior to recognizing our failure we would never have confessed such darkness was in us. Yet, if we really believe God foresaw us and sees throughout all time, our sins did not surprise him. We overestimated our intrinsic goodness—feeling as if we had earned God’s approval through our devotion and discipline. God loved us first—even knowing the specific ways in which we were yet sinners.

Once we’ve seen our own unrighteousness, the only way forward is to find the glory of grace greater than the destruction of sin. The Church, at its best, is the spiritual community that surrounds each individual and echoes this truth through word and deed.
You rest in the forgiveness of sins when the thought of God does not remind you of the sin, but that it is forgiven; when the past is not a memory of how much you trespassed, but of how much you have been forgiven. — Kierkegaard
Until we see Christ’s forgiveness of our sins as a blessing, and feel the natural rejoicing of the soul that comes from such a miracle, we have not experienced the full force of forgiveness. Either grace is a mere fantasy—something which would be lovely if it were true—or it is as mighty and wonderful as the Scriptures proclaim it to be.

Today’s Reading
Esther 9-10 (Listen – 6:15)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

The Theology of Food :: Weekend Reading List

Scripture’s focus on every facet of the tabernacle and temple is remarkable—God’s dwelling place, and the materials used to create it, were selected and prepared with the fastidious care. The New Testament confesses that the bodies of the faithful are the new temple of God’s Spirit.

To build this theology the authors of Scripture first caution against vanity. The care given to the temple was not to make it beautiful for its own sake, but to display the glory of God. At the same time, they challenge the early Christians to see how their decisions in the physical world affect their bodies.

In a recent article Bethany Jenkins, our founder at The Park Forum, asked, Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From? It’s a wonderful question that expands the discussion of faith and food beyond healthy eating to exploring how Christians can cultivate human flourishing through the food we consume.
Where did we get the idea that our food should be as cheap as possible? Do we not know that, when food is cheap to us, it is costly to someone else? Regular baking cocoa is cheaper than its fair trade equivalent, at least in part, because only a tiny portion of its profits goes to its growers.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration that, following the Great Depression, worked aggressively to lower the percentage of the average American salary that went to food and rent. In our world today, the loss of this easy-to-access and inexpensive food creates what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert.”

Journalists Phillip Lucas And Mike Schneider explain the ripple effects of a food desert created by the closure of a neighborhood’s Wal-Mart:
In Wichita (Kansas), the Wal-Mart that opened four years ago became a community hub in a shopping plaza that previously had been a haven for prostitution and gang shootings, said Pastor Kevass Harding, whose Dellrose United Methodist Church is right by the store.

“We had a place that used to be an eyesore, but then we had a first-class shopping center in this urban neighborhood,” Harding said. “So last week we get the news, my heart just broke. I was disgusted that it’s about money. It’s not about the people.”
The reality that cheap food has become about profit cannot be understated—just ten companies now manufacture almost everything Americans eat. The public’s awareness of the modern industrial food complex has opened up an opportunity for a host of local, organic, and hand-crafted food start-ups. Yet the price mark up on these foods causes pause. This is where Jenkins asks, “If we commit ourselves to ethical food sourcing, will the higher prices we pay be worth it?”

The answer, at least in part, is found in knowing where our food comes from—and maintaining a healthy skepticism toward the narrative crafted around it. Last year the Mast Brothers, who sell “artisanal chocolate” for $10 a bar, were accused of remelting high-cacao-butter chocolate from the French chocolate manufacturer Valrhona to create what they claimed were their own “bean to bar” chocolates. This unleashed what can only be described as chocolate kerfuffle.

In The Way Forward for Hipster Food Dana Goodyear explains the lesson for those trying to make informed purchasing decisions around food:
Old-fashioned food: let’s examine its appeal for a moment. So much of the artisanal movement is about a return to pre-industrial aesthetics and flavors, a celebration of the home- and handmade… But the Victorian era the movement makes loving reference to was not a wonderful time to be a consumer.

In the moment that the Masts’ aesthetic conjures, food was an anxious proposition, unregulated and rife with chicanery—lead in the red candy, chalk in the milk. Deep in our memories, along with the nostalgia for mustache wax, lies the awareness that stories about food are not always true, and that buying into them can be dangerous.
The main question for people of faith is not about recovering a lost aesthetic, but about the value of spending more money on food that is ethically sourced, humanely raised, and environmentally conscious. “UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children are working in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast,” Jenkins writes, “and up to 12,000 of them may be victims of trafficking or slavery.”

It’s up to us as consumers to raise our awareness of laborers in the food industry. As stewards of this world we cannot turn our eyes away from the effects of industrial food production on the environment or the horrific treatment of animals by the poultrybeef, and dairy industries. Our decisions in the physical world affect God’s dwelling place and, through that, our world.

Thoughtfulness around this matters for Christians because, as the leaders of the Lausanne Movement write,
The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ. We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance. We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake.

If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Today’s Reading
Esther 6 (Listen – 2:40)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 7 (Listen – 2:08)  Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)
Esther 8 (Listen – 3:41)  Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

Weekend Reading List

Faith, Love, and Apps :: Readers’ Choice

Faith, Love, and Apps :: Readers’ Choice
The Park Forum (originally published July 20, 2015)

Readers’ Choice

“This opened my eyes and moved my mind out of its box of what’s comfortable and taken for granted. A topic that needs to be addressed thoughtfully, prayerfully, and unselfishly by any calling themselves followers of Christ.” — Sam

Acts 7:55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Steve Jobs famously admonished Stanford’s graduating class a decade ago. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” The message was reverberant; Follow your passion became the central career goal of an entire generation.

Steve Jobs got to do what he loved because tens of thousands of laborers on the other side of the world did not have access to such privilege. They labored daily — and still do — to painstakingly assemble tens of millions of electronic devices for the western world’s insatiable consumption.

We don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to see such effects from technology. The on demand economy is roaring into the mainstream — lead by the likes of Uber, a so-called unicorn, valued at $50 billion.

Uber has over 130,000 drivers worldwide — none of them are employees. They do not get healthcare, holidays, vacation, or overtime. Drivers in California are fighting back — but Uber’s plans for the future don’t appear to be focused around making life better for drivers. The company recently lured 40 robotics engineers away from Carnegie Mellon. Drivers are a stop-gap until the robots take over.

The world does not need another impotent social media campaign against injustice. It needs Christians who, like Stephen in Acts, are willing to lay down their lives because they have a clear vision of God’s glory.

I struggle with this reality. I regularly punch through emails on my iPhone while riding through Midtown in an Uber. I try to connect with my drivers on a personal level, to tip, and to enter into even small moments of redemption in what can otherwise be a dehumanized transaction. But I feel like there is more to be done.

Job’s exhortation, “don’t settle,” which he repeats in the speech, is apt advice. God’s grace frees us from demanding our every need be met and from expecting to spend each day in comfort while others suffer. Christians can engage differently in the on demand economy — starting a conversation around this in our communities would be a first step. We can also encourage one another not to simply make the vocational choices of least resistance or most benefit, but to passionately engage our faith in our work.

We remember Stephen not because he did what he loved, but because he gave up everything to follow the one he loved.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen – 4:30)
Romans 16 (Listen – 3:30)

Thwarted Plans :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published April 22, 2015)

“‘The glory of grace’ is something I somehow manage to overlook in daily life. How amazing that God would give his only Son for me? That the pain of my sin would fall on his shoulders? And yet, He loves me. He loves me.” — Anna

Psalm 33:10-11
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Stephen Colbert mocked the terrorists, saying their intentions were thwarted by the very people they tried to hurt: “But here is where these cowards really don’t get. They attacked the Boston Marathon. An event celebrating people who run twenty-six miles on their day off … And when those bombs went off, there were runners who, after finishing a marathon, kept running for another two miles to the hospital to donate blood. So here’s what I know. These maniacs may have tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are.”

In Psalm 33, the Psalmist sings, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” Thousands of years ago, “lawless men” sought to silence the King of Glory, but God frustrated their plans. 

As Peter said, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

In Spectacular Sins, John Piper writes, “In the death of Christ, the powers of darkness did their best to destroy the glory of the Son of God. This is the apex of evil. But instead they found themselves quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God. Precisely in putting Christ to death, they put his glory on display—the very glory that they aimed to destroy. The apex of evil achieved the apex of the glory of Christ. The glory of grace.”

Lord, although much about the bombings in Boston remains a mystery to us, we know one thing—when we see terrorists try to spread fear and hatred and, instead, spread love and compassion, we see your glory. No plan of yours can be thwarted—not even when evil appears to have won. Give us a vision for spectacular sins that achieve the apex of Christ’s glory. Amen.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 17 (Listen – 8:59)
Romans 15 (Listen – 4:32)

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