Posted in encouragement, glory, joy, suffering, the masters seminary

Reblog from The Master’s Seminary: "Teach Your People to Suffer"

I work with people who have lost children to accident, or miscarriage. I work with people who lost spouses, who have been through trauma or war. Below is a wonderful essay in which the author recounts the agony and the blessing of his and his wife’s trial, and the suffering they endured to the glory of God. The author’s point is:

Friend, if you’re a Bible-study leader, Sunday school teacher, and especially if you’re a pastor, I beg you: prepare your people for suffering!

Originally published at The Master’s Seminary

Teach Your People to Suffer
Eric Dodson February 29, 2016

My lovely wife and I were sitting in a parenting class at church, when the chairman of the elder board came and asked for us. Actually he asked for “the parents of Calvin Dodson.” Slightly embarrassed, thinking our little one must have thrown a fit, or done something else to show we really needed the parenting class, we got up and went with him. 

As we left the room and headed down the stairs, he let us know that our 8-month-old son had experienced a seizure and that the nursery staff had called 911. Stunned, we came in his nursery room to find our son—our youngest at the time—being tended to by a nurse. He had blue lips and barely moved. It was terrifying. 

That scene began what has turned into a nearly three-year trial that’s included many trips to Children’s Hospital LA, two of our sons experiencing multiple seizures, sleepless nights, many tears, and the dreaded news that their condition could end their life before adulthood.
It’s been a terrible trial, and it’s been an incredible blessing. 

That may seem impossible to say, and three years ago, I might not have believed it myself. But the truth is that this trial—the most suffering we’ve ever faced—has been an immeasurable blessing. It has been such a blessing because of the amazing church we attend, a church with leaders who prepare their people to suffer. 

Friend, if you’re a Bible-study leader, Sunday school teacher, and especially if you’re a pastor, I beg you: prepare your people for suffering! 

Suffering is a present reality. 

Just turn on the news, and it’s obvious that today’s culture is a living testimony to the truths of Romans 1. As society continues to rebel against God, reject his teaching, and increase in unrighteousness, suffering is the inevitable result. We live in a fallen world filled with disease, political strife, wars, racial tension—evil! As those who shepherd God’s flock, we must prepare them to live in such a world. We must prepare them for suffering. 

Christians should expect suffering. 

Not only should we prepare our people for the suffering that results from living in a fallen world; we must also prepare them for the unique suffering that is guaranteed for those who follow Christ. Suffering is part of the Christian life. Scripture speaks repeatedly of the suffering Christians are bound to face (Romans 8; 2 Corinthians 1; Philippians 1:29, 3:8-10; Colossians 1:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 1). Nearly the entire books of 2 Timothy and 1 Peter are devoted to helping Christians deal with suffering. Christ warned the church of Smyrna that they would face great suffering (Revelation 2:9–11). Scripture makes it abundantly clear; Christians will suffer. If we are to teach the whole counsel of God, we must teach our people about suffering.
Suffering produces sanctification. 

Scripture not only promises that Christians will suffer; it also tells us that suffering is not without cause. In fact, we are to rejoice in our trials knowing that they are one of the tools God uses to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4). What an incredible encouragement that is! We must not help our people avoid suffering or be chiefly concerned with helping them escape trials as soon as possible. We must encourage them to learn from their trials, to rejoice in the sanctifying work God is doing through their suffering. 

Suffering increases fellowship. 

One of the oft-overlooked benefits of the church as the body of Christ paradigm is found in 1 Corinthians 12:26: 

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it… 

It’s difficult to overstate the impact suffering can have on the depth of fellowship within the body of Christ. Suffering provides the church a unique opportunity to grow in compassion, understanding, and love for one another. Trials provide a chance for the church to truly, practically bear one another’s burdens, and to model the love of Christ for the world. 

Suffering produces hope.

One of the greatest gifts of suffering is the contrast it provides with the glory that is to come. Paul celebrates this truth beautifully in Romans 8:18: 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

Friend, that is far more than a religious platitude. That is glorious truth! The great hope for Christians—suffering any type of trial—is the unfathomable glory that awaits. Our suffering ought to point us to that. Our trials ought to increase our anticipation, increase our longing for future glory. 

There is coming a day, when the curse that weighs heavy on this world will be lifted, when the redeemed of the nations will worship together free from persecution, when there will be no more conflict, political strife, or war. There’s a glorious day yet future when no one is scraping pennies just to get by, no wife loses her husband to cancer, no more little boys with seizures. The trials of this day point us forward with ever-growing expectation of that glorious day.

* * * *

Eric is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, and shepherds a Bible study through the Cornerstone Fellowship Group at Grace Community Church. He works as a Broadcast Copywriter at Grace To You. He and his wife, Tara, have three sons.


Posted in faith, foxe's book of martyrs, martyr, suffering

Sunday Martyr Moment: Martyrs vs. Mark Driscoll – What is real suffering?

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. According to this summary from Christian Book Summaries,

Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.

From the same link, the book’s purpose was fourfold:

  • Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
  • Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
  • Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
  • Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.

Text from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Eighth Persecution, Under Valerian, A.D. 257

Began under Valerian, in the month of April, 257, and continued for three years and six months. The martyrs that fell in this persecution were innumerable, and their tortures and deaths as various and painful. The most eminent martyrs were the following, though neither rank, sex, nor age were regarded.

Rufina and Secunda were two beautiful and accomplished ladies, daughters of Asterius, a gentleman of

The Martyrdom of Secunda and Rufina
Collaborative painting by Il Morazzone,
Giulio Procaccini, Giovanni Battista Crespi (1620-1625)

eminence in Rome. Rufina, the elder, was designed in marriage for Armentarius, a young nobleman; Secunda, the younger, for Verinus, a person of rank and opulence. The suitors, at the time of the persecution’s commencing, were both Christians; but when danger appeared, to save their fortunes, they renounced their faith. They took great pains to persuade the ladies to do the same, but, disappointed in their purpose, the lovers were base enough to inform against the ladies, who, being apprehended as Christians, were brought before Junius Donatus, governor of Rome, where, A.D. 257, they sealed their martyrdom with their blood.

Stephen, bishop of Rome, was beheaded in the same year, and about that time Saturninus, the pious orthodox bishop of Toulouse, refusing to sacrifice to idols, was treated with all the barbarous indignities imaginable, and fastened by the feet to the tail of a bull. Upon a signal given, the enraged animal was driven down the steps of the temple, by which the worthy martyr’s brains were dashed out.

Sextus succeeded Stephen as bishop of Rome. He is supposed to have been a Greek by birth or by extraction, and had for some time served in the capacity of a deacon under Stephen. His great fidelity, singular wisdom, and uncommon courage distinguished him upon many occasions; and the happy conclusion of a controversy with some heretics is generally ascribed to his piety and prudence. In the year 258, Marcianus, who had the management of the Roman government, procured an order from the emperor Valerian, to put to death all the Christian clergy in Rome, and hence the bishop with six of his deacons, suffered martyrdom in 258.

Let us draw near to the fire of martyred Lawrence, that our cold hearts may be warmed thereby. The merciless tyrant, understanding him to be not only a minister of the sacraments, but a distributor also of the Church riches, promised to himself a double prey, by the apprehension of one soul. First, with the rake of avarice to scrape to himself the treasure of poor Christians; then with the fiery fork of tyranny, so to toss and turmoil them, that they should wax weary of their profession.

With furious face and cruel countenance, the greedy wolf demanded where this Lawrence had bestowed the substance of the Church: who, craving three days’ respite, promised to declare where the treasure might be had. In the meantime, he caused a good number of poor Christians to be congregated. So, when the day of his answer was come, the persecutor strictly charged him to stand to his promise. Then valiant Lawrence, stretching out his arms over the poor, said: “These are the precious treasure of the Church; these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigneth, in whom Jesus Christ hath His mansion-place.

What more precious jewels can Christ have, than those in whom He hath promised to dwell? For so it is written, ‘I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.’ And again, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ What greater riches can Christ our Master possess, than the poor people in whom He loveth to be seen?”

O, what tongue is able to express the fury and madness of the tyrant’s heart! Now he stamped, he stared, he ramped, he fared as one out of his wits: his eyes like fire glowed, his mouth like a boar formed, his teeth like a hellhound grinned. Now, not a reasonable man, but a roaring lion, he might be called.

Wikimedia Commons,
Martyrdom of Lawrence

“Kindle the fire (he cried)–of wood make no spare. Hath this villain deluded the emperor? Away with him, away with him: whip him with scourges, jerk him with rods, buffet him with fists, brain him with clubs. Jesteth the traitor with the emperor? Pinch him with fiery tongs, gird him with burning plates, bring out the strongest chains, and the fire-forks, and the grated bed of iron: on the fire with it; bind the rebel hand and foot; and when the bed is fire-hot, on with him: roast him, broil him, toss him, turn him: on pain of our high displeasure do every man his office, O ye tormentors.”

The word was no sooner spoken, but all was done. After many cruel handlings, this meek lamb was laid, I will not say on his fiery bed of iron, but on his soft bed of down. So mightily God wrought with his martyr Lawrence, so miraculously God tempered His element the fire; that it became not a bed of consuming pain, but a pallet of nourishing rest.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Consider what the ladies went through. They were young, engaged to be married to handsome, rich suitors. However, when the chips were down, their suitors showed eternally that their brides’ worth was less than their fortunes, and the suitors snitched to the government and gave them over. The ladies were killed. I wonder how the sisters felt in prison. They did not renounce, so we know that they were comforted by the Spirit. (Hebrews 13:5). It can’t have been easy though, in the dank, dark, rat and maggot infested, slimy prison, awaiting their fate. Were the sisters together? Did they sing? Pray? I’m sure they did. Through it all, they remained faithful to the one true Groom and their eternal reward in heaven will last forever. Moths and rust have already destroyed the two rich suitors and their fortunes. (Luke 17:33; Matthew 6:19).

The bishops of Rome had it hard, too. One after another were killed. When Sextus succeeded Stephen, he knew he was going to be killed at some point, I’m sure. What a job description. “Needed: Leader of church, the people you will lead are skittish and likely will be hunted and persecuted. You will be hunted and likely killed too. Probably tortured. Accepting inquiries from 2-5 PM, in person.”

And they lined up, serving Christ with full passion and love. Killed with Sextus were deacons Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, Stephanus, Felicissimus and Agapitus. (Matthew 10:16).

And dear Lawrence, tortured mercilessly and roasted on a gridiron because he wouldn’t give over the church money! His declaration of the Church’s treasure being His sheep, priceless!

I think about today’s men who call themselves leaders and whine about difficulties of service in ministry. (Jude 1:16). Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church claims to have “faced danger” a few times. He wrote a long list of perceived persecutions and troubles he said he’s endured, in an essay titled “The hardest part of ministry” with the tag, ‘suffering.’ It’s a lengthy essay about his personal suffering, listing many woes he has faced. Here are a few.

Mark Driscoll, Wiki photo

Once, a man tried to enter his house. Another time a man with a “large knife” walked up the aisle and tried to stab him. Once, a sex offender tried to talk to his family. One time, someone sent Mark a letter telling him to stop preaching. Other times, people would post directions to Mark’s house on social media and encourage his critics to come to his home. He even has had to endure gossip! Once, someone even pooped on his porch!!

Yep, in his own humblebragging words, Mr Driscoll has surely been through it. Mr Driscoll wrote, “In general, going out in public has gotten tough. People feel free to interrupt family dinners out to sit at the table…” That’s just terrible! It’s not like his time is not his own but Jesus’s and his service is to Jesus or anything.

Like the two young ladies who lost their family, their fiancé, and their lives in A.D. 257 had been through it, sealing their martyrdom with their blood, some of today’s pastors are surely enduring a terrible persecution. Dealing with poop on your porch must surely equate with betrayal, imprisonment, and beheading as a terrible price for your service.

I love reading about the martyrs and writing about them so I can honor them as my forbears in faith. I love to ponder the faithfulness of our Savior who gives a faith so strong these precious martyrs endured torture and death with songs and prayers. I love to praise the Holy Spirit for empowering them with the things to say, like Lawrence bringing the sheep as the treasure, knowing it would mean his fleshly doom. Jesus is worth living for.  Jesus is worth dying for.

I also write about these martyrs so as to give us all a sense of perspective. Mr Driscoll has definitely lost his. When he preaches on suffering, do you truly think he understands biblical suffering for the name of Jesus? I don’t.

Driscoll at dinner with family, source: FB

Jesus is hated in this world and that hatred will only grow worse. (John 15:18; Matthew 10:22). Hatred for Him will express itself in physical harm, injustice and death. It already is, in many nations of the world. Complaining because you can’t eat supper in a restaurant without interruption from people is not ‘suffering.’ They are the people whom Lawrence called the most precious treasure of the church. Yet Mr Driscoll considers them a bother and just wants to eat his steak in peace. Perspective-

Being grilled on a gridiron is real suffering. Interruptions at dinner and gossip about you is not.

I think of two evangelists who rode a boat up a river deep into a jungle and trekked three more hours to reach a village of lost people in Laos. They shared about Christ and 178 people were converted and 8 were baptized. Yet the local witch doctor accused several Christians of causing the accidental deaths of three local men, and the Christians were rounded up, tried, told to renounce their faith, threatened with exile, and forced to pay restitution.

This incident was not in some long ago time. It was a news story posted on Voice of the Martyrs on November 18, 2013.

And rich pastors in the US complain that their woes are “cruel and unusual.”

Perspective. Keep in your heart what real suffering for the faith and the name of Jesus is so that we can praise His holy name for being so faithful to those who truly suffer. And let us rejoice in our own circumstances that He hasn’t ordained us to the same events as yet. Rejoice either way, that we suffer for Him or we live for him. And remember the martyrs.

Posted in boston marathon explosion, evil, suffering

God is not our therapist, and why is there suffering and evil?

T.M. Luhrmann wrote an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times Sunday. It is called, “When God Is Your Therapist.” It is a devastating indictment on our faith from someone who is actually not trying to be devastating.

Apparently Ms Luhrmann spends time in a couple of Protestant churches, trying to make sense of it all. She has attended long enough as a curious outsider to have formed some opinions about what Christians are all about, who God is to us, and why. None of her opinions are correct if looking at the bible. All of her opinions are correct based on who the emergent, therapeutic, touchy-feely, ‘God is your boyfriend’  crowd presents to the world. It is so, so, so, so sad.

All Ms Luhrmann wants to know are the same things that have haunted people for eons: why is there evil? Why does God allow it? Why do bad things happen to good people? She wrote,

“I saw the same thing at another church, where a young couple lost a child in a late miscarriage. Some months later I spent several hours with them. Clearly numbed, they told me they did not understand why God had allowed the child to die. But they never gave a theological explanation for what happened.”

Those questions can be answered theologically, and that is what she wanted. She did not want an emotional answer. She is perplexed by the constant references to emotion when talking about God. Hence the name of the piece, God as therapist.

Relying on God as therapist does NOT equip us to answer the question as to why these things happen. Relying on God as therapist does NOT equip us enough to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit to grow in truth. We see the deficiencies of such a limited relationship when things like the bombings at the Boston Marathon happen.

Her editorial comes at a precise time when we ask those series of questions again. The US has seen horrifying violence such as the Aurora CO movie shootings and the Sandy Hook CT kindergarten shootings. Today, there were bombings in Boston and many are injured and several have been killed. After Aurora, Pastor Lee Strobel delivered a sermon titled–

Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering?

There IS a theological answer. Christians whose go-to position is ‘feel God’ instead of ‘know God’ do an eternal disservice to people like Luhrmann and others who want solid answers to these questions. That is why we need to be able to give an answer to all who ask for the reason that we have this hope inside us. (1 Peter 3:15).

Strobel said in his sermon, which is once again sadly applicable to today given the bombings in Boston,

“That “why” question goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. And the 21st Century didn’t start any better. There was 9/11 and now the Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Why all of this if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Strobel continues with five ‘points of light’ in explaining why there is suffering in general. I encourage you to read his sermon after today’s events, especially.

We do our unsaved neighbors such a disservice by changing Yahweh into a therapist. He is not there to talk to when we feel low and need a pick me up, or to ‘hang out with’ as one of Luhrmann’s pastors said. He revealed Himself in the bible and it is important for us to read it so we know of Whom we speak when giving an answer to those who ask.

Yes, I do feel better when I pray or I read the word but that is not because God is a therapy I go to in order to sort out my feelings. It is because I know of Him enough to know He is sovereign and in control and works all to the good for those who love Him. I know His attributes by having read of Him in His revelation. I want to know God as God and not as a tool in my ever-enlarging toolbox of pick-me-ups. God is not the same as a comedy show or chocolate.

Please read your bible. Get into a good church. Plan to study with someone more mature than yourself. In any way, engage with God as God, not as therapy. The more you study Him the more you will know him. The more you know Him the more you will want to share Him with others. I hope Ms Luhrmann gets the answers she is looking for and I hope the people in her church do too, even though they are not looking. Stay away from the God as your therapist, and learn about the the real Jesus, the Jesus you can’t ignore.