Friday, May 25, 2012

Rejoice in Suffering

Sometimes I think that the apostle Paul was just plain nuts!

At the beginning of the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul writes this: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings..." (Rom. 5: 3a). Does Paul mean that, when he is going through the tribulations that come with this life that he skips around all giddy and happy?

Kind of reminds me of Kevin Bacon in "Animal House" getting paddled in his undies, "Thank you sir, may I have another."

What is interesting is that Paul used the same word in the previous verse: "And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (vs. 2b). He obviously is tying these two things together. We rejoice in hope and in tribulations.

Other versions translate "kauchaomai" (rejoice) with the word "glory" or "exult" or "boast".  The underlying idea is that the experiences of hope-in-God's-glory and suffering-under-tribulations releases an uplifting sense of God's good work and a pride in that good work.

Let me paraphrase: "When we grasp the reality of our new standing in Christ, that we have a sure hope in our eternal place in Him and the glory of His good work of redemption--then we will be uplifted and place our sure and abiding confidence in that hope. In the same way, when we go through the tribulations that are sure to accompany anyone who has placed their hope in Christ, then we will have the same sense of uplifting and confidence because we will see it through the perspective of our new standing in Him."

In other words, the suffering does not invalidate our faith, instead it can be experienced as just a further example of our joyous confidence in God. All tribulation is now experienced as redemptive. "...we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (vv. 3b-4).

James says something similar: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Jas. 1: 2-4).

Jesus, as our supreme example, pushed through the pain of his trial in order to attain the greater goal of eternal glory with the Father and redemption for us. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider (meditate on) him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12: 2-3).

It takes an effort to take the most severe trials and tribulations and "reframe" them as things to "boast" in. Yet, one of the incredible realities of our faith is that it helps us to see even our most painful trials as part of the bigger journey we are on--the journey that leads to our eternal place in His Kingdom.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prayer Power

I would love to claim that I have mastered the art of prayer. But, alas, I must confess that I suffer from a somewhat erratic prayer life.

Don't get me wrong. I am a pray-er and I am constantly working on becoming a better pray-er. But I often fall short of the kind of prayer life that I desire. Can you relate?

That is why Matt. 26: 41 has been a difficult one for me to read without feeling a twinge of guilt. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

If you take a step back and look at the entire flow of the chapter, Matthew 26, you will see three major characters dominating the storyline: Jesus, Judas and Peter. In one way, each represents a kind of pray-er.

Jesus is the obedient Son who watches and prays. He is honest about his struggles with his Father. He asks if the trial can be removed. But he ends up accepting God's will , even if it means suffering. In other words, Jesus is not satisfied until he has prayed to a conclusion--understanding God's will and finding the strength to obey.

Judas is the person of the flesh. He sees the priceless ointment wasted and it triggers his greed. He decides to cut his losses. He has always been in it for himself: "God's will be damned! I'll at least make some money off the whole sorry mess." There's no sign that he cares what God thinks about his course of action. Only afterwards does he feel remorse. But there's a big difference between remorse and repentance.

Peter is the well-intentioned but undisciplined believer. He wants to follow Jesus, but he is powerless to do it. Maybe because of his prayer-less-ness. But also because of his lack of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the truly empowered one of the three. And he has to finish his work in order to make the Holy Spirit available to all believers.  The proof? The massive change in Peter after Pentecost.

I can relate to Peter. Can you? The call to all of us is clear: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

I don't believe that this should be a discouraging word. Instead, it is a word of instruction. Don't be surprised when your human nature, motivated by our fallen fleshly appetites, is actively resisting your best of intentions in the spirit.

Paul confessed a similar struggle in Romans 7.

The answer lies in what happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been given so that we have a source of power to draw on. Because the flesh is weak and because Jesus knows that our flesh is weak, he has given us a power that can surpass the weakness of our fallen nature.

So, if you want to grow in prayer, begin by asking to be filled with the Spirit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Honoring Rich Buhler

Rich Buhler went to be with the Lord on Monday night, May 7, 2012. He was best known as a Christian talk-radio show host and author. But he was also a wonderful disciple of Jesus whose life should be remembered and honored.

"Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him" (Php. 2: 29).

My knowledge of Rich goes back probably to about 1982 when I first started listening to him on the radio. I remember him interviewing a certain John Wimber. I turned to my wife and said, "Listen, this pastor believes the same stuff we do!" This led, eventually, to us becoming members of the Anaheim Vineyard and subsequently to a life-long love affair with the Vineyard movement.

It was in the summer of 1993 that I first became friends with Rich Buhler. We were participating in a small group and, for 30 days, I called him daily as my sponsor. That group was life-changing for all of us.

So many of the conversations Rich broadcast in those days opened new ways of thinking for me. Perhaps most significantly was when he would have Jan Frank, author of Door of Hope, or any number of other Christian counselors. You could feel the attitude towards personal recovery and the benefits of sound psychological counseling change throughout the Evangelical Christian community.

And it was like that for so many other topics as well. Rich was not only a seasoned reporter, always intent on getting to the truth, but he was a life-long learner. If you listened to him, you heard him learn and grow, and it helped you to learn and grow right along with him.

And I am not sure if I know of anyone else who possessed such a unique blend of verbal dexterity, deep pastoral wisdom, a keen mind and such an obvious love of people. Perhaps that's why, for anyone who listened to him, you felt like you knew him. And, indeed, you did. Because here was "an Israelite in whom was no guile."

Last year, I was privileged to be honored at a special appreciation service. Rich sent something to me, since he could not be there. A shepherd's staff. I knew that he was in the habit of honoring people who he believed were true pastors with this sign of recognition. It meant--and it means--all the world to me, and especially because it came from someone I consider to have been a true shepherd as well.

Our loss is heaven's gain. Thank you, Rich, for being a faithful and true witness.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Peace Child

The famous missionary book by Don Richardson, Peace Child, was popular among evangelicals during my college days and it continues to be a powerful illustration of what Richardson calls, "redemptive analogies."

The cannibalistic and head-hunting tribal cultures in what was then Dutch West New Guinea were a challenging mission field. The Richardsons lived among the Sawi. It was an effort just to learn the complex language.

But when he was able to tell them the story of Christ, they laughed at the betrayal of Judas. Because of their cultural values, Judas appeared to be the hero and Jesus the dupe.

But how to communicate the message of Christ in such a different culture? Richardson says that all cultures have some kind of practice or custom that will provide the redemptive analogy if the missionary will prayerfully look for it. The analogy for the Sawi culture was the practice of the "peace child."

In order to negotiate peace between warring tribes, the leaders hand over one of their own children to the other tribe for safe-keeping. This ensures the negotiated peace between the tribes is maintained.

Of course, Richardson could then use this custom to talk about how God sent His Peace Child to us. This resulted in many conversions and the ultimate success of the mission work.

As a church-planting pastor in North America, this example may seem exotic and irrelevant. But it is highly relevant to our evangelistic work in the West.

The culture around us is changing. And the message of the church has often become marginalized and labeled as irrelevant. The Evangelical church in particular is often seen as full of hypocrites (see unChristian, by Kinnaman and Lyons for example).

The apostle Paul tells us that he changed his approach to his mission depending on the cultural context.

"To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9: 20-22).

The job of the church remains the same. To incarnate ourselves in the culture to which we are called. And once there, to look for those redemptive analogies that will help us to bring the unchanging message of salvation to the shifting world-views around us. How are you doing with that task?