Friday, May 22, 2015

Fast Pass through Suffering?

Image source here
One of the ways that theme parks suck more money out of serve their patrons is by what they call a "fast pass" (or something similar). This extra purchased ticket/bracelet/gadget allows you either to reserve your place in line for a later time or even to skip the ride lines altogether. It is meant to minimize the pain involved in going to an amusement park where you feel like you stand around in the heat and wait for hours for one ride or show. An intriguing idea for sure, many people take advantage of this service and amusement parks increase revenues accordingly.

Now, this concept may work well at Six Flags or at Disney World, but I think the same idea has crept into Christianity. Here's what I mean: where do followers of Jesus get the idea that we get a "fast pass" through the incredibly challenging times of life? Why do we think we can skip the lines of suffering, when Jesus Himself suffered and even promised suffering for His followers?

The apostle Paul, no stranger to suffering, even wrote that he longed to "share [Christ's] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10-11). Is this some sort of psychological, masochistic complex that Paul had, that he enjoyed the pain in some way? No, for Paul the main thing he enjoyed was Christ, and what he found was that the suffering and pain and sorrow of life drew him closer to Christ. That's what he says God taught him in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Here's the truth: the Bible never exempts the believer from suffering. In fact, as mentioned earlier, Jesus promises it to those who are seeking to follow Him (see here and here). But listen to what else He promises for His children: that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), and that whatever is going on in your life is meant to shape you into the image of Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). I love the way Matt Chandler put it in a recent sermon: "For the Christian, difficulty is not God punishing His children, but God shaping and molding His children" (watch it here). So often (especially in America) we believe that if hard times are in my life then I am either doing something wrong or God hates me. True, you may be sinning and God is lovingly disciplining you as His child. But also, because we live in a fallen world, things may just go badly for you. But even when that happens, don't forget that God is sovereign. And He is good. And He is using this weakness, this heartache, this struggle, this difficulty, to draw your heart to deeper trust in Him and to take you to a place in your life which you could not reach on your own. All because He loves you, child.

So in suffering, Christian, remember that you are loved and that you have someone to love. That's what got Paul through his many difficulties, that's what sustained Peter through torture. They knew that they shared in Christ's sufferings by faith, so they could "share abundantly in [His] comfort too," looking forward to the day "when His glory is revealed." In their weakness it was Christ who was strong, which allowed Paul to write that "in all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy." When trouble strikes, are you still able to claim joy? The power to live a life of joy regardless of circumstances only comes through Christ alone. Don't be surprised when suffering comes, just make sure you land on the right foundation.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Tribute to My Wife on Our 10th Anniversary

Ten years. Nearly one-third of our short lives spent in covenant marriage together. It seems like just yesterday we were standing on the stage at Hillcrest's church building and committing together to honor Christ in our union. But at the same time, it feels like this is how it has always been, like we can't really remember how it was before that day.

And oh, what a day that was! I have one image seared into my mind's eye of Emily's beautiful smile and laugh (which occurred while the song playing during the Lord's Supper lasted way too long and we stood there awkwardly chatting while everyone stared at us...). But that picture reminds me of her joy and her trust in what was happening that day. But even more so, that image reminds me of the weight of the responsibility with which I have been entrusted.

See, the Lord saw fit to unite this incredible, gifted, godly, beautiful, loving, sincere woman (who is a sinner too!) with me, a sinful man. And He expects me to care for her like He cares for His Church. That is over-the-top difficult, even to do for a woman like Emily. Why is that so hard? Because we are selfish sinners married to selfish sinners in a fallen world. As Paul Tripp puts it: "What did you expect?!"

So for me to love my wife is a tangible choice I make every day, to die to myself and to give my life for her (as Christ did for us). My only ability to do that stems from my remembering of how He did that for me (which is where the term "gospel-centered marriage" comes from).

But let me be clear: Emily absolutely makes that as easy as possible for me to do. Her pursuit of Jesus, her repentance, her humility, her sacrifice for me and our boys, her kindness, her quiet spirit--all of who Jesus has made her to be--enables my sacrifice for her even more so. These last few weeks of chaos in our lives has only increased that. She has invested nearly countless hours in re-staining all the wood in our house, cleaning it to get ready to sell, now packing almost all of it as I finish my schoolwork. She works harder than nearly anyone I know, without complaint. In summary, she looks like Jesus (see Philippians 2:3-11).

So today, on our 10th anniversary, I want to honor and exalt you, my "excellent wife" (Prov 31:10). And by doing so, I hope to honor and exalt Jesus, the Savior and Bridegroom with whom we look forward to one day smiling and laughing with complete joy and complete trust forever.

Emily Kristin Wohlgemuth: I love you, more than you know.

(Here's what I wrote last year for our 9th anniversary. Still true today.)