Reflections on Joy in Suffering


As I was in the midst of wrestling with God in prayer this morning, He reminded me of two things:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord… [for] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Romans 8:38-39, Revelation 22:13)

Why was I wrestling with God?

This morning I was informed by several of my friends in the Philippines that another super typhoon is headed in their direction.

“I am quite afraid,” one said.

And another, “this feeling of watching people hurrying in the supermarket, the super long queue in the grocer[y store], long queue at the gas station and ATM is just very overwhelming… I’m not scared at all but this whole thing is just breaking my heart and saddens me knowing that if this typhoon hits Tacloban again, dunno whats gonna happen…”

My heart went into my throat as I recalled the devastation I personally witnessed with my own eyes. I saw several hundred ton boats thrown on to dry land as if they were rag dolls. I saw houses leveled as if they were houses of cards. I saw starving families without homes, without brothers, mothers, sisters, wives, relatives.

To this day I have yet to see anything so beautiful become a wasteland of unwarranted destruction.

To this day I have yet to be as cynical about the power, goodness, and sovereignty of God as I was when I went out to feed the poor and help the sick in the city of Tacloban.

“God, not again… please not again…” was my prayer this morning.

I was angry. I was sad. I was broken that the wounds incurred by Typhoon Yolanda on friends of mine just thirteen months ago may be reopened within the span of three days.

How long, O’ Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen? Or cry out to you… but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2)

“Aren’t you in control, Lord? Don’t you care about these people? Don’t you care that their wounds are still fresh? Don’t you care that I want to see my friends again? Don’t you care that they cannot take another wave of destruction like this? Lord where are you!?”

And it was in my cynicism that the Jesus spoke to me. It was in my selfishness that He reminded me of His promises from long ago that He will be with us “even until the end of the age.”

In the midst of disaster, He is there.

In the midst of pain, He is there.

In the midst of death, destruction, brokenness and healing He is there.

To all of those who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior He promises,

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer… for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God… I will be with you, even until the end of the age… I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand… so we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone [or anything] do to me?” (Revelation 2:10a, Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:6)

In Luke 13:4-5 Jesus tells a story about a tower in a place called Siloam that fell and claimed eighteen lives. Jesus says, “Were these that died more guilty than anyone else? I tell you no!” (Luke 13:4-5a)

The point?

Sometimes natural disasters occur due to the entropy created by broken people living in a broken world. And sometimes these natural disasters claim the lives of thousands. Thousands of individuals who were no more guilty than the rest of us. Thousands of individuals who “did not deserve” such a fate.

It was in this moment that my “sadness turned to joy.” (Psalm 30:10)

Joy that my cynicism was rebuked by understanding that instead of God having been aloof to – and even the direct causation of – typhoon Yolanda, He was there with them suffering as they suffer so that He might clothe them with the joy that comes from knowing that one day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And that one day, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

God spoke clearly to me, “Why do you feel as if I am aloof? As if the world is not changing? Because your cynicism has tricked you into thinking that asking the only One who can actually make a real difference in the world to act in accordance with His will is useless. Your cynicism has led you to believe that your opinions, your emotions, and your reasoning must be the only thing that will change the world for the better.”

But ‘I am the Lord, the God of mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

In Tacloban, and even this morning, God proved to me that impotence is not weakness when Christ is at the center. For it is only through our powerlessness that His power will shine like the noon day sun through us.

Abegail, Tina, ate Beryl, Matt, Sel, Aira, Chris – all who I met in Tacloban – each one of you will be forever in my heart as examples of what it means to rejoice in suffering, to have faith when everything points towards faithlessness, and to stand firm knowing that living in a fallen world means experiencing the pangs of suffering due to human brokenness.

Each of you are an example of what it means to be unimaginably powerful in the strength of Jesus Christ through the witness of the Holy Spirit in times of great suffering.

Typhoon Yolanda brought with it death, sorrow, and destruction.

But God used her to “work all things to the good for those who love Him” through world gathering unity, supernatural joy, and trial bearing perseverance.

The world is full of immeasurable brokenness and suffering.

But the world is also full of people who stand firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ that proclaims “the destruction of the works of satan and the abundant life” that we long for day by day. (1 John 3:8, John 10:10)

My friend Aira, while commenting on her uncle preparing their home for the next wave of destruction, said it best,

The most important preparation is the preparation of ourselves for what might happen. Surrendering our whole life to the Life-Giver and securing a relationship with His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, each one of you, for surrendering your entire lives to Jesus, and for setting an example for people like me of what it looks like to “bear the cross” given to us no matter what trials we encounter.

Each of you are a living, breathing, testimony of what I mentioned earlier,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Nothing in all of creation will separate you from His love.

Not even typhoons.

Reflections on Contextualization

Among those involved in the world Christian movement is a term used to develop strategy for making the good news of Jesus Christ applicable to varying nations, cultures, and languages; to make the gospel applicable in a way that allows the individuals in the culture to remain a part of their culture by redeeming cultural practices for Christ.

This strategic planning is know as “contextualization.”

Those of us involved in world mission know and understand it well.

Those of us involved in world mission employ it regularly on short term trips, long term excursions, and with any interactions we have with internationals within our own country.

The goal of contextualization is to ensure that individuals within a culture remain an essential part of that culture in all things language, practice, and vocation.

In other words, Christians bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a people who have never heard about Him, and that is all that they bring.

Because culture does not equate to sin.

Because skin color and language do not equate to sin.

And because we believe that God has created all people for good works that He personally prepared for them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). And these good works include culture, language, and cultural practices.

However, why has contextualization of the gospel been primarily studied in relation to the world Christian movement?

What I am talking about here does not have to do with contextualization of the sinner’s prayer of salvation. The modern evangelical church has done a wonderful job of making the sinner’s prayer (that which brings people to “accept Christ”) applicable to various groups within American culture.

What I am talking about is the contextualization of the whole gospel- the gospel that is not just about salvation, but about the mind-renewing – life altering – gospel that reconciles every area of life that individuals are already involved in. The gospel that calls people to remain in their jobs, their arts, their doctoral studies, while consecrating all of those things to Jesus that He might use them to powerfully influence that sphere of the world for the Kingdom of God.

 It seems that within the evangelical church in America there is this idea that if individuals want to follow God they must “sacrifice” time spent on amoral (and even good) things such as work, school, and the arts and instead redirect that time to church based activities. So often I have heard the phrase, “individual ‘x’ does not want to follow God because he/she is spending too much time at work, at school, or participating in the arts.” More often than this have I heard, “a personal ministry requires sacrifice and time, therefore spending too much time at school, work, or the arts is, according to the New Testament, not following God.”

Why are we manipulating individuals who are trying to follow Jesus with their God given gifts and passions to instead give those things up and latch on to man-declared methods of “following God?”

When the Holy Spirit gifts an individual He gifts them for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom of God in that vein of culture. Without varied outworking of the gospel, the Kingdom of God will never expand beyond our man-made boundaries.

Jesus wants the world to come to Him with all of their gifts, talents, and desires, not some whitewashed tomb that has been manipulatively led to give up passions, gifts, and desires for the “sake of the gospel.”

That is not the gospel, that is man made religion.

The evangelical church in America needs to contextualize the gospel in such a way that individuals will sacrifice – for Jesus Christ – time, energy, and resources to infiltrate the darkest places in the world; the arts, the marketplace, and the positions of leadership within government, business, and community.

We are so good at pulling people out of those positions that the world is actually getting darker instead of lighter. So many I have met have given up desires to be musicians, doctors, lawyers, PhD graduates, CEO’s, because a leader in the church told them that following God requires giving up time devoted to those things (amoral, mind you) and instead redirecting that time to activities within the local church.

May Jesus have mercy on us for our foolishness and arrogance in this regard.

We should instead be commissioning followers of Christ to become doctors, to become musicians, to become governors, superintendents, lawyers, politicians, police officers, because Jesus wants to infiltrate all of culture, not just church culture.

We do not call people in to the church, we call people to become the church.

By limiting the Christian in education, vocation, and culture we effectually limit the spread of the gospel thereby preventing the Kingdom of God from expanding beyond arbitrary boundaries set up by the church.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian musician desires to break into the dark world of the music industry.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian film-maker chooses to make his life about telling great stories for Christ and meeting those in places like Hollywood where they are at that they might meet the Jesus who wants them to be even more competent in their field.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian prayerfully sacrifices his time to be educated in a way that will effectively enact justice in the world and expand the Kingdom of God through the use of arts, medicine, law, engineering, and education.

If we are to see the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven we must stop limiting believers in Christ to only being engaged in ministry in the local church and commission them to be fully engaged in the marketplace, the arts, and at the university level.

If we do not, we will continue to see American culture move further and further away from the “only Name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Reflections on Zephaniah

“… the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us…”

Intrigued that this post begins with a verse from Romans 8 instead of the titled Zephaniah?

That makes two of us.

The Holy Spirit inspires as He wills, I do not question it.

As I was reading through Zephaniah tonight – a book I have read countless times over the years – the nature of suffering stuck out to me in a way it never has before. So many quote Zephaniah 3:17 as if it were the central point of the book.

Well, friends, it definitely is not.

The central theme in the book of Zephaniah is judgment and suffering; the judgment and suffering that are wrought by God on the nations because they have committed acts of injustice directly correlated with turning their eyes away from their Lord and Savior Yahweh.

Yes, this judgment and suffering prophesied by Zephaniah to the nations is suffering and judgment from the hand of God.

Many, including myself, see suffering and judgment as being equated with evil; equated with everything that God is not.

Well, friends, this, too, is false.

Suffering is, yes, the direct result of fallen human nature deciding to turn their eyes from their Creator to the created and worship that instead.

Judgment, in a similar light, is the direct result of this same ocular misdirection.

Therefore, suffering and judgment cannot be wrought by God because they are equated with sin and evil.



 God’s judgment – and consequently the nature of suffering due to God’s judgment – is out of love for you, love for me.

The goal in God wrought suffering is to turn our worship from the created to the Creator; from that which rust and moth destroy to that which brings abundant life and abundant joy resulting in righteous acts of justice and love.

The suffering that He puts us through results in glory.

The suffering we put ourselves through? Vanity.

For He delights in suffering that brings about glory, not suffering that brings about vanity.

Our tendency is to become and live like that which we worship.

The created is dying; the Creator is living.

The created is vanity; the Creator is glory.

God has something more for us than to hopelessly live and perish in vain.

Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says it best,

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

We have hope that directing our worship towards our Creator will bring about the abundant life and joy that Jesus promised we would have on this Earth; and we have hope that directing our worship towards our Creator will ultimately result in the “glory that will be revealed in us” when we enter life eternal.

Zephaniah 3:8-10 makes clear God’s intentions for Zephaniah’s prophetic words and the suffering of the nations,

“… Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them My indignation, all My burning anger… because of all [their deeds]… pride… deceit… and injustice… for then the people will have purified lips, that all of them may call on [My name] to serve [Me] shoulder to shoulder [with one another]…

Zephaniah spoke to Israel concerning the suffering that God was going to bring not only to them, but to all the nations that worship what is going to destroy them.

And He did this in love to spare them.

To spare them from suicidal worship that leads to vain suffering and despair.

My friend Mike’s treatment of suffering and the gospel is an apt closure,

There is an element of the gospel that requires that we suffer in this life. Suffering is not all of the gospel, but enough of it that if you avoid suffering you will miss the gospel.

The suffering of the church in this present age is the backdrop for the futures glories and excellencies that are awaiting Christ’s people.

God brings about suffering in your life because He loves you.

Do not stand for self wrought suffering that leads to vanity.

Pray for God led suffering that leads to glory.