The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 10
Grab a place at the table, God’s beloved and hungry race-runners. Let’s enjoy a feast of the heart that’s a necessary for the long run—measured by the marathon of faith we joyfully run each and every “TODAY… (Psalm 95:7-8).
All God’s people who wake each day and make the intentional quiet time along the lines of… Praying to God by His Word (Mark 1:35); putting on the armor (Ephesians 6:10-18); recounting the cost and blessings of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35); and remembering the basis upon which our life in Christ is ordered by adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (Ephesians 1)…
Are assured the legacy God promises in the end… beginning today: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)!
An Apologetic on Suffering
This is the second-to-last course in this series and, for the record, it’s key to remember what we’ve feasted on thus far.
The CONTEXT of God’s Story
Every week I’m repeatedly putting on display the “four panels of God’s story” because we have to get this down… PAT: The context of “God’s Big Picture Plan of Redemption” must be deeply rooted in our hearts—the hearts of all those in The Body of Christ—before the hope and practice of a mature and sanctified life of long-lasting fruitfulness for the good of the world can exist.
We humans are contextual beings. We flourish in Kingdom and “trench-life” ways when, a) our hearts [our faith foundations] are firmly established upon God’s Plan of Redemption; b) our spirit [emotions] reflects the same solidarity and assurances with and in God’s Plan of Redemption; and c) our walk, our lives lived out, are motivated and animated by being “God’s Plan- and Purpose-Driven”!
The effectiveness of anyone’s Apologetic on Suffering—or our defense of the faith on any matter for that matter—will be contingent upon how accessible God’s Story, and our story within it, is to us… and then to others God providentially places in our life.
Part 1: Creation
“In the beginning…” God made all things very good (Genesis 1, 2).
Part 2: The Fall
By definition and the necessity of logic, God’s love of the culmination of His creative act—His Image Bearers Eve, Adam, humanity—had to include the free-will choice of un-love. Eve, then Adam, chose poorly when they listened to the serpent, disobeyed God, and ushered in sin and decay into the universe and all of humanity following them (Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32). [Living in a sin-wracked, dark and decaying world is a fact of this life. Get over it. And get into it… as God’s chosen and redeemed ones: The light and salt of God’s redemption.]
Part 3: The Redemption
The Supremacy of God’s Son: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1-4; John 3:16).
Part 4: The Consummation
The magnificent fulfillment of God’s Plan of Redemption: to gather and cherish His people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1 and follows).
God’s “Protocol for Redemptive Suffering”
The Weeping: Part 5, Freefalls; Part 6, Foundations
All Weeping, all tears, all trials, and all freefalls of life are allowed in God’s loving offer for revealing and firming up the foundations of our faith.
The Window: Part 7, The Would-a, Could-a, Should-a’s; Part 8, The Window into the Heart
Once on a foundation of Creation, Christ, and Covenant, we are assured no punishment is involved, only purification: searching our heart, discerning between the falsehoods and truths of our faith, and seizing any/all opportunities—in partnership with the person of the Holy Spirit and the community of the Saints—to purify the heart.
The Way: Part 9, Purposely Pause in a Sacred Place
For the “co-redeemer in Christ”—after some quality and community time is taken to avail ourselves to the first two steps in “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” in the WEEPING and the WINDOW—the WAY back into the chaos of a fallen and broken world requires supernatural and human will power, purpose, and preparation. Don’t waste your tears (Psalm 126:5)!
Part 10, Turning to Intentionally Face the Chaos… Redeemed to Redeem!
Please NOTE: The last we dined together, I introduced a very subtle yet vitally important facet of what God—by the Holy Spirit—helped me see so clearly on Christmas night 2002:
As I knelt and faced my dad [any trial and/or tragedy] next to his body lying in the snow, I realized the world was on the verge of crashing in and down on the sacred and snow-filled “bubble” God had created for this miraculous time.
All I had to do was simply turn 180 degrees to face the oncoming chaos of a shocked, broken, and despairing world. And yet, “simple” was one thing it was not.
It is within this apparently inconsequential—and most often under-estimated, un-realized, and under-utilized—space between facing our trials and once again turning… intentionally and “missionally” turning… to face the world of chaos that awaits us…when and where we must pause.
We must remember theology and “re-member our relationships”; we must re-calibrate; we must shore-up our faith; we must recount the cost; we must Go Deeper than before the trial; we must listen to the Holy Spirit and the Saints; we must, we must, we must take the time… all the time it takes… to shore up our own faith while we remind ourselves of what the world, the flesh, and the devil THAT AWAITS US… loaded for bear… in a fallen and decaying world… really consists of.
We must recall and renew the Gospel of Jesus Christ more deeply than we did, more wholly-holy than we did, more sanctified, more Christ-like than we did before the trial.
When it comes to “change management”, our times of redemptive suffering is one of God’s most merciful offerings of transformation that we dare not take lightly or pass up.
The faith investment we make in the space, the gap between facing our circumstances of suffering and once again facing the chaos of a broken world is huge: MIND THE GAP!
It’s only a 180 degree turn… But how we use the time between facing our trial and facing the world cannot be more important.
How might our time, talent, and whatever treasure we invest be spent to take every advantage of our suffering? Please consider the four passages we looked at last week—and some more content pertaining to each one. God the Holy Spirit mercifully gave me an extra-measure of His Word… So that I would be prepared; and ready to pass it along to you:
Ezekiel 11:19—I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Mark the Change of Heart: Less Stone, More Flesh (Ezekiel 11:17-21; 36)
Suffering [among other redemptive things] is used of God for shoring up our faith foundations, cleansing our heart of the lie in order to replace lies with God’s True Truth… Because this avails us to The Holy Spirit’s re-creative person and power to, “…give us one heart and a new spirit… “ to “…remove our heart of stone from our fleshand give us a heart of flesh…”
This is not some fanciful Hallmark card metaphor or sloppy-agape poetry, Beloved of God. It is the unspeakably merciful work of God in the power and person of the Holy Spirit—“The Supernatural Heart-Changer”: Just as He did as part of the Trinity in Creation: In fluttering over the waters “In the beginning…” (Genesis 1, 2), the Spirit “flutters over our heart” to this day!
The Holy Spirit’s creative act is still manifest in this world, and is mainly focused on “the supernaturally cathartic heart-work” of, a) the regeneration of a heart for the first time when one moves from death to life as he or she repents of Sin and sinning, is born-again to become a New Creation, a Believer, or b) in conformation as a Believer’s heart is sanctified, made more holy, and made more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
It is so vitally important to Mark the Change of Heart—as another part of its stony sinfulness is replaced with Jesus’ “fleshly likeliness”—that occurs in us as we work through how God mercifully yet manifestly uses our suffering to change us, to transform us, to purify us, to make us holy, to mature us, to make us more “fruit-full” (Galatians 5:22-23)… to make / re-make us into “little Christ’s” (Martin Luther).
The Holy Spirit is “The Supernatural Heart-Changer”, “The Change-Agent Supreme”, “The Pointer to Jesus” (Isaiah 11:2; John 14; Romans 8:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 6:19; Galatians 5:22-23).
If we will intentionally Mark the Change of Heart… Less Stone, More Flesh… within us, and with a community of other Saints, we will partake in the real, live, miraculous re-creative power of the Holy Spirit within us!
Why does an all-loving and all-powerful God allow suffering? To change us more and more into the likeness of His Son—and His Son’s impact of grace and truth on the world.
Romans 8:28—We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, forthose who are called according to his purpose.
Moan the Purpose of the Spirit: Less Me, More Christ (Romans 8:18-30)
Nothing can touch the born-again believer except that which God intends to use for His own glory, for our good, and for the good of those whose lives we might influence! Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Not anything that happens to us is allowed by God but for the good of us who love God in Christ.
How many times are too many times that we need to be reminded of and renewed in this promise of God? I would submit around a bazillion… Or within each breath and heartbeat of our life.
All things work together for “less of me, and more of Christ.”
The GOOD promised us refers first and foremost to the fact that our Father God intends that we be conformed to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29) as He works in and through us by the Spirit in all circumstances He providentially directs in our lives.
In giving me [and all Christians] this verse, God was saying, “Trust me, John. The heartbreak we experienced together tonight did not take me by surprise. Hardly… I saw it before time began, and I intend to use it to conform your heart, spirit, and life more to the likeness of My Son. And that’s just the start to how I can and will use this tragedy in ways that you may or may not recognize until we stand face-to-face.”
Just in my realm of experience alone… the Trinity’s redeeming grace God has come through on this promise hundreds upon hundreds of times. Let alone in other lives where the ripple effect of my book and other lives touched by God’s Good has moved out into the world—and will be evidenced in eternity!
Why does an all-loving and all-powerful God allow suffering? Because His manifold mercies include using the brokenness and the goodness within “all things” [RE: everything seen and unseen] to fulfill His redemptive plan of conformation—and ultimately union—to and with His Beloved Son.
Romans 12:2—Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Marvel the Mercy of God: Less Whining, More Worship (Romans 11; 12:1-3)
I heard in these words an admonition of love for my heart, spirit, and will, directly from God who knows and loves my heart best.
God was saying, in essence, “Use this time and the trauma of heartbreak as an occasion for remembering, John. Remember the world to which you really belong. Remember you are Mine, and you will be richly blessed if you move back into the material world being in it, but not of it (Matthew 16:26; John 1:10; 17; Colossians 2:8). Especially remember and marvel My mercies now; because as you have been sanctified more you will worship more—and this whining world you’re about to re-enter needs less whining and more worship, John.”
In Romans 11, Paul describes in detail the hardness of heart shown by those whose hearts should have been the most responsive to the mercies of God. Old Testament Israel had seen that mercy at work on their behalf time after time. Yet, rather than falling to their knees in worship, they fell into the temptation of grumbling and complaining about God’s provision for them.
Their hearts became harder and harder, and their tears watered the seeds of idolatry Satan had sown in their hearts. Still, to Paul’s stunned amazement, God’s mercy was active even as He judged his people. Despite their sins, all Israel, those who live and die in the faith Abraham received as a gift of God’s grace, will be saved (Romans 11:26; see also Galatians 6:16).
Not only repentant Jews, but faith-filled Gentiles as well will taste the mercy of God, despite their sinful depravity. Chapter 11 concludes with an expression of deep worship, and Paul’s near-dumbfounded astonishment at God’s manifold mercy. Like us, Paul knows full-well his own heart’s utter sinfulness. This leads him to exclaim in worshipful amazement:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Forwho has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
Know this: We comprehend the experience and measure of God’s mercy in direct proportion to the degree we know our own sinfulness and the wrath we justly deserve because of it.
Knowing, then, our culpability and its rightful penalty, we join Paul in his hymn of praise as Chapter 11 ends and Chapter 12 begins. Redemptive suffering reminds us to Marvel the Mercy of God, which results in Less Whining, More Worship, and More Works in the name of Jesus.
As we’ve repeatedly said, using our times of suffering in a redemptive way promotes our conformation to the likeness of Jesus. This promotes our perspective of this fallen world’s “deformation”, while compelling us to be God’s light and salt to redeem it all the more!
Why does an all-loving and all-powerful God allow suffering? Because by the best and proper use of our trails we will “…be transformed by the renewal of our mind…” “… that by [the] testing, [refining, purifying, conforming] we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” as we move back into the chaos of the world. And this is no small blessing!
Job 19:25—For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Move the Mountain with Faith: Less Ruminating, More Redeeming (Job 9; 19:25)
As I stood, turned, and faced the world’s chaos, God gave me one last passage.
It filled me with a reminder of a promise, a deep hope, and prepared me to take the first step into the chaos… Tender in heart, yet radically tenacious about wanting to see how God would use everything that had happened for the good He had promised… As a Redeemer King, to redeem… And I with Him to do the same in any way I can… In any way we can.
Job arguably endured more suffering than anyone else whose life Scripture chronicles for us—Christ himself being the only exception. As I thought about the words Job wrote so long ago, two key truths echoed through my mind:
1) Jesus Christ, my Redeemer King, lives. He really and truly lives! Death, sin, Satan, and hell could not hold him captive. That’s the True Truth.
2) The gift of salvation, and the eventual resurrection with Christ upon His second coming, which I have received by faith in my Redeemer, is not an end in itself. Rather, it provides the impulse and the power that enable me to work with Jesus as a co-redeemer in an increasingly broken world. This calling belongs to me until either I die and I am taken up to be with my Redeemer King or He returns at the last to claim His own. Period.
The miraculous gift the Spirit gave me in this passage and call-to-action—as we discussed above—came at just the right time… That holy hinge point we all must face in our times of trial: As I turned that crucial 180 degrees from facing the suffering and sacredness of being with God and dad to facing… and then walking into… the chaos of this broken, desperate, and despairing world.
As I first heard from within me and from outside of me, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” The passage drifted off, and the words melted into a barely audible yet unfathomably assuring and compelling whisper of a still small voice, “You have been redeemed to redeem… Redeemed to redeem… Redeemed to redeem…”
As I walked towards the onslaught of emergency personnel or every sort, practically each step I took was accompanied by this promise and call-to-action!
“Redeemed to redeem…” Can you assuredly, humbly, and excitedly say this of yourself?
Why does an all-loving and all-powerful God allow suffering? Because just as Jesus Christ fulfilled Job’s vision of God as a Redeemer King in the midst of Job’s insufferable suffering, I too… we too… by means of our trials transformed into God’s triumph take up the call and mission to be used of God as a redeeming force of His grace and truth! In Christ we are “co-redeemers” of this world of chaos… Until we die or Jesus returns to make all things new. Period.
A Plate-Full… Are You Full Yet?
Beloved of God in Christ, the WAY we move back into the chaos of this fallen world following many or few experiences of suffering is so crucial to not only “revealing God’s theological plan of redemption” but also fulfilling the promises of God concerning such counterintuitive yet life-giving passages like, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” (James 1:2); “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12); “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” (1 Peter 1:6); and finally… and extremely importantly…
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
The disciple of Jesus Christ should be the last person on earth who is so surprised by the untold and many sorts of suffering and decay and brokenness in the world that he or she is paralyzed, dumbed, numbed, desensitized, or immunized to it!
Rather, the disciple of Jesus Christ should embrace any suffering as… the Spirit’s time for “fluttering over our heart”; the bad sovereignly used for God’s Good; the agent of Christ-like conformation to change the world; and the heart-filled motivation to be on mission as a “co-redeemer of and with Christ”… as God has so mercifully meant our suffering to be. Amen.