Making Pain Work for You, [Trials]

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“Then they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. 22They encouraged the followers and begged them to remain faithful. They told them, “We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom.”

Acts 14:21-22, CEV

Paul and Barnabas, together are perhaps the most gifted men ever to minister the Gospel.  They have an amazing love for the Church.  They operate out of great difficulty, but the deep work they do, proceeds out of encouragement.  I looked at a dozen or so translations of the Bible–all of them translate this, “encouraged.”  Every single one!

Earlier in chapter 14, we can read about the brutality and ugliness they had to walk through.  It was very bad, beyond belief.  But these two never ever lose their love for the Lord, and for His people.  Their ministry continued to be full of optimism and comfort.  They simply can’t be poisoned by the nastiness and bitterness just days before.

They understand something.  What they have to say (as they minister that comfort) kind of boggles everyone’s thinking.

They said, “We must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom.”

Comforting and strengthening, isn’t it?  Sometimes when I read this passage I can’t believe what they are saying!  It doesn’t make any sense at all.   I believe there are three things we must process to fully understand these verses.

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1)  What comforts us is not always comfortable.

 I’m slowly coming to the place of accepting pain and sickness as my personal doorway into the Lord’s kingdom.  I know my mental illness has opened an entrance into something wonderful.  My months of being institutionalized in different hospitals has seemed to have filled me with grace, gentleness and love–in other words, the kingdom. At least that is what I think.

2)  What we think is the best way often is not.

No one chooses one’s particular path.  If we could we would all be driving a BMW and our homes would be palaces, we would win the lottery on a regular basis.  Our children would be little angels.  We would never be sick, or have a chronic illness.  But–we can’t enter His kingdom, unless there are trials.  They have to be there, they must.  Somewhere it says,  if we suffer, we will reign.

3)  What we need from our elders and pastors is the truth.

 Often the leadership of the Church keeps this one in the closet.  They communicate very well other subjects that are enjoyable.  And we pressure them to do this, gently and subliminally of course.  And everyone wonders why we don’t mature in our faith.  Paul and Barnabas are tremendous leaders, but they don’t roll things in sugar, and their ministry carries on the sufferings of Jesus.

Often it seems, when God chooses to bless a man or a woman greatly, He will send a trial to prepare them deeply.

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Eldership is the Backbone of Any Church

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” I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. 6 An elder must live a blameless life…”

Titus 1 :5-6, NLT

For some time I’ve been thinking about the Book of Titus and Paul’s command to establish elders in every city. I began to realize that elders are God’s way to reach a decadent culture. All of a sudden, it began to jell. In Crete the culture was depraved, and in the midst of that Paul did not suggest a program, he didn’t direct Titus to start a parachurch model. He told Titus to set men in place. It is not a program, it is a person— an elder!

As part of the Church, broken and confused as we are, we need relationships desperately.  When I’m depressed or manic, handicapped or not– God’s grace almost always comes through an elder or godly brother or sister.  We are built specifically for that purpose. They do things which none can do.  They are “marble pillars” in our Father’s house. I love and respect them, even if they are wrong. (Which isn’t often.)

Now I believe in programs. They often have a good function in the activity of the local church. But we have a tendency to view them as an answer or solution to the need of the moment. We should however, look to God’s way or plan, which I believe is Godly elders.

Its not a plan, but a man. Throughout Israel’s history, Godly men and women have stood up to bless the Kingdom. Their faith, love, and humility directed victory and revival for the people of God. We seem to have this tendency to want to bring in a fresh program (and there is quite a few) to do what we think will fix a problem (which may be real, or not). They are usually quite witty and clever, and can be reduced to a “Powerpoint” presentation.

I realized several years ago, that the kingdom of God worked,  and flowed out of relationships. This dramatically changed my thinking. I began to see my personal connections as the way God’s grace would flow. Many churches belong to a denomination. The problem is that is primarily an organizational model, not always a relationship.

I believe that God works through relationships between people touching people. We need to adjust how we view things. The elders that Titus set in place were to be Godly men. They would stand in remarkable contrast to the culture of Crete. They were were to be the way God’s kingdom would touch the church and the lost. (Light vs. darkness metaphor.)

I could be wrong. But at least that is how I read Titus.

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A Holy Troublemaker

Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.”

Jacques Ellul

I was living in the gritty Mission district in San Francisco, I remember sitting in my favorite coffee shop at the corner of Clarion Alley and Mission reading Ellul’s “Meaning of the City.” I have to admit, I was profoundly undone.  Here I sat with my ‘latte,’ in the presence of a “genius,” reading a man who was describing the city that I was living in.  It was a bit much. It devastated me, but in a very good way.

Jacques Ellul describes the condition of city-darkness.  His contention was that there are people who are actively, (but often passively,) in a rebellious opposition to whatever God is doing.  There is an “organization of unbelief” that always resists the Holy Spirit, and it has become especially embedded into places we call the City.

Ellul recognized that there is an opposition force.  There are now those who have been drastically connected to the radical presence of God. There can’t ever be real normalcy here.  We are saints, (whether we like it or not.)  We are solidly “light.”  And then we start reflecting that into a profound darkness, which cares for nothing at all– even hating the grace of God– things can get vicious.

We stand in an awesome place (whether we understand or not.)  We are in the truest sense revolutionaries.  We stand by grace in this place.  The light is always breaking holy-troublemakersinto the lives of those who are living against Him.  This is most uncomfortable– like falling into a raspberry patch naked, with all its stickers and scratches. Hardly pleasant.

We are “the troublemakers.”  What we believe turns the world upside down (really, upside right.)  We have become obstacles to those in darkness. We are altered, and as believers the change is dramatically authentic.  There is simply nothing outside of His power that can do this.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”   John 3:3, NCV

This critical thought describes the essential work that must happen before we can enter into it.  God’s kingdom is now our dream and our destiny.  It fuels us, and energizes us far beyond any work we can do.  We are now living people, residing in the “land of the dead.”  We must expect problems, but exult in a real existence.

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ybic, Bryan

 

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