Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Like Fort Worth More than Denver


I absolutely love Colorado. At least three times in my life I've considered moving to Denver. I applied to a college (maybe two?) in the Centennial State, it was one of our location options for starting a church, and for grad school I even had a class schedule set before realizing I was supposed to be in Dallas. So being up here for a few days this week was a true joy.

But, I realized something strange this week - for several reasons, I love Fort Worth more than Denver. I didn't think I'd ever say that, and in many ways it surprised me. I mean, yes, the mountains are a mere few minutes away (& I quite enjoyed an afternoon hike on Tuesday). Yes, the high was in the upper 70's and I got to work outside between conference sessions. And yes, there are very many other really cool things about Denver. But here a few things I realized this week, that remind me why I love my city more than the one I'm currently in:
  • In Fort Worth, it doesn't cost $12 to park downtown for an hour.
  • Even with the many roads currently closed, traffic is far worse in Denver.
  • In many parts of Denver, you can't even see the mountains - especially because of the smog.
  • Cost of living - whoa.
  • The current renewal/revitalization of Fort Worth's downtown.
  • REAL Mexican food (or, probably better said, REAL Tex-Mex. But still...)
  • The people - in general, plus family, friends, etc.
  • I quite enjoyed my hike this week, but the altitude got to me fairly quickly - Denver makes me feel old and sore.
  • Fort Worth is more laid-back & still has a small-town feel, but is still close enough to Dallas for big events, etc. if needed.
  • UPDATED: How could I forget the longhorns?!
But the #1 reason I love Fort Worth is because after talking with a few folks in Denver this week, Denver apparently "loses it's luster" if you live here. Folks here take the amazingness of Colorado for granted. The mountains, nature, beauty, weather, and other awesome things become commonplace. So as a friend told me a few years ago, "maybe Colorado will always be a place of retreat, rest, and fun for you, while Fort Worth will always remain your home."

So be it - I don't want Colorado to become commonplace and lose it's Colorado-ness that it currently have in my mind. Colorado will always be "that place" for me. But, as this week has shown, in several reasons on top of the ones above, I love Fort Worth. I love living there. I love the opportunity there. And I love what we're getting to see happen as our city experiences all kinds of renewal.

Most random post ever? Maybe, but I'm excited to wrap up stuff here tomorrow & jump on a plane to get back to Cowtown!

What are some reasons you love our city? Or whatever city you live in?

Monday, May 24, 2010

God + Suffering, 4: Suffering Well

The previous post on suffering ended with this thought:

The Christian life isn't about being free from suffering; it's about finding God in the midst of your suffering, and allowing God to use your suffering for his purpose - to advance the gospel in your life in and in others. In fact, think about this: if through the Bible and history, folks who have the most impact for Jesus have suffered most, and if you're not suffering, what does that say about you?

In Philippians 1:12-18, Paul's suffering allows the entire imperial guard - numbering 9000 men - to know that his suffering is for Jesus. They saw how he lived, prayed, preached, and wrote. Other prisoners were encouraged. And even though some folks wanted to increase Paul's suffering, Paul responds, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." Paul's suffering served to advance the gospel.

In the first post of this blog series, I mentioned the responses of Job, Joseph, and Jesus to suffering - their suffering served to advance the gospel. I also mentioned my friend Tyler who used a broken back to share the gospel, and a college student whose battle with sin was used by God to encourage a high schooler.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul speaks of suffering, but also of finding hope in the midst of it: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."


And at a friend's party earlier this month, celebrating her one-year remission of Stage-3 cancer, one of the pages she had printed out from her journal contained this poem:

What Cancer Cannot Do:
It cannot cripple Love; it cannot shatter Hope
It cannot corrode Faith; it cannot destroy Peace
It cannot kill Friendship; it cannot suppress Memories
It cannot silence Courage; it cannot invade the Soul
It cannot steal Eternal Life

These people suffered well, and saw God work in the midst of their suffering. God is sovereign and good, and suffering is promised. And that paradox exists for his purposes, for his glory, and for our joy.

Thoughts? Comments? Post below.

More resources on suffering well:

Below is a list of really solid resources, from folks who have suffered/are suffering well, to encourage you to see how God is advancing his gospel, even in the midst of your hardest times. There are certainly more resources, but these are good ones to start with.
I pray that some of these are beneficial for you, as you suffer well and develop a strong theology of suffering, for the glory of God.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

God + Suffering, 3: How do I respond to suffering?


My friend Tyler took his wife on a quick ski weekend in January of this year. Tyler's an adventurous, athletic guy, and a great skier. But for whatever reason, on this trip he lost control, went headfirst into a ski lift pole, flipped, landed on his back on a huge metal breaker box, and broke his back and his collarbone. On a three-hour ambulance ride to the nearest available emergency room in El Paso, lying on his broken back over bumpy roads, with his broken arm hanging by his side, he ended up talking with the medic about his faith. And before he got out at the hospital, Tyler told the medic, "Even if I never get to walk again, it will be totally worth it because I got to share my faith with you."

Tyler, in immense pain and suffering, saw the purposes of God and responded to suffering well. In Philippians 1:12-18, the apostle Paul, who experienced immense pain and suffering throughout his life, saw the purposes of God and responded to suffering well. Many times, we don't. In fact, here are a few ways we typically respond to suffering:
  • You give up on God: maybe you think, “if he were sovereign & good, suffering wouldn’t exist." Then, when we suffer, we write God off and walk away from him. If this is you, I'm honored that you're reading this, but doesn't that just lead a purposeless chaos of life? If there's no God, then your suffering has no possibility of having any meaning or greater good! There's no comfort in that; only emptiness and yearning. If you believe this, you suffer for nothing.
  • You hang on to God, but be filled w/ bitterness/rage: maybe you still believe in God, but because of the hardship you deal with, you hate him. Or you hate other people. Friend, just because something isn't going the way you want, doesn't mean it's not the best thing for you! What if God is doing something bigger in your life, that you just don't realize yet? Are you really seeking God's purposes in your suffering, or are you too focused on yourself, your feelings, and what you think is right? I would beg you to look outside your bitter heart and ask what God's purposes might be.
  • You believe God is sovereign and good, but you have no idea why you're suffering: this isn't a fun place to be, but it is an OK one - the waiting itself might be part of your suffering. It might be years before God reveals his purposes to you, if he ever does. Pray and yearn and long for God to reveal his purpose for your suffering, but persevere, stand strong, trust God, and suffer well until he does.
Some folks, even deceived and deceitful folks in Christian circles, teach that if you’re "a good Christian," there will be no more suffering. In this theory, if you do the right things, go to the right place, and give the right amount of money, you'll be liberated from any pain or trail - that's a false, heretical view of Christianity! That's a "candy machine" view of God - if you put in the right amount of change, you'll get your Snickers, and if you don't, you have every right to be angry at him. If that were true, why was every apostle martyred? Why were some of the most godly men and women in early Christianity burned at the stake? Why is "suffering for Christ" mentioned in nearly every book in the New Testament?

So how do you respond well to suffering?

The Christian life isn't about being free from suffering; it's about finding God in the midst of your suffering, and allowing God to use your suffering for his purpose - to advance the gospel in your life in and in others. In fact, think about this: if through the Bible and history, folks who have the most impact for Jesus have suffered most, and if you're not suffering, what does that say about you?

Thoughts? Comments? Post below.

Next post: wrap up & resources on suffering well

Thursday, May 20, 2010

God + Suffering, 2: Why Do I Suffer?

In my previous post, we started looking at the relationships between God & suffering, seen in Biblical verses like Philippians 1:12-18. The Bible promises that God is both sovereign and good, and also that suffering is promised to His people. If that's true, then God has a purpose in our suffering.

Why might God allow me to suffer?

There are several reasons God might allow us to suffer - probably way more than we can ever realize or understand (Rom 11:33-34 - "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?'..."). But here are some of the more common ways that God seems to use suffering for his purposes:
  • To discipline you: not "to punish you," as if you sinned one too many times, or offended God in such a great way that he responds in anger and sends calamity to your life. The wages of sin isn't suffering; it's death (Rom 3:23) - for the Christian, that debt has been paid and God doesn't "double-punish" us for our sin! But, as a loving Father, God might use pain, trial, and suffering, to discipline us, his children: in ways we might never know, he might protect us, refine us, or guide us, using suffering to lovingly direct us. That's good discipline, right parents?
  • To equip you for future ministry: God could use suffering to prepare you for something later in your life - specifically, he could be using your suffering to prepare you to be better used for his purposes. We don't like this thought, because well, we're selfish! We don't like that God might make US suffer, to benefit others or to benefit his kingdom! I knew a college guy who, as a child, had been molested by an older man - this produced emotional and spiritual turmoil for him, as he daily battled homosexuality and same-sex attraction. So many times he would ask me, "why?" After he graduated and began working with a church's youth group, he called me one day, nearly in tears. A high schooler he had begun working with had, as a child, been molested by an older man, and this student now battled homosexuality and same-sex attraction. After my friend heard this and was able to encourage the student, the student said "I didn't have anyone else to turn to, who understands - thank you." My friend's words to me? "I think I finally might understand why God allowed this to happen to me."
  • To encourage others: An equally-unpopular, equally-others-focused reason as the previous one, others might be encouraged in your suffering. But could God, in his sovereign goodness, allow you to suffer for the benefit of others? He did with Paul. Philippians 1:14 - "And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." Even Paul's Philippian readers are encouraged as they see him suffering well, dying to himself and pursuing God's purposes in suffering. Would you suffer for the benefit of others?
  • To give you a platform for sharing the gospel: When we suffer well, people notice. And this might be God's way of putting opportunities in our lives to simply share the gospel. In John 9, Jesus is asked why a blind man suffers - "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Jesus' answer shocks his listeners: "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (9:3) - and then Jesus healed him and proclaimed the gospel. John Piper suffered well and publicly, and people noticed and responded, and the gospel was advanced; Matt Chandler is suffering well and publicly, and people are noticing and responding, and the gospel is being advanced. Many others have done so too, and God has worked in them for his purposes.
The apostle Paul, in prison and awaiting execution, suffered well, and people noticed and responded, and the gospel was advanced: Philippians 1:12-14 - "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."


The key to all this, though, is our mindset, worldview, and goals - how do we respond when we see suffering in our lives? That's where the next post takes us.


Thoughts? Comments? Post below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

God + Suffering, 1


Everyone suffers. We have suffered, we are suffering, we will suffer. For folks who aren't followers of Christ, you suffer simply because we live in a broken, sinful, hurting world. For folks who are Christians, we suffer because we live in a broken, sinful, hurting world, PLUS the Bible promises that we'll suffer for Christ! Our City Church family is a few weeks in, walking through Philippians - this week we hit the tough topic of suffering, in Philippians 1:12-18. The question Paul deals with in these verses is "How do you suffer well?"

God is both sovereign and good, and yet suffering is promised to His people.

Both of these promises run throughout the whole Bible: God's sovereign goodness is seen from Genesis to Revelation. And at the same time, every book in the New Testament, except for one, speaks of Christian suffering. These seemingly opposite ideas are somehow intertwined in God's great plan. Of all people, Paul - the author of Philippians - knew this paradox well: much of the doctrine we read about God's sovereign goodness was developed by Paul(!), and yet Paul arguably suffered more than any other Christian (see 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 11:23-28; 12:7-9 for a taste of his various sufferings).

Likewise, in Genesis 30-50, Joseph suffered - but he suffered well, trusting God's sovereign goodness (Genesis 50:1 - "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good"). In the book of Job, Job suffered - but he suffered well, trusting God's sovereign goodness (Job 1:21 - "naked I came from my mother's womb; naked I shall return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord"). And of course Jesus suffered - but he suffered well, and the glorious grace of God was displayed through his suffering (Heb 12:2 - "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.").

Paul understood this truth, after all his suffering, while chained to a guard in prison. Why did Paul suffer? Philippians 1:12: "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel..." (italics added). We'll look at this more in the next post, but God had a sovereign, good purpose in Paul's suffering, and he has one for our suffering too.

What do you think? What's hard about this truth? Post thoughts & comments below.

Next Posts: Why might God allow me to suffer? How do I suffer well?