The Fellowship of the Suffering

Have you every asked the question, what is the point of my suffering?

I know that I have….

In 2013 I came down with a chronic illness which means I am in constant pain, I can’t sleep and my general health suffers as a result of this illness. When the doctors told me that there was nothing they could do, they can’t take away my pain, I did what every book worm would do; I dove into reading books on suffering, from Christian perspective.

The fellowship of the suffering is one of those books, it deals with suffering, our perception of suffering and some practical steps which have helped the authors as they have suffered.

My problem with many of the ‘suffering books’ that can be found on many bookshelves is that they have this kind of ‘it’ll all be ok, one day, just keep praying’ idea, whilst that is true, and I eagerly await my new creation body, it’s like giving Calpol to someone who has been shot.

It won’t help much.

One of the things that I like about this book is that the authors share their own stories of suffering, and they go beyond the physical. Often we focus on physical suffering but completely forget about emotional suffering by saying ‘it’s part and parcel of being in a fallen world’ whilst this is true we still need to care for people through their emotional suffering.

As with any book, I do not agree with everything that it says, but it is a helpful book that takes you through some of the ‘stages’ of suffering. One of the things the book does really well is that it explains how our suffering, as hard as it might be, can teach us things.

The authors pull on other materials and books written about suffering and use quotes from many different people, this is often a helpful thing because these quotes and footnotes can take you to the stories of other Christians that can leave a lasting impression on your life because of how they ‘suffered well’.

One of the things that the fellowship of the suffering does, which not every book on suffering does, is that it deals a lot with the Bible and how people in the Bible suffered. The Bible, in my mind and theology, is e first place that every Christian should go when thinking about any topic and it’s a joy to see that happening in this book more than in others that I’ve read.

If you are suffering, if you are in either physical or emotional pain run to God, turn to God and speak to someone. My wife has been my rock through my sufferings, and she continues to support me, find someone to talk to. Find a person who is willing to live with you in your pain and talk to them about the ups and downs, the good and the bad days, and call on the Lord together.

Would I recommend this book? Yes.
Does it give a whole new perspective on how to ‘suffer well’? No.
Does it point people to Jesus and encourage people to find their refuge in God? Yes.

Rating 3/5

 

Prayer that changes…

“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

I’ll take Jesus’ word for it…

On the 15th of April 2018 Pope Francis visited a housing estate on the outskirts of Rome, upon his visit he was met by crowds of people and one boy in particular has captured the hearts of many people around the world. Emanuele asked the Pope if his father, who was not a believer, was in heaven.  The Pope went on to say that surely his father was in heaven because he was a good man, had his children baptised and saying that God did not abandon His children.

Here is why I think that the Pope said is dangerous, and why I’ll take Jesus’ word over who will be in heaven over the Pope’s.

The reason the Pope’s words are dangerous is because, whether he knows it or not, thousands if not millions of people look to the Pope for their understanding of Christianity. Therefore, based on his comments the other day, people could deduce that if they are good and get their children baptised that they themselves become children of God and will be allowed into heaven.
Articles have been written praising the Pope’s inclusiveness and people are sharing posts on social media about this most recent Francis moment, and the problem is that this is portraying a wrong picture of Christianity and it is sowing seeds of false hope.

Here is what Jesus has to say on the matter…

During Jesus’ life He never elevated religious practices beyond what they were, he never gave people false hope because it was seen as the ‘nice thing to do’, Jesus spoke very directly to people about the reality of what happened to those who did not turn and believe in Him.

Take the beginning of Luke 13, for example, people report the deaths of some people to Jesus and he quashes any idea that this was a judgment because they are more sinful than other and responds twice with these direct but true words “But unless you repent, you too will all perish” Luke 13:3 and 13:5.

Or, just further on in Luke 13 in verses 22-30 Jesus answers the question ‘will those who are saved be few?’ In response to this question Jesus doesn’t burst into a ‘hell fire and brimstone sermon’ but he responds with an illustration. Jesus says that the way to salvation, meaning to be made right with God and to spend an eternity with Him in heaven, is a narrow door and people need to strive to enter by it. Those who do not strive to enter through this door and who miss their opportunity might stand and knock and beg to be let in, but they will be cast out into the place that we know as Hell (described in verse 28).

The only way a person can be saved, be in a right relationship with God and be freed from the rightful punishment of their sins, is to believe in Jesus, to repent and be forgiven by Him. That is the one true hope, that is the truth of Christianity and that is the abounding Grace of God.

These two messages are completely different, one says that heaven is an open door for nice people, and the other says that heaven is not a door that you can stumble across.

I’ll take Jesus’ word for it because it is only through Him that passage into heaven is granted through His sacrifice on the cross, and I’d warn people of the Pope’s message because it sows the seed of false hope for people who give no second thought to God in their lives.

How complementarian is our complementarianism?

I’m generally the kind of guy who will sit in the back of the room contemplating something, or if someone asks a question I’ll not answer, right away, but think on it for a wee while. One of the things that I have been thinking about recently is complementarianism, and more specifically how exactly this theological view manifests itself in the church today.

The specific question that I have been thinking about is; how complementarian is our complementarianism?

Complementarianism is the view that God has created men and women as equals yet with different roles, one sex is not superior to the other nor do they have the same roles, but each sex compliments the other as they work together to glorify God.

I grew up in an egalitarian church (meaning, at the very basic level, that men and women are equals and there is no difference in their specific roles), but when I moved to Bible College in 2013 I was confronted with these opposing views. Initially I thought that complementarianism was a restrictive and damaging view that minimised a woman’s role in church and family, but after wrestling with the Bible I came to the conviction that it is not. Contrary to being restrictive and damaging, I have found complementarianism to be beautiful and liberating freeing up each individual, both male and female, to live out their God’s given roles as they seek to glorify Him.

One problem stills bugs me though, in many churches I have seen complementarianism used to promote a kind of ‘alpha-male Christianity’ something that I do not see in the Bible.

This is evident in the way we talk about the role that women have in churches, for example, how often we start off this conversation immediately from the negative “As a woman you can’t do…”?
Wouldn’t it be better if the conversation went:

Lady: Hi, I’d love to serve in the church, what can I do to help?

Pastor: Great! There are so many areas that you can help with! We have women who need discipling, training, encouraging in their faith, we have so many prayer meeting that need leaders…

How different would our churches look if instead of starting on the negative, we looked at all the work that women can do? Often women can do things far better than us men can (Yes, I just said that!).

This also goes beyond the area of church life; pick up the majority of academic theology books that are on your shelf, or books on church life, or discipleship or just Christian life and sadly in most of them you’ll find that the endorsements are mostly written by men.
I guess the reason for this is that people want ‘titles’ to endorse their books and so pastor or head of such n’ such a ministry looks better, but there are tons of women out there whose name would carry a lot more weight.

If I pick up a book on how to be a good pastor I want to hear the endorsements and testimonies of ladies who have been treated and lead well, I want to hear from a pastor’s wife about the difficulties of church without her being introduced as “the wife of…”

We have a lot to learn and one of the difficult things that I will continue to wrestle with, and I hope that you will join me, if how complementarian is our complementarianism?

If our complementarianism liberating people to glorify God in their God-given roles?

God’s Grace and Justice…

“He [God] cannot extend mercy without justice ; this would be to ignore sin and would be evil . God Himself meets the demands of the law on behalf of the sinner . Christ Jesus the righteous becomes the rebel in order that the rebels may become righteous.”

John Caldwell, Three Things the Devil Hates: Spiritual Warfare from a Biblical Perspective.

The Church is…

 

“The Church is a constant reminder that God is on the throne. The Church is a signpost which points to the glory of God. The Church is a testimony that God is in the business of rescuing souls from the kingdom of darkness. The Church is a constant reminder that Satan’s kingdom is toppling and one day shall be completely overthrown.”

–  John Caldwell, Three Things the Devil Hates: Spiritual Warfare from a Biblical Perspective.