Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 7 Suffering continued

In the previous blog we began to look at the subject of suffering focusing on our societies struggles to have anything helpful to say about it.

This week we look at things from a Christian perspective. For a Christian “Tears cannot extinguish joy”, why is that?

We understand Christ’s suffering had a purpose. Ours does as well. We are united with Christ in his suffering.

Christ’s suffering.

In Jesus Christ, God came to earth and suffered with and for us sacrificially—and that is far more comforting than the idea that God is remote and uninvolved. The cross also proves that God is for us.

Through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can have assurance of our salvation. We are assured that the difficulties of life are not payment for our past sins, since Jesus has paid for them. Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you. But we know God is for us, therefore who can be against us.

Purpose in our suffering.

When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were, you don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

God is at work in our suffering and through our suffering, it conforms us into the likeness of Christ.

We also have the support of the family of God. We love each other deeply. Real community is forged in the midst of suffering.

We know he loves us unconditionally, despite our flaws, we know he is present with us and working in our lives in times of pain and sorrow.

Peter likens Christians with saving faith in Jesus Christ to gold filled with impurities. Mixed in with our faith in God are all sorts of competing commitments to comfort, power, pride, pleasure, and self. Our faith is largely abstract and intellectual and not very heartfelt. Suffering refines our faith.

I have ministered to many Christians who are in pain or suffering in different ways, yet they had a peace impossible without faith in God.

We realise we can’t understand everything.

Let us avoid being over simplistic though.

Suffering is both just and unjust. God is both a sovereign and a suffering God.

We must not look at parents with children gone off the rails, or racial groups with a lot of poverty and crime, or gay people who are dying of AIDs and assume that, if we are not suffering in the same way as they, we are morally superior to them in God’s eyes. And when suffering comes upon us inexplicably, as it did to Job, it means that we can indeed cry out in our confusion. We have a warrant for being in deep distress, and there is truth in our feeling that we are suffering unjustly.

This balance—that God is just and will bring final justice, but life in the meantime is often deeply unfair—keeps us from many deadly errors.

Next week in the last of my blogs out of 1 Peter I ask the question, What difference does hope make?

 

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 6 Suffering

I can’t finish this series of blogs based on 1 Peter without covering the topic of suffering. Other than Job, 1 Peter has more to say about suffering than any other biblical book; it also has more to say about hope than other books of the Bible. I think the two are linked.

Living in the margins of society we need to balance the suffering we can experience with hope that is offered. Hope changes everything.

I am not able to do it justice to the topic of suffering in a few short blogs so would strongly recommend Tim Keller’s book “walking with God through pain and suffering.” A great read for those who want to dig deeper into the subject.

There are many references to suffering in 1 Peter. 3v13-18 and 4v12-19 are the longest but the subject occurs again and again throughout the letter.

History is full of examples of how the church has flourished in the midst of suffering e.g.

  • NT era and the following 300 years
  • China in cultural revolution 1966-76
  • Cambodia during Khmer Rouge

For a Christian “Tears cannot extinguish joy” however this is not true generally in our society.

Suffering is a major problem for our society.

Western society gives its members no explanation for suffering and very little guidance as to how to deal with it. Therefore suffering is a real problem for people today. On a number of occasions I have helped schools deal with the death of a pupil. The staff had nothing to say, they could offer no hope, hence asking me to speak into the situation to support staff and pupils alike.

Life for our ancestors was filled with far more suffering than ours is. And yet we have innumerable diaries, journals, and historical documents that reveal how they took that hardship and grief in far better stride than we do.

For the majority today the meaning of life is to have the freedom to choose the life that makes you most happy. However, in that view of things, suffering can have no meaningful part. To live for happiness means that you are trying to get something out of life. But when suffering comes along, it takes the conditions for happiness away, and so suffering destroys all your reason to keep living.

Suffering is simply an accident, the only thing to do with suffering is to avoid it at all costs, or, if it is unavoidable, manage and minimize the emotions of pain and discomfort as much as possible. People are often simply outraged by their suffering—and they seek to change things outside so that the suffering never happens again.

We saw this happening during the recent floods, people were outraged that it could happen and we needed to ensure it never happens again.

This failure to handle suffering flows over into people’s view of God and the popular belief that suffering proves there cannot be a loving God as Christians maintain.

If you believe that the world was made for our benefit by God, then horrendous suffering and evil will shake your understanding of life. Hence anger towards the God they don’t believe in and the sense that suffering disproves the existence of God.

We will look at suffering from a Christian perspective in the next blog.

 

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 5

In this and previous blogs we have been looking at how 1 Peter speaks into our situation of ministering in 21C Britain.

We have seen that we minister in a situation where we are on the edge of society, a minority often facing hostility, maybe even persecution, similar to the original readers of Peter’s letter.

We need to respond with love, to win people over by being distinctive; by building an alternative community. It is not about trying to compete with the world on the world’s terms – but by being distinctive.

In this blog we are looking at the very essence of what it means to be a church.

What does the word church mean to you?

A building? A service?

People assume I’m interested in church architecture because I am church leader. We talk about going to church on Sunday.

The Bible word translated in English as church is ecclesia and means “called out people”. The word church took a while to take hold in NT times. Many different terms were used by the NT writers; Family of God; people of God; saints; body of Christ. All including church refer to people rather a meeting or a building.

Peter doesn’t seek to give a name but to describe what the church is by combining a number of OT scriptures that describe the community of believers.

1 Peter 2v9-10

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Exodus 19v4-6; Isaiah 43v20-21, Hosea 2v23.

He didn’t use the shorthand “church” like we do – he describes what lies behind our shorthand “church”.

  1. Who we are – chosen people; special possession; the people of God; receivers of mercy.

The focus is on God not us.  He chooses us, we are his treasured possession. I value pictures created by my sons when they were little. I give them value. In the same way God gives us value. The church is valuable because God values us, not for what we do but who we are! It doesn’t matter whether others value us, or we value ourselves, the maker of heaven and earth chose us as his treasured possession so he could show us off!

  1. What we do – Royal priesthood; holy nation; declare praises of Him.

Priests are intermediaries between God and man. The church plays this role between the world and God. To represent God to man we need to be holy as he is holy, hence a holy nation. We also represent the world to God through our prayers.

It is very straight forward, very powerful. Church starts with who we are – then moves to what we do.

Attracting world through the quality of our lives is developed 2v11-12.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Then applied in society 2v13-17; the workplace 2v18-25;  and the home 3v1-7.

And it is not simply that ‘ordinary’ Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to ‘evangelistic events’. Our lives are the evangelistic events in all the contexts we find ourselves.

 

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 4

In the previous blog I started talking about community and the fact that it should be characterised by love in the face of hostility. This blog builds on that.

We are called to be distinctive and different.

1 Peter

1v14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.

2v11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

4v2-4 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

We cannot expect to be like the world.

An event-based approach to evangelism which is characteristic of a Christendom mentality is constantly trying to create experiences that match those found in the world. We want our music, our oratory, our style to be such that people will be drawn to our meetings.

This doesn’t work in our culture, for one thing, our ‘product’ will always be inferior to that offered by Hollywood, Facebook and Nintendo. Brits spend twenty hours a week watching television, Americans twenty-eight hours. We are entertained by multi-million-dollar movies. We engage in sophisticated role-play and action computer games. ‘We are naïve to think the church can compete with these stimuli through three songs and a thirty-minute sermon or drama and a worship band.’

Our missional cutting edge is not events that are like the culture, but a life and message that are unlike the culture.

Even if we could produce cool church events, we would create a generation of Christian consumers who look to the church to entertain them. It would only create a consumer-mentality among churchgoers. We would soon have a generation of Christians who move from church to church, hunting experiences. Some churches would attract those who want an intellectual experience through good teaching; others would attract Christians who want an emotional experience through good corporate worship. But there would be little sense in local churches that ‘each member belongs to all the others’ (Romans 12:5). I am concerned that the church is too much like this already!

Programmes are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to be doing in everyday life.

We are made in the image of God, he is relational, and we are relational. The church is the ultimate in crowd – hence the importance of friendships within the church but also across churches.

We have been born again into a new family with a loving Father, exercising brotherly love to one another. Community is not the by-product of salvation; it is the purpose of salvation. We are built together into a new loving family.  However when people have busy work lives, community can only happen if people plan to meet together.

Community is not just a survival strategy it is also mission strategy.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Christians gathering into smaller number of larger churches because they want support, they want to be cared for. This sense of belonging, community is also a mission strategy. We need to ensure we build open community, not closed community.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 3

In the previous two blogs I have looked at the fact that as Christians we are on the edge of society, a minority in our nation, facing a challenging situation. Our context is different from how things have been in the last 500 years in Europe, and different from some other parts of the world now. But they are similar to the context in which the NT was written. Therefore we should not despair and wish things were different but we should embrace our current context.

In the next couple of blogs I want to share about the importance of community.

Peter talks in 1 Peter 2v4-8 about Jesus facing hostility and the fact that we too should expect the same. Jesus is the corner stone, all other stones (us) are aligned to him. If Jesus was rejected we too should expect to be rejected.

We can no longer assume that the wider culture matches that of the church or that people share a similar worldview to ours. People do not understand us – and people are hostile, fearful and suspicious of what they don’t understand.

For the vast majority of people in our nation Christianity is a foreign language and the church is an alien culture.

We can’t talk about Jesus and expect people to put him in a context of creation, fall and redemption.

I recently read about a nativity play at a school. A child was impressed but asked the teacher why they gave the baby a swear word for a name.

Our response to hostility and misunderstanding needs to be love.

Strangers and foreigners on holiday should treat the host culture with respect. No one likes lager louts! Yet we will never feel at home in the culture.

Peter says we need to honour and respect everyone. 1 Peter 2v17

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 3v15.

Although we have been distanced from our previous culture by our new birth, we pursue the cause of our new King by showing respect to the people around us.

Peter keeps encouraging his readers to respond to hostility with good works.

2v12, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

15  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.

20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

3v1 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives,

11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?

17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

4v19. So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Francis of Assisi is meant to have said “Preach the gospel in any way you can, and if necessary use words.” This seems to sum up what Peter is saying.

We demonstrate love despite hostility, which then allows us to use words to explain why we are as we are.

 

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.