Want to Suffer? Become a Christian.

Does becoming a Christian make life better? Will converting to Christianity solve all your problems? Will you be happier or more prosperous? Will your circumstances will improve as you live by “Biblical principles”?

This is a common assumption in the church. You may have heard of a little booklet published by Campus Crusade (now called Cru) way back in 1952. Written by Bill Bright, it’s called “The Four Spiritual Laws,” and was intended to be used as an evangelistic tool to quickly and concisely share the gospel. According to this booklet, the first law is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That sounds so positive. Who wouldn’t want their life to follow a wonderful plan?

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Shared Adversity

We’re going camping this weekend. We are voluntarily giving up our comfortable bed, convenient bathroom (complete with delightfully hot shower), and custom-designed kitchen for a leaky air mattress in a small tent, a pit toilet down the path, a sponge bath, and a two-burner Coleman stove. Afternoon thunderstorms are likely, but at least they’ll settle the dust and bring some relief from the heat. There will probably be mosquitoes, and maybe even bears. We’ll spend a day getting ready to go, and another day putting everything away again, all for two nights in the mountains. We must be crazy. Continue reading

Life is Hard

I’ve noticed a problem in the American church. Well, really there are lots of problems, but one has stuck out recently, and I’m as guilty as anyone else.

Somehow, we’ve gotten the mistaken idea that being a Christian is all about me. Being a believer—“following the rules”—is supposed to make my life better. For example, we believe that when it comes to money, we just need to follow Biblical principles and our families will prosper. Or, we believe that God will smooth the way and eliminate any problems or hardships from our lives.

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Health & Safety?

What do we do when the Bible seemingly contradicts our life experience? How can we reconcile what God says with what we see happen, when the two don’t match?

How do we handle these verses? Does it lead to a crisis of faith?  I know a number of former Christians who have lost their faith over these issues. Do we just accept that the Bible is a bunch of nice thoughts, but it doesn’t apply to real life? Do we conclude that God isn’t to be trusted? Or do we skip over the hard parts, ignore the promises, and muddle through until we die? That’s what I’ve always done. In fact, I have a whole list of questions that I plan to ask God “when I get there.”

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God’s No-Win Dilemma

It’s the age-old question—“Why am I here?” Why did God make us?

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that we exist to bring glory to God. As I continued reading in Isaiah, I came across this pertinent verse:

… for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel. Isaiah 44:23

This states it more clearly: He displays His glory in Israel—and in us. We don’t have to do it; He does it. Our role is to be willing vessels.

And that got me thinking—how does God go about displaying His glory in us? What does it look like from our perspective? I believe that God has two options here.

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Is Persecution a Blessing?

After reading scores of stories describing how my Christian brothers and sisters are suffering and dying for their faith, I had to stop and ask, doesn’t God see this? Doesn’t God care? How can the good, loving God I know let such horrors happen to His chosen people?

I was having a hard time getting around these thoughts when I came across an article written by a contributor from the Middle East, and adapted for INcontextMinistries by Mike Burnard. (You can see the original adaptation here.) That article has provided the inspiration for some of my thoughts here.

We in the West are too comfortable. We have a hard time acknowledging that our God might ask us to suffer social ostracism, ridicule, or insult. Even more abhorrent is the idea that we might suffer physical loss for following Jesus. “Sacrifice” means getting up Sunday morning and going to church instead of lying around in bed reading the newspaper. (And our pastor had better finish the sermon in time for the afternoon football game!) While we hope that we would be willing to die for our faith, in reality we suspect that that level of commitment will never be put to the test. Thus, our theology can’t accommodate the true suffering of others.

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Angry at God

I sat listening to my friend pour out her sorrow and concern for her son. He had been a vibrant believer, praying with authority, intimate with Jesus, a successful evangelist who was planning to go overseas as a missionary. And now he had just proclaimed himself an atheist.

How could someone that close to God suddenly decide that He doesn’t exist? It’s a long story which I won’t elaborate on here, but as best as his parents could piece together, the problem stems from unanswered prayer. He prayed that God would step in and set him free from an addiction—and God didn’t obey him.

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