Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and I’m excited to be able to share from God’s word with you today this the last day of fall. Fall sure seems to go quick around here. Three Sunday’s ago it was 80 degrees. Tonight, maybe snow?
We do love the changes in seasons, my wife and I. Though fall has never quite been the same for us since we moved from New England to Nebraska. Nothing personal Nebraska – we have a lot going for us in Nebraska – but – I mean – this is a picture of the pond just down the street from where we lived in Foxboro – And this is the picture of fall foliage in Gretna – that is our tree.
The first few times we endured a Nebraska Fall – it shocked our system. It’s less so now after 22 years of Nebraska weather – we know what to expect – we can be prepared for change in seasons. If you aren’t prepared then Nebraska weather can just punch you in the face, right?
Now I bring that up because today we are going to be talking about how we can be prepared for a season that nobody in this room will ever look forward to… and I don’t mean a Nebraska Winter.
Today we are going to talk about what we can do in order to prepare ourselves for the inevitable seasons of pain that will come our way. And they are, in fact, inevitable. We will endure these seasons of pain in our life.
No less than Jesus himself assures his followers of this truth when he tells us that in this life you will have many troubles. Thankfully though, Jesus doesn’t end there. He doesn’t say – in this life you will have many troubles. And so – good luck with that. Let’s go grab some lunch.
No! What does Jesus tell us – in this life you will have many troubles – but – take heart – I have overcome the world. John 16:33. In me – you can have peace – you are with me – and I am an overcomer and will be with you in your trouble.
Now I probably don’t need to tell you this – you know there is suffering. And those who were reading Peter’s letter in 65AD also knew a thing or two about pain, as Nero ruthlessly persecuted followers of Jesus.
This morning I want to cover Peter’s directives – how to respond to a season of pain.
But first – let’s talk briefly about the sources of pain in our lives. The bible points to a number of reasons why there is such a thing as pain and suffering in our world.
Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted. If we were to plot the sources of pain in our life – all the way over here – to this side of the chart, we find the excruciating pain that is self-inflicted pain. Sometimes we make poor decisions – selfish decisions, foolish choices – and as a result – we experience the natural consequences of our actions. We reap what we sow – in essence.
For instance, if we fail to invest time and energy into our marriages we might suffer the natural consequences of an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage. Or – for example – if we neglect or mistreat our bodies then there are known consequences that may result.
And – you know – of all the pain out there – this one is particularly tough on us – because what often results is deep regret – or sometimes shame – and we can really torture ourselves and really beat ourselves up. “What was I thinking?” we ask, and sometimes we feel shame.
Let me just throw this out there to you this morning – your pain is still pain – and the hurt you are feeling is real. And you do not to beat yourself up with shame for your past foolishness.
As courageous as it is to forgive others – it takes just as much courage to forgive yourself. And to believe the Lord when he tells us that through faith in Jesus there is now no condemnation – no shame – you are forgiven and you deserve to be cared for in your pain.
So as we speak about biblical responses to pain – those responses still apply to you, friend. Peter – the king of self inflicted misery – who wrote the passage we are about to read – knew a thing or two about self-inflicted pain. He disowned Jesus three times within earshot on the night Jesus needed him the most.
So – for those suffering self inflicted wounds – we, your brothers and sisters in the Lord – we love you. There is no condemnation here either. Okay?
Some pain is self-inflicted. In contrast to this all the way on the other side of the chart – (there’s a bunch of other sources in the middle here – and I’ll mention them in a minute – but – a second type of pain comes because of your faith.
You can suffer because of your faith. Sometimes Pain is introduced into your life as a direct result of your decision to follow Jesus.
That’s one category of suffering. It’s actually the primary source of pain in the lives of those to whom Peter writes.
Thankfully, here in America – we are not suffering for our faith – especially in light of the first readers of this letter – who were being thrown to wild animals for the amusement of the crowds in an arena – because they followed Jesus.
This type of pain is difficult to deal with because it seems the least fair. You place your faith in Jesus. And, as a reward, you receive pain. It feels fundamentally unfair. And yet…again – it’s Jesus who warned us – in Matthew 24:9 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”
And the reality is, that in many places in the world, to declare yourself to be a Follower of Jesus, is to jeopardize your very life.
By the way, the amazing thing about this is that in all the places in the world, throughout all time, any place where Christians were persecuted resulted in more followers of Jesus.
It’s true today – in China right now – where Christianity is not embraced- Christianity is exploding. Even in places like the middle east – okay – God’s at work in the lives of people in the middle east – and you know – we had a gentleman who grew up in Egypt here at Journey a few years ago and he told his story that – he came to America to pursue his medical doctorate – became a follower of Jesus – and his family told him if you ever come back to Egypt we will kill you ourselves.
Even there, God is at work – and it’s incredible. We need to be praying for the work of the Kingdom of God in countries right now that we’d call “closed” to Christianity. Because God is at work there too.
As Peter writes these words – Christians are being thrown to lions. And yet – Christianity is simultaneously exploding throughout the Roman empire. Why?
In no small part because large crowds in arenas watched Christians die with joy -not despair. With love -not hate. With peace – not terror. They watched these followers of Jesus demonstrate the to live is Christ – and to die is gain.
Some pain comes to us as a result – not of foolish decisions – but for the wisest decision we could ever make – and that is to think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with my day to day life. And Peter wants us to know – Jesus wants us to know – it’s totally worth it.
Now – in between these two extremes, in this vast middle section – there is an array of other reasons why we feel pain.
Some pain comes from being part of humanity. We too get sick. We too – regardless of our beliefs – have to feel the pain of grieving the loss of a loved one. A virus does not care if you are rich or poor or a Christian or not – if a virus infects you, you get sick. As we age, our bodies ache. Our health begins to fail. This type of pain comes to all human beings as fellow travelers in this thing called life.
Some pain comes of us as a result of living in this fallen world. Earthquakes happen. Tornados and hurricanes, they come. Blizzards come – roads get icy – danger lurks – it’s all pain from living in a broken world.
Some pain comes, not from our own poor decisions, but because of sinful and selfish and foolish decisions of others. And the result is that we suffer. And sometimes children suffer pain from having selfish parents. Sometimes parents suffer from the decisions of foolish children. People die as a result of someone drinking before they drove their car.
Now – here’s the deal with this category however – all of these events still pass through the hand and the will of God. In other words – God still has the power to save us – to rescue us – to heal us – and sometimes he does. But often he doesn’t – and that is where many people have a difficult time reconciling a God who is good – with events and circumstances that are tragic.
Whatever the reason for the suffering – and whatever the type- and there are many types of suffering – you can suffer mentally – physically – financially – relationally – we don’t get to choose when they come. We can only do our very best to prepare ourselves for when they come.
We’ve been studying this first letter of Peter’s for quite some time. Suffering is a very real part of the lives of his readers. Which is why Peter is going to write quite a bit about it – in fact the rest of chapter 3 and all of chapter 4 pertain to how we are to think and respond to suffering.
As much as we’d like to avoid seasons of pain, we know we cannot. So instead, let’s learn how we can prepare ourselves so that we can make the most of the season.
Here’s the first thing: 1. By remembering that you are still blessed by God. Verse 14 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
Just because you are going through the wringer – it does not mean that God is against you.
You know – we have to start here because it’s like a reflex – just like – I don’t know why – but when I go to the doctor and they check my reflexes – and they hit that part of my knee and it just goes “Boing!” I love that. It’s cool. I’m like – do that again. It’s a reflex.
Well, in the same way – just about as automatically – when we experience pain in our life – we think to ourselves – “What have I done to tick off God?” What have I done to deserve this? “Boing” – it’s reflexive – you probably will not be able to stop that thought – however- you will be armed to be able to answer your own question.
And the answer is – We will not suddenly become Hindu – in our pain – we will not confuse Christianity with Karma. Karma says- you always get what you deserve. Do good – get good. Do bad – bad things come your way.
This is not Christianity. Christianity says that even though we all deserve bad – because of our stiff necked rebellion against God’s rule and reign – what did God do instead? Jesus left heaven – he came to earth – he took the punishment that we deserved – he died the death that we should all die – he rose from the dead as a proof that God accepted Jesus death in our place.
Christianity is about a God who died so that we might live. So that – we might be called beloved sons and cherished daughters – his special possessions – his chosen people.
None of that has changed because you are going through difficulty.
If Jesus would die in our place out of love for us – while we were yet sinners – then we can rest assured that he is not now going to forget us in our need – or resort to impulsive backhands at our slightest failures.
In your pain – You are blessed and you are blessable. Even – if the suffering you are enduring is self inflicted. Even if you have brought it upon yourself – it doesn’t mean that you’ve been disqualified from the “with God” life that we all get to live right now through faith in Jesus.
What else can we do to prepare ourselves for a season of suffering?
- Run towards Jesus, our suffering servant, for strength and help.
3:15 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
3:18 18 Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.
If we know that Jesus loves us enough to die for us, then we know that he can be trusted with our pain.
Sometimes we think to ourselves that – if Jesus is all powerful and he loves us then he will never allow us to feel pain. But we know that’s an untrue statement for those of us who are parents – we being evil, know that any parent who spends their life trying to insulate their children from all pain in life will end up with jacked up kids.
Sometimes we know that our kids need to experience pain in order to learn and grow and change. And same is true for us. We might not be thrilled about that idea but what we’re going to do to prepare ourselves right now for those seasons is to remember that God knows what he is doing and can be trusted to guide and govern our lives appropriately.
And so we call out to our savior, who himself is well acquainted with pain – and we’re going to ask him to – deliver us – it’s okay to ask to be delivered – and we are also going to ask for strength and courage to be able to endure the pain without falling apart or running away.
We run towards Jesus and we ask for wisdom to be able to learn whatever we need to learn – We recognize now that sometimes pain is the best instrument to change us – to teach us – and so – we run to Jesus and ask him to give us the endurance to be able to be changed as we ought. We run to him and ask that we not waste this season we are living in and through.
We fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We are going to allow ourselves to be crowded to the cross in the pain that accompanies our – someday will be seen as – light and momentary troubles. And it’s best to make that decision right now – before we find ourselves in painville. Okay?
We revere Christ as our Lord. We recognize he is more to us than a rabbits foot or lucky charm. He is the Lord of all the universe and the Lord of my life and I submit myself to his wisdom and discretion – there is no quid pro quo – where I will follow you so long as you give me what I want… No – we trust him – always always always. And we run to Jesus – our suffering servant and fall into his outstretched arms.
- Third way to respond to pain? Look outward, not inward.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (v. 15)
What is Peter telling his readers? The manner in which you live for Jesus, and the manner in which you suffer for him, is going to preach to a world that wants nothing to do with my sermon. (At least not yet)
In the meantime – you are the sermon – the manner in which you respond to pain. It’s important that we understand that God is able to use our pain to bring good news of Jesus to a broken world.
Peter says – if we are able to demonstrate peace in the fire – if we are able to demonstrate poise – the poise that comes from knowing we are safe in the palm of God’s hand – then people will not be able to dismiss that.
They will stand back and say – what is different about this person? Why are they able to stand up under this?
Listen – it doesn’t mean we dismiss the pain. It doesn’t mean we don’t grieve in the midst of the pain. However – as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonains 4:13 – we don’t grieve the same way the world does. We don’t grieve as if we have no hope in the midst of the storm.
Again – this has to be settled ahead of time, okay? We are going to look outward, not inward. We are going to see if God can redeem our pain by ministering through it in other peoples lives.
See – let’s get real here – suffering has a way of herding us towards self centeredness. Doesn’t it? Suffering has a way of consuming us – of making us turn inward upon ourselves. Suffering will tempt us to nourish feelings of self pity – if we’re not careful it can lead to bitterness towards those who aren’t responding to your pain.
If we allow it – our pain can become our very identity. No longer are we a beloved child of God – no – we become our pain.
But – our identity is that of a child of the most loving father – the most wise father – and so – Peter seems to be indicating to his readers – that the way to prepare for the storms of life – is to fight against self absorbed feelings – and begin to look out for any way that God can use this season to bring good news to a skeptical world.
The key is to look to see how God can make your suffering purposeful. To use your suffering to bring people to a better understanding of the real Jesus.
I’ve mentioned this before and will continue – my faith journey began with my mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 35 years old. My mother wouldn’t have become a follower of Jesus without that painful journey. And nor would I.
When the pain comes, what are we to do?
- Remember that we are blessed and blessable in the midst of the pain.
- Run to Jesus.
- Look outward, not inward.
- Don’t lash out.
9 Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.
If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology class you are probably familiar with Kubler and Kesslers five stages of grief and loss. Five stages that most people will walk through in response to grief and pain. The first is denial – the second stage is anger.
Anger is a universal response – reflective, again – to pain and suffering. We find ourselves wanting someone to pay for our pain. We want to lash out. And this is where we can praise God that Jesus already took the ultimate lashing for us – I order that we might stand up under the strain of the pain of living in this fallen world. Since Jesus took it for us – we don’t need to take it out on someone else.
Lord, help me be the kind of person who doesn’t lash out in anger when my will is thwarted. Help me be the kind of person who doesn’t retaliate – but blesses those who dismiss our pain, or mistreat us in our pain, or even caused our pain. Help us to become like you, a be able to bless others instead of cursing them.
Finally – the last of our five principles for dealing with pain.
- We don’t go it alone.
8 Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.
And this is the kind of thing that goes both ways. Sometimes when we are in pain we just want to shut everybody out. We hunker down. Leave me alone.
And sometimes though – when we see others in pain, because we don’t know how to help, and so – we just don’t reach out. We don’t call. We don’t do much of anything to reach out and help.
Let’s just decide ahead of time that we aren’t going to try to go it alone, and we will not let others battle alone either.
This section in Peter – chapters 3 and 4 – is the longest section in the bible that deals with pain and suffering and it begins, and in the middle of it in chapter 4, and at the end of it in chapter 5 – Peter instructs the church… love one another. Care deeply for one another. Practice hospitality. Use your gifts – care for one another.
When you place your faith in Jesus, not only are your sins forgiven. Not only are you guaranteed a place in the Father’s house when you die – not only do you begin to be transformed into a different kind of human being – on top of all of that – you gain a family – brothers and sisters in the faith.
Let’s be a church where we don’t have to go it alone.