Suffer: verb 1.  to undergo or feel pain or distress 2.  to sustain injury, disadvantage, or loss 3.  to undergo penalty, as of death

Joy: noun 1.  the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation 2. the expression or display of glad feeling 3.  a state of happiness or felicity

What do they have to do with each other?

Lately I have been wrestling with the same thing.  I mean, can we really have joy in suffering?  Why suffer?  What do we do with that……

I heard great ideals growing up in church.  Every Sunday I heard stories of people who risked everything–risked everything to show what love looks like.  People who suffered and were constantly around others who were suffering.  But beyond the great ideals that I was hearing I was told to live another way.  I was never told to actually live like these people.  That would be dangerous!  I was told to stay in my safe little corner where I was most comfortable……because life is about being safe and comfortable, right?

My Pastor Tim has said multiple times that the thing he fears most for his kids is that they will follow the way of Jesus.  Why?  Because instead of being safe, instead of getting ahead, instead of making a comfortable life they will endure much suffering by turning the other cheek and becoming the least. 

Take a moment and think about one person who you believe changed the world for the better.  I will even name a couple……..Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa…..I think you get my point.

Now think about that persons life. 

When we think about their lives we can see that they all went through some kind of pain and suffering.  Life was difficult, unsafe and uncomfortable.  But………….they          all         unavoidably       came          out       better          people.

Why is it that the people who are near suffering always seem to create something bigger than the suffering?  Why is it that these people make such a huge difference?  Why is it that these people have joy in their suffering?

It is because there will be death……..but there will be resurrection.

It is because there will be Fridays……..but there will always be Sundays.

What does this say to a church that is so far from the sufferings of the world?  Do we not believe in resurrection?  Do we not believe that good ALWAYS comes from the terrible?

We may endure suffering, but we must have joy. 

We must have Joy because suffering is not the last word………the last word has yet to be spoken.

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It is all going to work itself out………..

This is a phrase that a good friend of mine has to constantly remind me.  He knows that I have a problem with anxiety…….I was once told that I even had an anxiety disorder.  If there is something to worry about…….I’m on it. 

Only until recently have I begun to see the root of this worry. 

I worry about me!

I worry about my stuff….my well-being….my grades….my safety…..my comfort…..

Why do I only worry about me?

I have begun to believe that this selfishness is the root of a lot of problems.  I would even go as far to say that this selfish worrying is hindering the church’s imagination.  Look at it this way…….we have two options………

We could……..

Worry about our safety.

Worry about the growth of our congregations.

Worry about our stuff.

Worry about our money.

Worry about our benefits.

Worry about our security.

OR We can worry about

Others……the others who don’t have a chance

The others who have nothing.

The others who are discriminated against.

The others who have lost everything.

The others who have no chance.

The others who just can’t take it anymore.

The others who can’t love themselves.

The others who have never felt love.

The others who are helpless.

Only then will we begin to find our place in the world.  Only when the focus is off of us and on those who need us will we see a message that is full of life.  Only when we focus on others will we see ourselves asking different questions….

Instead of “How can I get more money?” we will ask “How can I give more away?

Instead of “How can I become the best?” we will ask “How can I become the least?”

Instead of “How can I help myself?” we will ask “How can I help others?”

Instead of “Why are all these horrible things happening to me?”  we will ask “How can I help those who are suffering?”

If we are to follow Jesus, the one who taught us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, we must shift our focus from ourselves to others.  I have worried about me and asked questions that will only benefit me for too long.

It is time for us to switch the focus from us to them…..because only when we start worrying about Right things and asking the Right questions will we begin to see that it is not about us……..

Only then will we begin to believe that, “It’s all going to work itself out.”

Only then will we see that there is a new way…….

My friend Brandy recently asked me what I though being “set apart” as a Christian meant.  Brandy and I both believe that this phrase “set apart” has been turned into being “better than” and this kind of thinking can be very dangerous. 

But can being “set apart” be a good thing?  As I continue to wrestle with this I have tried to think about what being “set apart” is not.

Being set apart is not excluding people who are different from you, especially non-Christians.  I have mentioned here before that I believe that we must be friends with people who are not like us to make disciples.  Some of my best friends are friends who would not say they are Christians…………and I refuse to make them projects.  What I will do is let them teach me and teach me they have.  I would even go as far as to say that some of my non-Christian friends act a lot more Christian than some of my Christian friends.

I have a friend who I went to middle school, high school and college with who has taught me so much about life and I would like to share a little about him………

My friend would not say he is a Christian, although he grew up Catholic.  He has even gone as far as to tell me that he is only still apart of the Catholic Church because he just wants to get married there.  At least he is honest…..

But that is not what makes this friend so great.  As I said, he has taught me a whole lot and I hope I have taught him half of what he has taught me.  Over the years we have played sports together, eaten together and even lived together.  We have had many discussions and argued many times, but we have also laughed and cried together.  It is a friendship I will never forget.  The last couple of years my friend has had a really rough time.  I won’t say exactly what is going on, but he has gone through an incredibly tough time.  With that said I have been really proud of him the last few years.  He has stared adversity in the face and gotten through the roadblocks that were put in front of him. Basically, I’m really proud of him………

We were roomates the morning my Mom died.  As I got off the phone with my Dad I walked back into our dorm room and started weeping.  I could not stop crying.  My friend instantly jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and said, “come on, I’ll drive you home.”  He dropped everything that morning, just for me………..I will never forget that morning.

We have both graduated and I recieved a text message from him recently that said, “Hey man, you would be proud of me.  I was at a funeral of a family friends and I had a long talk to the Father there.  We talked about Jesus.” 

I texted him back instantly and said, “I’m already proud of you.”

If being set apart is excluding those who don’t believe the same things we do or who are not Christians or who are not in our same Socio-economic class or who are totally difference for us I don’t want to be a part of that……….

But, if being set apart is getting up at 5 am to comfort a roomate after their mom died like my friend did for me……….I think we will be just fine…..

“Can I take your picture?”  “Sure,” I said………….without even thinking.

So, I was sharing a meal with with some friends a couple of weeks ago when I met a guy named Wesley.  As Wesley and I talked I began to learn that he was from clearwater beach.  Instantly we had something in common.  We began to chat and chat until a guy came up and asked us to take a picture………

You know those times………..those times when you just say yes without even thinking about it?  This was one of those….

So as Wesley and I are talking it immediately becomes very awkward as we kind of stop talking and give awkward smiles at the camera.  By the way, this was at a ministry in which the poor, rich, educated and non-educated eat together.  This guy was taking a picture to recall the moment when “we helped people in need.” 

Now, I know this is a tough issue, but I wish I could take back that yes.  My only thought was, “I wonder what Wesley is thinking right now.”  This guy is taking a picture of me talking to Wesley and he is probably going to take it back to his church so everyone will see me (the rich, educated, white man) talking to Wesley (the homeless, poor, un-educated man) and say, “Oh that is so great!” 

First off, Wesley taught me more than I taught him that day.  He was doing the good deed, not me. 

Second, we are never supposed to show off our good deeds. Jesus speaks quite provocatively about this and that day I realized why it is so bad (I know I run the risk of this very thing on this blog because I write about things I am involved with.  I even had a friend recently who told me I must think I’m better than everyone else.  This is the reason why I have neglected this blog for the last couple weeks.  Its a struggle, I guess thats all I can say).

Imagine this:

You are out of work and out of food.  The only thing you have left to do is go to the local food bank for a meal.  As you go through the line, already ashamed you can’t buy your family a meal, you see someone taking pictures of the people just about to serve you food.  What thoughts would go through your mind…….

The only thing I can think of is, how demeaning.  When we care more about showing off good deeds instead of caring about people we’ve got a lot of problems. 

If that picture goes on a church bulletin board, what’s the point?   Just to make it look like we do good things?

Maybe we should put down the camera and our pride……….believe me, I deal with this everyday.

I wish I could take back that yes……..

Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

Lord I believe, but would you help me see.

Lord I believe, yes I believe.

Lord we believe, could you help us out. 

Help my unbelief………Help my unbelief……..Help my unbelief……….Help my unbelief

 I can remember the first time that someone asked me when I was “born again.”  I didn’t know what to say because I never had that one moment that some people do.  I grew up in church, a methodist one, at that.  We didn’t exactly have alter calls at my church so I grew up claiming to be Christian, but not knowing how I got there…………………

I need to admit something.  Everyday I wake up and wonder to myself, “What if I’m wrong about this?”  “What if I’m wrong about this Christian stuff?” 

It is hard to admit these questions in a christian culture that expects you to have it all together, all the time and doesn’t let you ask the tough questions that everyone knows we want to ask. 

But here is the point……….Every day I wake up and wonder these things, but every day something happens that makes me believe again.  Every day I find that beauty, that wonder and that awe of the Kingdom of God that I have always found so fascinating. 

I see it in the people who care for those who cannot care for themselves. 

I see it in the rich who are starting to ask questions about the poor.

I see it in the people who are standing up for people on the margins who’s voices have been muted.

I see it in the person on the sidewalk that gives a friendly smile.

I see it in the parent who spends time with their family.

I see it in the beautiful creation that we enjoy every day.

I see it in the love that we not just see, but feel.

I see it in the joy of others.

I see it in the innocence of a child who doesn’t know any better.

Every day I see the Truth…………Every day I’m Born Again.