Pain’s Setbacks and Rewards

Church Resource Ministries | Tucacas, Venezuela

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18–23).

That means much of our suffering is simply owing to the fact that we are part of a cursed and futile creation. The whole creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but of the will of him who subjected it in hope that it would be set free to inherit the glorious liberty of the children of God. And in the meantime, until we all inherit the glorious liberty along with creation of the children of God, we, even we who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, groan inwardly.

Romans 8:23 is one of the most important verses in my life. It says, “Even we . . .” You hear the stress because there are a lot of people who were saying the health, wealth, and prosperity thing in Paul’s day as well as today. They say, “If you become a Christian, you won’t have to groan as much.” I tell you, if you become a Christian, you will groan more, not only because you stay a part of the fallen, futile, painful, broken, shattered, sinful creation, but because you add on top of that an offense of the cross in the world. Don’t be a Christian to escape pain. It won’t work.

The Necessity of Suffering

So, I begin with Romans 8. It’s one of the most glorious chapters. The Puritans called it “The Great 8”. Memorize Romans 8. It will change your life. Every Christian should be able to rest in every verse of Romans 8, the hard ones and the sweet ones. But, I don’t stop with Romans 8. Let me just underline this point of the necessity of suffering with three or four other texts.

In Acts 14:22, Paul is coming back after he had planted these little churches on the first missionary journey. He’s coming back on his encouragement run. What does he say? What would you say? What is your bottom line in discipleship when you get somebody to Christ? What’s the first thing, or among the first things, that you say? Here’s what Paul said:

[He was] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Say it right off the bat, folks. Don’t you dare attract people of Jesus without telling them the cost. It will be a lie. Say, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.” There is no detour around tribulations for the saints of God. That’s Acts 14:22.

Destined for These Afflictions

Here’s another one. In 1 Thessalonians 3:2–3 he has planted the church in Thessalonica, and it’s been some weeks. He’s writing a letter back to them. He’s very concerned. He had sent Timothy to them to find out how they were doing. He wanted to know if they were standing because there was a lot of hostility when he left. Would they make it, or would they cave? They were baby Christians. Here’s what he wrote:

We sent Timothy . . . to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

That’s 1 Thessalonians 3:2–3. The literal Greek is “we lie”. He is saying, “We lie down for this. We were destined for this, we’re appointed for this. This is our lot. Don’t regard this as strange.”

Do you remember the words of Peter? He says, “Don’t regard the fiery ordeal as something strange happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). There are so many Christians in America that, when they have something terrible happen to them, start to ask God to explain things as though he hadn’t told them this is normal. Absence of pain is abnormal. Present pain is normal. That’s the point of these texts. The sufferings of this present time are everywhere. Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), and, “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17), and, “I wrestle with beasts” (1 Corinthians 15:32). He is saying, “Why do I do this if there’s no resurrection? I am of all people most to be pitied if there’s no resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Most American evangelicals could not say that — “My life is to be pitied if there’s no resurrection.” Frankly, we have a pretty cool life. In fact, Jesus takes away our problems. We have a nice house in the suburbs. We have a big insurance policy. We have a big, fat retirement. We have 911. We have antibiotics. We have running water, hot and cold. It’s amazing what we have. Why would anybody say, “I am of all people most to be pitied?”

It’s because Paul embraced this third banner (sacrifice). It didn’t just sneak up on him. He embraced it. He chose it just like Jesus did. You choose the hard path, and you know the price is going to be high. And you embrace the path of love — hard, incarnational love. The price is going to be high, and you embrace it. And then, somebody might ask you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

Promised Persecution

Here’s another text. We’re still on the first point of the necessity of suffering. Second Timothy 3:12 says:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .

One of the reasons that text lands on American Christians with such incomprehensibility is because we have so domesticated the word godliness. It says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus . . .” Now, if godliness means don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t sass your parents, and don’t go to dirty movies and sleep around, then it is no wonder that you’re not getting persecuted, right? Who would persecute you for that? Nobody. They might roll their eyes if you don’t go to a certain movie with them or watch a certain video late at night at some party. They might roll their eyes. But, godliness surely means a radical God-centered life, a life that’s always lifting up God, always putting Jesus in the conversation, and always orienting your life around what will magnify Jesus. Godliness surely means more than an avoidance ethic.

Hated by All for the Sake of Christ

One last text on this issue is Luke 21:12–18. Jesus is talking now, and he says to his disciples:

They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons . . . some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish.

Now, that’s the way Jesus taught his disciples. You’ll be hated by everybody, and some of you they will kill, and not a hair of your head will perish. That’s a very strange way of talking. He says, “Some of you they will kill, and not a hair of your head will perish.” Does that mean they will lift your hair when they cut off your head? Well, probably not quite, huh? That’s probably not what it means. What does it mean?

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:28–31).

He’s your Father, and not a bird drops in Venezuela to the ground without his permission, and nobody touches you without your Father’s permission. Nobody touches you without your Father’s design. Therefore, not a hair of your head is going to perish.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:25–37).

That’s what it means that not a hair of your head will perish. Of course, they’re going to cut off our heads. Of course, they’re going to hate us all day long. Of course, they’re going to want to push us out of the barrio. Not a hair of your head will perish. Just keep loving them back. Love your enemies. Love your enemies. And some will believe.

Paul said, “I become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19). And for him, that meant pain. For us, it tends to mean being like the world. For him, it meant pain in order that I might save some. He knew that his kinsman according to the flesh would treat him the same way they treated Jesus. But, some would believe, and that’s what we live for, and that’s what we’re willing to die for.

So, here’s my question. If suffering, according to those texts — Romans 8:18–23, Acts 14:22, 1 Thessalonians 3:2–3, 2 Timothy 3:12, Luke 21:12–18, plus dozens of others — is necessary, both natural suffering in terms of disease because we’re part of a fallen, broken, futile creation, and persecution kinds of suffering, how are we going to endure in our calling? I’m going to mainly get the answer to that question from the book of Hebrews. And so, if you want to follow with me, let’s go to Hebrews 10.

The Call for Endurance in the Book of Hebrews

I preached through the Book of Hebrews a few years ago. It was about six years ago, I think. It took me about two years to get through it. I discovered something that every missionary should know and probably does know, though I’m just slow — this book that tends to push people away because it seems to have a lot of Melchizedek and priesthood and sacrifices and strange things that don’t have anything to do with our culture, and people think, “Oh, how are kids going to get this?” Blah, blah, blah. This book is perhaps the most radical call to suffering and the most radical solution to perseverance in suffering of any book in the Bible. And we tend to put it away because it has some hard things in it. Oh, I think this book could set the world on fire if we Christians grasped what’s here in chapters 10–13.

And so, let me take most of my time now to walk you through Hebrews 10–13, just pointing out the answer to the question, how are we going to endure if suffering is appointed to be our lot as Christians and all the more as a missionary, where we are pushing against the darkness all the time and encountering tremendous opposition, both human and supernatural? Well, the answer is “for the joy that is set before us”. That’s how we endure. It’s the present in-breaking of the joyful experience of hope in the joy that is set before us. I’m going to show you that this is not an isolated idea in my head or in this book.

A Better and Abiding Possession

Let’s look at about four or five passages. This is Hebrews 10:32:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened (you became Christians through the light of the gospel), you endured a hard struggle with sufferings . . .

He’s reminding them that it cost them something to become a Christian. He continues:

You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated (Hebrews 10:33).

So, get the picture. They became Christians. Affliction and persecution came. Some of them were thrown into prison, others were not. Those who were not had to face the question, “Shall we go visit them and risk our own lives and our own families, or shall we go underground and play it cool and let them suffer alone, and thus, keep ourselves alive so that we can preach the gospel more?” Oh, that’s a good argument.

Here’s what they did:

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:34).

All right. Now, there’s my whole theology of suffering in one verse. It’s a call to love and having compassion on the prisoners. You don’t have to go there, but they’re there. You can go underground and save your skin, or you can take them some food and water because in those days, probably, if you didn’t have friends to do it, nobody did it. But, if you go, you will pay. They will wreck your house while you’re gone. They will put stones through the windows, write graffiti on the walls, and burn your furniture. Maybe, there’ll be nothing left. So, as they looked over their left shoulder on the way to the prison and saw their houses going up in flames, what did they do? It says:

You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property . . . (Hebrews 10:34).

They sang on the way to jail, watching their house go up in flames, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body, they may kill. God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever. Let’s keep going.” Oh, may God do it for CRM. Embrace it, do the hard thing, take the risks, and pay the price. That’s text number one. Let’s go to the next one.

Be Heavenly Minded

Oh, I went too quickly. I went too quickly over the end of Hebrews 10:34. I underlined the word joy, but you have to ask, “Where’s it come from?” And it says, “Since you knew you had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). Don’t ever say in my presence, if you don’t want me to get upset, “Christians are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” I tell you, you can’t be of any earthly good if you’re not heavenly minded. That’s what this text says. We have a better possession, an abiding one, in heaven. I tell you, heaven is one of the most powerful unleashings of love and sacrifice this world has ever known.

You know one of the reasons teenagers and young adults and 30-somethings and baby boomers are not loving in America, that is, not laying down their lives in the inner city? It’s because they don’t believe in heaven. Oh sure, they say they do. Sure, they say they’re escaping from hell and that they have forgiveness of sins. Baloney. They don’t love heaven. They don’t love Christ. They don’t passionately long to be with the one who laid down his life for the poor. They just want to get out of the fire.

If you love Christ, if you long to be with Christ and you hear him summoning you through love and through pain into everlasting joy so that it will be better than your retirement and better than your 911 and better than your house in the suburbs and better than your RV, then you know can let it all go and really love instead of looking just like the rest of the world. I don’t buy it when people say, “Too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” I say baloney and to hell with that comment. Let us get people heavenly minded so that they can let this world go. Let’s help our teenagers believe in heaven so that they suffer.

An Illustration of Sacrifice

I was at the Alive Conference in Ohio. There were about 40,000 teenagers there. They didn’t all come to hear me speak, but lots of them did. So, I was on the main stage after this big rock band, and I ended with an illustration because I wanted these teenagers so badly to be martyrs in that generation. I don’t want to offer them anything but martyrdom. And so, I ended my talk with this illustration from Iwo Jima.

I read the book Flags of our Fathers last summer on vacation. It just broke me in half because there were 8,600 dead Marines on Iwo Jima. One third of all the deaths in the Pacific Theater for 43 months happened in one month on Iwo Jima as they went wave after wave after wave into the hidden guns of the Japanese, and they took the island. The book included illustration after illustration of these incredibly brave Marines throwing their lives in front of these bayonets and these bullets. And I said, “Where are the Christians? We have a battle in front of us that is 10,000 times more important than taking this little eight mile square island of Iwo Jima. Where is the call today to the teenagers?”

I ended with this illustration of a pilot. He was strafing the beach trying to get ready for his comrades. And they were almost all 18 or 19 years old. The average age of the dead Marine in Iwo Jima was 19 years old, and 8,600 of them are dead there. If they had parents they had to go there to visit them. He was strafing the beach with his Corsair, and he got hit with gunfire from the bunkers, and he couldn’t get complete control of his plane. And suddenly, he realized he was heading right for the amtracs who were coming in to dump the Marines, and he was going to plow right into his own boys. And he was struggling, and the people in the amtracs could see into the cockpit as he was angling down.

He was doing everything he could not to hit his own boys. And suddenly, they watched him flip his Corsair upside down and bring it right down between two ranks of amtracs and explode it in the water. The radio from the cockpit could be heard on the boats. The big boats out in the water were watching all this happen. And what they heard was:

Oh, what a beautiful mornin’ Oh, what a beautiful day I’ve got a terrible feelin’ Everything’s going my way

And he killed himself to save his Marine friends. And I said to these 5,000 teenagers who come to hear me speak, “That’s cool. Painting your toenails is not cool. Wearing the right shirt is not cool. Having the right colored hair is not cool. That’s cool. You want to be cool? Get in the Corsair, and put it right between two ranks of amtracs and pay the price.”

Oh, let us have a message for our churches, for our families, for ourselves. Say, “Come on, we’ve got two seconds to live on this earth.” That’s what James said, right? The breath that comes out of your mouth on a cold morning is a vapor. How long does it last? If you’re in Minnesota, it’ll last two seconds. If you’re not, it’s one second. That’s how long you get here, and then, heaven. And if heaven means nothing to you, what are you going to do? You’re going to live just like everybody else because you think, “This is heaven, and I have to get as much now as I possibly can.” Oh, let’s not buy that thing that we can be too heavenly minded. Bad language comes to my mind when I think about that.

Choosing Mistreatment with the People of God

Now, I’m ready to leave this text. Let’s go to Hebrews 11. I’m going to skip some. Let’s go to the end of chapter 11. I have about six texts, but I won’t have time for all of them. Let’s go to Hebrews 11:23. I just want to show you the theme that’s running through these last chapters by picking highlights of how to endure suffering in the cause of Christ. Hebrews 11:23 says:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (he’s opting out of a certain lifestyle here), choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:23–25).

Now, pause over that before we read the next verse, which is the motive. This is a Christian Hedonist, before Christ, embracing pain. And you say, “Well, that’s not hedonism. That’s not hedonism.” Did you notice the word “fleeting”? Christian Hedonists are smart. They’re not stupid. If somebody says, “Come on, you’ve got to be kidding. You’re not going to go to the inner city to live when you can have the security of this place.” Christian Hedonists are smart. They look at that place and say, “Yeah, that would be easier. You’re right. There would be a lot more physical pleasures there. There would be a lot more comfort and a lot more security. But, you know what? It’s fleeting. And here I’m on the doorstep of the devil, and I’m on the brink of heaven. And as long as God gives me life and breath, I’ll stand with Jesus here, and I’ll pay the price here, and then I will be taken to glory forever.”

Now, let’s read that next verse so we make sure we get the logic in Moses’s mind. Here’s how he left fleeting pleasures in Egypt and embraced mistreatment with the people of God. Hebrews 11:26 says:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt (how so?), for he was looking to the reward.

Are you? We are born hedonists. If we don’t look to that reward, we’ll look to another reward. If you don’t get your joy from the promise that you will one day be with Christ, and it’ll be gain, you will get your joy from maximizing as much comforts and pleasures here as you can. Oh, how we need to learn with the book of Hebrews about the better and abiding possession.

For the Joy Set Before Us

Here’s the center of our life, right? This is Christ crucified. Hebrews 12:1–2 says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . .

Well, that’s what we need. That’s what I need. I’m 56. I don’t know if I have a year or 10 or 20 years to go. I just know it seems really short. And I want to do so much to maximize my joy now in Christ, and then, by drawing as many people into that fellowship with me. I want to endure. I want to finish well. One of you told me a testimony about your dad finishing well as we were talking about Paul Rhodes’s dad. And we both said, “Oh, we want to finish like that.”

The last breath could be through our own vomit and pneumonia. I watched a woman die with breast cancer. In my 22 years of watching people die, I have watched all kinds of Christian deaths. Believe me, they are horrible in many cases. Horrible. And the joy is that they don’t curse God. They may not be able to sing. They’re drowning in their own vomit. But they can at least not curse God. And Patty didn’t curse God. Jesus didn’t curse God. It must have been horrible on the cross. I’ll bet he didn’t sing. He quoted Psalms, but he didn’t sing. It hurt too bad. I want to endure.

So here, what’s the key then? The passage continues:

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (here’s the key), looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . .

All right. Yes, Jesus. So thankful. I’m so happy I’m not trying to do this without him doing it first. Do you see the endurance there? How did he endure the cross? It was “for the joy that was set before him.” How am I to endure and run this race? By the joy that is set before me.

I don’t know a lot about CRM. I know a little more about InnerChange because I have gotten to know Jim Bloom really well. And I just know ministry is hard. Life is hard. And if you’re going to keep going, if you’re going to endure 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, or 40 years, what are you going to look to in order to keep you going through the barren times? Are you going to look for little tokens of grace and evidence of power and blessing here and there? What are you going to do? I don’t know any solution except for the joy that is set before us.

No Lasting City

Okay, here’s the last text in Hebrews 13:12. There are more. Read Hebrews 10–13 and you’ll see the rest of them. But, here’s the last one I’ll look at:

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

So now, we have our Model, our Example, our Savior, our King, and our Lover. There he is outside the gate. That means outside the comfort zone and outside the securities. He’s dying, and he’s suffering out there. Then Hebrews 13:13–14 says:

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

So, CRM and all of its dimensions, would you join me? Pray for me. Would you pray for me? And I’ll pray for you in this regard. I have an easy job in many ways. It has its hard parts. I’m a pastor of a larger church. I can call my shots. I can come down here to Venezuela if I want to. I can go anywhere, do anything. When you’ve been in a church for 22 years, and they like you, you can write your job description. That’s a very dangerous place to be.

So, pray for me, and I will pray for you, that we, together, will find ways to go outside the camp, that is, the easy place, the comfortable place, the safe place, the place where you get all the strokes. Let’s go outside the camp because that’s where Jesus is, and let us bear a reproach with him. And then, let’s be motivated this way.

Here, here on planet earth, we have no lasting city. We are seeking a city which is to come. Won’t it be great to be a part of InnerChange in the New Jerusalem? I tell you, it will be different. It will be massively different. Won’t it be great to be training leaders in the age to come? I do believe we will help one another in the age to come grow in grace forever and ever and ever. But, there’ll be no more pain and no more tears and no more crying. And if that doesn’t grip teenagers and 20-somethings and 30-somethings and baby boomers, then we will wind up serving for worldly reasons. And I don’t want Christ to be dishonored or you to miss your calling.