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5 stupid reasons we suffer.

homerhammer

Suffering is unavoidable in this life. Despite the cons of a lot of wacko preachers who promise you the moon and the stars (for a donation), you can depend on the words of Jesus. “In this world, you will have trouble” ~ John 16:33. ANYONE telling you if you follow their program, you will no longer suffer is (1) trying to sell you something and (2) disagreeing with Jesus.

I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with unavoidable suffering. At Epiphany we are even in the middle of a study on the book of Philippians, to explore how we can learn to be content when suffering breaks into our lives. However, here, I just want to share with you 5 stupid reasons we suffer. These 5 are all avoidable, but I’ve dived in head first into every single one of them.  In a future post I’ll talk about 5 good reasons we suffer.

5. You are way too big on yourself.

You think what you are doing is so important, you stay in a situation that is just terrible for you, or the people you love. This is just pride. Learning to take God seriously means we are freed up to take ourselves lightly and chill. If you haven’t learned that, maybe you’re doing it wrong. Are you suffering today because you’re too big on yourself?

4. You haven’t learned to listen.

“Nobody understands me!” Nobody? Really? Maybe you haven’t slowed down enough to listen to what people are saying. Listening is one of the most difficult skills to develop, but one of the most important. Sometimes we keep hitting our heads against the wall, and not paying attention to the door right next to us.  Are you suffering today because you haven’t learned to listen?

3. You are living in unrepentant sin.

I remember the story of a notorious woman in our old neighborhood, when we lived in Africa. Her world included adultery, prostitution, performing illegal and unsanitary abortions, murder, witchcraft and constant manipulation.  However, she would share in tears that she was devastated she could not see biological children live with her. Then our friend bravely challenged her, telling her “how can you expect anything good to come out of your life with the way you are living?” The Bible and personal experience both teach us that we “reap what we sow” (Galatians 6:7). Are you suffering today because you are living in unrepented sin? Or is your life the living embodiment of Social Distortions’ song “Bad Luck”?

 

2. You don’t have boundries.

It’s funny how the same action from two different people can come from opposite motivations? Take for example the instruction Jesus gave us on how to throw a party. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Now what if you took to heart Jesus’s instruction to not let ‘repayment’ or climbing the social ladder be your motivation, but did exactly what He says, but your motivation wasn’t primarily to love, but to be loved?  When you find yourself taking care of everyone and your own life is falling apart.. when you make promises on the fly with everybody but break promises regularly to your own kids.. You have lost ability to have the stability God wants for you. God wants you to not be like some weed tree that shoots up fast and is easily knocked over by the wind, but a redwood. Are you suffering today because you don’t understand how to have boundaries and take care of yourself?

1. Ignorance.

Ignorance is the cause of a massive amount of suffering in the world. One day some good friends of ours were at the pool, and a maintenance guy was about to fasten a metal bar into the side of the pool as a safety rail. The only problem was, this was in a part of Africa, where being a worker at the local pool, didn’t mean you went to school, the pool was full and he was half in the water, along with a bunch of kids swimming and was about to drop his corded drill into the water to fasten the rail! Unfortunately, the saying ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’ is dead wrong. Electricity is real, and water is a terrible conductor of electricity whether you went to school to find that out or not. There are tons of areas in life we need others to guide and enlighten us in.

No matter who you are, or how good your education and upbringing was.  For example, there are surely some relational, financial or spiritual skills that you could still learn, and would make your life better.  Are you suffering today because of what you don’t know?

When will you plant?

churches

So we believe God has called us to plant a new congregation in Gloucester City!

The number one question I get from family, friends and neighbors when they find out is ‘oh which building are you going to get / when will you get a building?’  The question is fairly obvious and innocent really.  I’m learning our town has a few nicknames, I suppose like most towns.  I won’t share with you some of the more unflattering ones, but one of them that goes a long way back is ‘the holy city.’

See, Gloucester is full of unused and underused little church buildings that once were full and thriving, just as it had over thirty bars down to about seven.  If only this was just a shift in behaviors, and ways people find community, that would be one thing.  But I think this is actually a much deeper symptom of a real family, spiritual and economic breakdown.  Like many communities in America, even the sight of our intact family, with all three of our kids coming out of our marriage is something a bit exotic.  I get it though, alcoholism and abuse broke up my family, but my mom found a way all by herself to get us through life the best she could.

But I’m praying that what I’ve experienced in my life, could be passed on again and again in this town.  I’ve learned two things from God’s grace.

The first is that it’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish.

Our families may be bruised up, and our life may have baggage, but that doesn’t mean we need to redefine our destination, we might just have to redefine the journey.  Things like love, loyalty, integrity, aren’t old school things that don’t work for us anymore, they are the destination.  This is the message of Jesus, that he came to give us all a new start.  A new start to live out the ancient way we are deeply wired to live.

The second thing I’ve learned about God’s grace is that it’s all about creating a new family

It’s not just about my fresh start, my forgiveness, and my new source of love and power to live right.  I’m adopted into a new family!  I have had the privilege to serve in the ministry in Philadelphia and for years as a missionary in Africa, and now serve as the Community Life Pastor in Camden.  I’m not scared about the way this town is changing, because I’ve seen, again and again, God stepping into the toughest situations, and bring about change in people’s lives in a matter of hours that would take us years and years on our own strength.

I’ve seen unlikely people coming together, becoming brother and sister.  I saw it in Rwanda of all places, a place that had one of the most horrifying ethnic clashes in all human history. So just like the New Testament days, where the Apostles (just the greek word for missionary) preached, and people gathered in each other’s homes.  Just as they ate and drank together.  The same way they called each other to be generous, to break down generational, ethnic and cultural gaps, and to become one new family.

The same way people were cut in the heart about their past lives, trusted in the death Jesus died for them to wipe their slate clean and trusted in the resurrection of Jesus that showed He was more than a man but Lord and Savior.  We believe God is and will continue His work here in Gloucester City.  We will patiently but persistently gather people, and share our story, as He brings together a people in His timing.

Buildings came much later for the early Church.  In the Bible we see some folks meeting by a river, others at the synagogue, and many in large homes.  From history, we know they even met underground in catacombs because they were persecuted by the Romans.  For us, we may get a building some day.  Probably not one of the old church buildings but something like an old bar.  The problem with some of the Church buildings is that we would be on the hook to keep them up financially with limited resources that would better go into building community and blessing the poor, rather than being tied up instead into fixing roofs and repairing boilers for heat.  The other advantage is we could get some rental income from this kind of the property that has some living spaces with them.

We’d also love to have one of those living spaces be a spot for a young couple who are preparing for ministry and attending one of the area bible colleges or seminaries who can serve along with us.

We would get a building not because the building is the Church, the people are the Church.  We’d get a building one day to be a focal point and a tool to serve Gloucester City seven days a week in all manner of ways.  We’ll also get a building to just take down one more barrier to folks from experiencing God’s grace in a fresh start and a family.

Do you want to learn more?  Don’t hesitate to reach out, I’d love to share more with you.