The Sufferings of Christ

It’s been a long, painful week. Stuff happened. As it seems want to do. 

I live in my imagination a lot, and what I imagined at the beginning of the week was myself, a gunshot wound to my chest, bleeding all over, entering into the throne room of God and just collapsing on the floor in front of him. No words to say. Just, here I am. Here’s what shape I’m in.  And while I was laying there imagining this, the phrase that came to my mind was, “Enter into the sufferings of Christ”. 

I’ve been thinking about that phrase all week. My imaginary hole in my chest has been bound, wrapped up in bandages. Healing medicine poured over it. I’m still walking slowly and carefully, feeling very fragile, but I’m whole. And I keep circling back. What does that mean? Why do I have to enter into the sufferings of Christ? What is the point? 

My prayer over the years has been, make me more like you Jesus. More of you, less of me. I admit, when I say that, what I mean is, I want to be more loving, more patient, more kind, more selfless, etc. I was not thinking of these verses from Isaiah 53, verse 3 and 4:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

Familiar with pain. Took up our pain. Bore our suffering. 

No, I was definitely not thinking about that when I said I wanted to be more like Jesus. 

My husband and I have done some soul searching this week. Questioning some of our choices. If a choice leads to pain and suffering then it has to be wrong, right? But I keep coming back to the fact that we made these choices because we felt it was an obedience to God and what the Bible teaches. And it still led to suffering. And that kind of hurts the brain.  

Enter into the sufferings of Christ. In doing this, does this mean that I am becoming more like Jesus? Not only sharing in his joy and love but in his pain and suffering?

When I hit my crisis it wasn’t long before I turned to one of my friends for help and comfort. And yes, she’s a close friend so I would have turned to her first anyway, but it was so much more meaningful because I knew she had been in a similar situation to mine. She could empathize and give good counsel. She had already suffered through this and could meet me exactly where I was at. And she was kind of a physical Jesus to me in my sufferings. Only possible because she had suffered herself. Does suffering make us more able to be the hands and feet of Jesus? 

Through all of this, I can testify. God is faithful. He heals the brokenhearted. He breathes hope on my soul. When I am at my lowest, I find his presence the strongest. The Holy Spirit has been faithful to whisper scripture in my ear that has kept me from falling into anger or judgement. 

Funnily enough, God was gracious enough to allow me to get Covid this week. Yeah, who needs covid? But, because of that I have been able to cancel a multitude of appointments, completely clear my schedule and just have time to rest and process. I’m still getting better, but my husband only had to take one day off to take care of the kids and household before I had enough energy to cover the basics again. 

Enter into the sufferings of Christ. I’m still figuring out what this means, but what I do know is that it is a journey that makes me more like Him. And that is what I want. 

Thoughts That Keep Me up at Night

I was awake at 4am this morning, not able to sleep, my mind racing through thoughts and arguments. I finally got up at 4:30am and started writing down my thoughts. Then I spent all day, revisiting, writing more, erasing, starting all over again. This has been a difficult blog to write, probably because I have too much to say, and it’s a subject matter that I don’t feel like I have completely thought through yet. I would say that I am at the half-baked stage right now. But, I’ll catch you up to where I’m at in the process.

This week I have been reading different books and articles that come from a much more liberal view of Christianity than what I profess. It has been enlightening. I want to tell you what is so appealing and Right about these books and viewpoints. They all seem to have a really good grasp on the overwhelming Love and Grace of God. They talk about rich and poor people serving alongside each other. They talk about the healthy serving bread to the sick. They talk about the people in community seeking out the lost and the lonely and drawing them into a nurturing environment. They talk about grace to forgive the most heinous wrongs. They talk about including those who are the social outcasts, extending mercy to the misunderstood, being Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth.

It is so Good. So Right. It draws me in and I find myself wishing to be more like that, wishing to be part of this group of Christians who have somehow been able to set aside selfishness and have learned how to serve the lost.

I feel like the mainstream evangelical church, of which I am a part, has been portrayed as a people who don’t venture far outside their four walls. People who have a strict standard and woe to those who don’t fit into the mold. People who are comfortable hanging around their own race, hanging around people who all make about the same amount of money as they do. This is the reputation that I see on the news, on the internet, in books, and articles.

Is this reputation deserved? I guess that depends on who you ask. I want to come back to this, but before I do, I need to talk about the problems I saw with these books and articles I was reading. They portray a gospel that is incomplete. It’s grace without judgement, heaven without hell, forgiveness without repentance. It is a soft gospel that seems to go through a lot of awkward contortions to ignore the written Word. It also seems to ignore the awesome, fearful Holiness of God.

So, here is my question that has been nagging me for over a week now, keeping me up at night. How do we maintain the balance? How do we extend a hand to the hurting, be the hands and feet of Jesus, be so overwhelmingly loving that people are just drawn to the Jesus inside of us..How do we do that, but also call people to repentance? How do we not only say, I love you, though I hate your sin, but I also want to offer freedom from those sin addictions? Freedom from bondage! How do we hold true to the scriptures that say, Come! Come to the table, everyone is welcome!

‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22 8b-10

And while we are telling everyone to come, everyone is welcome, we also acknowledge the scripture that says,

small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

As I read arguments from both sides, I feel like they are saying you have to choose. You have to choose love and grace or you have to choose law and Holiness. Why?? Why do we have to choose? It’s the same Jesus who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves who reached out and touched the leper to heal him, who also said, Go and sin no more.

So, back to the evangelical church. Is our reputation for exclusiveness and legalism deserved? I look at my own church and I realize, there is no easy answer. A church is simply a body of people. People who sin. People who are weak. People who have said, Yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but they are still daily having to learn how to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus. We’re all learning as we go, and we make a ton of mistakes along the way. My church is a holy mixture of God’s divine love being played out right alongside people’s sinful natures. There are definite things I want to see change. I want to see a lot more color and variety of people at my church meetings. I want to us to work harder at making our church a place where drug addicts, homeless people, ex-cons, prostitutes, and even awkward teenagers, can walk in the door and immediately feel welcome and at home. I want to figure out how I can be one of those people that make people feel welcome and at home. I want to stay fully immersed in God’s word while carrying that Gospel message that I’m so diligently studying, carrying it to my neighbor, to the lady at the library, to the neighborhood children who come to my door. I want to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus and I want those hands and feet to be cemented, fully rooted in God’s word.

 

These are some of the thoughts that are keeping me up at night.