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A Beautiful Surprise

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 1 Peter 4:12-19

This morning at the Y, a friend who is part of the regular crowd that works out there before the sun rises, was asking about our move. I gave him the latest update, which in short is that the bank is acting like a manipulative parent, offering double or triple the loan money we are asking for if we would just choose a different neighborhood to call home rather the one into which we are going. For that neighborhood, one that has caused the banks extensive grief, they will only very reluctantly give us about one to two thirds of what we need. This friend at the Y responded by asking, “Does it make you wonder if you just shouldn’t go there?”

His question is the obvious one, not just in our move but also in our adoption process or in many of my friends’ unrelated scenarios where a course of action is met with cynicism, antagonism and push back. But the problem with the question is it’s starting place: if something is hard, or includes suffering or trouble, it must not be right. Or, put differently, if it is the right decision it will be free of any form of pain, suffering, struggle or disappointment. Scotty referenced this notion in his prayer yesterday: “If I bought the right car, it would never break down…If I bought the right house, the roof would never leak… If I married the right person, we would never disagree… If I went to the right college I’d get the right job and life would be all-right... If I sent my kids to the right school they would never act out and would probably end up on the mission field. Through a better understanding of the gospel, you’ve rescued me from these self-centered self-serving pragmatic notions. Thank you!”

Like Peter’s audience, I too am surprised by suffering, struggle, hardship and being told “no”. I have this expectation that God’s will must include nothing but green lights and bonus checks. But whose story in all of Scripture communicates this? Not Adam and Eve’s, not Noah’s, not Abraham’s, not Jacob’s, not Joseph’s, not Moses’, not the Israelites, not the prophets, not Paul’s, and most clearly, not the life of Jesus. The cup of suffering was not taken from Him but like all the stories which pointed to His, was the very cup of salvation for the rest of God’s people. They each suffered so that others could live, ultimately pointing to the suffering of Jesus so that we could eternally be restored to unity and fullness of life with Him.

Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Luke 6:20-21

Yesterday, both my Dad and my friend Anne separately pointed out that this most recent obstacle thrown in our path was not only preparing us for life in our new neighborhood, but was better helping us to identify with our new neighbors. They cannot just call the bank and be given money for their desires. They cannot just transform their homes with a call here and favor there. They have more experience being told “no” than I have ever known. The poor are blessed not because it is a new form of righteousness apart from the person and work of Jesus, but because they know it is not by their cleverness, hard work or network that they have a hope and a future.

I, however, forget that there are no spiritually middle or upper class Christians, as Tim Keller says. I forget that I am the poor in the economy of His Kingdom apart from the righteousness of Christ alone and have not earned or networked any of my blessings which are through His righteous, perfect obedience alone. My most natural tendency is to choose to move into this neighborhood on my own terms, bringing life as I’ve always known it to make the unknown more manageable. Thankfully, that is not how Jesus moved into the neighborhood of His fallen people. His number one goal was not to make the mess less messy, the pain more manageable, nor the trials less trying. He came to serve rather than to be served, to do the will of the Father above all other lesser yet very tempting and often easier wills. The discouragement, antagonism and push back that I feel to a degree is nothing compared to the mess and expense and push back of Jesus’ commitment to move into my own heart and bring life to that otherwise scary place. Not only do our very light and momentary trials unite us to our neighbors, but they unite us to Jesus. What a beautiful surprise!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love,

if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love,

being one in spirit and purpose.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,

but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death

— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2

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