A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post for veteran's day. It was a video which spoke of the devastatingly high rate of suicide among our returning vets. At the end of the video, the speaker made the point that we each need to be involved in the lives of vets we know. He maintained that it is personal contact, real-time encouragement, and love which helps those struggling to get through dark days. He wrapped up the short clip by declaring that he would intentionally reach out to veterans, stating, "I am my brother's keeper."
This statement rang out like a bell to me and resonated deeply. Whether that man is a Christian or not, he just hit on one of the most important truths in all of scripture - one which often goes willingly ignored or is simply brushed aside - the fact that we ALL are to be our "brother's keeper." Never in any verse of scripture are we told to "leave our brothers alone" or "let him/her do their own thing." Instead we are told that the ENTIRETY of the Law and Prophets is wrapped up in these two: 1. Love God. 2. Love others.
In John 20:21 Jesus says,"...as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
What did the Father send Jesus to do? Spread the gospel to all the world. Love others. Bind up the broken hearted. Heal. Cry with, mourn with, feel with. And ultimately die and rise again for the very people He so loved.
John 20:21 makes it very clear that we are to do the very same thing.
WE are to love others. WE are to cry with, mourn with, feel with. WE are to preach the good news. And WE are to die to ourselves that Christ might live through us in each of these actions. We are to be His hands and feet. We are to give hope to the hurting. We are to preach the gospel unashamedly for it is the only thing which can give any lasting hope, the promise of eternity spent with Christ.
The more I consider this concept, the more convicted I have become. Because really, how much do I love those around me? Oh, my friends, surely, but what do I do when I see a homeless person standing by a freeway off-ramp? How to I react to a downtrodden mother and child struggling to pay for their groceries? Do I even see them? Or do I pass right on by, on my way to the produce section?
I long to see with the eyes of Christ. I long to be moved with the compassion of the one who saw me and was willing to give His own life to save my soul. I long to be the hands and feet of Jesus because I guarantee you, if Jesus was driving my car and he saw a homeless woman by the side of the road, He'd probably go park, buy some hot chocolate, and walk over for a chat. Looking the other way isn't an option. He didn't look the other way when He saw me.
What really struck me about the "brother's keeper" video is the fact that this guy nailed the concept of loving your neighbor on the head. It takes action, time, and willingness to reach out. We need to be willing to love as Jesus loved. We need to be ready to help should the Lord bring someone in need across our path. Just as Jesus saw a hurting heart and reached out in love - so should we. Why? Because that is exactly what He sends us out to do!
How can suffering be redeemable? How can pain, hopelessness, loss, tragedy, and angst be placed upon eternity's scale and found to be the weight of glory? How can the struggles of so many around this world be used to glorify God and bring good to the one who is suffering?
Someone recently asked me how my generation deals with the horrific amounts of suffering we see. This person continued and explained that, in many ways, no other generation has been exposed to the amount of grief and violence than the "millennial" generation of which I am a part. Though I have seen no comprehensive study on the topic, I am rather inclined agree with her supposition.
To this person, I explained my reaction in light of the bombings and suicides and murders and genocide and atrocities which fill the nightly news: my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
There are many things over the years I have gathered from the scriptures which I am glad the Lord included. Among them is the fact that we are to render unto Caesar, nullifying my fleshly desire not to do so. I also appreciate the fact that He said there would be wars and rumors of wars as the days draw to a close - for there certainly are many of both these days! But one of the concepts which tops the list - just under salvation - are His words on suffering.
Acts 14 never ceases to amaze me. Every time I read through it, I picture Paul eloquently describing the great God we serve, getting accosted by the Jews of Antioch and Iconium, STONED, and left for dead outside of the city. Clearly, as his friends gathered around his inert form, even they thought he was dead. Then the kicker. He rose up and went back into the city. I can only imagine how painful that journey back into town must have been. He bore in his body the bruises of Christ that day. And so we come to the chief end of suffering: to become more like Christ. Paul speaks of it as "an eternal weight of glory" in 2 Corinthians 4:17.
Job, one of the most prominent examples of someone who suffered, said this of his trials: "...when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). This became one of my favorite verses years ago. Trials do not just change us, they refine us. Trials are the fire to our Christian walk which remove the dross of self and replace it with the pure element of Jesus Christ. Are they easy? Never. And as many are coming to realize, the Lord will most certainly give us more than we can handle. Why? So that we may, with Spurgeon, say, "I have learnt to kiss the wave that dashes me against the Rock of Ages."
I love the wording Spurgeon used and I hope his statement does not become something made trite and cliché. Spurgeon does not say he learned to kiss the wave that 'gently pushes' him into the Rock. He used the word dashes. It is a pounding wave that relentlessly beats into pieces the one upon which it falls. It beats into submission all in its path except the Rock to which we cling.
So many are suffering through insurmountable trials. I know of people whose friends have recently passed away, others living in daily peril, yet another who suffers through disease partly unnamed. Someone's baby is struggling to develop and has been in NICU for a third of a year - her entire life thus far. Someone else's three year old little girl is going through cancer treatment - for the second time. Another person is fighting through a traumatic brain injury after an aneurism forever rocked his world.
To say suffering produces Christ-likeness should not feel like an empty and trite statement - for it is truth. Would we cling to Christ were we not to need Him? Would we learn that Christ is literally everything if absolutely everything should not first be taken away? Scripture teaches that the answer to both questions is 'no.' It also beautifully teaches that suffering, often painful, agonizing, and tear-filled, produces in us an eternal weight of glory found through no other means.
The gospel is a marvelous thing, is it not? To think of the GOD of the entire universe taking MY sin and MY punishment upon His own holy and pristine back all because of love! LOVE! How great it is! How marvelous. It shows me how depraved my own soul sits, unashamedly admitting I would never have done such a thing. Die for my enemies? Forgive those who put a spear to my side? Make a way for permanent relationship to those who would come in the future, the multitude of whom would rather I didn't exist? No way. But that is exactly what He did!
God. In. the. flesh. Came down. Lived perfectly. Died miserably. Rose triumphantly. Oh what glory! The mighty vindicated. The wretch justified. The sinner sanctified. The righteous purified. The blood of Jesus poured out.
Many people write in with comments and questions to thespiritofislam.com, a site managed by Arabic Bible Outreach Ministry. My job on this site is to answer the comments and questions sent in on a daily basis. A few weeks ago, a lady wrote in and since that time, her comment had become my favorite by far.
Her first sentence was, "It does not make sense to say that Jesus died for our sins."
The statement, written in confusion and frustration, made me want to rejoice. Why? BECAUSE SHE IS RIGHT! What sense does it make for a PERFECT, HOLY, JUST God to DIE for MY sins?? It makes no sense whatsoever! But that is the unutterable and marvelous mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does it make sense? No. My own death for my own sins - that makes sense. Horrific and justifiable extermination of all rebellious creation - that makes sense. Jesus, God in the flesh, perfect, all-knowing, fully God and fully man, Jesus, who had legions of angles at his beck and call if only He spoke the word, Jesus, dying - that truly does not make sense.
The commenter went on to say, "All the people who were involved with that killing were unjust. How does an unjust killing wipe out my sins?"
I longed to speak with this woman in person. She was so close to the Gospel! Jesus' death WAS unjust. Because He never should have died in the first place. I should have. She should have. Every single being to ever draw breath upon this planet should have. That would have been justice. But God decided to be unjust and take the punishment upon Himself. His death was the most "unjust" act of justice to ever take place. Because it wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
Justice demands a price paid by the law breaker. He never broke a law. But He paid the price justice demanded anyway. It does not make sense. It makes me stand back in awe and wonder. How great a God, how merciful a God, how gracious a God we serve!
How can something so ugly be so beautiful? Countless times in conversation with Muslims, the subject of the cross has arisen. Typically, the grand total of understanding as to what the cross is will amount to the misguided notion that the cross is simply "haram" or bad. It is not something to cherish or sing songs about. It is something to scorn.
One day, I was speaking with several friends when one of them caught sight of a cross. Each then began saying the cross was "haram" and shouldn't be displayed. Seizing on the opportunity, I asked them why it was haram. They simply continued stating the fact that it was. I asked if they knew what the cross meant. A few admitted they did not, one said it was where someone died. That was it. The grand total of their understanding. When I next asked if they wanted to know what the cross was all about, they eagerly said, 'yes!'
In order to speak of the cross, I told my friends I needed to ask them a question. I asked them if they thought God was perfect. This question was easy. Of course God is perfect! Muslim or Christian, we can all agree on this point. I then asked them if we as human beings were perfect. This question produced a bit more thought but, in the end, each friend decided that humans are not perfect. We went on to discuss the fact that because God is perfect and we are not, separation has been created between us and God. I continued through the following questions in a lead-up to discussing the cross.
Me: So can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: We can do good things and pray.
Me: But can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: No.
Me: Who is the only one who could make us perfect?
Friend 3: Well, God! Got can make us perfect!
We then talked through the principle of punishment needed as a result of our imperfection. Just like in our family relationships, when a child disobeys his parent, punishment is needed to restore the relationship.
Me: What punishment could be good enough to completely remove the bad from inside us?
Friend 2: (a bit dramatically) DEATH!
Friend 1, 2 and 3: (Stunned silence)
Me: But can we die for ourselves?
Friend 3: No. Because then we'd all just be dead.
Me: Exactly. So who is the only one who could die for us?
Friend 3: God. But how could God die??
Ah, now we reach the beauty of that cross. I explained that God loves us and He wants us to have a relationship with Him. So He came down to the earth, called Himself Jesus, lived the perfect life we could never live, and died the rugged-cross death we deserved. I excitedly shared the fact that the story didn't end there! Jesus rose from the dead three days after he had been placed into a grave, proving once and for all that He was God. He had taken the punishment of sin we deserve and if we trust in what He did for us on the cross, we could have a relationship with Him! Through faith in Jesus Christ, our sin is removed and we are considered children of God.
Each friend reacted to our conversation differently. Friend 1 stated she thought the information was interesting then quickly changed the topic of conversation to dress shopping. Friend 2 joined Friend 1 in discussing the latest fashion trends. Friend 3 stayed silent for a long while. Then she caught sight of yet another offensive piece of wood. This time, instead of calling it haram, she turned to me, pointed toward the very symbol she so recently despised, and whispered, "The cross!" with tears in her eyes. In those two breathed words, the entirety of her world view shifted 180 degrees. The vile became desired, the despised became loved. The old, rugged, rejected cross became accepted whole heartedly as the object of salvation suddenly worthy of song and praise.
The Old Rugged Cross. The beautiful, despised, rejected, ugly, tragic, wonderful, longed for, praised, sung about, life changing, soul-inspiring Old Rugged Cross. May we continue to share its beauty with those who despise it!