Do You Bully Jesus?


Yesterday’s post was admittedly inflammatory. Yet I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit working through Paul intended that passage to be so. God is serious about sin, and He desires us to be as well. Our Savior is only as big as we recognize our need to be saved. Small sin, small savior. Usually one made in our image that we pull out in times of trouble, like he’s a good luck charm. That’s not a Savior; that’s an idol. A lucky rabbit’s foot, maybe.

Paul’s illustration of forcing Jesus to participate in sexual sin is shocking. It jars us to the core. It scars for life, as one friend told me this week when I shared the illustration with her. But how does that same principle play out in the sins that we as people find not quite so heinous? Humans are notorious for ranking sin, and usually the sins of others rank far worse than our own pet sin. But to God, they are all equally heinous. There are not big sins and smalls sins because they are all infinitely offensive to an infinitely holy God. It’s not that there are no big sins; it’s that there are no small ones.

“I don’t participate in any sort of active sexual sin,” you may say. Don’t think yourself in the clear. This principle of forcing Jesus into sin applies to ALL sin, not just sexual sin.

In addition to my counseling ministry, I teach at a local high school. And if you work with teens, you daily deal with the one recurring and constant torture: bullying. Whether it’s physical, verbal, psychological or technological, bullying and peer pressure are a daily part of the teen age experience. But it’s not just for teens. Once I had a student ask me in tears how old you had to be when girls would stop being so mean and just be nice to one another. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but when I reached the age that it happened, I would let her know. I’m 31 and I’m still waiting.

Bullies are generally defined as those who pick on or mess with other students. Those who force others to do things their way, who run the show, command attention, fear, and control. Nobody likes a bully, usually even the bully.

If we apply the principle found in 1 Corinthians 6, that because we are one with Christ in the Spirit, sin in the life of a believer forces Jesus to participate in acts against his will, then we can only conclude that every time we as believers sin, we bully Jesus. Think back to the day of His crucifixion. He knows bullying intimately. He was beaten, scorned, mocked. I can imagine that growing up wasn’t a piece of cake for him either. He never took part in bullying other students and was probably mocked as well. We know his brothers picked on him and claimed He was crazy right up to the moment He appeared to them after the resurrection. Jesus knew the pain and rejection of being bullied on this earth.

Jesus knows it today. He desires to be with us and we psychologically bully him by isolating and ignoring His call to our hearts for worship and fellowship. He wants no corrupt communication to proceed from our lips, but only words that will build up fellow believers, yet we force him to participate in venomous backbiting and gossip. Jesus desires to be healthy physically so He is able to do the will of the Father to best of His ability, yet we entrap him in physical cages of gluttony like a 6th grader stuck in a locker.

Understanding the heart of Christ helps us understand the brokenness He experiences over our sin. At the end of Luke 19 we see both his broken heart and his righteous anger over the hard heartedness of His people and the blatant sin that it caused. While looking over the city, He weeps for their short sightedness and coming destruction because of their refusal to repent and believe. Once He gets to the city, He righteously cleans out His Father’s house of prayer. Jesus loves his people fiercely; but He hates their sin severely.

So what do we take from this short series on the impact of sin?

1. God’s Word is for our good, the best and ideal from the only One who loves any of us perfectly, as we desire to be loved.

2. Refusing to trust Him and His love leads us to false loves and choices that cause us, at best to settle for less than what He has for us and, at worst, brings us horribly painful consequences.

3. Our sin breaks the heart of God. All sins. Every last one. His heart breaks because of His great love for us and his great hate for the sin that damages our lives and separates us from Him.

4. To solve this seemingly hopeless situation, He showed His great love for us in that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The one who was bullied took the punishment for the bullies so that He might have relationship with them. Oh, what a Savior!

Can Pain Ever Be Good?


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. 1 Peter 4:12-16

While I was at the Exodus Freedom Conference last month, I attended a workshop for ministry leaders led by Jeff Buchanan. The workshop was entitled Moving Forward into a Culture of Discipleship, and Jeff’s purpose was to equip ministry leaders in the work of growing grace-saturated disciples of Christ within both our ministries and the Church at large. Part of what he taught has particularly stuck with me the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share a few points that I have been able to put into immediate practice both in ministry and in my own life.

Jeff stressed the fact that, as believers, we must learn about and embrace a theology of suffering. So many today seek a life of comfort and ease and happiness. Televangelists preach a prosperity gospel that is anything but biblical. Some teach that if we do God’s will, then God will bless us with material prosperity and physical well-being. I find that thought interesting considering that even the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. If Jesus was homeless and suffered horrendously on our behalf, the idea of comfort and ease should be foreign to his followers as well.

But what do we do with the equally true concepts that God loves us and desires what’s best for us but also allows suffering and tremendous pain in our lives? To 21st Century Americans, pain and hardship do not equal good. All pain is bad pain and personal happiness is the ultimate goal. The passage at the beginning of this post flies in the face of American entitlement and once again shows that, sometimes, pursuing the American Dream requires us to pursue the exact opposite of the Christian life.

Peter addresses two types of suffering in 1 Peter 4: suffering brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, and suffering on behalf of Christ and his Gospel. How do we know the difference? There can be two types of physical pain: destructive pain like the pain that is caused by illness and injury, and growth pain caused by exercise and rehabilitation. Pain caused by illness or injury can be destructive for the rest of your life if you do not also experience the temporary pain of physical rehabilitation. Growth pain usually alleviates destructive pain, at least partially if not completely.

In this workshop, Jeff included two very helpful bullet pointed lists that help us determine what pain is good, growth oriented pain, and what pain is destructive in our lives.

The Pain in your Life is Growth Pain if you are:
• Becoming more vulnerable in your relationships with God and with other people
• Humbly recognizing your own character flaws and are allowing God to correct them
• Taking relational risks; stepping out, learning to trust, revealing your true self to people
• Relearning healthy and godly relational skills and boundaries
• Dealing with the emotional wounds and trauma of your past
• Overcoming passivity and learning how to stand up for Truth and righteousness
• Overcoming destructive patterns that you have become dependent upon and are learning to depend on God
• Dealing with grief and loss in an expressive and productive way.

The Pain in Your Life is Destructive Pain if you are:
• Refusing to face character issues
• Choosing wrong relationships and unsafe people
• Repeating destructive patterns and not assuming responsibility
• Harboring unforgiveness
• Living with a false perception or romanticized ideals
• Living in a state of self-pity

So what causes pain in your life? Are you suffering because of the sinful choices of others and your suffering is beyond your control? Are you suffering because you stood up for what is right and are now experiencing persecution for it? Or are you suffering because of your own choices? There is good news for each situation!

If you are suffering due to the sins of others, God is clear in Scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and deals justly with the sinner (Romans 12:19). If you are suffering on behalf of Christ, Scripture tells us to take joy in sharing in his suffering because we will also share in His glory! And if you are suffering because of your own foolish choices, there is repentance and forgiveness in the cross and the time spent in destructive pain can be redeemed through growth pain.

Whatever kind of suffering you may be currently experiencing, don’t waste it! Allow God to use it for your good and his glory. Cling to him. Grow in your faith. Share what you’ve learned with others. Be a testimony of his grace to a suffering world. When you suffer for the right reasons, don’t deny the pain, but make sure you acknowledge the accompanying grace and peace and joy of Christ. If you’ve lived your life in destructive pain and are now experience growth pain, don’t give up on the healing process. See the difference in the two types of pain and take comfort in the fact that this season of growth pain will prevent you from experiencing a lifetime of destructive pain. Keep your eternal perspective.

Creativity and Suffering


In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.
Orson Welles

What is it about adversity that causes mankind to reach the heights of greatness? As Welles so humorously pointed out above, some of the most stunning pieces of art, some of the most famous stories and songs, some of the most incredible sculptures and photographs and poetry were created in response to times of great pain and struggle and heartache.

What is it about suffering that inspires creativity? Is it our inherent need to be known? Are we desperate to have a community with whom we can share our troubles, but feel we must first create a community by expressing our suffering? Is it a cry out to know that we are not alone in our suffering? Is it just a need to get it out before our own hearts explode from the pressure? Why do people shine the brightest in moments of deepest darkness?

This creativity in adversity is part of our nature; it is a part of the image of God imprinted on the soul of every person. God’s greatest work in Scripture occurred in the midst of some of the darkest moments in human history. Creation occurred in literally the darkest moment. When the Creator made time, He began his work with nothing. The word used to describe the work God did when he fashioned Eve from the side of Adam is the same word used later in the Old Testament to describe the artistic handiwork of the craftsmen commissioned to build the Temple. God is an artist. And He used the darkest moment in human history to serve the greatest purpose in divine sovereignty.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our LORD Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our LORD Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5)

Did you catch that? At the end of suffering, there is hope. There is hope in spite of suffering because of the work of Christ on the cross. The most incredible creativity in adversity is born in the minds of those who, in the midst of suffering in this fallen, sinful and broken world, continue to long for a better country (Hebrews 11:6). Those who suffer without hope see no point to suffering, and their work reflects their hopelessness.

Some of the most beautiful passages of Scripture were written in the depths of pain and sorrow. And the beauty in them comes in the fact that, in spite of the desperate expression of pain, there is always an equally desperate acknowledgment of the love and sovereignty of a God who loves us deeply and knows our pain and is there with us in the midst of it.

Creativity in the face of adversity is the human soul testifying to the fact that there must be something more to this life! When life is peaceful and prosperous, our longing for a better country subsides and we become, in the words of CS Lewis, “far too easily pleased” with the pleasures of this world. But when we are faced with adversity beyond our control, we are also reminded that we are ultimately not in control of our own lives. There is something greater than us, there is a place greater than this one, and we long for it.

How do you respond to adversity? Does is cripple you, draining you of your faith and balance, causing you to shake a fist at God or the Universe or whatever other being you worship? Or does it increase your longing for a better country, forcing you to join all of creation in its groans for redemption? Does it put you in a paralyzed state or does it spur you to move to action in a desperate search for truth and understanding in a seemingly pointless situation? Do you think, “Why me?” or “What can I learn from this?”

When you face suffering, do you crash and burn or soar and create? Is your inspiration found somewhere within the transient and fallen creation, which is sure to fail and disappoint us, or have you found the Creator, the life source that “does not disappoint”?