Lenten Devotions 2015: The Gospel and a Suffering Believer.

16266444492_34f8eacdac_zEveryone suffers in one way or the other. A follower of Christ is no exception to this rule. In fact, quite often, a disciple suffers more than others do. However, a disciple suffers differently than others…in the sense that a believer has agonizingly to reconcile the reality of one’s misery and pain with the goodness of God. To the person who does not believe in the love and grace of God, suffering is just physical pain; however, a believer has the difficult task of solving complex questions of faith and philosophy. The very gospel we believe in makes it more difficult for us to understand and explain pain and suffering, because the gospel tells us that God is not only good but he also cares about us: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” ( I Peter 5: 7). Thus, for a disciple, the gospel adds the anguish of skepticism to the reality and mystery of suffering. I submit that, at times, I am like a child who feels that my parents love and care for me but deep down in my heart I doubt if that is the case!

As someone who loves the Lord and trusts that God is good, I see tragedies happen to me and to the people of God around me. However, the unbearable fact that I have to live with the knowledge that I do not understand why this is happening and would never be able to fathom it makes it even more difficult. As a minister who is supposed to be well versed in theology and who preaches the goodness of the Lord, his unconditional love, and unlimited grace, I often find myself dumbfounded at the bedside of a mother who refuses to be consoled at the loss of her young child. I find myself at a loss of words when I have to explain to young parents why their infant was born with a certain abnormality. I am sure, you, too, know that since Job in the Old Testament several people have faced this dilemma and have asked such questions about evil and pain. However, no one has been able to find answers. Therefore, many expect Jesus Christ to solve and answer the mystery of evil in the world. However, he did not provide us with an easy all-in-one answer. As much as Jesus knew and personally understood pain, he chose not to answer this old mystery for humanity. Instead, the one who suffered and died the most brutal and cursed death of his time, stated: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24). He categorically stated that his followers have to be prepared to face the same kind of sufferings that he experienced for us.

Nevertheless, I draw my encouragement from the fact that our Savior, Jesus Christ, confidently ended his painful death on the cross with these wonderful words on his lips:

“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23: 46).

Jesus did not despair in his death. He knew the purpose of his pain was to defeat death. Moreover, not only did Jesus Christ conquer death, but he has also revealed to us how the story ends. This makes me confident about how it is all going to end even though I do not know every detail of it right now. I want you also to know that our sorrow will be swallowed up in joy and death will be destroyed by eternal life (Isaiah 35: 10; 51: 11; I Corinthians 15:54)! Therefore, friends,

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5: 3-5).

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Lenten Devotions 2015: How is forgiveness possible?

I am sure you have either read about or watched in horror how the ISIS beheaded 21 young Coptic Christians from Egypt. These young men left their homes and loved ones in Egypt and came to Libya to earn their livelihood and support their families. They had no idea what awaited them in Libya. These 21 Egyptians were singled out to be slaughtered by ISIS only because of their Christian faith. They were asked to deny their faith in Christ, which they all refused to do, instead they chose to embrace a martyr’s death with the name of their Lord Jesus Christ on their lips till their last breath. However, as with most incidents of persecution, a very positive outcome from these killings has many people amazed at the reaction of relatives of these martyrs.

For example, the mother of Kyrillos, one of the 21 Coptic Christians killed by ISIS, said in a recent interview that “she forgives the Muslim murderers of her son — since he is now ‘with his Lord’ — and prays that they see the light and turn from evil” (http://www.raymondibrahim.com/from-the-arab-world/coptic-christian-mother-forgives-prays-for-isis-slaughterers-of-son/ )

In another related incident, during the telecast of a program on Sat7Arabic Television, the brother of one of the 21 people called in and openly declared forgiveness to ISIS. Please watch this below:

I am also reminded of Gladys Staines, an Australian missionary who worked in Orissa, India. Her husband Graham Staines and two teenage sons were burnt alive as they slept in their vehicle in 1999. Even though one of the main culprits of the crime was caught and brought to justice, Gladys Staines chose to forgive him in her personal capacity.

Forgiving someone who offends is not an easy and normal thing to do. I know this by personal experience. So, the most baffling question is: How is it even possible for someone to forgive evil, unrepentant murderers? If you watch the above video closely, you will find that time and again the brother and the mother referred above stressed that it was possible only because of their and the martyrs’ Christian faith. And believe me, this is the most crucial aspect of forgiveness. It is possible to forgive murderers and perpetrators of evil only because of Jesus Christ and the gospel He preached. This Lenten season, which reminds us the suffering and death of Christ, let us recall that the gospel just does not present a theory of forgiveness as a lofty ideal or a moral virtue; rather, Jesus Christ exemplified it in his own life and death by forgiving those who crucified him. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23: 34). That is why Jesus could teach his disciples with authority and categorically asked his followers to forgive others:

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14-15).

During these days of confession, repentance, and prayers; are you reminded of the offenses committed against you? Do you recall the grudges you hold against someone in your immediate family or in the community of believers? May be the Lord is asking you today to forgive them before you go ahead further in the holy season of Lent. Will you obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Let me leave you with a few quotes for us to ponder today:

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain

“Forgiveness is the final form of love.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.” – Hannah More