A single event can change perspective. It is funny how an isolated encounter, a single experience, or a chance meeting, can radically alter the way things are perceived. The world will never be viewed in the same way after 9/11. Technology was in question after Apollo 13, Challenger, and Columbia. Something as trivial as Lebron’s Decision (and in a smaller scale Durant’s move to San Fran) has changed the way athlete’s are viewed. A single event, in this case, the Cross, changed forever how suffering can be viewed.
All the guys from the previous post had something in common; they all wrote on the other side of the cross. The cross became the leverage point of suffering.
On the one side of the cross stood death and the other a resurrection that overcame death. The empty tomb emptied suffering of all that it held. That is why James can write: “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1.2)
James, the half-brother of Jesus, knew suffering. He led the church in Jerusalem. It struggled financially (see 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). It struggled doctrinally: “should the Gentiles be circumcised?” (Acts 15). It struggled with persecution (Acts 8.1-2) and eventually James would be martyred by stoning. Suffering was a major part of the ministry to which he had been called.
James leveraged his suffering though.
In the same way that our doubt can be leveraged into belief; hope can be born out of our suffering. James knew that suffering would come. Since is inevitable, James argues that we can learn perseverance in it. I ran cross country in high school. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I enjoyed it. It taught me to push through pain, to persevere and to endure the suffering. The only reason I could do that was the finish line ahead. Perseverance for James (James 1.3), obedience for Jesus (Hebrews 5.8) and Paul’s enduring example of Jesus (2 Cor. 4.8-12) came as a direct result of their suffering. But what for us can come about through our suffering? What can suffering give rise too?
Suffering is a casual (don’t try to convince the one suffering of this) reminder that this world is not permanent. We were created for paradise and partnership with God. When our sin severed this pact, our world and our relationships in it were changed, but not permanently. Temporarily, for or 100 years or so on this earth, we struggle in relationships, with the world, with identity, and with purpose. In other words, we suffer.
John paints a picture in Revelation 21 of a different place:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
The garden of Genesis 1-2, the “good garden” where God resides with man with no barriers, returns in Revelation 21. A place where paradise and partnership is reinstituted. This is a welcomed sight in Revelation because of all the books of the Bible, Revelation probably has more suffering talk than any of them. Think about this:
- John is writing from the island of Patmos, where he has been exiled for preaching the Gospel. He even call himself a “companion in the suffering”. (Rev. 1.9)
- To the church in Pergamum, he reminds them of Antipas martyrdom (Rev. 2.12)
- The Lamb (Jesus) wandered around heaven with a gash on his chest, a reminder of the suffering he endured. He looked as if “he had been slain” (Rev. 5.6, 9, 12)
- The seals, the trumpets, and the bowls, all brought with them an element of suffering, be it war, famine, or plague. Suffering was a key theme in them all.
- The beast made war against the saints (13.7) and “this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (13.10)
- The woman on the beast was “drunk on the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (17.6)
- God will “avenge on her the blood of his servants” talking about the blood spilt by the temptress Babylon. (19.2)
- John “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.” (20.4)
- The theme of “victory” or “overcoming”, the Greek word nikao from which Bill Bowerman built the company Nike, is woven throughout the book.
The New Heavens and the New Earth arrives and pain and suffering are no more. Suffering is the reminder that this type of world was never a permanent landing spot.
So we leverage, suffering as an opportunity for hope. Jesus suffered the very worst this world had to offer. He bore the weight of every sin ever committed and will be committed by humanity, on his body.
But death could not hold him. The empty tomb is an image of hope. The dark hours of crucifixion, followed by the quiet bleak hours of Saturday, gave way to the rolled-away stone and the empty tomb of Sunday.
Like Paul says in Romans 8.37:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The word for conquerors that Paul uses in Romans 8: nikao! Since Jesus has overcome death, we too can conquer, not physical, but spiritual death!
Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch a loved one waste away from cancer. All will watch abuse or neglect steal the future of a child. We will suffer! But we know that because Jesus overcame, we too can prove victorious!
So we live with hope that Christ gives us that ultimately we will be in the place John describes. And hope is leveraged suffering.
Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, is about a predictable community. They have no colors, no seasons, no cars. They have no weather, no poverty, no wealth. They just “are”. Population control, job placement, family placement, medicines for everything conceivable, and food rations. The collective memories of all time are held by one person, for the purpose of providing wisdom to the council of Elders who runs the community. People have the memories from their life, but nothing of history or anything outside of their own community. Jonas, the protagonist of the story, is chosen by the Elders to have the Job of Receiver. He is selected to get all the memories from the Giver, to hold. He starts out with memories of sailing on a tranquil lake, a ride on a sled down a snowy hill, and a tour of the Serengeti. But the Giver had promised him that the job would hurt. All he had were positives. One day, Jonas reminded him of this promise and the Giver sent him back on the lake…for a sun burn. Then it was the memory of the broken arm from another sled ride. Again, it was the Serengeti, but with a tusk-less, bloody, elephant, an abandoned calf, and poachers. Jonas was the only person in the community who now knew what it was to suffer.
Suffering is just one universal experience that we all face on this earth. Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch someone they love dying. All of us will feel the sting of betrayal from a close friend or family member. There is no escaping the touch of natural disasters, cancer, abuse, and hatred. The result of all of these being suffering. Throughout Scripture I have traced 6 reasons why suffering comes our way:
- Bad Decisions: Genesis 3. In Genesis 1-2, God creates everything and it was “good” except for the woman who was “very good”. They live in the Garden where God takes care of them. And in this garden, they live out the purposes that God has for them. The one stipulation, “Don’t eat from that tree!” But they disobeyed God and every (and I mean every) purpose given to man and the earth was marred by that decision. Eve wanted to rule over Adam and Adam now has to plant Round-up Ready soybeans because weeds are taking over his garden. Man has fallen in his relationship with God and the Earth is under the same curse of death. Cancer is mutated cells, tornadoes tear apart cities, fires destroy communities because we live in a fallen world. People lie to one another, betray at the drop of a hat, abuse and neglect, because of decisions made. We hurt one another and we have been hurt by one another. All because of decisions.
- Bad Community Life. It’s one thing to be hurt by a stranger, but what about by the Church. In Numbers 11, the people of God are wandering around in the wilderness. God has been feeding them manna and quail every day for 40 years. Still they think back to the fish and fruit they ate in Egypt. Sure, they were slaves and all, but it was like Golden Corral back there. Who wouldn’t trade a life of slavery for a good spread. So they complained to Moses. Moses says to God concerning their complaints: “They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11.13-15) If you have attended Church at some point in your life, I am will to bet you were hurt by someone. I have too long of story to tell about my own hurt right here. The truth is that I have also been the one doing the hurting. But before we give the Church a bad name, it happens anywhere you have groups of people. Rodeo Associations, PTO, Bible Studies, the Elks Club…not too make light of Scripture but Matthew should have written: “Where two or three are gathered…there will be division.”
- Bad Enemy. First Peter 5.8 describes Satan as “prowling around like a lion.” Job saw that first hand. If you remember the story, Job had it all. The family, fame, fortune, integrity, and everything a man needs to live a full life. Then Satan met with God. The NIV says that God asked Satan to look at Job’s life. The Hebrew, on the other hand, would indicate that Satan was already watching Job’s life. Gods question was this: “Satan, why have you set your heart of Job?” Satan wanted to destroy Job. Satan took everything from Job, save 3 friends and his wife, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. And in the midst of his suffering Job writes: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3.3-4) There is a very real enemy. For years I discounted his presence. I am one of those people who believes that you get hang nails from dry cuticles, not from the devil, still, C.S. Lewis words in The Screwtape Letters ring true. The Demon Screwtape is talking to his nephew Wormwood and advises him this:“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves…I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
- Bad Events. Elijah was the prophet when Ahab was the King. Ahab, with the help of his wife Jezebeel, built altars to foreign gods, had an open exchange policy with any cult religion, and then began to purge their country of prophets. Elijah looked around and left. (more on that here) On the way out of town, resting under a tree “he asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19.4) It is not hard to look around at the events of the world and realize the suffering that is coming as a result. Gas attacks in Syria, drug wars in Somalia and Mexico, human trafficking and human rights violations in Qatar and to what end: a billion dollar soccer stadium for the World Cup. A sports celebration of World unity. Events of the day can bring suffering. 9/11, Challenger, OKC bombing, JFK, MLK, and this list doesn’t end there.
- A Good Message. Jeremiah was preaching the words that God had given him to speak and act. In Jeremiah 19, God had tasked him with the purchase of a clay pot. He was to then take said pot and throw it down and break it in front of the people. Then say: “just like the pot I just broke, so God will bring another nation to break you!” God, like Drago from Rocky IV says: “I must break you!” As a punishment for their rampant idolatry, God is punishing their sin by sending them into Exile. The message doesn’t go over well and the people are a tad upset. A priest takes particular offense to the message and had Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks (Jer. 20.4). Jeremiah was preaching the message God had given him and now he is locked up. Jeremiah laments to God this: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” (Jer. 20.14) Have you ever been serious about sharing your faith with someone and it cost you a relationship? Maybe you shared an opinion with some friends and now things are awkward? It could be that you took a Godly stance to an issue and things are no longer the same? I am not comparing, nor calling what we in America go through as persecution, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands being killed every year for their faith in the Middle East or locked in prisons in China and North Korea. I am, however saying, that when a concerted effort is made to let people know what we believe, there will be pushback and it may lead to suffering.
It is a universal problem. The only way to leverage it, is to view suffering through the crimson colored blood, the black darkness of a closed tomb, and the vibrant light of the morning sun as it shone on the rolled away rock. Because Jesus went to the cross, laid in the grave, and then left his tomb empty, hope can be born from the womb of despair.
Mark understood how to leverage this life. At a turning point in his book, he included an interaction between Jesus and Peter that contains some kernels of truth, that when planted, give rise to a leveraged life. Near the end of the encounter, Jesus speaks these words: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8.35) Jesus knew how to use his time on earth, his life on earth, for the maximum effect.
To live a life of leverage, one used to the fullest extent, first off, we must understand the identity of Jesus. Mark begins the narrative with a question from the mouth of Jesus: “who do people say that I am?” This is a vital question for Mark who begins his Gospel with “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”(1.1) and arrives at his pint in chapter 15 with a Roman Soldier confessing “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” (15.39). Linking these two confessions, there were multiple partial-confessions throughout the book.
- After he stilled the stormy sea, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him?” (Mark 4.41)
- After teaching in the Synagogue, the people of his hometown asked, “Where did this man get these things? What’s the wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles? Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (6.2-3)
- After healing the deaf and mute man, people were amazed and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (7.37)
The identity of Jesus was a high point on Mark’s list of things that he wanted his gospel to communicate. Many in Mark’s gospel missed the point. In John, everyone who walked away knew exactly who Jesus was…not so for Mark. They may have walked away healed, but they walked away from Jesus, leaving life with Jesus on the table. When and only when we understand and can answer the question “who is Jesus?” will we be able to leverage our lives to the fullest. Peter’s answer sums it up. “You are the Christ!” A few words with thousands of implications. Christ is the greek equivalent of the hebrew word Messiah. Messiah was the one sent from God to save his people. He is the one who would hear his people, fight for his people, and ultimately bring rule to the people. Peter is saying: “Jesus you are the Messiah.” It was as close to the true identity of Jesus as any human confession seen in Mark’s gospel up to this point.
The real identity of Jesus changes us. When I understand the power that Jesus has, over the spiritual world of demons in this particular case or over the physical world’s greatest attempt to dissuade us, death, does it begin to resonate that it too lives in me. Only when I understand that Jesus stopped for little children, reached out and touched lepers, took time for a desperate father, and spoke to a broken woman, will I realize that he has promised to do the same for me. When I understand his humanity, after all Mark does paint a more “human” figure of Jesus than the other gospel writers, only then do I bear my own soul to him for his working. “Who Jesus is” changes the way we live.
The second thing needed to live a life of leverage, is an understanding of his mission. Following Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to teach about his betrayal, death, and resurrection. It is no coincidence that when we first learn of Jesus true identity, as the Christ, is when he first predicts his death. It is true. He came to die for us! Let that be known. In the next two chapters, 9 and 10 respectively, we will learn further of his death. But for now, he sticks to the bare bones of it. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8.31) Jesus mission had taken on different forms starting early in Mark’s book. He came to preach (1.38), then to call sinners (2.17). Then he came to be killed (8.31; 9.31) which you would think would be the pinnacle of his mission. But its not. See dying for no reason has no effect. Jesus death would have meaning, purpose…leverage. He came to be served up, sold out, and handed over (10.33-34); ultimately he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10.45) His mission was revealed in greater detail as the book progressed.
Peter, upon hearing the news of Jesus ultimate demise, rebuked him. For all the progress he had made in the prior paragraph, now he seems to be sliding back into his old ways. He didn’t understand Jesus’s ultimate mission. For a man who understood Jesus’ identity, he missed the mission of Jesus. If we are to life a life of leverage, it has to center around the mission of Jesus. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to testify to the truth and show us the light. He came as a ransom, a peace offering, a sacrifice. He came in order to give us life. He came, his mission, was to let us leverage this life.
The third necessity of a leveraged life, is following Him. (Mark 8.34-37) Jesus turns the private rebuke of Peter into a public teaching to the crowd. The message is: “Follow”. It is made clear that this teaching is not just for Peter, but for everyone. Crowds were essential to the “following” in Mark’s book. Sixteen times, Mark uses the word akouloutheo, when translated to English is “follow” and it breaks down this way.
- Twice, it is used in the context of two men [Simon/Andrew and 2 unnamed disciples] (1.18; 14.13)
- Twice, it is used in the context of the disciples (6.1; 9.38)
and here are the important two:
- Once it is used of an individual. Peter follow’s “from a distance” in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Not a good thing. (14.54)
- Eleven times, it is used in the context of the crowd. Either the crowd “followed Jesus” or heard Jesus teach on “following”, or watched someone “follow” (2.14,15; 3.7; 5.24; 8.34; 10.21, 28, 32, 52; 11.9; 15.41)
Crowds were essential to Mark’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship is a communal effort; a team sport. For sure, the path to Jesus was as varied and individualized as the people themselves, but the work of following is every bit a group movement.
If we follow Jesus with passion, joining with others who are like-minded like ourselves, we will begin to live a leveraged life. Following Jesus gives a purpose and meaning to this life. When we pour out our life in service to others, following his example in Mark 10.45, we will find our life. Jesus says it plainly: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8.35) Taking up our cross is a request to die. When we die to ourselves and follow Jesus, we are embarking on a journey that is unparalleled. Those who get the most out of life are those who hold onto it the least. Only in welcoming the risk, taking the steps, and engaging in the call to follow, will this life have ultimate meaning and purpose.
Leverage (vb) to use something for its maximum force
Leverage (vb.) to use something for its maximum force
I have had the pleasure of coaching middle school football for a few seasons and involved for many more. Last season we won the city championship. Frankly, we were more talented than the other teams by far. When asked “what team are you most proud of?, that team doesn’t warrant the #1 spot. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of that team and what they accomplished, but I am more proud of the team 2 years ago and here’s why: leverage!
Two years ago, the team was less talented and less experienced. We finished 3rd in the city. Not as great of finish as this years team, but respectable. Still, they leveraged their talent.
Our fourth game of the season, against our arch rival, Jardine, we lost by 30. It wasn’t even close. Three weeks later, on a chilly night on the turf at Hummer Sports Park, we faced Jardine again in the 3rd-4th place game. The coaches were hyped; the kids were hyped; our fans were hyped. Man for man, they out talented us nearly across the board. We may have had the edge at running back but that was all. That night we took it to them and avenged our 30 or beating with our own 14 pt victory. That group of players leveraged their talents to the max. They wrung out every bit of ability they had and achieved all they could. That is what makes coaches proud! John Wooden once said: “Success is the piece of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
That team achieved success because they leveraged all they had to do everything they could.
We are given only so much time on this earth. God asks that we leverage this life for His glory. he desired that we make the maximum impact on the world around us. That is what leverage is after all, using something for its maximum force.
James reminds us that our life here on this earth is a “mist”. So the question is, “what will we do with our mist?”
Jesus makes it quite clear that our life is leveraged in pouring it out for others. The maximum impact of our 80+ years on this earth is found in laying our lives down for others. Set in his example (Mark 10.45), the lives that we have are leveraged in service to others.
James, Jesus half-brother, reminds his readers: “Religion that is pure and faultless is too look after orphans and widows.”
Looking out for others, serving others, laying our lives down, is the very best way to leverage the time we have on this earth. It is completely contrary to what the world tells us this life is for.
“What can I gain?” “How much stuff can I accumulate?” “How much wealth can I attain?” “What is in it for me?” The purity has been lost on this world. Selflessness has been replaced with a me-first mentality. Amazon’s catered for you, recommended-for-you, shopping experience has left us bereft of an others first mentality. Facebook’s friends you may also know and stories-you-may-like, had led us to believe that we are the center of our relationships. I fear that someday the shopping experience may spill over into the church, where we try to cater to the individual believer, at the expense of the community, in a gross misapplication of Paul’s famous verse: “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9.22)
Certainly, Paul did bring the gospel to different people in different ways, however, the message never changed form. (1 Cor. 9.22)
I am reminded of a story told to me by my friend Scott Brooks. A man named George Steinberger, who was quite renowned in the rodeo world, especially around these parts, was moving from his home in Olathe to Richmond. On his ranch in Richmond, atop a hill, stood a massive steel cross. George had no qualms about letting you know what he believed. But this Cross had be built at his home in Olathe and followed him down to Richmond. The problem was that his gates were bigger in Olathe than they were in Richmond. The cross wouldn’t fit through. So they cut the cross down to a manageable size to get it on the ranch. Immediately, after getting it on the ranch, they went to welding it back together, to its full size. It sets on his property, full and robust, as a sign to everyone who George served throughout his life.
Want know what I think of every time I see it: “God, let me make the cross as accessible to everyone, but never let me cut it down to size to fit anyone!” George understood to get it in he had to work at it, but once it was in someone’s life, it couldn’t be changed, cut down, or transformed.
The words: “If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” are not words that are to be altered, changed, or softened. It is a call to pour out this life in service to another. In other words: leverage this life to the fullest.
The problem is that this life isn’t all peppermints and unicorns. There are every day obstacles that challenge and oppress us. “Look on the bright side” is how the world has chosen to advise us. But scripture says, in the same advice of our life, we should leverage these things in the same way.
Doubt, suffering, and injustice are the products of living in a fallen world. Still, they are arrows that point us to God.
Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss how to leverage these topics to their fullest in our walk with Christ.