#686. SUFFERING (9/11/22)
This week’s devotionals are based upon our ’New Ground Sunday’ and our recent Leadership Conference. Both of these events are focused on encouraging churches and leaders in the New Ground family of churches but I trust that anyone will find these devotionals helpful.
We all, I’m sure, want to shy away from suffering. Most of us want a comfortable and easy life. In England and many nations, one of Christianity’s greatest weaknesses is the idolatry of comfort. However, Jesus experienced opposition and any true following of Jesus will always lead to conflict. We are promised:
‘In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’ (2 Timothy 3:12)
Because we often seek to avoid suffering, we can end up disillusioned or compromising our faith. We see suffering as proof that God no longer loves us or even exists; we compromise the message of the gospel or adjust to worldly messages and morals in order to fit in. Ed Shaw wrote in ‘The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-sex Attraction’ wrote about the idolatrous way that we exalt happiness:
‘Surely God wants us to be happy? If I could find myself a nice Christian man and ‘marry’ him, what could be wrong in me having sex and children with him? How can God condemn something that would bring such happiness to so many people? Why do I arrogantly think I know what most people would say? Because that’s where my mind goes too: because the great authority in the world we live in today is our personal happiness. If someone or something leads to unhappiness in our life, they or it must be wrong. If someone or something makes us happy, they or it must be right.’
Recently, at the New Ground Leadership Conference, we heard the testimony of John Ghanim, a converted Muslim from Yemen who has lost so much in choosing to follow Christ.
Having grown up as a Muslim in Yemen, he became disillusioned and lost his faith when he and his family went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. After escaping Yemen he made His way to Greece. Where, after some time, he gave his life to Jesus. From the start, John was persecuted for his faith:
‘When I became a Christian I went back to the [refugee] camp and I started telling people I was a Christian and they started to persecute me. I didn't understand, because they were in Europe and they also came to seek freedom. One of the Yemenis tried to kill me. I continued to evangelise and baptise people, with the missionaries. They wanted to kill me because they thought I was converting Muslims to Christianity. The missionaries advised me to leave Greece.’
He suffered threats and the loss of his family:
‘I became radical, I wanted to share my faith. I didn’t have the wisdom to wait and bring my family to join me. I just wanted to share. Nobody could stop me. I shared my video [testimony] and my family saw it. My mother got really sick when she saw it – she stopped eating and couldn’t sleep. People started threatening me and using my mother’s health to put pressure on me. They said she was sick because of me. They said I’d brought shame on the family. It’s all about honour and the family name, the tribe. It’s not about you as an individual. And I was really radical! After that they arranged a divorce from my wife under Islamic Sharia law. I had been in contact with my wife but she was upset with me, she couldn’t believe what I’d done. She tried to get me to turn back to Islam. I told her she could still be a Muslim, it was up to her, but I’m a Christian and I’m not going to lie. Her family were under pressure from the religious leaders to take her away from me. Her father is my uncle. They told him his daughter’s marriage was unclean, because I was apostate, an infidel. They took her. At the beginning it was so hard. God gave me the strength to walk through those difficulties, the persecution…Five years ago when I first started to receive these death threats I used to lie awake all night, I couldn’t sleep. But God gave me this strength. He promised he would be with me. And he promised he would use me to reach many nations, not just Yemenis or Arab nations. This is his promise. It’s beyond my understanding.’
‘…As a Yemeni, people say that because I’ve moved to Europe I’ve been brainwashed. I say yes, Jesus has washed my brain. The Bible says I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and I have been transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). I was a different person before, I was angry. I had a difficult childhood and nobody treated me with love. In Islam God is not love. I was denied love. Now I understand that God is love! This is why I want to share this love, it’s not only for me, I want to share it with others. And he told us to love one another. God is love. He’s amazing! I pray that all nations will understand the love of God.’
John, now based in the UK, continues to be involved in seeking to reach Muslims for Christ. He uses social media platforms, this technology being used by God to open many doors for the gospel but also for the persecution that follows.
You can read the full article of John's story at:
SUFFERING GROWS US
Suffering has a purpose. God works deeply and powerfully through trials. I’m sure that we can all say that we learned more in suffering than at any other time! Here are two texts that speak of this:
‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4)
‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:1-5)
If we want to be like Christ, we must suffer like Christ. Suffering produces Christlike character in us. A preparedness to suffer frees us to share the good news with others. How can you and I be ready and prepared to pursue Christ rather than comfort?
1. IDENTITY - Do we know our identity in Christ? If we are assured of the Father’s love, we are less likely to idolise the acceptance of others.
2. HOPE - If we fix our eyes on our hope beyond death, we will be able to refuse to live for this life and its pleasures.
3. SUCCESS - To be prepared to pay the cost of following Christ, we need a correct definition of success; popularity, wealth… are not God’s definition of success. True success is faithfulness to God; to be free, we must define success as knowing and doing God’s will.
4. SPIRIT - To be prepared to live radically for Christ requires that we are filled and empowered by the Spirit.
COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
What has God been speaking to you about from His word recently? How would you like prayer?
3. Recap of Sunday's message - please share in your group
NEW GROUND SUNDAY - THE KINGDOM IS GROWING
On Sunday we had Dave Holden speaking at our New Ground Sunday. He spoke about the need for fresh faith that God is building His Kingdom and that He wants us involved.
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
The Kingdom of God, put simply, is God’s rule. Whenever someone becomes a Christian, they enter the Kingdom as they come under the reign of Christ. Whenever the church effects the world in any way, the Kingdom is expressed as God’s will in done. To see the Kingdom come means more people becoming Christians and more light being shown through he acts of the saints.
GOD IS EXTENDING HIS KINGDOM
It’s God’s will for the Kingdom to grow. Isaiah promises that the success of the Kingdom, ultimately, depends upon God’s power and zeal:
‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’ (Isaiah 9:6-7)
God’s kingdom is going to be extended from generation to generation and nation to nation until the end comes. Jesus taught us to pray:
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
This prayer will be fully answered at the return of Christ. Then, and only then, will the Kingdom be fully expressed in this fallen world and universe.
THE KINGDOM STARTS SMALL AND GROWS
Jesus spoke of the growing nature of the Kingdom with these 2 parables:
‘Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’ Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ (Luke 13:18-21)
Jesus is promising that the Kingdom of God will affect more and more people and places. Each generation is to expect to see the Kingdom extended. Again, as with The Lord’s Prayer, the full growth of the ‘tree’ and the full mixing of the ‘yeast’ is about the final consummation at Jesus’ return.
GOD WANTS YOU AND I INVOLVED
God is committed to His Kingdom coming. The final outcome is inevitable if the process of growth has started. The Spirit is at work to complete the work that He has started. However, He wants His church involved in this work. Through us, the Kingdom comes to more people and places.
RESPONSE - DIG AROUND IT!
Jesus gave us this parable:
‘Then he told this parable: A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” “Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’ (Luke 13:6-9)
This parable was confronting and challenging God’s people, many of whom were religious but unfruitful. Many were rejecting Christ. Jesus was speaking to them of God’s judgment, patience and call to repentance. God was giving them time to dig around the soil of their lives and come back to Him. God is calling us to dig around the soil of our lives. Are we being fruitful? Are we seeking first the Kingdom? Are we paying lip service but our hearts are not engaged? How does God want you to be more involved in 'seeking first the Kingdom of God'?
i) Did you feel that God spoke to you from any particular aspect of Sunday's message?
ii) How would you summarise the Kingdom of God?
iii) How does one enter the Kingdom of God?
iii) When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” what are we asking to happen?
iii. How does God want you more involved in seeking the Kingdom?
SIV - Let's keep praying and planning for how we can invite people to our carol service on 11th December (4 pm).
SIV - Do you have any encouraging stories of sharing your faith with your friends?
SIV - How do you plan to 'serve, invest and invite' into your friendships?
SIV - Let's pray for the Spirit to lead us in reaching our community.