April 16, 2024

Dear Church family, 

It was exhilarating to worship with you yesterday. And welcome back to those who were away on the youth retreat. I prayed for you often and I’m sure that many others did too. 

Yesterday we looked at the Cross of Christ and ours too. We looked at how His cross was for our justification, but our cross is for our sanctification. I hope that we learn to expect crosses (Matthew 16:24) and prepare our kids for the path that they walk on if they will follow Jesus. It will be tough and burdensome at times. God will hand them various kinds of ‘Crosses.’ 

I hope that I explained well what ‘a cross’ that God places on your life is, and what the difference between a “cross” and “trial” is: A cross is something that God hands you which is painful and you don’t want (& remember, neither did Jesus want it, Luke 22:42) but it’s for your good and the good of others. That was Christ’s cross, and it describes ours too. His cross was painful but beneficial for us. It was also a test of His obedience. Would Jesus take the Cross that His Father gave Him on our behalf? He did (“your will be done”). That’s one of the main tests that Jesus passed in His life. 

Now applied to us, when Jesus gives us a cross, it’s for a similar purpose. It’s a painful situation (internally or externally) which is designed for our good and the good of others. It’s also a test of our obedience to submit to God who apportions suffering to us according to His will. 

But what is the difference between a cross and a trial? I would say that a cross helps us connect our suffering to Jesus. We want to be conformed into His image, and even His human image was developed through obedience to suffering (That’s what Hebrews 5:8-9 says!).

Therefore, the cross that God has given you is something that you need to make you grow. That truth to me was one of my favorite discoveries: I need to receive things that I don’t want that are painful in order to sanctify me/make me grow in maturity and submission to God.  

I can’t reiterate enough how much we NEED Crosses to help us grow. 

I quoted a John Flavel quote yesterday in my sermon but was not able to elaborate on another Biblical idea that he also taught me about God’s heart concerning suffering (crosses) and our great need of it.

In his book, “Preparations for Suffering” or also entitled, “The Best Work in the Worst Times”  (which is a big hint), he mentions how God is so hesitant to give suffering as Lam. 3:33 states: “He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men.” Furthermore, God is ultra compassionate (“slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” – Psalm 103:8). If these two attributes represent God then why does He grant us suffering? In other words, why does God give us suffering if He is not quick or happy to grant us pain?

Because we absolutely need it to be made mature and so that we do not erode into spoiled vain people. Really think about that logic, if God does not afflict from His heart, but we are recipients of so much of it, what does that say about how much we need it! 

I am convinced that without suffering, many of us would be proud and have perhaps left the Lord by now. Suffering is actually “a means of grace” insofar as it helps us sober up, mature up & live more for our eternal home (remember 1 Peter 4:1-2 along those lines: suffering helps us stop sinning!). 

Psalm 119:71 is a phenomenal verse to support that point: 
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” 

That is an example of what a godly attitude should look like. Even though we don’t ask God for crosses and affliction (& thank God we don’t need to ask Him for that because He knows what we need. He’ll give it without us asking!), yet we can understand in retrospect that the negative things that have happened to us were intended for our positive growth in the Lord. 

I am increasingly convinced that God wants maturity far more than comfort. We, though, want comfort more than maturity! 

Another neat verse that helps us understand God’s purpose in suffering is Psalm 34:18-19 which says,“18 God is near to the broken heartedand He saves the crushed in Spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.” 

There is a unique closeness that we feel when our heart is broken through some form of suffering. God strengthens us and comforts us. And that is one of it’s purposes. I think there are two reasons that God is close to the broken hearted: (1) We lean in closer to God and (2) God leans in closer to us just as you would to a friend who needs a hug. I have only experienced a little of this in my life, but I have heard this common experience from many broken saint friends: “I felt God’s presence more intensely than ever as I endured that particular trial (cross).” 

This was the experience of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. He asked God to remove a thorn in his flesh and 3 times God refused but instead said, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God gives us more grace when we are weakened by a weight of something. I remember hearing a friend of mine say, who almost lost her son to two biking accidents (and during the last one, he became paralyzed) and who also lost her husband to dementia after a long war with it, “God gave me grace when I needed it that He didn’t give me when I didn’t need it.”

So again, the crosses that God gives us are means of grace (instruments of His grace) as it helps us get closer to God, grow in the Lord, experience His powerful  grace, and grow to maturity. 

This past week, my wife relayed a story to me that her uncle relayed to her. The question in many of our lives is “ “HOW will I get through this Cross that God has placed on my shoulders?”

Heather’s Uncle Steve was asking his kids, “how, how, how” concerning something in the Bible, and his teenage son replied, “dad, your w is in the wrong place.” WHO!

HOW you get through your cross is answer by the WHO. The answer to suffering needs to be shaped into a cross as it brings us back to WHO bore our cross for us too. Not only do we suffer, but God suffered and died more than we can fathom. So the WHO describes HOW you travel through your cross because He knows how much you are suffering today. His empathy will help you.

I know that many of you suffer more than I know, and I pray that Jesus would encourage you to bear up your cross just like Him for many reasons. One of the reasons is for others like myself to “bear your burdens too, and fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). And that too is one of the purposes of the Crosses that we endure, to make others more selfless to empathize, feel and hold you up through encouragement. 

I cherish all of you greatly and pray that God will strengthen you for our Crosses that we travel through together. We are not alone in this, Praise the Lord! 

Love in Christ,

Aaron

From Pastor Aaron

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