Losers Gain: ‘The Way’ of the Easter People

thecoliseum
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”

“Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.”
Listen & Watch Song. Performed by Jeremy Camp

Note:  ‘The Way’ is what the earliest Christians were called.  They were known for their great sufferings because of their testimony concerning Jesus…

First, take a moment and read these passages from Scripture…

Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

2 Timothy 3:10-13 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Philippians 3:7-9 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Matthew 19:27-30 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

2 Timothy 2:3 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 10:32-36 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”

1 Peter 4:13-17 But rejoice inasmuch as 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.

James 1:2-3 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.

Revelation 22:12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what they have done.” -Jesus

Also see:  Matthew 10:39 & 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Romans 5:2-4 & 8:16-18, 35-36; 1 Peter 2:19-21 & 3:17-18; Luke 9:24 & 17:33; 2 Corinthians 11: 23-30; Mark 10: 28-31; Philippians 1:29-30; Revelation 2:10

There’s a lot of Scripture above.  The main thread I see running through all these passages is this:  Christians are losers.  Passage after passage, Christians are called to lose their possessions, their security, their well-being, their comfort, and often their very lives for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.  Can it be said that since Jesus died and rose again there has not been another group of people in all of history that has lost more for an unseen future hope.  From a casual world observer, it all looks very foolish.  Christians throughout history have been giving up their time, possessions, and livelihood while resting on the promise of Jesus’ return, his promis of reward, and our resurrection.  In addition, Christians have not only given up these things, they are often remembered for letting people take these things from them with little or no hesitation.   This is all very foolish to the kingdoms of the world; to both kings and subjects.  They are known to frequently ask, “If Christians give up or lose these things so freely, they obviously don’t treasure them that much.”  But, sadly, the world is only half right.  And knowing that Satan proliferates half-truths, this shouldn’t surprise us.  The fuller observation needs to include:  “These Christians give up or lose these things because they must treasure something and/or someone more.”

So, why if the pattern and call of the Christian in Scripture is to suffer for Jesus, do Christians sometimes not suffer?  What is a right diagnosis prescribed for Christians who generally live in comfort, ease, and safety?  Are we doing or not doing something?  What alarms me is that the only Church we have record of in Scripture that was not facing any suffering was the Laodicean Church found in Revelation 3.  They viewed themselves as “rich, clothed, well-fed and in need of nothing.”  And we know from history that the city of Laodicea was very prosperous.  But, Jesus has no words of commendation for this Church devoid of persecution.  Instead, Jesus condemns them as being lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, and warns them to repent.

So, should we hope for suffering?  Should we do what I have heard some Pastors do from the pulpit and pray that suffering would be brought on the comfortable American Church?  I believe not.  Actually, Scripture directs us to pray for those who are suffering that they would be comforted and relieved.  Although, it is interesting to note that Christians are not called to flee suffering, but to bear up under it.  So, maybe it is not always appropriate to pray that Christians will be taken from suffering, but pray that they may endure (bear up under) it.  Didn’t Paul see his suffering as a way to testify to the only hope he had in Jesus and the promise of future reward?  Paul and the other apostles also modeled the pattern of often going into circumstances or contexts where they knew suffering was likely.  Why did they do this?

Maybe it was because they saw Jesus as their only hope and their only provider of lasting treasure.  They didn’t try to position Jesus in their life as one of many treasures, but their ONLY hope and treasure.  I think this is why we are called to rejoice in trial and suffering.  When we suffer, we say something very clearly to the world around us;  we say, “I treasure Jesus above anything else in the world and you can take everything else away, even my life, and I’ll still have joy.  Jesus is where my joy is placed and found!!!”  I think it is harder to say and live this when we make the very subtle compromises in our day to day lives.  Do we avoid speaking up for Jesus for the sake of keeping our job?  Do we move out of areas where there is more hostility to Christians so we can live comfortable, stress-free lives?  Do we actually bring the good news of Jesus to the cultural gatherings (malls, theaters, schools and neighborhoods) or do we keep the message of the gospel within the confines of the Church with the hope of not “offending” anyone?

So, if we should not hope and pray for suffering, what should be our stance toward it?  I believe that when Christians enter a time when they are not faced with suffering that they should at least be concerned.  A lack of suffering should lead us to deep reflection and prayer so we may discern how zealous and committed to Christ we really are.  Christ says that we are blessed when we share in his sufferings.  Would it be accurate to say that a lack of suffering distances us from the life and experience of Christ?  Should we be asking, “Do we need to go to a place where sharing in the sufferings of Christ is a reality and not just an option?” or “Do we need to be more zealous in the place we currently are to the point when the gospel makes contact with the points of opposition in our cultural context?”

What do we trade away when we avoid suffering?  When we avoid suffering we are basically telling the world that “all that Jesus stuff” is not really worth it.  We are basically saying that we have our hope somewhere other than Jesus and the resurrection.  I think sadly that many Churches in America want Christ without the Cross (Jesus said if anyone would follow him, they must deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow him…).  Theire hopes are in their building plans, insurance plans, and safety plans.  Paul said that because of his message, they had become “the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”(1 Cor. 4:13)  So should Churches be more concerned about their reputation in the community than in their faithfulness to the gospel?  Why aren’t there any Sunday school classes on how Christians are to suffer well?

So, I think our approach to suffering is that it should be viewed as a norm of the Christian life.  We should be prepared and trained for it and when it does come we should not be so quick to pray that it be taken away, but that Jesus would be glorified in our suffering.  Suffering should lift our song and cause us to rejoice because we are having the privilege of sharing in Christ’s suffering and so we are able to identify with our Savior.  How often has suffering or hardship led instead to grumbling or complaining?  If we are not experieicing suffering for the sake of Jesus’ name, maybe we should be more creative in how we as a Church are proclaiming the gospel and calling people to repentance.  Maybe we have for too long avoided these callings altogether.  Instead, maybe we have settled for the repentance-free message of “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” or “Will you make Jesus your friend today?”  Is this how the message of the gospel rang out through history?  Wasn’t the message, “Repent and believe in Jesus for life everlasting or God’s wrath remains on you and Jesus is returning soon!”  Where has the urgency gone?  Where has the scandal and risk of the message gone?  Could it be that for fear of persecution and the threat to our security and wellbeing that we have subtely and completely neutered the gospel of it’s power?

As we saw above, Paul actually instructs Timothy to “suffer with me as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”  And later, he says that those who want to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. (notice it does not say “may”).  I know this is a very difficult subject that probably many of us don’t like to think about.  But, I think we should use the testimony of Scripture and our history as Christians to prepare our hearts and minds for joining Jesus in suffering for Jesus’ name and Jesus’ way.  Jesus is the King you know, and His return will cause those who have scoffed, ignored, or played games with his warnings to wail and mourn at the sight of His return.

Suffering only can make sense in light of Jesus’ promise that he will return and reward those who suffered for Him.  We need to continue to remind the Church of these promises so it can have a healthier view of suffering as critical part of the Christian life.  Suffering strengthens our faith because our hope in the future that Jesus promises is challenged as we go through suffering.  There’s always a way to avoid suffering; there’s always a way out; we just have to deny Jesus in word and deed.  Wasn’t this in essence the offer Satan gave to Jesus in the wilderness?  He offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would merely bow down to him.  He offered Jesus life without suffering and with instant gain.  But he said no to Satan’s offer and gave his life (lost his life) as a ransom for many.  Does he not call the Christian to do the same?  How often have we bought into the offers of Satan to gain acceptance, approval, and acknowledgement now so we can avoid suffering?

So,what are your thoughts on what it means to suffer as a Christian?  What should we do in our disney world, pluralistic, ‘tolerance driven life’ culture that we live in here in a America?  Are there any significant changes that we should make?

Speak up!

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