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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Skip Heitzig » Skip Heitzig - The Dos and Don'ts of Suffering

Skip Heitzig - The Dos and Don'ts of Suffering

Skip Heitzig - The Dos and Don'ts of Suffering
Skip Heitzig - The Dos and Don'ts of Suffering
TOPICS: Rock Solid, Sufferings

You can imagine how puzzled some were in the community when they opened up the newspaper and saw in the little want-ad section, the lost and found section of want ads, an ad that read the following: "Lost dog with three legs. Blind in left eye. Missing right ear. Tail broken. Recently injured. Answers to the name of 'Lucky.'" Sometimes we feel about as lucky when we struggle with suffering. Imagine what this would be like: you get up tomorrow and you want to go to Starbucks bright and early and make it there first before all the selfish people get there. And so you're driving down the street, you're breaking the speed limit by, let's say, 20, 25 miles an hour. You're just zipping by and as you're going down the road you notice out of the corner of your eye that police officer and he sees you.

And so you looking at the police officer and you're amazed as he smiles and waves at you and you make it there without a ticket. And you wonder and you say, "That's strange". But let me ask you something: If you're in line at Starbucks after that happened, would you be, like, filled with remorse? Would you be there going, "That wasn't right. I deserved a ticket. I'm going to turn myself in after I have this cup of coffee"? Nah, are you kidding? You'd say, "Thank you, Jesus"! But if you're on your way to church and you break the speed limit by five miles an hour and you get a ticket for that, that's when you go, "God, I can't believe you'd allow that to happen. I was wanting to serve you".

You see, suffering in our world makes us want to avoid it at all costs. Suffering in our personal world makes us want to question God's love. Most people would probably look around the world and say, "God did a pretty good job in making this universe, but he made one mistake, and that's pain. He allowed so much pain and suffering".

I remember reading that sentence in a book I read years ago by the great author Philip Yancey. The book is called "Where Is God When It Hurts"? And he begins in the first chapter with that idea, that most people would say, "God made a good world with one mistake, and that's pain". And I thought about that this week because I read an interview, an article where he was being interviewed, Philip Yancey. He's written a new book. It's called Why? The Question That Never Goes Away. And in this interview he was talking about how he received a phone call to go back to the East Coast to speak to the parents of Newtown, Connecticut, after the Sandy Hook shooting where 26 people were gunned down: 20 children, 6 adults. They wanted him to come and talk to them about pain and suffering and God. And something dawned on him because he has been researching for his new book.

And he had been reading some of the books of the new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, all those New York Times best-selling atheistic authors. And so here he is being on the phone being asked to speak to the Sandy Hook School parents and it dawned on him. He said, "There is a question that's much harder than 'Where is God when it hurts?' and that is, 'Where is no-God when it hurts?'" And he explains this: the atheist will tell people that the universe is random and there's just sort of this blind indifference rather than a meaning and a purpose behind it. And he said, "I notice that these atheists are never asked to speak as such places like Sandy Hook Elementary School, because whatever they would have to say would never be of comfort to the parents".

Can you imagine somebody standing up, saying, "Well, the universe is random. Bad things happen. Get used to it. Your children don't live anymore. That's just what happens". There's no comfort in that. No, they ask a pastor or they ask a Christian author like Yancey to speak at those places, because a Christian will stand up and say, "What happened was tragic. Should not have happened. We should be angry at that kind of evil. However, we believe there is a good God who will make all things work together for your good if you trust him". And there's hope in that. And you see, that's the reason I've always loved being a pastor. I love walking through the gamut of life experiences with people from birth to marriage, to raising children, to getting sick, and even death. I get tickled at the fact that somebody walks up to me and says, "Will you dedicate my baby? Oh, and by the way, you dedicated me when I was a baby".

I love being able to see that cycle. And we see a lot of death and suffering along with joy. And when we wonder why, Peter is a good guy to ask because Peter writes about suffering no less than 21 times in this letter. So, since he's already discussed it, and we've already studied it, we're going to look at something else. It's what I call "The Dos and Don'ts of Suffering," two things not to do and two things to do: Don't be surprised by suffering. Don't be scared by suffering. Do be selective in your suffering, and do be sensitized by suffering.

Let's begin with the first: don't be surprised by it. Verse 12, First Peter, chapter 4, "Beloved", isn't that a beautiful word? He's writing to a flock, not an audience. He's a pastor. He's got the heart to say, "I love you, and what's more, God loves you". "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you". Don't think it's weird or bizarre or unusual when you suffer; it's not. Suffering is common to all. It happens to everyone. However, when we suffer, it's not one of the first emotions we have that we think it "strange". "No, no, no. This shouldn't happen. This is not right. This is unusual".

I was reading an article in Reader's Digest, a few years ago actually. It was called "The Untold Story of September 11, 2001". It was about Flight 93, that flight that crashed in the Pennsylvania field. And in the article it mentioned that one of the passengers aboard that flight managed to make a cell phone call to his wife and the conversation went like this: "Our plane has been hijacked. There are three men on board who say they have a bomb. They have already killed one passenger. Please call the authorities". The wife on the other end of the phone said, "The entire conversation as it was going on, my thoughts were these: 'No, no, no. This can't be happening. We have good jobs. We have great kids. Things like this don't happen to people like us.'"

But here it was happening to her. And you should know, if you don't already, that this is some people's favorite reason to reject the God of the Bible. You've heard it a thousand times: "How could a God of love who's all-powerful ever allow evil to exist"? The formal term for that is called "theodicy". And who hasn't struggled with theodicy? Theologians, philosophers, and everyone has struggled with it. George Barna in a survey sometime back said to people, "If you could ask God one question and you knew that he would give you an answer, what question would you ask God"? Overwhelmingly the questions were things like, "Why would you allow so much evil, suffering, and pain on earth"?

Now to make it worse, it's not that just bad people have bad things happen, but so many what we could call innocent people have bad things happen. If only bad people had things happen, I think we would do better with it, don't you? I mean, if only hardened criminals got the broken limbs, if only murderers got the cancer, we could stand back and go, "Now that's a piece of celestial justice". But when the innocent are affected, too many people this backs the Christian up into an impossible corner. And the one who does not love God would look and go, "Aha! I've gotcha! You can't answer that one". It is a tough one to grapple with, but allow me to just sort of turn that around for a moment. Because whenever you say, "There is so much evil in the world," or you say, "Why is there so much evil"? You only ask that or say that because you have some notion that there is supreme good.

You see, if I am in a class and I say this student gets a 90 and this student gets a 60 and this student gets a 40, it presupposes there's a real standard of 100 somewhere. There is perfection by which everything else is measured. So, if there is no God, then where did we get the standard of goodness by which we measure evil? It's called the problem of good, the moral argument, if you will.

C. S. Lewis put it this way, "If the universe is so bad, then how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute the universe to the activity of a wise and good Creator"? Think about it. If 90 percent or better, more than 90 percent of all of the people who have ever lived on earth, usually in more painful circumstances than any of us will ever see. If 90 percent of the people who have ever lived have believed in God, where did that notion come from? Why? If there's no God, there's no ultimate values. If there's no ultimate values, there's no such thing as good or evil. It's a meaningless conversation. Something else I want you to notice before we jump to the next. Go back to verse 12 and notice the two words "fiery trial". Let me tell you why I think it's important, especially in this letter. I think you'll find it significant, "fiery trial". Why does he use those words? I think I know why. We believe that Peter the apostle penned this letter at the end of 64 AD.

Now why is that important? If you know your history, you know that something very significant happened in the middle of 64 AD, in the summer of 64 AD. For nine weeks beginning on July 16th Rome burned. It burned to the ground effectively. And most people believed it was the emperor's fault, Caesar Nero started the fire. He had a penchant for building. He didn't like the old city. He wanted to expand it and renew it. But he would never admit to it. But we do know that when the fire was started, he was watching it with glee. And when people tried to put out those fires, the Roman soldiers stopped them from putting it out and they started new ones. Well the population who had lost their homes, their goods, the lives of loved ones, were in such furor that they turned against Caesar Nero almost in an all-out revolt, he knew he needed to do something. And so he looked for a scapegoat. Who do you think he chose? The Christians.

"Let's blame it on the Christians, they weren't liked anyway. So I'll say they did it". And he said they did it. And to display the idea that he believed they did it, he took many of them and put them on poles with ropes while they were alive, doused them in pitch, and used them as torches to light up the imperial gardens at night. That began a 200-year reign of terror against the believers that were in Rome. We believe that this letter was written toward the end of that year. So when he writes these words, listen to how they would sound to a Roman Christian: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you".

So, don't be surprised by suffering. Here's a second "don't": don't be scared by it. Verse 13, he has the audacity to use this word: "But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part he is blasphemed, but on your part he is glorified". "Rejoice". I don't know how that hits your ears, but I imagine for somebody who is suffering the kind of atrocities they were suffering, they probably even thought, "Really? You're going to dare tell me to rejoice during this time"?

But what Peter is saying to them, and I want you to hear it carefully, is that we have no right to expect better treatment from this world than Jesus received from this world. See, that's the point of his language in these verses. In fact, what Peter does is take suffering and lift it up high, give honor to it, extol it. You know, we would want to take suffering, and if this were a house, it would be in the basement with the rest of the junk. He takes suffering out of the basement, moves it into the great room, and even higher, and says, "Ah, if you suffer for the right reason, it's a position of honor. You're suffering with Christ".

When C. S. Lewis was asked the question, "Why do the righteous suffer"? He said, "Why not? They're the only ones who can take it". They will do it differently than somebody who doesn't have that hope. Now I do want to say that as believers we're not naive concerning evil. We believe three things about evil: number one, it's real, it exists, evil exists. We are not like those who subscribe to what is called "Christian Science". I'm sure you have seen names on buildings or on so-called churches that say "Christian Science". It was a belief system started in the 1800s by a gal named Mary Baker Eddy Glover Patterson Frye. She had a problem with men. She had an even worse problem with doctrine, because she believed that evil doesn't exist, pain doesn't exist, suffering doesn't exist, disease doesn't exist, it's all an illusion. Even death, she had the audacity to say, "Death is an illusion".

I've always been mystified by Christian Science. It's sort of like the cereal my mom used to give me called Grape Nuts. Do you remember Grape Nuts? Ever looked inside a box? Are there any grapes at all? There are no grapes and there are no nuts. It says Grape Nuts, all there are inside are flakes. No grapes. No nuts. And Christian Science, there's nothing Christian about it and there's nothing scientific about it. And to play some metaphysical game and not call something what it plainly is doesn't help anybody. So Christians are not naive, we go, "Yup, suffering, evil, hardship, pain exists". But we know something else is true. We know that God allows evil to exist and we believe, at least I believe, that God is in absolute control of the universe that he made. I know not everybody believes that.

There's a teaching out there called "Open Theism". Some of you have never heard of that perhaps, Open Theism. Or "process theology" which says, "God is in the process of becoming a better God. See, God doesn't know what's going to happen tomorrow," they say, "Thus he's not in control of it. So every day he's learning new things. He's a deity in process or in progress. So today God is a better God than he was yesterday, because more things have happened and he is finding out more things". So that's how they deal with the problem of evil. They've got God running around saying "Oops"! all day long. No, thank you. Evil exists, God permits evil to exist, but I know something else, and that is, God has a purpose in it, that it can actually be helpful. It can actually be helpful. Peter here says that "He is glorified". Really? God is glorified when I suffer and it can be helpful?

Well, you know that's true. We've studied that. And I hope by now you believe that is true. It does a few things for you, you know that, suffering does. It makes you pure, number one. It makes you pure. Purifies you like nothing else. We studied it already in depth, but let me just refresh your memory. Back in chapter 1, verse 6 and 7 of First Peter said, "These trials have come so that your faith of greater worth of gold which perishes, though it is refined by fire may be proved to be genuine". God, like a goldsmith, pours the gold back and forth in its liquid form and scrapes the impurities off, purifies you. Second thing suffering does: it humbles you. It humbles you. We who have a tendency to walk in pride are quickly brought down to street level with a period of suffering.

Did you know that Paul the apostle, though he wasn't prideful, he had the temptation toward pride and he admitted that. He saw and heard God speak. He saw visions from God. He saw miracles of God. And so listen to this, this is Second Corinthians, chapter 12. He writes, "And lest I be exalted above measure", so filled with pride I couldn't stand it, "there was given to me a thorn in the flesh," which is a sharp, painful stake in my flesh, my body, some physical ailment. "A message of Satan to torment me". I suppose it would be hard to be around Paul. Talk about a Starbucks's buddy; can you imagine? Here is Skip at Starbucks and here's Paul on other side. And I go, "Hey, Paul, let me show you what I read today in Psalm 23". And he'd go, "That's great. Let me tell you what God verbally spoke to me this morning as I saw a vision of the third heaven". "Okay, never mind. See you at lunch".

So suffering will purify you. It will humble you. Here's another thing it will do, and we know this to be true: it makes us depend on God like nothing else. It keeps us dependent. You see, when you're weak, you lean on something: a crutch, a cane, a walker, a person, an item. You're weak, you lean on them. You depend on that. When the apostle Paul spoke about the "thorn in the flesh," you'll recall that he said, "Concerning this thing I prayed three times. I pleaded that the Lord would take it way, three times, until the Lord finally answered me". Do you remember what he said? He said, "My grace is enough, it's sufficient, it's all you need". So then Paul says, "Therefore I will rejoice and exalt in my suffering. Because when I am weak, then I am strong".

Strange but interesting thing about God's power and God's strength, it is attracted to human weakness. "God has chosen the weak things of this world, the foolish things". It's attracted to human weakness. It's drawn to it. His power kicks in when my power runs out. No one is ever too weak to be powerful; we're only too strong. Find the person who says, "No thanks. I got this covered. I can handle this on my own". Just count the seconds before there's a face flop. The person who will quickly admit, "I need help," will be a powerful person. Trials will do that. So don't be surprised by suffering. Don't be scared by suffering. Here's two positives, two "dos": do be selective in suffering. Verse 15, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evil doer, or as a busybody", okay, stop right there. Don't you find this interesting that in the list of "murderers, thieves... busybody". They do as much damage, that's why. "In other people's matters". Yet in anyone suffers as a Christian, "let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter".

In other words, "If you're going to suffer, and you will, make sure it's for the right reason. Don't retaliate when the government confiscates your property, you Roman Christians, by being a thief. Don't retaliate, Roman Christians, when they're violent against you by murdering them. Don't do that. Suffer, if you suffer, for being a Christian". Look at the word "Christian". I say look at it because you'll only find it three times in the whole Bible. This is one of them. Did you know that the early church didn't call themselves Christians? They never referred to them as such. They called themselves "believers," "believers" or "the Way" or "brethren". "Christian" was the term that was a derogatory term, a nickname given to them by Romans and Greeks who wanted to come up with a term that set them apart from the rest of the Roman Empire.

You see, most of the Roman Empire were called Kaisarianos, followers of Caesar. They hold allegiance to him. They pay their taxes. They're not antagonistic against the government. Because Christians were this sect that didn't give the all-allegiant bow to Caesar, they were given a different title, Christianos. They're followers of Christ, not Caesar. They won't say, "Caesar is lord," they keep saying, "Jesus is Lord". And so it was a term that was derogatory. However, over time these early believers took on the name Christian. They just thought, "It's sort of filling to call ourselves this derogatory term, because we embrace being followers of Jesus Christ".

Let's continue with our thought. Verse 17, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God"? "Now 'if the righteousness one is scarcely saved,'" a quote out of Proverbs, "'where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?'" What does he mean when he says, "It's time for judgment to begin at the house of God"? Simply what he has already been saying; the purging, the purifying work of a loving God, using suffering to purify his church. So he says if that's happening in the church, the house of God, and then in the next verse, "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner be"?

In other words, we are saved through difficult times. We are saved through trials. Jesus called the gate...what kind of gate that we walk through? A "narrow gate". And what did he say about the way that we walk on it. It's a "difficult way". His words, it's "difficult". So if our way is narrow and the road we walk on as believers in a hostile world is difficult and it is inevitable, the only weird thing about persecution is if you don't get any. And if Paul said, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God," if that's true and it's hard for believers, now think of how horribly painful it will be, eventually, for the unbeliever; that's his point. What about the ungodly and the sinner? If God purifies his church through suffering, what about the end of the ungodly? Let me boil it down to this thought: suffering in this world makes us long for heaven, but this world is all the heaven that some people will ever see. That's what he means. So don't be surprised by suffering, don't be scared by suffering, do be selective in suffering, you're going to suffer, make sure it's for the right reason.

And, finally, and we close: do be sensitized by suffering. One verse, verse 19, "Therefore", don't you love the therefores? Don't you love when he talks about stuff and he goes, "Now let me make it applicable. Here's the 'therefore.'" We already know what it's there for, so we can keep going. "Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God", stop right there, please. Underline that, please, or remember that that's in the Book. Some of you have been told that, "Suffering is never in the will of God. God wants his children always to be healthy, always to be smiling, always to go through life weeeeee! Happy and healthy and prosperous, not suffer. That's never god God's will". Well then you better rip this page out or change your thinking. "Let those who suffer according to the will of God", what should they do? They should commit, "commit their souls to him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator".

The word "commit" is a banking term that means to deposit something for safekeeping. "I'm going to deposit my trust. I do not understand what's happening in this world around me. This is so hard. This is so painful. I don't get it. I want answers, they're not coming, so what I will do is deposit my trust in God's bank". That's the picture. And here's the truth: when you deposit your trust in God's bank, you will get dividends of blessings in your account. He won't let anything you deposit go to waste. Every bit of trust you deposit will be rewarded.

Now, I'm going to close with two words that I think are what verse 19 is all about. Okay, so you commit, put that in the bank, trust God, but look at those words "doing good". "Let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to him in doing good as to a faithful Creator". Better translation: "And continue to be doing what is right and what is good". Because you see, if doing good is what got you in trouble in the first place, you think, "I better not do anymore good". If being a faithful, good Christian, "Faithful good Christian gets me in trouble with the Roman government and they persecute me, then I better just be a little bit less bold and a little bit less intense as a believer, just sort of bring it down a couple notches". Peter says, "Don't do that, commit that to God and continue to do good".

Now here's what I want you to know about suffering from this perspective: Peter never saw suffering as academic, it was real. He wanted to enter into the reality of it. You know where he got that from? Jesus. You'll remember this, John, chapter 9, there's a man who's blind, blind from birth. And the apostles see him and they're not in this guy's life. So here's a case study, and they look at this case study, and they look at it academically. And they say, "So why was this man born blind? Is it his sin or his parent's sin that caused him to be born blind"? They want to answer the "why"? question. Right? The question that never goes away. "Why is there pain and suffering? Who is responsible? Why is this happening? Was it his sin or his parent's sin"?

Jesus' answer is classic: "Neither his sin nor his parent's sin caused this, but that the glory of God might be revealed in him". And what tickles me is that Jesus never answered the question "why"? This is what he said, "I must work the works of him who sent me while it is still day; for the night is coming when no man can work". And he healed him. In other words, "Right now, boys, the answer theologically, academically, philosophically as to why there's evil in the world doesn't matter much to him. You know what matters to him? He can't see. I'm going to fix that. I'm going to fix that". He entered into pain and reality. By the way, Christians have always done that. You know who started the first hospitals? You know who started the first orphanages? It was Christians.

Christianity was birthed into a hostile, brutal, Greco-Roman world that saw life as disposable. Jesus saw it as precious, therefore life was cared for. And that's what Reload Love is all about to us. We don't want to deal with the problem in a classroom or a discussion group. It's good to do that, but we want to go beyond that. We want to do more. We want to be active. We want to do it today. We want to do it practically. It's like the cartoon that I saw of two turtles talking by a fence, and one turtle turned his little turtleneck to his friend and said, "Sometimes I like to ask God why he allows poverty and famine and injustice when he could do something about it". And the second turtle turned back his turtleneck to his friend and said, "I'm afraid God might ask me the same question," same question.

Like we learned last week: we're the hands, we're his feet, we're the body of Christ. We're the ones who get involved. Have you heard that strange insurance phrase, kind of drives me nuts? Anytime something bad happens, some earthquake, some tornado... what are they called? "Acts of God". "That's really gnarly what happened. It's an act of God". I don't dispute that God can't do that and that he's not in total control, but why can't "acts of God" be when he enacts love and compassion through the life of one of his children. Let the world see those acts of God. That's what it's about. I close with this, I promise. I found it, I thought it would be meaningful to share: "If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are better off than the 6 million people who will not survive this week".

That's sinking in... here's another. If you've never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of prison, the agony of torture, the pang of starvation, you're ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend a church meeting without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion, that's with a 'B', three billion people in the world. If you have a food, or if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of this world. "If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish some place, you're among the top 8 percent of the world's wealthy".

So Jesus talked about loving "the least of these," and James talked about true religion being caring for widows and orphans, and there are so many around the world. So rather than just dealing with it academically, we want to enter into it. That's what Reload Love is about. Would you stand with me and we'll pray. And then we're going to close the service, of course.

After the service that little Reload Love kiosk will be out there, and you can look at these cool little charms that they make out of spent bullet casings, brilliant. God's all about recycling, redemption. And so in honor of that, my crazy little band where we take Beatle songs and recycle them, we're going to be playing in the cafe afterwards as part of the Reload Love launch. And you want to go over there and see that and donate to Reload Love, great. I just feel, I don't mind being a fool for Christ. I'll do it one day a year. So that's what that little band is all about.

Father, thank you for your love and the amazing truth that you are drawn to weakness. And, perhaps, that's why we are drawn to causes like this and to mission organizations and helping people in time of a need. You put that within us, to help the powerless, those without strength. Thank you for the opportunity we have to do it individually, corporately, as your people, your hands, your feet, in Jesus' name, amen.

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