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Several years ago, Justin Taylor linked to a moving and encouraging account of a pastor coming to grips with the fact that his second child, like his first, would be born with spina bifida. Amazingly, this man has found great comfort in rejecting the common notion that God will merely use this bad situation for good, rather than the biblical truth that He has ordained it for His glory and His people’s good.

Stories like these continue to confirm the reality that we must prepare ourselves to undergo suffering and trials righteously. We need to learn how to suffer well. And, as I’ve said over the past couple weeks, the way we do that is by being equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial.

And to that end we’ve been looking to Jeremiah’s experience with devastating suffering at the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and hoping to glean some lessons on how to respond to suffering righteously. First, we learned that a righteous response to others’ suffering includes suffering along with our brothers and sisters who suffer. Secondly, we learned that we must acknowledge the role of sin in our suffering. Today, we find a third lesson from Jeremiah’s righteous response to suffering: we must acknowledge, and trust in, God’s absolute sovereignty even in the unpleasant and painful circumstances.

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deny selfJesus was known for some outright difficult (even offensive) declarations, and Mark 8:34 is certainly a prime example:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

How does this difficult declaration apply to us today?

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It was 1872, and D. L. Moody decided to go to England for a time of learning from the great English preachers of that day. He had decided to merely sit and listen, and not do any ministry of his own.

D. L. MoodyOne pastor named John Lessey, upon hearing that Moody was in town, begged him to preach in his pulpit on both Sunday morning and Sunday night. Reluctantly, Moody accepted the request of this pastor of a medium-sized congregation in London.

The morning sermon did not go well.

The people were not responsive. They were bored and didn’t want to be there.

Moody, although disinclined to preach in the evening because of the incredible apathy he witnessed in the morning, decided to go ahead and keep his word.

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A while ago I met with a prospective seminary student for lunch. As is common for first-time meetings at Grace Community Church, our discussion began with testimonies of how the Lord saved us. This particular brother had a Christian friend whose very welcoming family often shared the Gospel with him and invited him to church. As friendly and as clear as they were, though, the seed of the Gospel fell on fallow ground—until the father of the family had contracted a life-threatening illness. When this young man saw how the family responded to suffering with such confidence, joy, and peace, his heart began to pay attention to the Source of that steadfastness. He began to read his Bible with greater earnestness and listen to the sermons he heard in church with greater interest. Eventually, the Lord saved him.

I tell that story because it only further legitimizes the need for Christians to learn how to suffer well—how to suffer righteously. I mentioned in last week’s post how necessary it is to be equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial. The fact of the matter is, the heat of an intensely trying time often clouds our vision and our judgment, so that we fail to act the way we know we should. We respond to suffering sinfully because we have not prepared to suffer righteously beforehand, when our vision is clear.

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pinataI was 23 when I first saw one. It was a hollow, colorful, papier-mâché creature stuffed with candy, chocolates, and assorted sugary delights. They strung it up and told me to hit it. They called it a piñata.

As entertaining as this experience was for me, I suspect the real entertainment for the college students in my Bible study was witnessing a grown man attempt to rupture his first piñata. But the joke would soon be on them.

I flailed aimlessly with all the force I could muster, missing the elusive treasure trove and inadvertently losing my grip on the stick. It shot like a spear at the crowd of gawkers, and smashed into the cheekbone of a girl who was caught off-guard by the missile.

It was also the last time I ever attempted to hit a piñata. In fact, it was the last time I would wield a weapon while blindfolded.

However, if Paul had to comment on some of my early prayers, he might draw a comparison. Many Christians pray like God is a piñata, which they blindly poke with aimless prayers. Let’s allow Paul to take off our blindfolds for us with this model prayer…

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Many times when we suffer, the first Bible book and Bible character that pops up in our mind is Job. And that makes sense. That’s why the book of Job is in the Bible—to teach us how to actually trust in God’s sovereignty and respond to suffering righteously.

But the suffering that Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, endured at the time of the Babylonian captivity was just as severe. Job’s sufferings were indeed horrifying, yet there’s something to be said for the fact that his sufferings were fairly personal. Jeremiah’s sufferings, on the other hand, were on behalf of an entire nation wickedly brutalized and ripped from its land. On top of that, Jeremiah himself had not followed in the unfaithfulness of his countrymen which brought this judgment upon them. All the while, he acted righteously and proclaimed the word of Yahweh as the sole voice of faithfulness. Certainly his suffering is worth considering, and the way he responds is worth imitating.

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As I type this, there are three ladies right next to me that are assassinating reputations.

gossipSome girl they all know can’t keep a job. Another common friend is always complaining about everything. One of the girls’ boyfriends is selfish, and his mother makes Jezebel look like the Proverbs 31 woman. They have probably talked about over a dozen people whom, if they were standing here in my place, would be in a puddle of tears. It is grossing me out. But now I’m thinking about my conversations over the past weeks and suddenly I’m grossed out with myself.

Gossip is seen as inevitable in our day and age. People are so bored with their own lives that they must talk about everyone else in order to have a conversation that lasts longer than 5 minutes. TV shows, Magazines and blogs use the word in their title as a positive.

Gossip is something that we all struggle with, but it is something we must fight as hard as the sins we deem unacceptable. Matthew 12:36 says “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak”; we must take it seriously and fight to kill this sin in our lives.

As I’m sitting here listening to these ladies, and rethinking my own careless words there are several truths about gossip that are coming to mind.

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uturnEvery man feels like he’s a good driver. But there is one maneuver that is challenging to perform, even for the most skilled driver: the U-turn. Most men will avoid this humiliating admission of fallibility at all costs, leading to some lengthy and circuitous routes as we choose providence over cartography to guide us to the elusive destination.

The help-meet God gave male drivers is the GPS navigation system. It’s a cool gadget which tricks our egos into believing it’s manly to listen to a British woman tell us when and where we need to turn.

I was once driving from Napa to the San Fernando Valley, which is a straight shot on a major freeway. But I dutifully activated my GPS, just to be safe. The lady’s voice confirmed that I was getting on the correct freeway; then she kept quiet for six hours, lulling me into a false sense of security. Suddenly she piped up that it was time to take the next exit. But what GPS lady did not realize was that by now I was in a part of the city which I recognized, so her services were no longer necessary. I turned the volume off and kept driving, as captain of my car.

After about 15 minutes I no longer knew where I was. I sheepishly turned the volume back up. The lady was calmly telling me to make a U-turn. I detected a twinge of smugness in her serene imperative. I figured she was still trying to get me back to that exit, but that was way behind me now, so she obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. I ignored her and looked for the next exit, which never came. Eventually I looked carefully at the digital map and realized that the only way back was the humiliating U-turn. I obeyed every following instruction right until I heard her self-satisfied words “Arriving at destination.”

In the third chapter of Jonah 600,000 gentiles do what I should have done: the moment they are told to, they make an instant U-turn.

We can tweeze out of this narrative four examples on which we can model our repentance.

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April 25, 2016

Prizing Peace

by Clint Archer

Nobel PrizeSwedish industrialist, Alfred Nobel, rocketed to fame and fortune by inventing dynamite. He envisioned its use as a boon for mining and construction, not as a gruesome weapon of war. Nevertheless, it was his military clientele that made him incredibly rich, a serendipity which he serenely accepted.

But in 1888 Alfred Nobel had an experience that would change his life. Thumbing through a French newspaper he came across his own obituary.

It was the day after his brother had died, and the journalist had evidently been a sloppy fact-checker. The obituary declared: ‘Le marchand de la mort est mort’ (The merchant of death is dead).

It went on to state coldly: ‘Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’

You can imagine the mix of emotion Nobel must have felt—distress that the world viewed him this way, but relief that he was still alive to change how his real obituary would read.

That very day he decided to start a trust that would reward and honor those who strove to end war and promote peace, and for those who would ameliorate life on earth by striving for excellence in science, chemistry, economics, and literature. His misreported death was the birth of the iconic Nobel prize.

Of these prizes, awarded annually in Oslo, the most controversial and incendiary is the peace prize.

It differs from the other prizes in that it is never awarded posthumously, has no objective criteria, and can be awarded to those who haven’t yet attained what they are striving for. For example, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, and Yitzhak Rabin all received the prize without achieving their goal of peace in the Middle East.

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It was around 3:20 in the morning on a cold night in March of 1964, when Kitty Genovese returned from her regular shift at a bar in New York. She parked her car, and began her walk to her apartment complex like every weeknight for the past year.

This time though, Kitty noticed a man following her, so nervously, she headed up an adjacent street hoping to get away from the man. To no avail. The man grabbed her and stabbed her.

She screamed in pain, “He stabbed me! He stabbed me!” A man looking down from his apartment complex yelled “Let that girl alone” so the assailant, taking his time, walked away. But as soon as the lights went out in the apartments, he quickly returned and stabbed her again. This time more people seemed to notice as she cried, “I’m dying! I’m dying!” This time more lights went on as more people took notice, so the attacker drove away.

Finally the assailant returned and found her in anguish as she desperately tried to crawl up the stairs to her apartment and stabbed her for a third and final time. The police were finally called at 3:50 am. In less than 2 minutes they were on the scene. A man and an elderly lady came forward to speak with police and no one else.

The New York Times reported that there were almost 40 people who heard or saw the attack that night and did not call the police. “A simple phone call and she would still be alive,” sighed a detective.

As the story gained interest many of the neighbors were interviewed and asked why they didn’t call the police. All kinds of excuses were given. Some of the most memorable were:

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