Tag Archives: suffering

Sixteen Stages of Spin Class

One – Anticipation: Starting the day prior, when I make the decision to go Spin, excitement and positive energy flow through me. A decision made is like 90% of the job done, right? I’m so fit already.

Two – Delaying Tactics: That snooze button just looks so inviting, I have to press it twice. Or three or four times. Maybe I can count these as reps?

Three – Pre-workout Cardio: Holy crap, class starts in 20 minutes and I just got out of bed gaaaah! 10 minutes of dashing and flailing ensues.

Four – Preparation: Setting my neatly folded towel across the handlebars, dropping a chilled bottle of water into the slot, adjusting the seat height and foot straps and all that… oh yeah, I’m an old Spin pro, no need to worry about me, kindly instructor. I am ready. I am able. I got this.

Five – Warm-up: This is easy. Here we go. Good cadence, good beat, just pedaling… nothing to it. “Turn that resistance knob to the right about seven times…” –wait whaaat?

Six – Regret: I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. “Turn it to the right a couple more times, and climb that mountain!”

What have I done?

Seven – Anguish: How are we only ten minutes in? And why does it look like the hands on the clock are frozen?

…oh, wait, they’re moving backwards.


“The LifeCycle Misery Engine 6.66 is the finest in our line of torture methods and satanic ritual implements. 

The 35-pound weighted wheel acts as a millstone, grinding up hopes and dreams into the victim’s delicious tears.”

– taken direct from the LifeCycle website product description, before that model’s site was removed. Honest. 

Eight – Confusion: What the heck are Sprint Tabatas?!

Nine – Despair: Oh. Those are sprint tabatas. “We’re gonna do one more set, but add a little resistance first!”

My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

Ten – Second Wind: We’re halfway there. I just have to not die for like thirty more minutes… and then I can die.

Eleven – Second Anguish: “Okay, turn that resistance up and pick up the pace! Now we’re starting the high intensity part of the ride!”

what have we been doing this whole time?

Twelve – Spirit Journey: My soul no longer wishes to be present in this physical body, and so it vacates the premises in search of assistance or relief. Sadly the vision quest ends with the instructor shouting “Going back for more hills!!! Turn that knob to the right and  give me a hard, hard climb!!!”

Thirteen – Resignation: There is no point in looking at the clock. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, nor is there an imaginary finish line at the top of this imaginary hill. There is only more pain, more burning in my legs, more stabbing betrayal by this bike seat, and another hill.

“Turn it to the right and give me your best effort!”

Begrudging groan and hopeless acceptance.

Fourteen – Nirvana: Awareness of self is destroyed and I am become nothingness. A disembodied voice that sounds like my own assures me it’s best if I’m not present for what is happening to my flesh husk.

Fifteen – Cool down: I didn’t know those knobs could turn to the left to reduce the amount of human suffering in the room. Is this for real? It feels like a trap, but I tentatively follow along through various stretches.

Sixteen – Stockholm Syndrome: I am standing in a puddle of liquified pain squeezed from my corpulent mass as if by a wine press. I clean off the equipment and hobble out to my car. And then, in the sunrise, I hear my voice say, “That was awesome! Can’t wait to do it again!”

The Problem of Evil

“If God is all-powerful, and God is all good, then explain the presence of evil in the world.”

This question, more than any other, is (in my experience) the trump card, the go-to argument for the atheist. Some slam it down like a hammer, driving the point home with as much zeal as a fundamentalist preacher. Others offer it with more genuine curiosity. “How can you believe in the face of such an obvious theological flaw?”

This question gets asked in many ways:

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“Where was God during the Holocaust?”
“Why do people starve?”
“If you’re serving God, then why did that tragedy happen to you?”
“Why can’t we have an ebola outbreak limited to Westboro Baptist Church and ISIS?”
“Why does God hate kids in Africa so much?”
“Do you know a person dying of cancer? Can you tell them that God is in control?”

It’s a good question – or maybe I should say a tough one. It doesn’t just raise a logical argument, but it tugs at the emotions, hitting us in a spot where we know something is wrong.

There are answers… but like many issues of belief, they’re convincing enough for the believer to retain confidence, and at the same time vague enough for the skeptic to reject faith.

The cancer question grabs my mind. Terminal illness and sudden tragedies are situations where there just aren’t words good enough to say. People try, of course. Platitudes and pat answers are offered with the best of intentions.

But the general advice is: shut up and just be there with a grieving person.

I noted CNN posted an article about Dr. Kent Bradley, who proclaimed that “God saved me from ebola.”

He’s a believer. I’m not surprised he feels that way. And I’m happy to hear he recovered.

But that statement carries an implication that God either failed to save the 900+ ebola deaths in this recent outbreak… or He chose not to.

Where is the all-good God Scripture proclaims? How does a believer reconcile the terrible events of life with this faith in an all-good all-powerful God who chooses not to act?

My family and I watched God’s Not Dead finally. I think it’s a great movie to reinforce faith for the believer, but I don’t know that the arguments would really shake an atheist’s “faith” in the absence of God.

But two comments stuck with me, because I don’t recall hearing them in my time growing up in church.

First, the point is made that this all-good all-powerful God has–all through Scripture–maintained an intent and a promise to one day eliminate all evil–both the intentional wrong things sentient creatures do, and the tragic suffering we endure as a result of the brokenness of this world.

Evil is being tolerated for a limited time only in order to provide opportunity for something more important: our capacity for good, founded on our free will to choose and God’s grace given to us. God could wipe out evil (and we see in Scripture that He was willing to push the “reset” button on humanity). But doing so takes away from our ability to commit ourselves to Him of our own volition in response to His grace.

More importantly, what struck me in the movie was a comment made very near the end. The dialogue references Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, beseeching the Father for an exit strategy. “If there is any other way, let this cup pass from Me.” If there’s any way, let Me not go through this suffering.

God’s answer is a clear “No.” He said no to Jesus, fully Divine, His own Son–basically His own self. Jesus suffers and dies and experiences all manner of evil, because God says “no” to saving Him from that.

It strikes me that God’s response is much like the good advice for reaching out to someone in grief. Jesus knows what it’s like to have to “go through.” By that I mean to endure, to suffer, to find that God doesn’t always stop the storms with a “Peace, be still.” He knows what it’s like to be told “no” when asking for a miracle. He raised the dead and healed the sick, but when it was His turn, the heavens shut like iron against His fervent prayers.

In that sense, Jesus joins the ranks of the sufferers, the grief-struck, the overwhelmed.

There are no good words in that place.

But there is His presence. And that is enough.

…for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5 NASB)

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NASB)

Where Were You?

One of my atheist friends on FB shared a powerful and challenging picture.

It's a challenging question, but "the problem of suffering" is not my point today.
It’s a challenging question, but “the problem of suffering” is not my point today.

The obvious question is, “Where’s God in the despair and devastation that affects so many in the world? And why do we think God is concerned with petty details of our lives while we ignore human tragedy?”

Here’s a bit of an answer to that.

For a few weeks in a row, I’ve been playing the keys for our church band. It’s something I love to do, because 1) I’m good at it, 2) I enjoy it, and 3) helping the congregation worship is exciting. The practice and the early showtime to get ready for two Sunday services means a bit of extra effort during the week. Sunday becomes a long day, almost a day of “work” when everything in me wants a weekend to relax before returning to the office grind on Monday.

The joy of being part of something greater in the band is well worth the hard work. The impact of seeing people abandoned in worship is even more fulfilling. It’s pretty awesome.

But this Sunday, I was reminded how small my focus can be.

We had a guest from India, a missionary who has lived most of his life as an offering for the benefit of others. He shared some powerful stories of how difficult circumstances have brought about tremendous change in the churches of India and in their relationship to their own culture. He talked about God’s heart for the widow and the orphan, and how the Church-at-large has been able to positively touch the lives of those the Indian caste system considers untouchable.

Then he recounted the unexpected events which led to the start of an unconventional ministry. About 15 years ago, one of his associates happened to lead a group of believers into a red light district in their city. The response from the “working women” was overwhelming. But more than commitments and conversions, these women sought assistance that the Christians were not prepared to provide.

The women were victims of human trafficking and the sex trade. They were not in their situation by choice, nor were they free to leave. But they brought out their daughters, small children and infants living in the brothels. The women begged, “Can you take my child away to a safe place? If she stays here, she will grow up as a slave and will be treated the way we have been. Please help us. Please take our children out of here.”

That day, 37 children were brought out of the red light district, and the missionaries started a makeshift shelter with no plan and no idea how to proceed. All they had was the firm conviction that this act of compassion was what God would desire of them.

Soon, they learned the extent of the slavery in the sex trade around them. They learned that in the city there were perhaps two thousand more children just like those they rescued. They discovered that across the country, there are approximately one million young women and children connected to the sex trade as slaves or victims. Their mission focus changed in a flash from simply “reaching the nation” to extending a hand to those in such deplorable conditions.

15 years later, Project Rescue is spread over 6 nations ministering to thousands of victims. At first they tried to buy some of the women out of these brothels, but very quickly saw that the money was going to bring in more young girls. So now, they reach out a hand to HIV positive women and children, providing shelter and recovery, or providing compassion and care to those not yet freed. They have established churches outside the traditional comfort zones of Western Christianity, and they hold Bible studies right in the midst of the red light district. They’ve taken in women who have been mentally and emotionally shattered by daily sexual brutality and physical abuse. Those women are learning job skills and getting new opportunities to escape the hell they’ve known most of their lives.

The small amount of money given by some in our church provides for many of the needs of this ministry and others like it around the world. A mere $20 bought a cheap t-shirt advertising the project website, but that money also paid for the expense of putting one of these women through a college program. I sat overwhelmed next to my teenage daughter, considering that there are a million more young women just as precious and valuable as her, who are suffering abuse and abandonment.

There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.
There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.

I didn’t have much at the moment, but giving up a $20 bill meant impacting someone’s life around the world in a positive way. The deep need and the vast challenge posed by international sex slavery is beyond me, beyond my church, beyond a logical approach or easy fix. But we must respond as best as we are able, for religious reasons or for simple human compassion.

I was reminded of my time on a medical mission in a rural area of the Philippines, and the poverty and need that I witnessed first-hand. I thought of the streets of Thailand, and the desperation I saw there. I remember the homeless in California and Okinawa, and my wife’s efforts to provide food and warmth where we could.

Some of my atheist friends have discussed this with me in the past. “Why do these missionaries have to go do all this with the religion sales pitch? Why not just do it for the sake of helping out?”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t need a book to tell me to love others as I love myself or to do for them what I’d want done for me if our situation was reversed. Perhaps I shouldn’t need the excuse that “God said to go.”

Then I look for the massive efforts of atheists and agnostics to reach the poor and needy around the world, and I find them severely lacking. There are organizations, yes. There are people far more compassionate than me, no doubt. But there is not an effort on the scale of the charity work being done by churches around the world to reach into the darkness and pull a hurting soul into the light of day.

Jesus taught that His people would be judged based on their response to Him:

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”  (Matthew 25, MSG)

They ask, “Where were You? When did we see You? When did we do this?” He responds, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

And the converse is true. When we’re the ones doing the overlooking, when we’re turning our eyes from the need and ignoring them, He says we’re ignoring Him.

Should I need this reminder, this solemn warning? I suppose not. But the point is that I am interested in being a part of reaching the overlooked and ignored with practical love that meets their real needs. Can we help everyone and rescue all who suffer? No. But we’ll try, and we’ll reach as many as we can.

When people are suffering, I’m not surprised by the question of “Where was God?” But when people are suffering, for those not doing anything to help, don’t be surprised when I ask “Where were you?”

Morning Snack #3

Monday Morning Snack

(Note: I’ve created some new categories for posts. One of these is the “Monday Morning Snack,” which will contain thoughts from whatever Scripture I happen to be reading. These were going to be random and occasional, but now I aim to post them each Monday.)

OM NOM NOM
A little bite to whet your appetite

My Bible app gives me a verse of the day, and it sparked a thought this morning:

but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 1Pet 4:16 NASB

This made me consider what it might mean to “suffer as a Christian.”

The Bible tells us often that if we’re true to the faith, the rest of the world isn’t going to like us. No one really likes having their sin pointed out, or being told they’re not good enough based on their own merit, or hearing that they are born in sin and naturally at enmity with God until they come to saving faith in Christ Jesus as their Redeemer.

It’s not a popular message. God obviously didn’t read How to Win Friends and Influence People before coming up with this plan of salvation.

The problem is, in my experience, believers are often too quick to assume that any opposition is based on the offense of the Gospel. If someone doesn’t like me as a Christian, of course I’d rather believe that they’re upset because of the counter-cultural message of my faith. But maybe they’re just mad because I’m inconsiderate or lazy at work.

A good example is Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A fame. Whether you agree with him or not, the statements he made (which sparked the whole controversy over same-sex marriage) were a simple declaration of what he believes based on the Bible. He wasn’t spewing blatant hate or disgust. He was merely professing his faith, and I submit he did it in a respectful way. The withering criticism came because of what the Bible says and how the majority of Christians in the West interpret Scripture on the subject of homosexuality.

If only all the Christian responses to that controversy were as calm, respectful, and precise.

Peter writes in this passage that “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (vv. 13-14). But he also makes the point that there are other reasons why one might suffer: “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (v.15).

Certainly I hope none of those are true of any of us! But the meaning is clear: it is possible that we suffer not because of Christ or the Gospel or our faith, but because of our individual flaws.

I have to ask myself:

Are people upset by what Jesus taught and what the Bible says, or how I am saying it?

Are people irritated by my sincere acts of faith in Christ, or by my hypocrisy in other areas of life?

Is the message the source of the offense, or is the messenger?

These are questions we definitely want to answer.

Succumb to Relief

When we look around at the world from a Christian perspective, it is difficult to ignore the impression that situations happening around us are not what God has intended. Depression overtakes us; strife and division affect us in–and take us out of–healthy relationships with others.

Stupid pigs!
This is my six-year-old’s biggest problem. I’m a little jealous.

As Christians with the grace of God available to us, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by circumstances and catch ourselves after we succumb to temptation. Seeing the condition of the world is painful. We ache when we see just how messed up everything is. We ache when we see just how messed up our own lives are. Surely there must be something that can deal with this.

When I have a headache, I am quick to reach for the medicine cabinet. I’ve been trained well by the commercials that say, “I’ve got a headache THIS BIG…” I want some pain relieving medicine! In the same way, I am looking for something that will give relief in the midst of the mess in my life. I’ve got problems that are THIS BIG… where’s God’s Excedrin?

When we see this mess, we know: This is not the plan God has for our lives.

But this also does not disqualify us from relationship with Him. In fact, when we see ourselves in such terrible conditions, we are ripe to experience RELIEF !

As I thought about this and jotted down notes, I considered the word I had chosen: “succumb to temptation.” What does it mean when we “succumb” to something?

Succumb- 1    to yield to a superior force or overpowering appeal or desire
2   die

From the perspective of God, we are not capable of yielding to a superior force. No such force exists. A few verses will adequately illustrate this point.

Speaking of ungodly spirits that are active in the world, John writes in 1st John 4:4, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).

It says something when we are willing to yield to a weaker or inferior force. We could fight and win, but we are choosing not to. Sometimes this is intentional and directed by God. We are taught at times to “turn the other cheek,” “bless those that persecute you, do good to those that hurt you.” These commands are given regarding people.

With our enemy, there is no such commandment. The words used are warfare terminology: resist, stand firm, fight, put on armor, take up the sword, be watchful and alert, pull down strongholds, take captive. Christ was the One who “disarmed,” “made a spectacle out of,” “destroyed the works of,” “triumphed over,” “crushed the head of,” and conquered the enemy. He is our Example.

He is the One who could say, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. All authority in heaven and on earth is now given to me.”

We do not face a superior force, and so we have no reason to succumb to our enemy. We instead have been given the opportunity to overpower and push back our enemy.

“Succumb” also means to yield to an overpowering appeal or desire. From the perspective of God, no such appeal or desire exists. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1Co. 10:13).

We are no longer bound to the sinful nature. “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it” (Romans 8:10-12).

“It is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight” (Php. 2:13 AMP).

The reason that we can recognize that from God’s perspective there is no such thing as an overpowering desire or appeal is found in the above. He energizes and creates the desire to do His will within us. His power is effectual power– effective in accomplishing what He sets out to do. This is the power that is referred to in Eph. 1:19 (AMP), where Paul asks “that you can know and understand what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe.” This is the “power that is at work within us,” that “is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]…” (Eph. 3:20 AMP).

The fullness of this is found in the work of Christ Jesus as our Great High Priest. Romans 1:16 tells us that the good news about Christ is God’s power working unto salvation in everyone who believes. This good news is that Christ Jesus came to intercede between God and man, to bring reconciliation and restoration of God’s favor upon mankind.

Hebrews 2:17-18 states that “it is evident that it was essential that He be made like His brothers in every respect, in order that He might become a merciful, sympathetic and faithful High Priest in the things related to God, to make atonement and propitiation for the people’s sins. For because He Himself in His humanity has suffered in being tempted, tested, and tried, He is able immediately to run to the cry of, and assist and relieve, those who are being tempted, tested, and tried, and who therefore are being exposed to suffering.”

Some versions use the term “succor.” This is defined as aid, help, or relief– from Latin roots meaning “to run up, to run to help.”

Physical relief
Spiritually, I need to get some of this!

Relief is an interesting word. It has a number of meanings. Relief is:

1. the removal or lessening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing.

2. aid in the form of money or necessities given for those in need

3. military assistance to an endangered post

4. one who replaces another on duty

5. a legal remedy– something that corrects or counteracts an evil, or compensates for a loss

6. a projection of figures out from the background of an image or elevations from the surface– something that stands up or stands out

Picturing Christ as one who succors or relieves gives us a greater understanding of why God doesn’t see any temptation as overpowering.

Christ removes or lessens the oppressive or distressing nature of the temptation. He may just give us direction to leave the vicinity of it, or He may cause the temptation itself to cease.

Christ gives aid in the form of all that we need in order to remain true to Him. He provides us with the strength to stand — “My strength is perfected in weakness” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” are verses that demonstrate this.

Christ literally provides a military assistance when we are in danger of losing our position. He did this by “disarming the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the Cross.” We are no longer at a military disadvantage because our Savior has over powered the enemy. He can bring military assistance by motivating others to pray for us in our time of need.

Christ is One who takes our position on duty. He fights on our behalf. When we realize that we do not stand on our own strength, it is as if He is taking our place. We are no longer relying on our own abilities to hold the position. We are relieved of our responsibility to hold the ground by our own effort, and we are able to join our effort with His limitless supply of strength.

Christ is One who legally corrects or counteracts evils that we encounter. His shed blood and His priestly mediation have swept away the sin. He is, whether one accepts the gift or not, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” He has corrected and counteracted the evil in the world. The reason and purpose of His ministry is defined in 1st John 3:8 as “to destroy the works of the devil.”

Finally, Christ is our relief in the sense that He is the One who stands out. When people see us, they should see a relief image– that of the Savior who has transformed us. 2nd Corinthians 3:18 says, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we encounter and seek God’s face, we are being made more and more like Christ. We identify with Him and people are able to see Him through our lives. Paul said it was no longer Paul that lived, but Christ, as grace worked in his life. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died in vain!”

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. When we humble ourselves, we receive “the grace of God that brings salvation” that “has appeared to all men.” How can something appear to man except in a physical form? How can an intangible thing like grace “appear to all men?” John 1:14– “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And verse 17, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ is our Reliever, and grace is the relief He gives. We can only receive it in the position of humility, because that is the only way we can see His face– with the transforming glory that comes with it.

When we are proud, we will fight and resist showing weakness. When we are humbled, we give in and admit defeat. From God’s perspective, we should never feel like we have to give in to the defeated and overpowered enemy. God provided all we need to deal with that. We do not succumb to our enemy or to our temptations.

The key is to succumb to the grace of God. Yield to His overpowering work in our lives. For there we find all the relief we need.