Tag Archives: suffering

Two surprising ways to respond to suffering

10 Oct
Photo by Jonathan Rados on Unsplash

Being surprised or scared can be a horrible feeling right?  Even when the surprise is a good surprise, there are some people that hate to be surprised!  Do you know anyone who makes you promise that you will not throw them a surprise birthday party?  Why? When you are in a groove, a routine, and something interrupts you, it can feel like a loss of control.  We hate that. 

In our next passage in 1st Peter, he says that Christians are people that should not be surprised about something.  Take a look at 1 Peter 4:12-19.
In verse 12 Peter is once again addressing his Christian friends who are being persecuted for their choice to follow Jesus. He says, “Do not be surprised about it, as if something strange were happening.”

Imagine being persecuted because you are a follower of Jesus.  Our normal viewpoint is that following Jesus is normal and good.  To be persecuted, to be shunned, to endure physical bodily harm simply because we are followers of Jesus sounds crazy.  If that happened to me here in Lancaster, I would be very surprised.  I wouldn’t expect it.  It would feel like my life is out of control.

But here Peter is saying to these Christians, “Don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange is happening to you.”  I want to say, “Peter, what are you talking about?  Don’t be surprised at pain and suffering?  If they are not surprised, then how should they react?  Are you saying they should expect it, as if it is normal?  No way!  They definitely SHOULD be surprised.  That pain and suffering is wrong, it shouldn’t be happening.”

From our vantage point living in a time and place where there is no persecution for our faith, of course we would think that persecution is surprising and strange.  But those Christians were not living in our time and place. 

And what is more, I suspect that Peter is concerned that if those Christians become surprised at the suffering, and they think it is strange, they will miss the opportunity to have the right attitude about it.  If they think pain and suffering for Christ is strange, they will likely have the wrong attitude about the persecution.

In my own life, and when I have interacted with people going through difficult situations, I have seen that often times when we are suffering, we hate it, we want it to be done, and can easily become bitter and angry and lose heart.  We often look for someone to blame, and we get stuck on that. It is very, very easy to have the wrong attitude about suffering.

So Peter tells them not to be surprised, and he goes on in verse 13 to explain to them the right attitude they should have about their sufferings.  And what he says is truly a shocker: they should rejoice that they participate in the sufferings of Christ!  And thus they will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

But he doesn’t stop there.  He says in verse 14 that if they are insulted for Christ, they are blessed, and God’s Spirit rests on them. 

Rejoice.  Be overjoyed.  You are blessed.  Huh?

That’s the kind of language that we normally reserve for good things.  Birthday parties.  Even surprise parties.  The blessing of new children, weddings, baptisms, new jobs, raises, new houses, a vacation.  You name it.  When really good things happen to us, we rejoice!  We are overjoyed, and we say that we are blessed.

The hashtag “Blessed” was a thing that was overused and is oftentimes still used when people post on social media about something good that happened in their life. But Peter isn’t talking about any of that good stuff.  He is talking about painful trials.  Suffering.  Participating in the sufferings of Christ, he calls it. Why does Peter call suffering, “good stuff”?

Christians, Peter says, look at suffering differently.  Very differently.  For Christians, painful trials are not strange, they are cause for rejoicing!  For Christians, suffering is not surprising or unexpected, it is cause to say “I am blessed!”

Just let that soak in.

We are so used to our comfy society, and we try so, so hard to avoid pain of any kind, that what Peter is saying might have us ripping out this page of the Bible.  I get it, I am not a fan of pain.  When things don’t go our way we can be quick to say “God, why are you doing this to me?”, and we generally don’t look at ourselves, that we might be the cause of our pain. Or we point to others as the cause, and then we get angry, hurt and bitter.

But read through this passage by Peter again, and what you will find is that there is nothing like that described here as the way to handle suffering and persecution. What Peter does say, instead, is that Christians will have a change in perspective about their pain.  No blame, anger or bitterness, but rejoicing in the pain.  But how?

Three of us from Faith Church are once again in training for a marathon.  On Sept 30th, we will run 26.2 miles.  That will be a painful day.  But what most people don’t realize is that a marathon of 26 miles can only happen after much training.  Our training plan is 18 weeks long, and by the end of the marathon, we will have run nearly 600 miles in those 18 weeks.  For the last month or so, we have been saying that we are basically hungry, tired and sore all the time.  My knees ache.  My feet hurt.  My muscles are just worn out.  You might think, then why do you put yourself through that?  It is a very good question, because I hate pain.

But there is something weird that happens, and it is unexpected.  On the day of the marathon, after I have run about 21 or 22 miles, and all the way until mile 26.1, I am thinking this is stupid and dumb and I am never putting myself through this pain again.  And then I see the finish line, and I cross it, and something comes over me, and I think this is the greatest thing ever, and I love it and I’m definitely going to run a marathon again. You know what I doing at that moment?  Rejoicing through the pain.  But how?  My body still hurts.  In fact it hurts bad.  But you know what? My attitude has changed.

It’s all about attitude and perspective.  Peter is telling them to have a new perspective, a new outlook.  See pain as blessing.  He says in verse 13 that it will mean extra joy when Jesus’ glory is revealed, which is another way of talking about some day in the future when they meet Jesus face to face.  And further, in verse 14, they are blessed because, Peter says, God’s Spirit rests on them!  That is amazing.  Not only do they get the joy of going through what Jesus went through, and so identifying with him like that, they also are blessed because God’s Spirit is on them.

When you are facing suffering, a change of perspective will allow you to see the pain as joy and blessing.

But not all suffering should lead to rejoicing.  Peter is quick to say in verse 15 that there is some suffering that does not qualify as rejoicing.  That is suffering for doing wrong.  He lists a couple sins in verse 15.  If you suffer consequences for poor behavior, that is not good suffering.  When we are suffering, it can be hard to be honest with ourselves.  When we suffer we can think that is all bad and painful and want it to stop, and that can mess with our heads.  We can start to think that it wasn’t our fault.  We can start to blame others.  We can start to say that we are being attacked by the devil.  There are all sorts of things we can do to have the wrong attitude about suffering.

Peter says, don’t do that.  Be honest with yourself about your suffering.  Own what is yours to own about a situation, about a circumstance, about why there is suffering going on. Be honest and own it.  That requires a lot of humility and maturity.  It is hard to swallow your pride and say, “I messed up.” 

But, as he says in verse 16, if you suffering because of your faith in Christ, now that is a whole new thing.  That is good suffering.  And you can and should rejoice!

But the thing is that when we are suffering for Christ, it is still suffering, still hurts, still stings, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally.   If we are suffering for Christ, if people are making fun of us for praying at meals, for going to Bible study, for reading our Bibles, for going to church, for talking about Jesus, you name it, then there is one simple thing we can do to make the pain go away. 

Just stop following Jesus.  Or more likely, we can hide the fact that we are following Jesus.

Think about it, if you were one of these early Christians who used to participate in wild partying, just like we heard about in an earlier post about verses 3-4, and you have stopped that partying, your old friends might not like the new you, and they might heap abuse on you.  That would not feel good, and depending on long the abuse lasted and how awful it was, the easiest thing to do to make the abuse stop would be for you to go back to your old ways.

A Christian would feel shame from their old friends. And in that culture that was a big deal. Scholars tell us that the Ancient Near East was an honor and shame culture.  What that means is that saving face was a huge part of their society.  People would go to great lengths to save face, including lying.

When Peter says, in verse 16, “do not be ashamed,” he is using honor and shame language that would have spoken deeply to his friends.  I think it speaks to us too.

Have you ever been ashamed of Jesus?  For me the most obvious time in my life when I struggled with being ashamed of Jesus was in 9th grade in high school.  I had gone to a private Christian all my life up to that point, and 9th grade was my first year in public school.  I remember that gradually I stopped wearing my Christian school apparel.  I stopped telling people I had previously gone to a Christian.  I stopped telling them my dad worked at the Bible College.  He was just a professor.  I didn’t want to feel shame.  I became way more concerned about what other kids in school thought, than what God thought.

That was wrong.  But how about you?  How do you feel shame for being a Christian?

Sometimes there are people in our world who loudly say they are Christians, and then maybe don’t act the way that Christ actually acted.  That can cause shame for us because we may think, “I don’t want to declare I am a Christian, if that poor example of Jesus is what people think when they think of the name ‘Christian’.”  There were certainly people like that in Jesus’ day; the Pharisees, for example.  But Jesus’ followers were still to follow his ways and let it be known that they were living their lives because of their desire to follow Jesus.  He didn’t tell the disciples to not follow God just because others were hypocrites about it.  Instead he said, “follow me.”

Peter says we should praise God that we bear the name “Christian.”  We should wear that label with pride.  Of course we don’t actually wear “Christian” as a written label, such as a logo on a hat or shirt or flag.  There is another, but still very physical, visible way we show we are Christians.  We show we are genuine followers of Jesus by how we live our lives, and a huge way we can do that is to rejoice in the midst of suffering.   I have watched many people in my church rejoice and faithfully praise God, even as they have battled difficult health and life situations.  That has been amazing.

When people think of the word Christian, they should think, “Those are the people who rejoice in suffering.”

We Christians have a different perspective about our pain!  We praise God, Peter says, that we bear the name Christian.  And Jesus Christ had a different perspective about suffering.  He said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you because of me.  So rejoice.”  When we rejoice in suffering, we carry Jesus’ name, we are Christians.

But just as Peter says that we praise God that we bear that name, he goes on to say in verse 17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.”  I read that and I thought that I don’t like that sound of that.  Judgment?  In the family of God?  What does he mean? Peter, in verse 17, is connecting back to verse 12.  Peter is now rounding out a thought he started then.  Look back and 12 where he says, don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering.

Peter is literally using a word picture here of a trial by fire. It’s no joke.  Fire purifies.  But even more, a trial by fire is a test.  Like walking on hot coals.  Can you handle it? Would you do it?  Will you pass the test?  Or will you chicken out?  The persecution those Christians endured, Peter says, is a test.  And would they pass the test by remaining faithful?

In verse 17, then, he hearkens back to verse 12.  It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.  By tying the two verses together, we get the idea that as these Christians were going through persecution, it was a kind of trial by fire to see if they were going to remain faithful to God or not.  How would they handle the fiery trial?  They were literally being tried and tested first.  It began with them. And the testing would continue with everyone else, including those who do not follow the Gospel.

Peter quotes a proverb to support his view.   In other words, he is using Proverbs 11:31 to say, “if you, the faithful follower of Jesus, are going through difficult trial, imagine how much more difficult it will be for the ungodly and sinner?” In verse 19, Peter’s conclusion is this: when you suffer for God, commit yourself to him, because he is faithful, and thus you though you are suffering, you can and should choose to do good.

We Christians have a different perspective about our pain.  We need to be known for joy in the midst of suffering, and for doing good.

We Christians view things differently.

We rejoice in suffering.

We’re unashamed about Jesus.

When we suffer, we respond by doing good.

When we are feeling like we have been treated wrongly, we rejoice and we serve others!  It would be very easy to succumb to bitterness, or wallow in self-pity, but Peter says that when we are persecuted, we choose to do good. 

When you are feeling shame, choose to volunteer and serve others!  Peter’s advice here is genius.  He knows that when those Christians were being persecuted, it would be so easy for them to be self-focused and get stuck in a mindset of “how bad they have it”.  But what does he tell them to do?  Rejoice, be unashamed, and do good.

When you get bad news about your health, think about how you can volunteer at the clinic. 

When you lose your job, think about how you might serve the homeless and those in need of food and clothing.  Maybe you’ll have some time on unemployment where you can volunteer at a food bank or shelter!

When you have a relationship go bad, call up the person you know who struggles with loneliness and encourage them.  Invite them over for coffee, or take them out for lunch.

We Christians think about suffering differently!  Our heart and focus needs to be on Jesus and on others, as we look for ways to rejoice and serve.

The surprising weapon followers of Jesus arm themselves with

27 Aug

Photo by Cmdr Shane on Unsplash

One of the biggest questions followers of Jesus ask is: how much should we be in the world, exposing ourselves to the world, participating in activities or behaviors that are considered normative in the world?

And by contrast, how much should we remove ourselves from the world? Which behaviors should we stop?

How much should we play video games, watch movies and TV, and which ones?  Should we trust the ratings systems?  Is it okay for 13 year olds to watch PG13 movies, for example?

And what about the many varieties of food, drink and drugs available to us, for our pleasure?  How much of that should we partake of?  As substances like marijuana become legal, should we partake?

What clothing should we wear?  How much skin should we show?  What is modest?

This was as big a deal for the earliest Christians 2000 years ago as it is now.  How do we be in the world, but not of it?

Where it really gets tricky is in the area of friendships.  If you are a follower of Jesus, and you have friends who are not followers of Jesus, how much should you do what they do?

As we continue in 1 Peter, we have arrived at chapter 4, and Peter addresses these issues.

In verse 1, the NIV’s “arm yourselves” is a great translation of the word Peter used.  It truly has military overtones!  Think of soldiers preparing for battle.  Strapping on bullet proof vests, helmets.  Lacing up boots, attaching a knife, grenades, ammunition and of course their gun.  A backpack with all kinds of equipment.  They are ready for battle.  No doubt Peter is talking to those early Christians this way because he sees that they, too, are in a battle, but it is not a military battle.

So how should followers of Jesus arm ourselves?  How should we get ready?  What equipment do we strap on?  The attitude of Jesus.

What was his attitude?  It is most clearly described in a place called the Garden of Gethsemene, just a short walk outside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was there on the night of his arrest, praying with his disciples.  Remember his prayer?  It was intense.  He knew that his arrest, beating and death were right around the corner.

How would you feel if you knew that within hours you would be severely beaten, falsely tried, and killed?  I would be freaking out.  While Jesus was definitely emotional, he wasn’t losing control.  The anxiety was massive.  And yet what did he pray?  “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”

In the face of severe bodily harm, Jesus remained 100% committed to do the will of God.  That is the attitude Peter says we should arm ourselves with.

Why?  Because, Peter says, “he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”  But what does Peter mean when he says suffering in the body will lead to being “done with sin”?

Peter’s flow of thought from 3:18 all the way through 4:6 has Christians in mind, and how Christians can handle suffering.  In other words, he is saying, “Christians, when you suffer, it puts things in perspective.”  You’ve maybe experienced that yourself.  When you go through a hard time, you realize so quickly and clearly what really matters in life.

When you are suffering, you’ll realize that your previous sinful choices were so wrong.  We might even call this the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is a big long Christian theological word that refers to the process of being set apart for God.  During that process of being set apart, we are being shaped and changed, so that gradually we act more and more like Jesus would.  All disciples of Jesus are undergoing this process, where the Spirit of God, if we allow him, is at work in us.  What we find is that suffering, as painful and difficult as it is, actually grows us faster and more deeply, when we allow it.

Unfortunately, some people do not allow suffering to shape us to become more of what God wants us to be. Some people wallow in their suffering.  You know the Eeyore syndrome?  That’s when, instead of sitting in the suffering and listening to what God might want to teach us, we have a pity party.  Poor me.  We followers of Jesus should not approach suffering like Eeyore.  Instead, Peter says, we should have the attitude of Jesus, to follow God’s will no matter the difficulty.

Reflections on perseverance in difficult times

1 Jun

This week, I’ve been reflecting on suffering and salvation from 1 Peter 1:6-12.

In verses 10-12 Peter takes a moment to talk about this salvation.  He says that prophets in past spoke of this salvation.  The Spirit of God, he said, was at work in these prophets.  In verse 11 the Spirit of Christ in them, and in verse 12 the Spirit at Pentecost.  He says that through the Spirit, the prophets predicted the Messiah, Jesus.  These prophets looked forward to the day that the Christians receiving this letter were getting to experience.  Peter is again trying to encourage the people.

He is saying, “Though you are going through hard times, you have the benefit of salvation brought to you by Jesus the Messiah.  And the prophets never had that.  They looked forward that!”

And then he says something that is shocking.  Not only do the Christians get to experience the salvation of Christ that the prophets look forward to, Peter says, even angels long to look into these things.

Get that?  The Christians have something that the prophets of old, and the angels don’t have.  Salvation through Jesus the Messiah!  Peter wants these persecuted Christians to know how special they are.

Salvation in Christ is such a compelling narrative that angels long to experience it!

I get it that there is much speculation about angels.  If we could pull back the curtain and see the spiritual realm, we would be astounded.  There are numerous places in the Bible that describe that curtain being pulled back, and people are shocked to see what is going on in the spiritual realm.

Because Peter differentiates between Christians and angels, it is clear he means us to understand that we will not become angels when we go to heaven. Clearly what we have is far better than what angels could offer.

McKnight:  “Salvation in Christ…is so great that even the angels are looking down to gain a view, like wedding attendees attempting to steal a glance at the bride before her appearance. The angels are brought in here, not to invite us to speculate about their activities, but to press on our minds the privileges of salvation; neither the prophets nor the angels experience what the church assumes and enjoys.”[1]

Therefore, Peter is saying to the Christians in his day, and he is saying to us: Press on in the faith!

Though you may be going through persecution for your faith, continue to love Jesus.

But what if we are not being persecuted for our faith?  Does this passage not apply?  I think it still does.

  1. It could be that so few Christians are persecuted because we are so private about our faith. That is a tragedy.
  2. Are you faced with choices at work or at home that cause you to pursue actions that are not in line with the Kingdom of God? What about at school? Keep the faith.  Choose the way of Jesus, even if it means life will be harder for you!
  3. Do the people in your life have any idea that you are a Christian? And what kind of Christian are you?  Judgmental?  Angry?  Or Gracious and loving and kind? If people stop talking to you because you are judgmental or angry, then you are not being persecuted for Christ.  You are being pushed aside for being unkind.  The way we present Jesus matters.
  4. What will it look like for you and I to be courageous and loving and gracious and bold about our faith? What will it look like for us to rejoice with great joy?  What could be more attractive to that?  Christians who rejoice in the Lord, not in an arrogant way, but with humility and grace and fun?

And, what will it look like for us to take on the challenges of the day with joy?  Not necessarily happiness – but, inner joy – knowing we have hope in Christ.  And, all suffering will come to an end.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

4 pieces of advice to those who are suffering

30 May

Photo by David Beatz on Unsplash

Have you ever suffered specifically because you are a Christian?  I don’t know that I have, at least not in ways that would be considered significant suffering, or suffering that led to bodily harm or loss of opportunity or privilege.  Yesterday, I related a story from author Scot McKnight who counseled a teenager who did face discrimination and suffering because that young man began to follow the way of Jesus.

But maybe you have faced suffering for being a Christian.

So how do we have the right perspective about this suffering for Christ?  That is a huge reason Peter is writing the letter of 1st Peter, which we have been studying for a few weeks now.  If the Christians don’t have the right perspective about their suffering, they could easily say “Forget this.  If this is what I get for following Jesus, I’m done.”  And they could give up. So Peter gives them numerous reasons for looking at their suffering. Let’s continue looking at 1 Peter 1:6-12 to see what Peter has to say.

First, Peter says that they need to remember that suffering is for, “a little while”, and contrast that with our inheritance in heaven, which is eternal.  For those that suffer for Christ, that is one way they can have a healthy perspective on their suffering.  Suffering won’t last forever.  But heaven will.

When you are in the midst of suffering for Christ, it can seem like it will last forever.  That’s how it is for anything difficult we go through, right?  Not just suffering for Christ, but any suffering.  There seems to be no end in sight.  I can think like that when I am struggling. It’s called worst-case scenario thinking.  Peter says, “Time out on that thinking.  Your trial is only for a little while.”

Second, he says greatly rejoice.  Greatly rejoice?  In what?  We greatly rejoice in the hope we have, Peter says. Remember that Peter talked about hope in verses 3-5 which we studied last week? Even though we are currently in the midst of trials, we have hope of our inheritance in heaven.

Because we have hope, we can rejoice in the midst of trials.

I don’t want to hear that.  I want God to take the trials away.  I don’t any of this business of rejoicing in the midst of trials.  I’ll rejoice after the trial is done.  Anyone else with me?

But that’s not what Peter says.  He say that because we have hope, we can rejoice while we are still in the middle of the trial.

Third, he says trials are the good stuff in life.  Ugh.  More words I don’t want to hear.  Trials are the good stuff?  I’m not sure I agree.  But let’s at least try.  Peter doesn’t use those actual words. “Trials are the good stuff” is my paraphrase.  Look at what he says in verses 7-9, “Trials have come so that faith may be proved genuine.”

Here he uses an analogy, a comparison to gold.  Faith is of greater worth than gold (because gold perishes in fire).  That might be a shocker.  Faith is greater worth than gold?  I can very, very easily want gold.  Money.  I can believe that money will take care of me.

My prayer often goes like this.  “Lord, if you just drop $10,000 in my lap…well…better make it $20 grand…then my life will be so much easier.  Now that I think of it, can it be $30 grand?  That would really do the trick.”

I think about how much we can be tempted to value huge sums of money.  We can be tempted to think that money is the solution to our problems in life.  And no doubt, we need to pay the bills and provide food and shelter.  Money is necessary.  But it is so tempting to think money can care for us in the hard times of life.

So when Peter teaches that faith is of greater worth than gold, we can wonder if Peter is nuts!

When the hard times come, especially the financial hard times, will we believe what Peter is teaching?

He is convinced, and he wants us to agree, that our faith in Christ is worth more than gold.  Therefore he wants our faith to be proved genuine.  Peter knows that when we are persecuted for our faith, we can turn back on our faith.  During those hard times, it is our faith that is causing hardship to enter our lives.  Get rid of the faith, and hardship goes away.  That is tempting.

But Peter says, don’t do that.  Keep the faith, pursue your faith, grow your faith.  And what you will find is that keeping your faith in the midst of trials will bring you joy and maturity that you will value far more than gold.

Finally your faithfulness will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed some day in the future, either when you pass on or when he returns.

The point that Peter is trying to make here is that Christians view and respond to suffering differently from the rest of the world.  When we are persecuted, we respond with joy because God has not left us.  We are not alone.  We can keep the faith and actually grow in him!

Satan did not break my lawn mower

29 May

Related image

Are any of you suffering?  Any of you going through a hard time?

How does it feel?  Lonely, right?  Maybe you feel people just don’t understand.  Or your suffering might be ongoing, and you feel you are a burden to the people around you.  You worry about that, and your worry only compounds the suffering.

Have you ever wondered if you’ll ever be done suffering?

What can be so hard for us Christians is that we know we are to cling to Jesus in the midst of our suffering, but it can seem like he is not there.  That’s scary, right?  Suffering can lead to a crisis of faith?  Why is Jesus allowing me to go through this?  Does he really care about me?  Does he know what I am going through?  Of course he knows.  So why he is letting this suffering drag on so long?  What does my relationship with Jesus matter during the hard times?  Am I just supposed to get through this on my own?  I don’t know that I can do that.

As we continue to study Peter’s first letter, we find that he has a word for people who are suffering.  But not just any sufferers. Before going any further in the post, please stop and read 1 Peter 1:6-12.

First of all, what are the trials that Peter was referring to?  Remember that Peter was the leader of the church in Rome, and he was writing to Christians around the Roman Empire that had been dealing with some persecution.

I know this is not fun to talk about.  Persecution.  But we need to have at least a basic grasp of what Peter and the Christians in that day were facing before we can apply this passage to us.  Especially because there have been Christians facing persecution for hundreds of years in many places around the globe, and there still are many Christians being persecuted today.

If we don’t have a good sense of the trials that Peter is talking about, we could very easily apply Peter’s words to every situation that we find difficult.  Getting a bad parking space at the mall.  Having your dryer make funny noises, like ours was this week.  Well, actually, the first comment was “Dad, there is a bat trapped in the dryer…we need to get it out of there.”  Over the course of a few days, the sound went from trapped bat, to full-on shrieking.

You can think about the difficulties and griefs that you’ve had this week.  Are they in any way related to the trials that Peter is talking about?  My concern is that we can trivialize what Peter is talking about.  Missing an important family event.  A sports team losing a big game.  A dryer breaking.

These situations are nothing like what Peter is talking about.

Scot McKnight says it this way: “Peter was addressing the impact salvation had on one’s life and how a person’s changed life (and status) ran counter to the culture in which these Christians lived.”[1]

In other words, the people in Peter’s day, and Peter himself, were suffering specifically because they were Christians.  Their suffering was completely and totally connected to the fact that they had decided to live their lives according the way of Jesus.  Peter is not talking about bad things happening to people who happen to be Christians.  They are suffering because they are Christians.

As I said, my dryer broke last week, and thanks to YouTube it was easy to fix, but also my mower broke…in the same week. Equipment breaking has nothing to do with me being a Christian, or being a pastor.  Now some may say, “What about the spiritual realm?  Couldn’t that be an attack from Satan meant to discourage you?”  I will admit that I don’t know for sure, but I highly, highly doubt it.  That, to me, sounds more like a plot line in a Christian fiction novel than it sounds like how Satan really works.  We need to be careful to avoid spiritualizing things.

Here’s what actually happened.  It was anything but spiritual.

A couple weeks ago, my mower stopped working.  You would pull the cord, the engine would fire up and immediately stop. So Daniel, a teenager in my church, fixed it for me. Daniel is learning small engine repair in an internship, and he did great! I mowed my whole yard, and the mower worked like a charm.  Then a few more days went by, days filled with rain and warmer temps, and the grass was growing out of control.  But there was no end in sight to the rain.  So Friday a week ago, we had a break in the rain, and even though the grass was wet, I had the kids start mowing.  They did their portions, and then I was going to finish up.

I didn’t get far, and the mower died.  Same thing as before.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Ugh.  I thought, how dumb of me to mow wet grass.  And tall grass to boot!  Totally my fault.  Probably got the carburetor clogged again.  So the next day I took it to Daniel again.  I was hoping he could teach me what he did before. But this time there was no fixing it. Same thing: pull, start, die.

He said he would take it to his internship and look at it.

Well the streak of rain and warm temps continued. The grass grew like crazy.  On Wednesday I asked my neighbor if I could borrow her riding mower, and she said I could.  I got it out of her shed, it started, and I drove it maybe 20 yards, and it died.  I couldn’t start it. So I checked and it was out of gas.  Whew.  I filled it up, and I still couldn’t start it.  It would turn over a little, but never really start.  So I pushed it back into her shed.  When she got home, she was able to start it.  It looked like I didn’t have the throttle in the right place.

So I walked over to get started using it, and when I tried, it wouldn’t work.  I thought I must be the lawn-mower anti-Midas.  Whatever I touch breaks.  Then she got on it, and this time, even she couldn’t start it.  She said she had just had it serviced a few months ago, and wasn’t having any problems, so she would call her mechanic.

I was really frustrated, and my grass was super tall.

Then I got a text from Daniel.  “Your mower is fixed.  There was two-stroke gas in the engine.”

What???  Where in the world did I get two-stroke gas?  I have no two-stroke engine equipment like a chain saw.  I never bought two-stroke gas.  What was going on?

Then I had a scary thought!  I had filled up my neighbor’s riding mower with the same gas!  I ran over to her house hoping she was still home.  And she was.  She graciously allowed me to empty her gas tank of the two-stroke gas.  But neither she nor I had regular gas.  As I write this, days later, her mower still isn’t working.

Daniel dropped off my mower, and it works great.

But where did this two-stroke gas come from?  I realized that my father-in-law had been at our house a few weeks ago using his chainsaw to cut some of our wood.  That gas can must have been his, but it looks incredibly similar to our extra gas can, and it had no markings on it!  You know, like a label that would say “two stroke gas”  or something?

There was no demon.  It was the wrong gas.  We need to be super cautious about spiritualizing difficult situations in life and blaming them on Satan.  So many times difficulties come as a result of our own actions and choices.  When we blame the consequences of our poor behavior on the devil, we are trvilializing the actual suffering that people are going through around the world, specifically because they are Jesus-followers.

This week in my prayer app, Prayer Mate, which I have mentioned before, it pulled in a prayer request for Sabina in Tajikistan who became a follower of Jesus. Several members of Sabina’s own family, including her father, beat her when they found out. That didn’t stop her from giving a Bible to her friend Madina, who is now a follower of Jesus.  Sabina and Medina are following Jesus at the risk of their lives.

McKnight told the following story, “I recently spent some time with a young athlete who had some rough experiences at his local high school with his “former” friends. As a senior he had a track record of drinking and drugs but was converted to Christ. His conversion made a sudden and immediate impact on his life, so much that he found himself on an island. After games, he was no longer invited to the parties; during games, he was no longer given the same opportunities to shoot the basketball; and in the hallways at school, he was no longer a “hit” with either the girls or his friends. He came to me for consolation. I explained that at least part of this was suffering and that he needed to guard against retaliatory speech and bitter attitudes. He began to see, in a painful way, that commitment to Christ can involve suffering.”[2]

That is who Peter is talking to.  Peter is writing to people who started living life in a very differing way because they began to believe in Jesus and learn from him how to learn. As a result, other people in their communities starting mistreating them.  As we start looking into this passage this week, it will be very helpful for us to have a proper perspective on the kind of suffering we’re facing.

Tomorrow, check back in, as we look at how Christians have a distinctly different response to suffering.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

[2] Ibid.