Lessons From The Middle

Below is a lightly edited transcript.

How Do We Navigate Suffering?

THRIVING IN EXILE

Discover how your Christian identity can enable you to walk through the difficulties in your life well while at the same time point people to the one place they can find lasting hope.

Purchase the paperback version of Thriving in Exile today and I’ll send you the ebook free! Just click the button below to purchase your copy of the book then and I’ll send you the E-Book free of charge. Message me below a copy of your order to get your free copy.

This morning we are going to be in Romans 5:1-5. What I want to do this morning is share what God has been doing in my heart these past few months. I’ve entitled this sermon “Lessons from the Middle” because my wife and I are still learning these lessons. The lessons I’m going to share with you I am still in the process of learning and have a ways to go in learning them.

In October, my wife Sarah and I found out we were expecting child number 5. We were overwhelmed, but excited. The week after Thanksgiving we had our first ultrasound scheduled and at the ultrasound the nurse wasn’t able to find a heartbeat. Of course, the ultrasound tech couldn’t tell us anything so they had us wait in a waiting room, then sent us home. Later that afternoon we got a call from the doctor that we had lost the baby. 

After that was a week of trying to figure out our next steps. Then a few weeks of physical healing for Sarah. Right when we thought she would be getting back up on her feet and back to normal she started having complications, which led to me calling 911, then the paramedics took her to the hospital via an ambulance. Which has led to the last several weeks of her pretty much being on bed rest. This past week she had another ultrasound and more bloodwork done and it’s going to be a few more weeks until she can get back up on her feet.

I’m not sharing this with you so that you would feel bad for us or anything. I want to share it because it’s one thing to say this is what God is teaching me and leave the circumstance vague, but I believe when we do that the lessons lose some of their potency. I also share it with you this morning because, while you may not be going through what my wife and I are going through, you are going through something. And the truths that we are going to see in these five verses transcend the specifics of our circumstances and give us the specific help that we need. 


The truths of God’s Word transcend the specifics of our circumstances and give us the specific help that we need. 


If you are physically able I would like to invite you to stand with me as we read our text this morning. We are going to be in Romans 5:1-5. We also have a brand new digital bulletin available. If you scan the code on the chair in front of you with your smartphone it will take you right to it. If you are watching online you can access it by going to FresnoChurch.info. If this is your first time with us this morning you can access our online Connection Card there. For every first time guest that fills that out, we as a church will donate to a local non-profit organization. You can also take notes and send them to yourself, give online, request prayer, and connect with us at that online bulletin.

Let’s read Romans 5:1-5. 

Let’s pray.

If I could sum up what God has been teaching me these past few months and what I believe the theme of our text is it’s: When we center our lives on grace we can joyfully endure.


When we center our lives on grace we can joyfully endure.


Now a few clarifications I want to give. I intentionally chose the word joyfully to describe endurance. Often when we think about enduring, or being faithful, or steadfast we get the wrong picture in our mind. We imagine gritting the reigns of life between our teeth and charging our problems with a 3030 revolving Winchester Rifle in one hand and a .45 caliber Colt 6 shooter in the other hand, tackling our problems John Wayne style. Now, while that seems cool, that is not joyfully enduring. We are not just bearing through our problems or holding on to the end. Christian endurance is marked by joy. Why? Because our greatest reality is the fact that we have been declared righteous, and we are at peace with God. Verse number one shows us our first thought this morning. 

Our Greatest Reality

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is our greatest reality. A few years ago I read a book called “10% Happier.” It’s the author’s story about how regular meditating made his life 10% better. He wasn’t talking about Christian meditation, and about halfway through the book, it felt like he was trying to convert the reader to Buddhism so I didn’t finish the book. But it was interesting how he said this wasn’t a huge life-changer, but it just made him 10% happier. Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us view the Gospel. We say a little prayer, we show up to church a few times a month, sprinkle in a bit of Jesus in our lives and we expect our life to get 10% better.

Often we don’t view the fact that God has declared us as righteous, and we who were at war with God, are now at peace with God as our greatest reality. We don’t allow our decisions to spring from our new life in Christ. We allow our affections to be tied up in so many lesser things and when life gets 10% worse instead of 10% better we freak out.

John Bunyan was a 17th century English Puritan. (No, he isn’t the guy with a blue ox who cut down trees. That’s Paul Bunyan.) John Bunyan is most famous for his book The Pilgrim’s Progress. After serving in the military he became a tinker and would often preach when given the opportunity. But the religious tolerance of the day that allowed Bunyan to preach outside of the official church of England was curtailed in 1660 and Bunyan was arrested. He served a three-month sentence but because he refused to stop preaching he wound up being in jail for over 12 years. He said this about our standing with God. 

“Child of God, thou that fearest God, here is mercy nigh thee, mercy enough, everlasting mercy upon thee. This is long-lived mercy. It will live longer than thy sin, it will live longer than temptation, it will live longer than thy sorrows, it will live longer than thy persecutors. It is mercy from everlasting to contrive thy salvation, and mercy to everlasting to weather it out with all thy adversaries. Now, what can hell and death do to him that hath this mercy of God upon him?” 

His relationship with God, his standing with God, the mercy of God towards him, was his greatest reality and because of that, he could joyfully endure 12 years of prison for the sake of his Savior. The gospel of Jesus is such a life-changing truth that everything else in our life is different as a result. We now have peace, we now have endurance, we can now have a spirit of joy because we are at peace with God. 

Isaiah 8:12-13 Do not call everything a conspiracy these people say is a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. You are to regard only the LORD of Armies as holy. Only he should be feared only he should be held in awe.


“The living God is so tremendously glorious in all his ways that he cannot be known without being adored.” – @mike_reeves


And the more he is adored by us, the more we hold him in awe, the more we will live at peace despite what is happening around us.

A set of studies published in 2018, in Emotion, sought to demonstrate the impact of awe on well-being and stress-related symptoms. The authors found that for every participant in the studies, after experiences of awe, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder decreased, while their scores of general happiness, satisfaction with life, and social well-being, all improved. This followed a report in the same journal in 2015 showing that people who experienced more awe also appeared to have better immune health. Studying the effect of emotions on the molecules that have been associated with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and depression, researchers found that awe was the emotion most likely linked to lower levels of these molecules.

When we live in a sense of awe that we have been declared righteous, when we live like the gospel is our greatest reality we are happier and healthier people. “It is beauty that kills the raging beast of anxiety.” – Michael Reeves

Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

There is only one Person who should have total control over our affections. There is only one Person who should have total control over our mental and emotional state. There is only one person who should have total say over what we think and do. There is only one person we should genuinely be afraid of and because of the finished work of Christ, we are eternally at peace with him!

When we are living like the gospel is our greatest reality it puts every other circumstance and trial and difficulty into perspective. It doesn’t deny their reality or their difficulty, but it keeps those trials from controlling our minds and our affections. Verse one shows us our greatest reality. 

Our Reasons for Rejoicing

A. We rejoice because the glory of God is our sure hope. vs. 2

Romans 5:2 We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

The glory of God is the display of his beauty, greatness, worth, majesty, and power. His glory was what raised Christ from the dead. 

Romans 6:4 … Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.

We have hope and rejoice because God’s glory is great. It’s greater than anything we will have to face in this life. It allows us to stand in God’s grace. “The Greek word for grace in verse 2 is Charis. This word is used to describe God’s unconditional favor toward those who have sinned against him and are his enemies. In our text, Paul explains that peace with God is an act of God’s grace. He reminded believers that at one time they were God’s enemies in verse ten. A great NT definition of charis would be unmerited favor toward an enemy – grace toward one who has forfeited any claim on God’s favor because of sin and who deserves the opposite—God’s judgment (v. 9).”

We can rejoice because no matter what difficulty we face, nothing can hinder or diminish the glory of God and remove our standing in grace. Not only are we standing in God’s grace now, but there is an eternal weight of glory waiting for us that will make our suffering seem like nothing.


We can rejoice because no matter what difficulty we face, nothing can hinder or diminish the glory of God and remove our standing in grace.


Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

The glory of God is so great and amazing and awe-inspiring that Paul said our suffering isn’t even worth comparing to it. We can’t even hold our suffering next to the glory of God! It’s like holding up a flashlight next to the light of the sun. This doesn’t diminish our suffering, it elevates the glory of God to such a height that all we can do is rejoice. The reason we can always rejoice in God is not that the Christian life is easy. It isn’t. The reason is that the glory of God is great beyond all imagining, and in Jesus Christ, it is rock sure.

And when that glory is our greatest reality we rejoice. When we center our lives on grace we can joyfully endure. We rejoice because of the greatness of the glory of God. And if that wasn’t enough, Paul gives us another reason to rejoice. 

B. We rejoice because we know what affliction produces. vs. 3-5

Romans 5:3-5 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

The fact that affliction helps us grow in our endurance means afflictions are difficult. It’s never my goal to undersell the difficulty of the hardships that many of us have to face. Endurance assumes difficulty. Suffering brings grieving. Suffering brings prayers of lament filled with difficult questions. Suffering often reorients our notions of goodness. But we can rejoice because we know what suffering produces. 

Endurance

Endurance means to suffer without yielding. It is steadfastness or constancy. In the New Testament, it is the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. When I am joyfully enduring it means I am going to get up in the middle of my suffering and joyfully do the next right thing. I am going to continue to do what God has called me to do. It means I am going to love and serve my wife and family while we work through the physical and emotional repercussions of a miscarriage. 

Enduring means you can show up at work tomorrow and joyfully do your job to the best of your ability even though your flesh may not want to. Endurance means if you don’t have a job, you can get up and joyfully keep looking for a job, trusting that God will meet and take care of your needs. Enduring means you joyfully serve your family and point them to Jesus even when your emotional state would rather check out. Endurance means you believe Jesus is eternally more satisfying than the temptations of sin. Endurance means you don’t let the political unrest and division in our country cause your spirit to not be at rest, because you are citizens of a different kingdom. It means we get up in the morning and we spend time with God, even when we have hard questions, we take them to him. 


Enduring means we allow afflictions to solidify our faith, not be the cause of us abandoning our faith.


Enduring means we don’t give up on our faith. It means we allow the Holy Spirit to take our painful circumstances and produce new levels of growth, new levels of consistency in our lives. We allow afflictions to solidify our faith, not abandon our faith. Affliction produces endurance. Endurance produces…

Proven Character

This means that your endurance has been proven. Your character isn’t theoretical. It means you know the work that the Holy Spirit has done in you is real. It’s not just hypothetical head knowledge, you have lived it out. And as this proven character is produced, so is hope. Affliction produces endurance. Endurance produces proven character. Proven character produces hope. 

Hope

This is a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation. I love how verse 5 says this hope won’t disappoint us. My wife’s favorite football team is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had a great season. They went 11 games undefeated. She was hoping they would go all the way and win the Super Bowl. But now they are no longer in the playoffs. Her hope has lead to disappointment. That is NOT the type of hope we are talking about. The hope that we are talking about is sure. Rock-solid. Because the Holy Spirit is pouring out God’s love in our hearts in the middle of our affliction. And because of that hope, we rejoice. Affliction is God’s tool to grow us. To change us. To make us more like him. Affliction allows us to experience God’s love in ways we never would have otherwise. If you skip out on the process of verses 3 and 4 you’ll miss out on experiencing the love of God in verse 5. This is why we can live in a state of hope and rejoicing. 

When I had to call 911 for my wife we were actually out of town. My brother and his wife put us up in a nice hotel on the Coast. It seemed like Sarah was healing and back up on her feet. We had a baby-sitter for the kids for the night. We were looking forward to getting some rest after the emotional and physical toll of the past month. Then of course there was the 911 call, the paramedics took Sarah away in the ambulance, and I was just left standing there. And I can remember getting back up to my hotel room and I just broke down and I got mad at God. I yelled in the room “Why is this happening? I don’t need this right now!”

We all face moments when we don’t live in awareness of the fact that the gospel is our greatest reality. We all have moments, sometimes seasons where we let our circumstances have control over our affections and attitude. In those moments we need to pray and ask God to open the eyes of our hearts and awaken our affection so we can cherish his glory. So we can cherish our standing with him over the circumstances we face. 

1 Peter 3:14-15 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed.

We need to pray for faith to view our suffering this way. 

Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.

This hope that Christ gives can be so big that it makes people do a double-take on our lives. Saturate your mind with the grace of God and experience genuine joy. 

Let’s Pray. 

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How Do We Navigate Suffering?

THRIVING IN EXILE

Discover how your Christian identity can enable you to walk through the difficulties in your life well while at the same time point people to the one place they can find lasting hope.

Purchase the paperback version of Thriving in Exile today and I’ll send you the ebook free! Just click the button below to purchase your copy of the book then and I’ll send you the E-Book free of charge. Message me below a copy of your order to get your free copy.

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