Our dear congregation, St. James Anglican Church, is going through yet another change, yet another challenge. After leaving our historic and beloved church and after worshiping for six months in a Christian school auditorium, we are facing another relocation. This Sunday, April 6, we begin worshiping in the secondary sanctuary at The River Church of OC which is located at 102 East Baker in Costa Mesa. For those who live within a day’s drive, come worship with us — 7:30, 9 or 11 am!!
We are grateful for that which the Lord has faithfully provided for us. His provision is always more than we need and we are thankful that He has provided a new place to gather in His Name so that we might worship Him in Spirit and in truth. This new space at The River Church, although temporary as we seek a more permanent location, will provide blessings which we cannot yet fully anticipate.
With this relocation will come inevitable challenges and yet another sense of loss which for some, heightens their awareness of the grief still present in their hearts over previous losses. Our rector, Pastor Richard Crocker reminded us of the stream of losses for St. James Church in his sermon this past Sunday: the loss of two previous rectors, the loss of our former denomination, the loss of an unjust lawsuit, the loss of our beloved building, and in many ways, the loss of our identity as a congregation. And all these losses have brought yet another sad loss — the loss of some of our congregation members.
As we grieve these losses, we find ourselves in a world which many have entered through cancer or Parkinson’s or the death of a loved one. It is the world of suffering. Loss equals suffering. And thereby we are introduced to a concept set forth in Holy Scripture. Let me speak just a little about the Biblical view of suffering. There are so many things which could and should be said about my Old Friend Suffering, but here are just a few:
- Suffering is inevitable. Jesus spoke of it so clearly in Matthew 7:24-27 in the parable of the house builders. He announced that both the wise person who loves God, hears and follows His Word and the foolish person who does not, will experience rain which will fall on them, floods which will beseige them, and winds that will blow and “slam against their house”. Christians will not escape suffering. Any view to the contrary is profoundly unbiblical. Our ticket into heaven does not give us a free pass on the sufferings of this world. When it comes to suffering, it is a level playing field for Christians and non-Christians alike. How do we know this? Jesus said it Himself.
- Suffering introduces us to the Savior. Yes, I know that most reading this blog have already been introduced to the Savior Jesus Christ. But don’t miss this great truth: Suffering takes our relationship with Christ to a new and deeper level. In 1 Peter 4:13, the Apostle speaks to those who suffer and tells them they are “partakers” of Christ’s suffering. When we suffer, whether spiritually or practically for the sake of the Gospel or in our bodies through illness or disease, we are introduced to Jesus, our Suffering Savior. If we will allow it, suffering will connect ever more strongly to Jesus Christ. We will understand His suffering more clearly and love Him ever more deeply because of it.
- Suffering is good for us. Sorry, but it has to be said. The lives of the apostles demonstrate this truth. The lives of persecuted brothers and sisters in nations intolerant of the Gospel demonstrate this. The lives of people today like Joni Eareckson Tada, Tim Keller, and Nick Vujicic who have suffered in their bodies demonstrate this. The lives of average Christians like the people of St. David’s Anglican Church and St. James Anglican Church in my region of the world demonstrate this. With suffering comes an added grace by which we are strengthened in our faith. Suffering makes us stronger, more compassionate, less self-centered. In that regard, suffering is good for us.
- Suffering earns us rewards in heaven. Those who suffer need to remember that suffering is a reality of this world but as Christians, this world is not our home — we are just passing through! Heaven is our real and forever home. And heaven will make up for the sufferings of this world. In heaven, we will find the fullness of the hope that carried us through our times of suffering here on this globe. Tim Keller in his book on suffering says this, “Human beings are hope-shaped creatures.” Without hope, we cannot survive the sufferings we face. And it is a view toward heaven which gives us the hope that carries us through! God sees our sufferings and comforts us in them. But one day, He will reward us for our faithfulness in them! Hebrews 12 says so poignantly that “for the joy set before Him,” Jesus endured suffering in His body and mind, even the suffering of dying on a cross. With the joy which is set before us, waiting for us in heaven, we endure our sufferings also.
My cancer storm and the losses we have endured as a congregation have brought me loss and pain galore. But they have also introduced me to the world of suffering. Although I am glad there will be no suffering in heaven, on this worldly plane, suffering has given me much. Suffering has earned me greater Christian character in this world and rewards in heaven. Suffering has become my old friend.
I pray that if you are suffering in any way today, you will be encouraged and strengthened by these words.