Saturday, April 7, 2012

Secret Church

I was privileged to spend last night at a simulcast viewing of Secret Church lead by Dr. David Platt. This is a meeting inspired by the commitment that is found in believers across the world who are under severe persecution, yet they join together for hours on end in the smallest of rooms to study God's word. Throughout the night we were focusing on prayer for the Christians in the horn of Africa (pray for the horn) who are persecuted daily and risking their lives to follow Christ and spread the gospel.

So, here we are with all of this in mind sitting in a room full of people as the simulcast begins. At 7:00 pm we began with the welcome and some worship, and by 7:30 Dr. David Platt was beginning his lesson on the cross and suffering that would go through what the bible had to say about suffering from Genesis to Revelation over the next seven hours.

All people experience suffering, Christians and non-Christians. Some suffering is universal for all people, such as cancer, death, etc. Other suffering is uniquely suffering that Christians endure, such as persecution. Satan intends every type of suffering to sabotage us, but God intends every type of suffering to sanctify us. The encouraging reality here is that God is the sovereign creator of all things, and Satan is simply a creature. Don't be fooled though, Satan is smart, but he is still only a creature. He can do nothing outside of the sovereignty of God.

The cross of Christ is the key to understanding all suffering. We want to embrace suffering in our lives not because suffering is easy, but because suffering is worth it. It is worth it to experience the sufficiency of Christ in our weakness, to share the sufferings of Christ on this earth, to show the supremacy of Christ to all nations, and to experience the satisfaction of Christ for all eternity.

It is important to remember that we are created in the image of God for the purpose of God. Our purpose is to enjoy a relationship with God, rule over all creation, and most of all to reproduce God's glory to the ends of the earth. We must also remember that the consequence of sin is immediate spiritual death (Gen 3:22-24), and eventual physical death.

Our God is the ever-present Lord, ever-subtle King, and the ever-faithful Savior. We have a Lord who is with us, we have a King who is guiding us, and we have a Savior who will redeem us. God's providence is the only foundation for embracing life's pain. God takes suffering and turns it into satisfaction. God is holy, merciful, ever-present, all-powerful, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, faithful, sovereign, just, and HE IS GOD! Do not focus on the circumstances around you, rather focus on the character of the One who has called you.

We cannot be casual with God.
"The awareness of sin, a deep awareness of disobedience, and painful confession of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin. They feared it, they fled from it, they grieved over it. Some of our [forefathers] agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder if he could still go to holy communion. ... That shadow has dimmed. Nowadays the accusation, 'You have sinned', is often said with a grin and with a tone that signals an inside joke. At one time this accusation still had the power to jolt people."                                                                        - Cornelius Plantinga

God is committed to sovereignly providing for His people. He is sovereign over everything; He is sovereign over all suffering. Even when we cannot understand His manner, we can always trust his mercy. His path to our joy is not always smooth and straight, but it is always satisfying. When we suffer, He is still worthy! God's sovereign design for our lives on this earth includes suffering. The sovereignty of God is the only foundation for praise in the middle of pain. Ultimately, our pain on earth can be rightly understood only from the sovereign perspective of heaven. When the pain of suffering persists, God is still present. When God seems the farthest away from you, He may be in reality setting the stage for His greatest display of faithfulness to you. When our greatest treasure is in Christ and not the gifts that he gives us, then when we lose those gifts we a driven deeper into the source of our treasure. God has a purpose. His purpose is sometimes different, but God's purpose is always good.

God uses suffering to refine our faith and to reveal His glory. God uses suffering to teach us to rely on Him. He uses suffering to bring us to repent of and renounce the sin in our lives, and He uses suffering to lead us to our reward in Him. Satan's attempts to attack God's people only serve to accomplish God's will. Suffering drives us to God's word: to learn it, believe it, obey it, and love it. Christ suffered in our place so that we would not have to endure an eternity of suffering and so that we could fully fulfill our purpose of bringing glory to His name.

God's capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin! We are dead in our sin. Sin is too strong for us, and we are desperate for a Savior. Only Jesus can change the hearts of people. Therefore, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus is the foremost, fundamental, necessary, nonnegotiable way to address evil and suffering in the world. The work against evil and suffering in the world apart from proclaiming the gospel of Jesus will ultimately be futile.

We may not be certain of the cause of suffering, but we can always be confident that the purpose of our suffering is to bring glory to God. God's word tells us that if we follow him we will be betrayed, we will be hated, and we will be persecuted. (Matt 10:16-18, 21-22) The reality that we must face is that the danger of our lives increases in direct proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ. We are to confess Him publicly, love Him supremely, take the ultimate risk, and then find the ultimate reward.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. - Matthew 10:38-39
Jesus suffered to obey the Father's will and fulfill the Father's word, to ransom people from slavery to sin, to give all who believe unhindered access to the Father, to deliver people from the Evil One, to deliver people from the wrath of God, to proclaim the message of salvation to the nations, to bring sheep into the fold of the Good Shepherd, to establish a new, eternal covenant with the people of God, to demonstrate God's supreme love for sinners by giving eternal life to all who believe, and to glorify the Father. (John 12:27-28)

Jesus is Lord over life and death, Lord over sin, suffering, and Satan, and He is Lord over you and me! (1 Cor 15:55-57, Romans 10:8-10)  Proclamation of the gospel will always be challenged in this world, and it will always be costly in your life. Proclamation of the gospel will always necessitate confidence in God's sovereignty.

Our great hope is the glory of God, and our path to this great hope is the suffering of this world. Our suffering produces endurance, character, and hope. So we joyfully embrace suffering as the means by which our hope in the glory of God (which is infinitely greater than everything else in the world that we could imagine) grows. (Rom 5:3-5, 8:28-30)

Suffering is often necessary for the Christian. Suffering is a proving ground for your faith that results in glory for God. It is given to you by God for you inexpressible joy. (1 Peter 3:13) Suffering leads you to find your security and confidence in Christ alone, and is spurs you toward Christlike belief and behavior. Suffering leads you away from sinful lusts and suffering believers must trust in the judgement of God and the fact that suffering is part of the good plan and sovereign purpose of God. Suffering unites you ultimately with Christ himself. It is an opportunity to glorify God, entrusting your soul to the care of your Creator. It is a temporary stop on the path that leads to eternal glory. (1 Peter 5:10)

The starting point for understanding suffering is realizing that God is the center of the universe... not you. You have been created to know and enjoy his glory, and you are commissioned to show and exclaim his glory. Live to know, enjoy, and declare the sovereign glory of God!

In order to see suffering for why it is here, we must see sin for what it is, and we must see ourselves for who we are. The ultimate reason suffering exists is to exalt the glory of God's grace through the suffering of God's son for the salvation of undeserving sinners. God saves us by his grace. God planned the crucifixion of Jesus before the creation of the world. God permits sin into the world, ordains suffering in the world, and sent his son to suffer for sinners. This was not plan B, this was always plan A. He saves us for His glory. (Rev 5:9-14) Forever we will praise Jesus for the glory of God's grace. The health and wealth prosperity gospel is false! God may accomplish higher purposes in our death than in our life. He may accomplish more in our sickness than in our health. The prosperity gospel overlooks the design of suffering and fails to acknowledge the necessity of suffering. (Luke 9:23-24)

The completion of the Great Commission will include great suffering, but eternity will prove it was worth the price.

So for all who reject the King, Hell will be a place of irreversible justice. For those who revere the King, Heaven will be a place of inexpressible joy. We will be with Him! We will see His face! Christ is coming soon!

So, at 2:00 am we conclude this evening of studying God's word and I am left with a renewed passion to love God, follow Him with all my heart, surrender every cell of my entire being to His purpose. How could I want anything else seeing the great love, mercy, and grace that He has shown to me. I will follow Him wherever, whenever, whatever. I was created by Him and for Him, and to Him will be given all the glory!

*The majority of the text in this post was taken either directly from the secret church study guide (which can be found in PDF format at the secret church website) or the ideas within it.*