Faith in God: It’s Rewards and Challenges

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire.  1Peter1:6-7


Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, reflected on his visit to a church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti nearly a year after the devastating earthquake. The church’s building consisted of a tent made from white tarps and duct tape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless from the earthquake. This is how he describes the church and the lesson he learned in Haiti:

In the front row sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope … [and] with thanksgiving to the Lord.

No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg. After four days both limbs had to be amputated.

She was leading the choir, leading prayers, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God .… Following the service, I met Demosi’s two daughters, ages eight and ten. The three of them now live in a tent five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide. Despite losing her job, her home, and two limbs, she is deeply grateful because God spared her life on January 12th last year … “He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life,” says Demosi … [who] believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years.

It makes no sense to me as an “entitled American” who grouses at the smallest inconveniences—a clogged drain or a slow wi-fi connection in my home. Yet here in this place, many people who had lost everything … expressed nothing but praise.

I find my own sense of charity for people like Demosi inadequate. They have so much more to offer me than I to them. I feel pity and sadness for them, but it is they who might better pity me for the shallowness of my own walk with Christ.1

Though I have not personally visited the squalor and tragedy of a refugee camp; in my own way, I totally empathize with what Mr. Stearns is saying: How can I possibly preach on a text from the Bible where the author is encouraging his people not to give up when faced with persecution and possibly death.

Many a night before I finally close my eyes to sleep, I give thanks that I am so privileged to live in a country of peace, to have a secure home and a warm bed. And I reflect to my God that I know there are millions who do not. The fact of how my situation differs to starkly from theirs weighs on me as I remember the parable of Dives and Lazarus.
And I stand amazed in the faith of someone like this poor Haitian woman.

But the text this morning from Peter is part of scripture and just because it bothers me to presume to speak on it, I shall not simply ignore it. And frankly, I hope it bothers you as much as it does me–not my preaching, but the fact of our relative complacency in a world where so many face trials we can only imagine.

Peter is writing to his congregation, who are beginning to experience persecution at the hands their neighbors. This is perhaps in the beginning years of the emperor Nero’s horrific persecution of believers. Many trials lay before them, but Peter reminds them that something even more wonderful waits–the coming in glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation which He brings with Him.

The chapter begins with a beautiful passage. Some scholars believe that Peter is perhaps quoting from a baptismal liturgy which may have been in use in the early church:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

What a beautiful thought, and I especially like the idea that people in Peter’s time used it as part of the baptismal service.
He speaks about the faith we have in God, and how through our faith we are shielded by God’s power.
I imagine God’s loving hands shielding our faith and life the way you shield a candle on a windy day. His shield does not keep us from experiencing pain or misfortune. It does shield us from having our light being blown out.
Yours and my faith in God will preserve our light until the time when we shall receive our eternal inheritance and be with God where there are no misfortunes, when He shall “wipe away every tear from every eye”.

So whether our sufferings are anything like the people who suffered under emperor Nero, or on a purely individual level of bodily or emotional suffering, our God knows our trials and will shield you from having your light go out.
And though it sounds like a cliche to say it, our trials have the potential of refining us into something better.

Say that you’re in the grocery store, walking down the cereal aisle. The next item on your list is pancake syrup. You glance up at the tiny $7 bottle of pure maple syrup on the top shelf. You pause—in this economy?—and with a sigh you grab the larger $3 bottle of Hungry Jack.

When it comes to syrup, there’s a reason the real stuff is pricy. Through a slow and painstaking process, the traditional Native American art of maple sugaring takes large quantities of an essentially useless substance and turns it into something worth stretching your grocery budget to buy.

First, the workers venture deep into the woods—called the “sugar bush”—and use hand drills to make small holes in the trunks of maple trees. A metal tube called a “spile” is tapped into each hole, and a bucket is hung on each spile. The sap that begins to drip into the buckets is thin and clear, like water, with only a hint of sweetness. On a good day, 50 trees will yield 30 – 40 gallons of sap.

As the buckets fill, they are emptied into large kettles that sit over an open fire. The sap comes to a slow boil. As it boils, its water content is reduced and its sugars are concentrated. Hours later, it has developed a rich flavor and golden-brown color. Then it must be strained several times to remove impurities before being reheated, bottled, and graded for quality. The end product of those 30 – 40 gallons of sap? One gallon of maple syrup. No wonder it’s so expensive!

When we came to Christ, like raw, unfinished sap, we could have been tossed aside as worthless. But God knew what he could make of us. He sought and found us, and his skillful hands are transforming us into something precious, sweet and useful. The long and often painful refining process brings forth a pure, genuine disciple easily distinguished from cheap imitations.2

Faith in God produces no cheap imitation, but Faith is a challenge. It brings both blessings and its struggles.
When life is difficult it is often a challenge to ask where God is in the process. And it is not always easy to see when you are just looking at your immediate circumstances.
But faith requires us to look more broadly, to see the finish line. I cannot imagine any marathon runner would endure the pain without a vision of the finish line.
As a teen ager, I was a sprinter. And I won more races than I lost.
What motivated me to put all I could into every stride was the finish line, which for sprinters, is tantalizingly close.
The other motivation was not to be overtaken. I wanted to keep all my competitors out of my peripheral vision.
If I could see them, I had to push harder.

Whether your challenge is a marathon or a sprint, run with both a vision of the finish line and a reminder of larger context in which we run–that by faith we are held and shielded by the love of God.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses the great span from Good Friday to Easter: “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.” 3

German pastor Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two. As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day—some 4,480 in all. In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.
Yet living in a world dominated by death, Pastor Rinkart wrote the following prayer for his children to offer to the Lord:4

Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.


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