The Purpose of Pain or The Pain of Purpose?

I've been pondering lately the circumstances surrounding the introduction of pain into humanity's story as told by the scriptures. I believe it teaches us some pretty amazing things regarding our pain that should not be overlooked.

The first thing I see is the environment into which Adam and Eve were placed where pain was going to be a regular part of their ongoing experience. Genesis 3:23 says, "Therefore the Lord God sent him (Adam) out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken." That ground was the untended land outside of Eden, and it was ground to which Adam and Eve were meant to bring the abundant life of Eden. Their mandate after all was to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." In other words, they were to now be partners with God in carrying His creative power throughout the whole earth. What this means is that original purpose of the land into which Adam and Eve were placed after having sinned was to produce. God's intention for that land was never anything less than becoming as Eden-like as the Eden He Himself had created.

Yet, that was not what ended up happening. Instead, that land became the place in which Adam and Eve would endure the newly discovered pain of being human. It's where they would have the experience described by God for them in Genesis 3:16-17. "To the woman He said, 'I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.' And to Adam He said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.'" What is so fascinating to me about this description is that out of all the pain God could have said now awaited them, He chose specifically the pain attached to the thing they were purposed to do. The pain God described was the pain now attached to "filling the earth", to bringing forth life from the womb and life from the ground. Purpose was the original intention. Pain was now the inseparable add-on.

Fast forward to right now, and what does this mean for us? First, I think it tells us that no matter how great and gifted we are at bringing forth whatever we produce in this life, it will never be as fulfilling and enjoyable as it will be on the day when God is fully, finally the glorious focus in all that we do. The pain of Adam and Eve was a reminder that their purpose served them in a far more superior way when God was the center of their lives (true worship) as opposed to themselves being at the center of their lives (idolatry). This is why joy and fulfillment are nowhere even remotely automatic for even the people who seem to be the most evidently gifted and productive. The answer is, as best we can in these "bodies of death", to seek to worship God in all that we produce and create in life. One day we will be able to do that without any presence of self-glorification. Oh what truly glorious day that will be!

The second thing I think the scenario of Adam and Eve tells us is that we ought to be less fascinated by our pain. That might sound odd, but I feel it is in vogue within Christianity and beyond these days to almost deify our pain. In an effort to help people see pain not as a limitation but as a tool of empowerment, the message of pain has become centered around the power of pain. I myself have preached this in years past and do believe there is some inherent truth to it, no doubt. But my mindset about the subject has broadened as of late and focuses less on the purpose of pain and more on the pain of purpose. It's perhaps a subtle transition from one element to another when those elements are so intertwined with each other. But I believe it matters because the first draws our attention to the thing we brought about, which is pain, where as the second draws our attention to the thing God brought about, which is purpose. Only the latter is inexhaustible in the power it contains to move us forward. That is perhaps a danger of the "power of pain" message. Eventually, you require a new painful experience to keep pushing you. I'm not sure that's a healthy dependency or muse. I do believe it is healthier and more productive to focus on God's purpose for our lives than it is the pain which for a little while longer, is intrinsic to that purpose. One day pain will no longer be part of the experience. Yet the purpose of glorifying God in all things will remain. Therefore, be less pushed by your pain, and more pulled by Jesus who leads us in our purpose. Pain can be a reminder that you're doing what you are meant to do, as would have been the case of Adam's aching back and rough hands in bringing forth food from the ground. But it's much more a reminder that this was never the way it was supposed to be, never God's plan.

See you in church,

Pastor Jake

Let's Talk About Sex

Ok, so I just learned that this is the name of a Salt-N-Pepa song that came out in 1990. A friend of mine enlightened me on that.. by singing it for me.. in public.. at a very busy restaurant. Thanks Tim. That was awkward. So for those wondering, it's not the inspiration behind this blog post title nor the corresponding sermon title that I just shared at C3 Los Angeles.

The true inspiration is that I want to be able to bring light to a subject that many times the Church shies away from because the scriptures seem to stand in such contrast to the sex ethic of our culture. That misconception is where I believe the problem of our hesitancy begins. Because the sex ethic of the scriptures is not counter to our culture. It's counter to our flesh. To limit the confronting nature of it as particularly challenging for our day and age is to do ourselves a great disservice and begin the conversation from a platform of fear. No conversation is ever fruitful when fear is the starting line. The truth is that the sex ethic intrinsic to the gospel was just as counter to the culture of the people of the Roman Empire as it to the people of today. A study of the Roman sex ethic will reveal that pretty quickly. Therefore if they could believe the gospel and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have their thinking about sex transformed, the same impact of the gospel can be had on people, on you and me, today. The contrasting nature of truth does not decrease or increase over time because truth is always in contrast to our natural human desires and inclinations.

That truth is able to transform us over time in our journey of following Jesus because God has given us the powerful gift of choosing repentance. Repentance is simply the changing of our mind. "I used to think this way about something, but now I am choosing to change my mind and think this way." That might sound simplistic, but repentance is an act of faith and the outworking of faith is often found in the determination to do something before you feel like doing it. The scriptures tell us in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that "..we have the mind of Christ." I'm not sure about you, but I do not wake up each day thinking overwhelmingly Christ-like thoughts. In the secret place of prayer however, I choose to change my mind, to repent, of certain thinking that day and thus access the mind of Christ I have been given. It's as though repentance is the corridor through which I travel down to leave old, dead thinking behind and enter into the life-giving, empowering thoughts of God. The same practice is required of us in a broader sense. As we walk with God, He will begin to put His finger on certain places in our thinking to let us know, "I don't think about that the way you do." That's His prompting for us to repent, to change our minds and discover His truth on the matter. God's sex ethic is precisely one of these areas in which we need to humble ourselves and allow Him to teach us His truth.

It's of great importance we allow this to happen because God's will for our lives is purity or as the apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality." Sanctification means holiness which in essence is the state of being pure and undefiled by anything. The reason God desires our purity is because God desires relationship with us. And in being totally pure Himself, He cannot intermingle or coexist with that which is impure. That was a problem He Himself overcame by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to defeat the power of sin (impurity) on the cross. In that the perfect purity of Jesus has been given to us as a free gift, so that even though we do not often feel pure and holy we understand that we are in the process of becoming what God already calls us. He call us pure in Christ, and so we are. Therefore our eternal relationship with Him is secured. That means that our lives, after having received that free gift, ought to be evidence of that gift. In other words the arc of our story should be informed by what He's called us for all eternity, by what we are and are becoming. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul gives us some very helpful steps we can take to live that kind of story. 

In verses 4 and 5 Paul continues the thought of our sexual purity with this, "that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;" This is like a safeguard that Paul is helping us to construct around our purity. A few key things that we can take away from this is that our purity is protected when we have self-control. That's the kind of control Paul is talking about here. That's great news because that means we are not talking about sheer determination or personal will power. We're actually talking about a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Self-control is counted among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 which means it's something produced by continually be filled with the Spirit. (see previous post about being filled with the Spirit). That self-control then allows us to treat our bodies in holiness and honor. Holiness again is purity. Honor is value. Self-control will help you to manage your whole body in purity which includes your eyes, ears and mind. The idea is that you safeguard yourself against impurity by practicing purity in your head before you're even presented with the opportunity to give in to impurity with your body. Self-control will also help you treat your body with honor, with value. The way to do that is by doing what Paul says unbelievers don't do which is to know God. The more you get to know God the more you discover your worth and value in His eyes. Time with God will always lead to you feeling more valuable, never less.

The final safeguard we see in this passage is in verse 6 where Paul says, "that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter.." This is perhaps the most confronting thing in this passage because we tend to view what we do with our bodies as personal and personal alone as long as it is not harming anybody else. This statement in the scriptures flies in the face of that view for the Christian because it tells us that what we do with our bodies sexually actually impacts our fellow believer. This post is not about the body of Christ, so we will not dive into that teaching, but suffice it to say for now, we are all much more impacted by one another that we often realize, and that truth does not stop being true when it comes to our sin. I see this verse as more of an opportunity than a burden. Because what it invites us into is perhaps the greatest safeguard against impurity, and that is a life sold out to serving others. If we focus on serving one another then we will be less likely to give in to the temptation of gratifying the desires of our flesh. In fact in our servanthood of others, we are actually strengthened to fight against the desire to serve ourselves.

Choose today and each day that your response to the gospel of Jesus Christ will be to live the life of a servant. His Holy Spirit is in you to help you overcome all temptation. And when you give in, grace is there. Jesus is there. He will help the story of your life to be informed by what He's been calling you since the day He died on your behalf. Holy and pure.

See you in church!

Pastor Jake

the holy spirit and your pain

We recently concluded a series at C3 Los Angeles called Defined in the Dark which was about our pain and how it can, if we choose to allow it, define the new levels at which we place our belief in Jesus. This belief plays a major role in our experience of living victoriously over our pain as opposed to it living victoriously over us. Belief is what Jesus asks of us in our pain. In considering this I keep coming back to the interaction between Jesus and Martha upon his arrival into Bethany four days after (four days late in Martha's mind) her brother Lazarus had died. In John 11:25-26 Jesus says to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (emphasis added). This moment shows us that belief in Jesus is the Kingdom method with which we overcome the pain of whatever present circumstance we may be enduring. Belief is the weapon forged and refined in our pain for the conquering of our pain.

To conquer is the mandate given to those who follow Jesus, to carry our cross not to death, but to resurrection. That's why Revelation 21:7 says, "The one who conquers will have this heritage (of the new heavens and earth), and I will be his God and he will be my son." Eternal life is the inheritance of those who conquer, which means we should expect to do some conquering in this life. What we conquer is what I would summarize as the pain of this world: the trials, the tribulations, the temptations. The way we conquer is through belief.

But let me drill down a little deeper, so we are not left with the impression that our ability to conquer is left up to us alone, as though it were the outcome of sheer determination and resolve. Our belief is something made possible, not by these things, but by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. I am convinced that a major role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to help us live as conquerors over the pain of this world. It seems to me that in John 14, 15, and 16, where we find Jesus repeatedly promising the Holy Spirit to the disciples, that He is connecting the necessity of this promise for the pain that they are going to endure throughout life. The reason for the Holy Spirit's role in our pain is because we conquer through belief, and we believe through the Holy Spirit. He is the One who enables us to believe in the face of all impossibilities. Because He is the Spirit of God, He is never in disbelief of God. Therefore to be filled with Him is to be filled with someone who always believes the promises of God, though your carnal nature struggles to, and never believes the lies of the devil, though your carnal nature wants to. You need to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to respond correctly to what Jesus is saying to you in your pain, "I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?" There is no alternative way to respond with a resounding, "Yes!" to that question other than to be filled with the Spirit. That is why Jesus says in John 6:63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.." The reason the Spirit gives life is because He enables us to believe, and belief is the weapon we wield in the overcoming of our pain.

So how then do we ensure we are regularly being filled with the Holy Spirit? It's something that the Lord commands us to do in Ephesians 5:18 where He says, "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (it is more than a little interesting to me that the behavior not condoned in this verse is drunkenness, which is one of humanity's most common ways of dealing with pain), but be filled with the Spirit.." That command is given in the present tense which means the original recipients of this letter would have read it like this, "keep being filled with the Spirit." It's an ongoing, habitual choice we are meant to make. So how do we do that? Jesus actually answers the question for us with his next sentence in John 6:63. After letting us know that our only hope of life is through the Spirit and that the flesh is zero help, He then says, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (emphasis added). Further on down in verse 68, Peter reveals his understanding of this when he says to Jesus, "You have the words of eternal life." (emphasis added) The connection is that if the Spirit gives life, and the words of Jesus are spirit and life, then we are filled with the Spirit when we are filled with His word.

Colossians 3:16 ties it all together nicely for us in saying, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." That outcome describing the abundance of joyful praise and thanksgiving from being enriched with the word of Christ is almost verbatim the same outcome Paul goes on to describe in Ephesians 5:19 as a result of being filled with the Spirit. That's because His word contains His Spirit, and therefore to enrich yourself with His word is to fill yourself with His Spirit. So in being convinced of this, allow me to suggest some scriptures from the word of God for you to enrich yourself with each day. Read them repeatedly. Meditate upon them. Memorize them. Recite them. Declare them over your life each day in the secret place of prayer. In doing so, you will be filled with the Spirit and enabled to conquer whatever pain you are enduring through the weapon of belief. At the risk of this blog post becoming too long I will not expound upon each scripture but instead will allow you to draw out the meaning and applications through your own time of meditation upon them.

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To combat anxiety // Isaiah 26:3-4 "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock."

Philippians 4:6-7 "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be make known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

To combat the temptations of the flesh // Romans 8:11 "If the Spirit of Him who raised jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

To combat the worry of lack // Ephesians 1:3-4 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."

Philippians 4:19 "And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

To combat the fear of man and the future // Colossians 1:17 "And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

Ephesians 1:21, "(Jesus is) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come."

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I pray this is helpful to you! See you in church!

In Christ,

Pastor Jake