Last night, at Ember, I was ordained as an elder through the Alliance for Renewal Churches. It was a humbling and special time for me and my family, and also for our congregation. So many people came from all over the state to be there to love on us and support us. Pastor Doug Rumschlag, from Grace Church in Toledo (my home church), delivered a challenging message on the responsibilities of an elder-pastor. Rick Widener and Ray Nethery, from the ARC, performed the ordination ceremony. I love being a part of the ARC, where I get such wonderful support and encouragement.

The music team was especially brilliant last night. If you’ve never been to Ember, you need to come out and experience it sometime. I know I’m the pastor, so I’m supposed to say that, but if I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t say it. I was talking to my wife after the service about how much I love this church, and the way God has brought our team together, and what he is teaching us. It’s a high honor to be the pastor of Ember Church. I get to do this! God has been so good to me, my family, and our church. Ordination is just the beginning, and I’m earnestly looking forward to all that God will do in and through our congregation.

Have you ever heard someone ask that old skeptical question, “If God exists, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” That’s a good question. It’s a question that deserves a thoughtful, reasonable answer.

But there’s an assumption that lies underneath that question, and it is this: “If God exists, and he is good, then he should only allow pleasure into this world.” But who, by pursuing pleasure, has ever truly found happiness, completeness, and fulfillment? Isn’t our world littered with stories of people who looked like they had it all—money, sex, power—but who were utterly void of character and contentment? Haven’t we seen, through the AIDS epidemic and the horrors of abortion, that the unbridled pursuit of pleasure has brought as much, if not more, pain and suffering than any war in human history?

Not only has the pursuit of pleasure caused untold amounts of pain, but pain and suffering are often far more redemptive than pleasure. Most of us grow and develop character through the most painful, difficult periods of our lives; but few of us grow when things are easy.

Human beings were created by God to exercise dominion over the world. We were created to be Stewards of the earth and Servants of the King, God himself. I believe that God’s intention was to, in the course of due time, invite human beings to reign over Creation with him, seated with him on his throne, so to speak. (By the way, that’s exactly what Jesus promises to those who are faithful in the book of Revelation.)

But our first parents didn’t see that; they got greedy, and so they rebelled against God. The stewards of the earth rebelled against the King of Creation. In our rebellion, we have frustrated our world, living in conflict with it rather than ruling over it with wisdom and grace. We have very little say over the manner in which we live and die on this planet. It’s not so much that we live in a fallen world, it’s that we are fallen people bringing the world down with us.

Listen to how Paul puts it in Romans 8.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

What the Christian faith tells us, and what you won’t hear anywhere else in the world, is that God has intimate, first-hand knowledge of human suffering. Jesus, the Son of God, suffered an excruciatingly painful death on the cross. Not only that, but he endured the emotional pain of abandonment, rejection, and betrayal, all in his hour of greatest need. Even more than many of us, God knows what pain and suffering feel like.

But the pain and suffering of Jesus turned into the redemption of all humanity. Through the crucifixion, God forgave us of all our sins. And after the crucifixion came the resurrection, where Jesus’ suffering became his glory. We, too, through faith in Christ, await the day of our own resurrection, when our suffering becomes our glory, and when we begin to do what we were made to do, rule over the earth right alongside the Son of God.

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s something we all need to hear again and again: God loves you. He does. He gave up everything so that you could be reconciled with him. He gave his son Jesus, who willingly became just like us, to die as the ultimate sacrifice for everything that keeps us far from God–our sin, our idolatry, our pride. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the spiritual penalty that we owed, so that, by aligning ourselves with Jesus through faith, we can be reconciled with God in this life, and enjoy eternity with him in the life to come.

Maybe you grew up thinking God hates you, or that he’s angry with you, or that he’s riding on some cloud with a lightning bolt in hand just waiting for you to screw up. But God doesn’t hate you, he hates the idols that steal your heart away from him. He hates the sin that so strongly tempts you, and which ultimately destroys your soul. He hates the lies of the devil that deceive you. As much as God loves you, that’s how much he hates the idols of your heart.

Tonight at Ember we’re going to start talking about idols. This isn’t going to be fun, but it will be freeing. I believe that God is ready to wage war against the idols of your heart, and his intention is to rescue you from their cunning deception. Prepare yourself: This could hurt. Tonight, 5pm. 401 E. Schrock Rd.

Somewhere along the way we got this idea that God is really interested in giving us a good, easy life. That he wants us to be happy. That he wants us to deal with the least amount of pain possible. That suffering has no part in his will for our lives.

Maybe those things are true, but the reality of the world that I live in, and the reality of the person that I am, is that there are parts of my deep heart that are violently opposed to God. There are yet-unredeemed parts of my being that rage against God when things don’t go the way I expect they should go, or when I don’t get what I want, or when I perceive that God has not delivered on a promise that I tried to manipulate him into making to me. Sin is simply a part of who I am, and it will take God at least the rest of my natural life to transform me into the image of his Son.

Transformation is painful. It’s one thing to give up some sin that you don’t really care about, it’s another thing altogether to repent of the ways in which your very personality, and way of thinking, has been corrupted by the sins you commit and the sins committed against you. That’s the transformation that leaves a mark on your character.

God is good. And I’ve got the scars to prove it.

This is a sort of paraphrase of the things that Paul wrote about his own life with God to the many churches that received letters from him. God hit Paul where it hurt him most time and again. He even once said to a man about Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” He’s done that with many of the great saints of church history.

God wounds us because only by being wounded can we move through healing toward godliness.

Suffering is the definitive mark of a disciple of Jesus. After all, we follow the one who was crucified on our behalf. And like what Jesus suffered on the cross, the suffering we endure will one day be redeemed by our Heavenly Father.

I believe that God is currently trying to root out all the sinful desires, all the idolatry, and all the wickedness from your heart. That’s what he’s doing to me. And it hurts. But he’s doing it in order to make us like his Son. He’s doing it because he’s good; I’ve got the scars to prove it. And if you stick with God long enough, if you stick with him through the crap of your life and engage with what he’s doing in the midst of it, you too will be marked with the scars that prove the goodness of God.

In case I haven’t blogged about this enough, this coming Sunday is the first worship service of Ember Church! God has brought us through a lot in the past few months, and we’ve seen both his tenderness and his strength. I could not be more excited to go to church this Sunday evening!

Our first sermon series will be through the book of Jeremiah, which is actually the longest book (highest word count) in the whole Bible. Obviously, we won’t be hitting everything, so I’m going to be doing a little sermon supplementation on the blog from time to time. Today I want to write about some of the things we won’t have time to talk about this coming Sunday.

Jeremiah the Subverter

Jeremiah grew up under the reign of King Josiah, who was, quite possibly, Judah’s most righteous king. He put a lot of religious reforms into effect, and brought the people back to worshipping the one true God. He outlawed idolatry and destroyed the shrines of the various false gods that had been leading the people astray for almost a century.

But Josiah’s grandfather Manassah had pretty much sealed the fate of the country when he encouraged and participated in child sacrifice. There’s just no coming back from that. So even though Josiah was leading a revival, God called Jeremiah to declare a message of judgment and condemnation against the nation. His prophetic ministry subverted the reforms of the king. God called Jeremiah to say, “Time’s up!” The reforms of Josiah were not enough to save the nation. Even though he was, in many ways, the ideal king, Josiah was unable to stem the tide of God’s judgment against Judah.

Predictably, Jeremiah encountered resistance throughout his life. (It seems, though, that he was never opposed by Josiah.) People don’t like to hear negativity; they detest those who pronounce judgment. But Jeremiah remained faithful to his ministry of subversion and his message of judgment, and God carried out every word that he spoke through Jeremiah.

Near the end of his life, on the other side of God’s judgment (executed through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon), Jeremiah was finally able to offer a message of hope. We find these words in chapter 31:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. …I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. …For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

There is hope on the other side of judgment for Judah and Israel. But the exile to Babylon was not the full extent of God’s judgment. When the people returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, it became clear that, though they had returned to the Promised Land, God had not returned to them. They were still in a spiritual state of exile. This is because the judgment of God had not been fully executed.

That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus suffered the full judgment of God for the sins of Israel, Judah, and the whole world when he died on that Roman cross. We live on the other side of God’s judgment. It has already been executed, and his own son took the full penalty of it because God loves us beyond measure. And then God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. He declared Jesus guilty of our sin. Jesus endured the sentence of our sin by dying. Then God declared him innocent by raising him from the dead.

And so we have hope–a real, living hope–because we have a real, living Savior. And we enter into this hope not through some rigorous moral exam, but through simple, childlike faith that Jesus is who he said he is and did what he set out to do. And we demonstrate this faith by repenting of our sin, receiving full pardon, and living under the authority of Jesus, who now reigns over all creation as the Resurrected King.