On April 14, I will have been a pastor in Iowa for twenty years. I spent 14 1/2 years in Cedar Rapids and now have been in Sioux City for (you could probably do the math yourself) nearly 5 1/2 years. Iowa has some pretty unpleasant winters (though Jeff Musgrave can probably tell stories that will make me feel like a Floridian).
This morning when I drove my daughter to school, it was 11 degrees below zero – actual temps, not windchills. We had a pretty brutal storm on Monday, which dumped several inches of snow on us, which blew sideways in blizzard conditions.
The snow let up during the night and school went on Tuesday morning with a 2-hour delay.
Before we moved to Cedar Rapids, I was the pastor of Drakes Branch Baptist Church in Charlotte County, Virginia. I can say this. The very same storm and temperatures would have shut down Charlotte County schools for 2 or 3 days minimum.
Why is that? Are Iowans just hardier, braver, and more adventurous than Virginians? No. The difference is simple. In Iowa, we expect weather like this and prepare for it in advance. In Virginia, a storm like this is a rarity and it doesn’t make sense for the local governments to sink the money into the equipment needed to handle an event like this. But in Iowa, its a regular thing. We have lots and lots of snow plows. We have large barns stocked with salt and sand for the roads (it wreaks havoc on your car’s paint job). As soon as the snow (or ice) starts they salt and sand the roads, then start plowing. Everyone has a snow blower. We are ready for what winter can bring.
Cedar Rapids is a four to five hour drive due north of St. Louis. When we were building our church building, we hired a St. Louis architect to design it. We found out that buildings are built very differently in Cedar Rapids and St. Louis. Several of his designs had to be altered because of Iowa’s weather requirements. Living in the North is different; we must do things to prepare for the weather that people in Virginia or Texas or Kentucky do not have to do.
What’s the Point?
A lot of people tell us that theology and doctrine don’t really matter, that we should just love Jesus and preach the gospel and not worry about all that doctrinal stuff. But theology matters. Your theology shapes your outlook and expectations in life. If your theology is wrong, your outlook and expectations will be wrong and you will experience confusion, anger and disillusionment.
For instance, I have friends who believe that God wants to bring nothing but good into our lives. If we walk in faith, they say, we will have health and wealth. Superstar TV evangelists feed these expectations; growing wealthy and famous in the process. And the poor followers live their lives wondering why they cannot work up the faith to make their faith work, to bring into reality the illusory promises given from the pulpit.
A close friend’s son was sick – hospitalized with a serious illness. My friend was upset. “He just won’t receive his healing,” he complained. The false theology my friend bought into led him to harass his very sick son and heap guilt and condemnation on him, instead of support.
It is easy for us to look at the name-it, claim-it hucksters with condemnatory eyes. We understand that. But let me tell you a story about myself and how inadequate theology hurt me and my ministry.
I experienced a personal revival back in 1993 at a Pastor’s Conference. My spirit renewed, I went back to my church expecting to see great things happen. Instead, 1994 was one of the worst in my 30 years of ministry. It seemed to me as if every evil thing in that church rose to the surface.
But then, God renewed our church as well, in August of 1994. Great days followed. We were growing in every way – lives were being changed. Things were different f0r me as well. I was experiencing spiritual growth like never before. And I had a lot of expectations. If I did the things I was doing – repenting, seeking God and his Word, praying, seeing myself as “on mission with God” – God would do what he was obligated to do. God would continue to bring revival, blessing, and the glory of his manifest presence at Northbrook Baptist Church.
That is not what happened. By 1999, I was deeply discouraged and perhaps even depressed. God had let me down. I had done everything I was supposed to do. Prayed. Preached. Served. Reached out. But instead of the continuation of revival I had expected I experienced one crisis after another. Serious, life-sapping, heart-wrenching, crises in the Body of Christ.
In 2000, I started a “Through the Bible, Hopefully before Jesus Returns” Sunday night series. That is when I noticed something. As I studied the great heroes of the faith, a pattern developed.
Loving and serving God is no guarantee that things will go well in this life. In fact, almost every person in the Bible who had a personal encounter with God suddenly found themselves in the middle of pain and suffering.
Challenge: Show me one person in the Bible whose life got easier after he had an encounter with God.
Abraham had to leave home and go to the land God would show him. Joseph had dreams, followed by 13 years of pain and suffering. Moses had to face Pharaoh. Joshua faced Jericho.
I realized what was wrong. God had not forgotten his promises – I had misunderstood them! God had not guaranteed me success and comfort, but had called me to a soldier’s life – to endure hardship and suffering in this world for the glories of a world that is to come. Preachers, teachers and writers had created in me an unrealistic and unbiblical concept that my spiritual growth guaranteed certain temporal blessings. God did not make these promises.
The Corinthians were Paul’s dysfunctional church children and they were always challenging his authority. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul defended his right as an apostle to lead and guide them. It is, in effect, his ministry resume. Look what the Apostle Paul went through in his life.
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 2 Corinthians 11:21–29
Paul obviously did not get the memo that being a good servant of God guaranteed a life of ease.
What Should You Expect?
Here’s the thing, friends. Your expectations about life should be guided by scriptures, not by the false theology and unrealistic expectations created by others.
When I was a kid, we used to have “claim your promise” testimony nights at church. There’s a couple of verses I never heard “claimed during these times.”
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
You kidding me? I thought my faith guaranteed me health and wealth? No. Jesus promised me tribulation, hard times and suffering!
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. John 15:18-20
Interesting how much time we spend trying to prove Jesus wrong – trying to become acceptable, popular and relevant to our culture. Jesus said that if we are faithful to him, THE WORLD WILL HATE US! (Yes, I’m shouting – I’m a Baptist preacher after all!).
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29 -30
Now, there’s a promise that not many people want to claim. It is our lot not only to believe, but to suffer and to live in a conflict.
Folks, we need to read our Bibles. Our theology matters. We need to shake off the deceptions and false promises that limit our effectiveness.
It matters how we view ourselves.
- Are we the “sons of God” – yes, we are. Adopted into God’s family by grace we are loved and included as sons – inheriting all the glories and resources of God. But that is not all there is.
- We are also “servants” – called to expend our lives in serving the interests of the kingdom, not our own.
- We are also “soldiers” – called to suffer hardships in a great conflict, contending for the interests of our heavenly King, not seeking the things of this world.
It matters how we view this world.
- Is it a playground for our pleasure?
- Or is it a world in rebellion against its Creator which has embraced sin and is hostile to our Savior and our faith?
Our theology matters.
What is your purpose here on earth?
- Eat. Drink. Be Merry?
- Or die to self and live for Christ?
Our theology matters.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 2 Timothy 2:3–4
In the frozen North, we expect winter and we prepare for it. Its a part of our lives. Christians, we must understand that suffering and hardship is part of the Christian life. Faith does not free us from these things, but sustains us through it. Prepare your heart and your soul for the storms of life that will inevitably come your way.
Don’t let the winters of life catch you unaware.