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For more of my commentary on the Reason Rally see – The Reason Rally: Atheists Out of the Closet

Now read this: Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious, Christian News

My response to Richard Dawkins? Bring it on! I want to be blessed and joyful! And Jesus said I will be if I’m persecuted for righteousness’ sake and on His account:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

With this in mind, I’d like to share a chapter from my yet to be edited, yet to be published devotional commentary on Colossians.

Joyful Suffering With and For Jesus

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24). 

Max Lucado says, “Please understand, [God’s] goal is not to make you happy, His goal is to make you His. His goal is not to get you what you want; it is to get you what you need…Earthly discomfort is a glad swap for Heavenly peace.”[i]

Joyful suffering, if you understand the message of the Gospel, is not an oxymoron – a paradox, maybe, but not a contradiction. Here is a sample of some passages that assert, despite our natural aversion to it, suffering and persecution is an inherent and beautiful part of our faithful following of Jesus: 

  • His followers rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). 
  • Suffering providentially compels us to be dependant upon God and not ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). 
  • Spiritual maturity and character are developed through suffering (Romans 5:3-4). 
  • Suffering for Christ reminds us and others of the Treasure to come (Hebrews 11:25-26). 
  • We will be uniquely blessed if we are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10-12). 
  • “The Spirit of glory and of God” rests on those who suffer for Him (1 Peter 4:12-16). 
  • Those fully surrendered to Christ view suffering for His name as a divine gift (Philippians 1:29). 

But this suffering and persecution is not fatalistic, purposeless, or hopeless. It has a mysterious yet divine purpose in us and for a lost world: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death,to the other a fragrance from life to life.Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

So we see two potential reasons that we are called to suffer for Christ; the presentation of the Gospel and our identification with Jesus.

First we see in Colossians 1:24 that the spread of the Gospel is facilitated by the suffering of Christ’s servants. When commenting on this verse John Piper explains, “Paul suffers, and he says that in his sufferings he fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? What does that mean? Here’s my answer in summary: What’s missing is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others. Paul sees his own suffering as the visible reenactment of the sufferings of Christ so that they will see Christ’s love for them.”[ii]

Secondly, suffering for Jesus identifies us with Him (see Acts 9:15-16). When we suffer for Him we are, due to the mystery of our spiritual union with Him, actually, in sense, suffering with Him. When Jesus accosted Saul on the road to Damascus He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-8). So we see that Paul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of Jesus. So everything that is done to the body of Christ (us) is also done to Jesus. Paul later explained this as “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). 

But Jesus had already told us this would be so: “You will be hated for my name’s sake,” he said (Mark 13:13). And especially in John 15:18-21: 

“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. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” 

The joy we find in suffering for and with Jesus is that we are honored to image forth His beauty and the glorious Gospel of our Lord.  In our union with Him we magnify Him by demonstrating His suffering. For it is through His cross of suffering that He has saved our souls. And what a privilege it is to point others to Him, through our temporary afflictions for His name, knowing what eternal and indescribable glories await us in Jesus: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (1 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Apply It:

Meditate on Isaiah 53 and contemplate Jesus as the “suffering servant.” Spend time considering how much He suffered for you. Thank God for the infinitely valuable sacrifice of His only son, our perfect substitute. Seek the Lord’s guidance on how that translates to following Him. Ask yourself the penetrating question: Am I willing to suffer with and for the One who suffered for me so that I might live eternally with Him?  Ask God to give you the courage to do so with joy, if given that privilege.

[i] Lucado, Max. Colossians and Philemon (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 6.

[ii] Piper, John, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 268.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16).

Reason Rally

U.S. News – Westboro church pastor’s son to face off against dad’s picketers at atheist rally

Today, March 24th, the Reason Rally will take place in Washington, DC. I would urge you to click the first link and study this site, examine this rally’s purpose, and make special note of the speakers at this event. It is quite obvious that nontheism has become quite chic and en vogue.

Here are some excerpts from the site I would like to highlight and comment on:

When will the Rally be held?
On March 24, 2012, from 10:00AM – 6:00PM at the National Mall, nontheists from all corners of the nation will descend on Washington, D.C. en masse to deliver the good news: “We’re huge, we’re everywhere, and we’re growing.”

Why are we doing this?
Across America, in every city, every town, and every school, secularism is on the rise. Whether people call themselves atheists, agnostics, secular Humanists, or any of the other terms used to describe their god-free lifestyle, secularism is coming out of the closet. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (PDF), the percentage of people with no religious affiliation grew in all fifty states.
The purpose of this particular rally will be to advance secularism (in the broadest sense of the word) in society.

  • Let’s be clear – in America, these folks have every right to gather and exercise both freedom of speech and religion. Despite their objections, I do believe this is a religion – it is a belief system of disbelief. And I support these constitutional rights as the original authors intended them. Actually, I’m thankful that, generally speaking, we are allowed to voice our beliefs without fear of retribution, even though it seems orthodox Christianity is now more often the target of censorship than other belief systems.
  • Why do they have to come out of the closet? Actually, I thought they already were – they have had several NYT best-sellers in recent years and the news is flooded with stories about an unbeliever joining forces with the ACLU to suppress religious expression. Really, what are they hiding from? They are protected by the laws of the land and, however wrong I think they are, I support their right to believe in disbelief and live their faith openly. And, after all, it is faith; as they can no more scientifically disprove God than we can prove Him.
  • They use the phrase “the good news.” How ironic they have hijacked terminology that is most identified with the Gospel (good news) of Jesus. There is no need to elaborate on their definition of good news being vastly different from God’s. I’m terribly chagrined that our culture is embracing a worldview of meaningless living and hopeless dying, not that the Gospel has lost its power, but because on some level the church has failed to live out the principles of God’s kingdom (see Matthew 5-7).
  • My view is that much of the attraction to nontheism is actually an aversion to religion. When wounded and burned by the church, nontheism is the logical place for flight. It’s not that it is an attractive belief system but many adherents so detest Christianity that they find some sort of solace in being as far away from that culture as possible. In some cases, Christians and institutional religion bear some responsibility for the violent reaction of some who have fled to a godless ideology. If we call ourselves His followers, failing to pursue a life and love like Jesus is wrong.
  • As Christ-followers we should know what we believe, why we believe it, and never compromise on Scripture as our primary source of our faith. Although reason and science can and often confirm our worldview, we must always be ready to give an answer for our hope. Are we able to defend our faith in light of the growing opposition to it? We must be able to because we are command to. We must boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word, the hope-filled message of the cross of Calvary, and the person and work of Jesus.
  • Sometimes unbelievers can’t hear us over the hate (that’s the reason for the second link). Yes, I know much of what they call hate is really the truth running against the grain of their self-destructive flesh, pride, and self-determination (it does the same to me). But sometimes it is hate, or at least hateful. We are to clearly enunciate truth but speak it through tears of love and sadness over their rejection of God as He is revealed in Jesus.

I’ve got a crazy (and probably unpopular) idea. Let’s pursue friendship with a nontheist. And let’s start today. I’m not saying we condone what they believe but let’s reach across the philosophical chasm and treat them with respect and dignity. Let’s love them like Jesus would so that we might be able, empowered by the wisdom and Word of God, to share our reason for believing and living to glorify God. And then let’s keep loving them with undeniable joy while the Holy Spirit does His work.

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