Vicar, Greg Rand, with his sisters Shawna Urban and Lindsey Rand, and his niece, Claire
Finding Meaning in Suffering through Christ
by Vicar Greg
What is significant about Christianity is not the headline driven concerns of the day, but it’s something to do with how people confront their anguish." ~ Archbishop Rowan Williams
As I have been journeying through the book of First Peter this Eastertide, I have noticed a very strong dichotomy of themes emerging. With one hand the Apostle Peter firmly grasps the reality of suffering and with the other hand mixes it deliberately with joy and resurrection. Why does Peter weave these themes together? What is the connection? Why talk about suffering in the midst of Easter? Aren’t we through with all of that now that Jesus is resurrected? Well, yes and no...
Christ is resurrected, but we who remain in this world look to Christ and the glory to come as a hope and consolation for what we endure today. Peter knows that suffering people need to know about the important things. Suffering people need the things that really matter. Peter knows that suffering people need hope and the encouragement, that what they endure has purpose and meaning in the grand scheme of God’s plan.
Peter draws our attention to Christ and shows us that the suffering and death of Christ had immense purpose. Christ suffered, died, and rose again to bring us to God. Christ did all of this to conquer sin, death, and the devil. He did all of this to take us to be with Him in Heaven. Christ’s suffering and death was His mission and it was not meaningless to Him or to us.
Christ’s suffering and death was not easy for Him. He did not cheat because He was God. We often forget that Christ was fully human and fully divine. He was not half and half and He was not a hybrid. He suffered and died as a man in the tender flesh of His body and rose again from the dead through the mighty power of His divinity. Christ lived with meaning and purpose through His suffering and by doing so He elevated suffering for all of us.
Peter tells us that our suffering will draw us closer to God and give us a deeper and more mature relationship with Him, who we will spend eternity with in Heaven. The lows and valleys of our suffering, pain, and despair give meaning to our existence when contrasted with the hope, joy, and glory of Heaven. The fact that we have a set period of time in which we live gives every moment of our lives a great weight of importance, but it is much more than this. The time we have on earth is not only precious, but what we do with it will echo for eternal ages in Heaven. If I were to have simply said that time is precious and cannot be regained, this would merely be the philosophy of the atheist.
However, for the Christian, time on earth has eternal significance. Can you imagine what it would be like to suffer without Christ and without any life beyond this world? The atheist strives to find comfort in the notion that after suffering and death, there is nothing. This is staggering to fathom. They think believing in a natural world without resurrection or an afterlife adds gusto and realism to life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality it strips life of purpose and makes suffering meaningless.
Others deal with suffering in in different ways. There are many false teachers roosting in Christendom today that deny the meaning and purpose of suffering. They would not agree with the Apostle Peter. They would not agree that for the Christian, God uses suffering to refine our faith, mature us, and draw us closer to Him. Rather they see suffering as having nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, they even teach that those who suffer have a lack of faith or have sin in their lives, and that they are being punished for it. They believe that being a Christian is a privileged position of divine favor which results in health, wealth, and prosperity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The result of this teaching leaves its adherents shallow, narcissistic, and immature. This teaching is a good fair-weather doctrine that only holds up when life is going well, but it is empty and bereft of consolation to those who inevitably experience suffering. Those who were once adherents of this doctrine have major theological shifting to do when suffering finally comes to them. Jesus taught us that suffering is not the punishment of God, but merely the fruit of living in a fallen world. Imagine the audacity of telling a suffering person that they are sick because they have fallen out of favor with God or because they lack the faith to be healed. This is the height of insensitivity, pride and arrogance.
On the contrary, God tells us that He works all things for Good in this world for those who love Him. He even redeems our suffering by using it for our good and His glory.
The quote which began this little discourse is a great way to sum up the situation: I quote Archbishop Rowan Williams who said, “What is significant about Christianity is not the headline driven concerns of the day, but it’s something to do with how people confront their anguish.” I think the Apostle Peter would agree with him. If we look at Christianity rightly, we see that it is not how it answers our questions about the latest polarizing issues that really make it relevant, but rather it is how it helps us to make sense of our lives and our suffering that really makes it important and enduring. This is because suffering is a significant part of life.
Jesus did not come to give us an easy life, but rather He came to give us eternal life. Jesus told us that we would have troubles in this world, but He also encouraged us in the fact that He has overcome the world. He encouraged us in the fact that after our time is finished in this veil of tears, we who believe in Him will live forever with Him in Heaven and our suffering will be finished.
Peter tells us that because we have Christ we have the hope of Heaven and resurrection. In Christ we can overcome our suffering and have joy in the midst of it. This is truly profound and fantastic news. Peter reminds us of the brevity of our suffering and the eternity of our life in Heaven. Peter gives us that much needed perspective on all of these things, a perspective that really matters to you and me.
by Vicar Greg
In Preparation for my sermon this month, I found myself doing some thinking about our “living hope” which we have in Christ (1 Peter). This cannot be a bad thing! In fact, this is one of the benefits of preparing sermons and spending such long periods of time in the Word of God. In this particular case, my attentions were drawn towards Heaven. In my opinion, we Christians spend far too little time thinking about Heaven. We say, “There are too many problems to deal with right here and now, I don’t have time for dreaming with my head in the clouds.” We self talk, down talk, and reason ourselves back to earth. We either think that being heavenly minded is not practical or not possible and we settle back down in “reality”. This is because from the time we were born we are all told a lie. In fact, much effort, training, and conditioning have gone into this lie. The lie says that all that is possible and all that matters is here and now.
This lie comes in many forms. There is the lie of the hedonist, which says that the only thing that matters is pleasure. Those of this persuasion like to believe they are living for today, “eat, drink, and be merry” they say, but they take no thought for Heaven and its consequences (Ecc 8:15). There is the lie of the materialist, which says that all that matters is what is tangible. The materialist values most that which can be held or gained with their hands and finds comfort and happiness therein saying, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy” (Luke 12:18). There is also the lie of the realist, who wants to see things as they really are. The realist uses their experience and often their cynicism to determine that which is real or likely to happen saying, “This is a remote place and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6:35). No matter which lie has deceived us, in each one there is something missing. Heaven is missing. In each one of these lies we are made to believe that this world is all that there is.
We have all heard the saying that someone who is too heavenly minded will be no earthly good. Some of us may believe this. Perhaps this is because we worry that a focus on heaven offers no practical solutions to the problems in our lives or will deprive us of some earthly pleasure which we want to continue doing. In either of these cases, the truth is that Heaven is not a distant place, but rather Heaven is the ultimate imminent reality. The truth is that Heaven offers real comfort, peace and hope in times of struggle and Heaven offers real alternatives to our way of life which will give real pleasure. Our problem is we think of Heaven as distant or detached, so detached as to offer no help or so detached as to have any real say over how we live. We are not to choose one or the other, heaven or earth. We are not to quit our jobs so we can sit on a mountain top and wait for Jesus to return any more that we are to block Heaven from our minds and be “realistic”. Rather, we are to be heavenly minded so we can be a source for good in our Father’s world. We are to live as heavenly minded so we can make a real difference for ourselves and others.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is... It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth "thrown in": aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Heaven is the place where those who trust in Christ live for eternity after death. Heaven is also the place where Christ dwells and where we will experience Him unhindered. To be heavenly minded is nothing more than to be Christ minded. When we believe the lie that all that matters is this world, we rob ourselves of hope, joy, (true pleasure) and peace. Scripture may not say everything we want to know about Heaven, but what we do know should capture our focus and attention. First and foremost, Heaven is where Jesus Christ is with us without limit and Heaven will be a place without evil, pain, suffering, disease, heartache, mourning, and every other evil which plagues and worries us today. We should long for Heaven. The book of Revelation tells us that in Heaven, Christ will wipe every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4). This is what we truly long for! Nothing on earth can ever hold a candle to this. It is easy for us to forget this when we are healthy and it seems that life is going pretty well. When we have not experienced the loss of a loved one or had to deal with serious troubles, Heaven seems a far off nicety or even a fantasy. But, when we are troubled of heart, acquainted with sorrows and grief, Heaven takes on a new meaning with new possibilities. Heaven is the true reality where Christ dwells with all of our loved ones who have died in Him.
For me, this has been the reality. Since Heaven is a place were Christ dwells, I always have Heaven with me because I always have Christ. I do not experience the full effect of Heaven in this world, but I have enough to give me hope, joy, and peace. When I am troubled, He is there to comfort me. Christ is there to embrace me! When I think of Him in the midst of troubles, it is in but mere cloudy thoughts that I scarce have the power to muster, but by fixing my mind upon Him I find hope, joy, and peace.
Perhaps you have experienced something like this. If you have, then you know that these are the briefest moments of what Heaven is like. The joy and peace of His presence makes even the darkest realities fade into nothings. This is hard to grasp and difficult to hold on to since we are not yet in Heaven. Since we are not yet in Heaven, our troubles are likely to return again, but these brief moments are the shining moments when our dark teary eyes are lifted to the light of heaven, to the living hope of Christ. This is reality. The reality is that Christ is present and He is there for us in our pain. This is more than a comforting phrase, but it is the reality that cannot be described. You who mourn; cast your eyes upon Him. In the looking and in the gazing upon HIm, however limited a view of Him you might have, the sight of Him will drive away all of the clouds of sorrow and despair. His presence drives fears away! They flee from Him and cannot bear to stand before the power of His glory. His glory is in His love. Perfect love casts out all fear. We have a living hope.
 Lewis C.S. Mere Christianity, chapter 10, paragraph 1
My Own Story
by Vicar Greg
I would like to tell you a little bit about how I came to be a part of St Luke Lutheran Church and how I came to serve the congregation as Vicar.
Simply put, my journey to this wonderful congregation was an answer to prayer. I believe that God truly guides all of His children on a journey of life and faith so that we might fulfill His plan and purpose, a purpose He has for each one of us. God desires us to journey closer and nearer to Christ so that we might know Him and move from glory to glory. We do this by drawing nearer to those places where God promises to meet us. This happens as we continue to walk the road that He has set out for us. When we wander astray, Christ calls to us and guides us back to Him. This is what He has done for me.
Since I was saved by Christ and baptized in 1998, He impressed upon me the deep rooted calling to serve His church as an ordained minister. I did not know how this would look or how this journey would unfold, but He has been my guide along this path which I still walk. On this journey, I have taken a few detours which God has seen fit to use for His glory and my good. It was after one such detour that I fell upon my knees and asked Christ to guide me to the right place. To my surprise, the answer came immediately. I was instructed to repentantly return to my roots and to my home in the sound theology and sturdy faith of the LCMS.
Being a man of the information age, I went directly to the internet and looked up my local LCMS congregation. Upon doing so, I came upon the sermons of Pastor Timothy Seals. The sermons of Pastor Tim resonated in my mind and heart and inspired me to visit the congregation. When my wife and I entered the sanctuary, we were immediately at home. We felt the presence of Christ in the warmth of the people and the beauty of the sanctuary. In the preaching of the Word of God and the partaking of the sacrament, we found true communion with Christ. It is in His Word and Sacrament that Christ promises to meet us most powerfully. It is in the presence and fellowship of His people that we are nurtured by His love, grace and care.
Over the years I have learned that no calling of God to serve His people comes without the blessing and acceptance of His people. Through the providence of God and the kindness of the people at St. Luke Lutheran Church, I have been given the honor to serve this congregation as Vicar. I am humbled by the love and nurture they give me and empowered by the calling to serve them.
While I serve as Vicar at St. Luke Lutheran Church, I am also a seminary student at Concordia University Irvine through Concordia Seminary St. Louis where I am pursuing a Master of Theology degree with an emphasis upon Cross-Cultural Ministry. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Ministry and Leadership with a minor in Biblical Studies from Life Pacific College in San Dimas, California. My academic interests are in Lutheran theology, cross-cultural ministry, the writings of C.S. Lewis, Christian Monasticism, and Benedictine spirituality.
I have a passion for people and for engaging others in discipleship and spiritual formation in Christ. I am excited for the future we have together at St Luke Lutheran Church!
Pastor Tim, installation ceremony
Congratulations are in order!
Enjoying the reception, with Pastor Tim, Greg's wife, Jennifer Sun, MD, and Greg. Dr. Sun practices family medicine in Claremont