Back in January I stared working out at a gym – with a trainer – seriously working out. It was a combination of recognizing that I had fallen into very bad habits, wanting to start a new call with better patterns and hoping to be in better shape (than I was) when I turn 50 – which is just a little over a month away.
I think I am making progress – but it’s not been easy. My 49 years and 11 months old body is constantly finding new places to ache. I am learning to embrace phrases such as “pain is just weakness leaving your body” and the classic “no pain, no gain.” I am also learning the joy of Epson salt baths and icepacks.
Recently I cleverly decided that my gym verse should be:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8: 18
My paraphrase: This present suffering at the gym (of trying to do three more reps – every notice how it’s always just three more reps) isn’t worth comparing to the glory of my new and improved, physically fit body.
I thought I was very clever – until, as I was finishing up my message for week 2 of #sevenletters #Smyrna, I was reminded of the intensity of the sort of suffering the Bible is talking about.
The church in Smyrna knew a lot more about pain and suffering than I suspect (and hope) I will ever know. The details of the Roman persecutions are just gruesome. Because the Christians in Smyrna – and throughout the Roman Empire – refused to declare, “Caesar is Lord” and boldly affirmed that “Jesus is Lord”– their bodies were torn apart on racks. Their fingernails were pulled off. They were hung by their thumbs, sometimes for days. They were wrapped in animal skins and thrown out for bulls to gore and to pitch around. They were covered with tar and set alight in the gardens to light parties and burned at stakes. Lord, forgive me for even considering my “present sufferings” in the same thought as what the church in Smyrna – and so many throughout the centuries have faced.
There’s a twitter feed a love @FirstWorldPains – the suffering I face is clearly a “first world pain” – I need to remember that.
The evangelist Leighton Ford once commented that Christians today – perhaps especially in North America – are more fearful of a raised eyebrow than a raised sword. The church in Smyrna faced raised swords – and we too often forget so do churches around the world today.
Last Sunday – as we were safely in our churches worshipping and in many cases far too lightly celebrating our nation’s Independence Day and our religious freedom – a very different story was taking place in Kenya. Last Sunday at least 17 Christians were killed in simultaneous attacks on two churches near the Somali border. A group of masked assailants launched grenades and opened fire with assault rifles on a Roman Catholic Church and an African Inland Church located about two miles apart in Garissa, Kenya. In addition to the 17 killed, more than 40 people were wounded in the attacks.
I have friends in Kenya. I’ve traveled there to visit and work with their churches. I’ve sent my youngest daughter there to share in that same work.
Pray for the church in Kenya. Pray for the persecuted church around the world (and here’s a great link to learn more: Voices of Martyrs). Pray that we never compare our “first world pains” with what so many are facing today. And pray that we can learn from the church in Smyrna and so many others how even in the face of suffering and persecution – love remains faithful.