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The School of Suffering

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IN THE DAYS OF HIS FLESH, JESUS OFFERED UP PRAYERS AND SUPPLICATIONS, WITH LOUD CRIES AND TEARS, TO HIM WHO WAS ABLE TO SAVE HIM FROM DEATH, AND HE WAS HEARD BECAUSE OF HIS REVERENCE. ALTHOUGH HE WAS A SON, HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE THROUGH WHAT HE SUFFERED.AND BEING MADE PERFECT, HE BECAME THE SOURCE OF ETERNAL SALVATION TO ALL WHO OBEY HIM. HEBREW 5:7-9

Delilah (my daughter) recently started kindergarten here in Cyprus. When my wife, Elisabeth, dropped her off to class for the first time it went as expected. My little girl had woken up excited. She got dressed, ate her breakfast, and nearly ran out the door. It all was going smoothly, BUT upon arrival at her classroom door, she clung to my wife and cried. She didn’t want her mom to leave her there alone. It is understandable when you consider her first day away from her mom also meant she’d be plunged into a completely foreign environment where they do not speak her language.

So I volunteered to take her the next day. But something special happened when I brought Delilah to her little school up the hill. Instead of weeping, instead of refusing to go into her class… my little girl grabbed my hand when we parked and basically dragged my into the building. She was so stoked to show me where she hung her backpack. She brought me to the cart where the kids placed their own personal water bottles. Then she gave me a kiss and said “goodbye”. Needless to Elisabeth was a smidge jealous when I told her how it went.

As I was studying to preach on Luke 6 last week, when Jesus called Levi, I woke up with a thought. (I’ll give you time to recover from the shock.) Jesus simply told Levi two words: Follow Me. While these are two of the most life-defining, direction-changing words imaginable it really is a simple concept. If Jesus commands us to follow, the implication is that He is going to lead us.

There are various styles of leadership. Let me explain. Imagine yourself in a burning building and a fireman kicks down your door and shouts “Follow Me!”. He would be leading you as a rescuer. Jesus does that. Now picture you are going on an off-trail hike through the woods in Oregon. You have no idea where to go, but you have a friend with you who knows the area like the back of his hand. He would say to you “Follow me”, and he would be leading you as a navigator. Jesus is our guide, our shepherd.  When my daughter led me by the hand on the first day of school, she just wanted me to see where she learned. She wanted me to see her classroom.

I believe Jesus has that same heart towards us. He wants us to see His classroom. He leads us with excitement and love. But Jesus’ school was Gethsemane, it was one full of tears and agony. It was Calvary. Where He felt utterly alone and abandoned. God does not lead us into hardship for hardships’ sake. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 16, that to gain our life, we must lose it. Jesus knew that for every Gethsemane we endure, there is a resurrection coming. For every call to take up our cross and march into the gnarly teeth of death, there is a Mount of Transfiguration ahead where we will see Him shining like the sun. And every single sacrifice we make, every teary goodbye to loved ones, the money we leave behind… will be as shadows washed away in the glorious light of His presence. 

He does not offer you a life free from difficulty. On the contrary, our Shepherd leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. The promise is that He will be with us. That He will not abandon His post. That in the midnight hours of your life, when you can’t see Him or hear His voice, He is always there. Carefully watching over us as we are thrust into the forge. Shaping us on the potter’s wheel of heartache whispering to souls “Don’t lose heart. Instead, pick up your pencil and take notes in the dark.” 

 We can sing a sweet song in the shadows because, when we learn in His schoolhouse, it will all make sense when the morning comes.

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Tyler and Elisabeth serve at a church plant in Paphos, Cyprus

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