Suffering

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January 31

Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

One of the heresies today of so many false teachers is what is called the “health/wealth” gospel or the “name-it-claim-it” teaching.  I’m guessing many of you know exactly what that aberrant teaching is: God wants you healthy and wealthy. It is your divine right to expect it. All you have to do is “name it and claim it.” Speak it out loud. Claim that whatever it is you want is yours and you get it.

I cannot begin to tell you how that turns my stomach. They twist Scripture to have it say what they mean. “Ask and it will given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” is just one of the Scriptures they butcher. It is used a proof-text for their false thoughts.

They tell people to speak cancer away. Speak poverty away. Want that car? Claim it. Again, I cannot tell you how much that makes me cringe. Meanwhile, they get richer and richer; live in multi-million dollar mansions; wear designer clothes and $1500 tennis shoes on stage. Say what?

All while followers of Jesus die in droves in third world countries from ill health. All while followers of Jesus live under the sword of a pagan dictator or under the threat of rogue bands of vigilantes coming after them due to their faith. All while followers of Jesus are dying from cancer, or live under the specter of Alzheimers, or Parkinsons, or MS, or a wheelchair for life.

Trials, hardships, sickness, prolonged illnesses, even death are all part of living on this planet. It is the result of sin and the last I looked, the statistics for that were 1/1 have that disease. It follows that death has that same stat.

We may have trouble seeing it, but trials and difficulties can serve as a catalyst, a springboard, to new growth and a season of immense blessing from God. “Count it all joy” is what James said (Js. 1:2). The next time something happens that wants to knock you flat or even succeeds in doing that, let’s praise Him for His presence and strength to bear up under it.

And yes, I’m preaching to the choir.

January 24

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

I may be wrong in my assessment (I have been known to be wrong a time or two) 🙂 , but I think one of the hardest parts of the Christian walk is practicing the Scripture which says, “Be thankful in all things.” (I Thess. 5:18)

“In everything give thanks.” Seriously? Does the Bible really say that? Does it really say to give thanks when my heart has been torn apart by a wayward child? By a health crisis? By a domestic crisis? By a financial crisis?

The short answer is Yes. Notice it does not say “Give thanks for the event/crisis.” But it does say, “Give thanks in the crisis.” Let’s substitute during for in. While the crisis is happening, or even after it, I am to give thanks.

I can remember a story from Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place. She and her sister, Betsy, were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp and her sister told her they needed to give thanks for the fleas-the fleas that were in their hair, their clothes, their bedding. Sounded strange to Corrie until they came to realize the guards left them alone because of the fleas. They were free to have Bible studies and talk to other prisoners about Jesus because of the fleas and without fear of the guards.

Giving thanks in the situation NOT for the fleas. We are not asked to go all stoic as though nothing is bothering us. No, we are being told by Paul that while we are in the crisis, an attitude of gratitude and faith can change our perspective.

We can also see God working…even though we don’t understand. I don’t have to say, “Father, thank You for this cancer” (or whatever the crisis is), but I can pray, “Father, I thank You for Your presence and peace that is within me in spite of this crisis.”

Be thankful in all things.

January 12

Thursday, January 12th, 2023

Look around. It is easy to get discouraged.

-A 6 year old shoots his teacher. He got a hold of his mother’s gun and took it to class.

-4 college students in Idaho are murdered.

-Healthy, fit athletes have “medical events” and collapse, some die.

-My retirement (such as it was) took a huge hit in 2022.

-Eggs are $6 a dozen. $6!!!

-Overdoses and suicides are reaching alarming heights.

-Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Wayward child. Loss of faith. The list is endless.

So is discouragement. David experienced it. “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” (Read the rest in Psalm 42:11)

Moses was so downcast at one point about the Israelites that he asked God to take his life. Elijah, after his victory against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, ran and hid out from the wrath of Jezebel. He wanted to die. Jeremiah. Even Paul was overwhelmed from time to time.

Discouragement is a normal reaction. Life is hard and all we see are mountains, rocky paths, and never-ending obstacles.

But we have a promise from God that He is faithful. His love never ends and His presence never disappears. His steadfastness never wavers and His faithfulness never changes.

I don’t always know what is coming. No one does. I don’t always know where it will end up. No one does. I just know wherever that is, God will be there to meet me.

Even when I can’t “see” Him, I can trust Him. As I read recently: “We can trust His heart, even when we can’t see His path.”

December 12

Monday, December 12th, 2022

One of the seemingly strangest Christmas songs we sing is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The history of that song is mind-blowing. The relevancy to today is uncanny.

The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was a child prodigy. He started school at age 3 and was reading classical literature and writing stories by age 6.  At 19 the college graduate (my note: yes you read that right), became a professor at Bowdoin College. He married in 1831 but several years later his first wife became ill and died. It took seven years before he recovered enough from his loss to remarry.  He soon found fame and fortune as a result of renewed vigor. He fathered five children as well as writing classics like The Song of Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish. However, at the height of his fame and wealth and status, tragedy struck again. His wife died while lighting a match that caught her dress on fire.  And then the Civil War hit and his oldest son went to fight for the Union Army. On December 1, 1863 he received word that his son has been severely wounded and may be paralyzed for the rest of his life. He hated the war and what it did to his family and how it divided the country.  On December 25, 1863 he sat down and wrote the words to the poem which John Baptiste Calkin put to music ten years later.  {Source: “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas”-Ace Collins-pp. 81-85} (edited by me to fit)

I suspect many of us could have written that poem. The loss of a spouse or a child. The dissolution of a marriage you had poured your heart and soul into. The despair from a seemingly endless war. Loss of a job and income. Long-term health crisis. The drift of a child or a loved one into an immoral lifestyle or an addiction. The list of “sorrow-makers” is endless.

Despair is knocking on the door, but those who are Christ-followers do not have to give in to despair. One of the poem’s final stanzas says, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, goodwill to men.” {Ibid-p.83}

That is a promise from His Word. If you feel despair rearing up its ugly head and kicking you around, don’t give in.  God is there. Ask Him to come alongside you in a very real way (He is already there in the Person of the Holy Spirit). He has promised His comfort any time you need it.

May you know His peace and presence this Christmas season.

November 22

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

James 1:17 speaks truth. Good truth. Much needed truth. Truth to be reminded of. 

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (emphasis mine)

Notice those first few words again. “Every good and perfect gift.” We can readily agree with that can’t we?

But what if what has happened is not a good thing (at least in our eyes)?

  • This past Saturday morning, a neighbor of a family in the church I pastor, watched as their two-story log home burned to the ground. They got out with the clothes on their back and their dogs (they lost their cats).
  • I visited someone recently who could lift hundreds of pounds of weights, was as strong as an ox, but over the past year health challenges have made him a shadow of what he used to be.
  • As I have aged, I have noticed my own strength wane and knee and back issues play havoc with my active lifestyle.

Does this mean God is not good? Do these example and the countless others mean God does not care? Is He absent?

No…it does not. God has not promised a trouble-free life, no matter the false teaching by the hucksters and shysters who pretend they speak for God. In spite of the trouble, there are some things I KNOW about God.

  1. He is near.
  2. He is at hand, but is not immobile like hands of a broken clock.
  3. He is a listener, but never distracted.
  4. He never sleeps or slumbers.

What do you know about God that you can add? One more thing: be thankful for this God who is always good. Praise Him in the good and in the storm.

November 16

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Have you ever had those times when you were “satisfied”? I’m not speaking about “being content” as Paul talks about in Phil. 4:11-12.

In my mind this morning is the thought that there is a difference between being satisfied and being content. I’m not sure how well I can explain it, but let me try.

“Being content” is an attitude of the heart, a settledness with situations, circumstances, and the nuances of life. A resting in the soft arms of a Mighty God who give us all things. I see this in followers of Jesus who may not have much of what the world considers a “must have,” and yet there is a quiet contentedness that invades the spirit and exudes to others.

I hope that explains that.

Meanwhile, “being satisfied” has another flavor. I see that as meaning something different (at least in my other mind) in the sense of “all is good and going well.” For example, you realize one morning that all has been going well and smooth-job, home, relationships, health-and you rest, not in the strong arms of a Mighty God, but in your “peaceful” situation. Maybe not as drastic as the man Jesus talked about of “Eat, drink, and be merry” fame, but there is an uneasy sense of calm.

Why do I say this? I was thinking this morning how easy it is to get lulled into a lack of alertness, into complacency. We let our guard down. At this point, we become fodder-a target- for the enemy. There is a big zero on our forehead and centered in our heart. Are we not  warned of this in I Peter 5:8? He writes, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (NASB2020)

Simply put: being unaware, being “relaxed,” places us in great danger of the enemy. It puts us directly in his sights. Once we let our guard down we are fair game.

It is okay to be content. Be careful of being satisfied.

October 19

Wednesday, October 19th, 2022

One of the hardest things for me to do is to shut my mouth. My wife would agree. I am very extroverted…very. She often says we can’t go anywhere that I don’t know someone. In fact, she said just the other day that would be reason enough to go back to Alaska for our 50th anniversary in June…no. one. know. me.

While being extroverted has its advantages, it can also be a detriment. I have this bad habit of talking to fill “dead air.” When I was a younger pastor, I also felt I needed to speak because “I had the answers.” It seemed incompetent to me to be silent and not offer some type of biblical or theological answer.

I remind myself of Job’s friends- Zophar and Eliphaz in Job’s book. (What an ugly thought). Job is suffering and they are “waxing poetic,” i.e. making foolish words in an effort to act like they know what’s going on. Zophar foolishly reminds Job it could have been worse (he deserved it) (Chapter 11); while Eliphaz stupidly says it is because Job sinned and needed to listen to God more closely (Chapter 4).

I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing to do is not say anything. Don’t pretend I have the answer. Don’t presume I speak for God.

This came to me as I spent time in a hospital yesterday…waiting with a daughter while her father was being scanned, and then I visited with him and helped him eat when the daughter was called out into the hallway.  (Oops bad move. The OT wanted him to feed himself). I was at a loss for words-for him or his daughter.  I suspect that is better anyway. Empty, hollow, religious platitudes are not what they needed.

Maybe all they needed was someone to just sit with them…and to feed them (and I messed that up)…and BE. QUIET.

“Father, help me to know when and when not to speak. When I speak, may my words be  those of wisdom, not empty platitudes.”

October 3

Monday, October 3rd, 2022

The relaxing weekend is over.  Not having an agenda was nice. We had a leisurely Friday (which is normally my day off); on Saturday we attended a football game at noon and a baseball game in the late afternoon some of our youth were involved in; and Sunday attended church with Ryan and Amanda, our longtime friends.  Afterwards we ate wings (except Jo…she had a burger), then headed home for a relaxing evening. In between all this mayhem I worked on a 1000 piece puzzle I am getting close to finishing.

But its back to the old grind…I mean…agenda/schedule.

Have you noticed how some stories in the Bible never get old? As a child raised in the church, I heard all the stories-David and Goliath, the 3 dudes in the furnace, the angel appearing to Mary, and others.

One of my favorites (besides Jesus) was Daniel and the lion’s den. Still is. David slinging a stone is a cool story. The 3 dudes (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) in the furnace-which actually turned out to be 4 in the furnace-is a wonderful story. But lions-hungry lions-with jaws which could snap a person in half clamped shut all night by angels? WOW! I can see several teaching points in that story. I’ll just settle for one.

The biggest is the lions leaving Daniel alone.  That was totally against their nature. But we don’t read of Daniel worrying about what was going to happen to him. He didn’t stay awake fretting and worrying about how it was going to hurt and maybe it will be quick.  If Daniel stayed awake, it was because he was praying. Not out of worry, but that God would be glorified and Darius’ eyes would be opened (least that is what I think). Read Daniel 6: 25-27 and you can see there is not only validity in what I just wrote, but it also happened.  I’m going to say that Daniel slept like a baby and those lions were like stuffed animals.

We can learn from this story. Daniel’s eyes were not on the den, the lions, or how wrong and unfair it was that he was there. His eyes and his faith were firmly saying, “I trust you” to his God.

Is that a lesson you can learn? I know I can.

September 29

Thursday, September 29th, 2022

If you were to take a random survey of people, especially Christ-followers, of what is there #1 question here on earth, and possibly one they say they will ask God when they get to heaven, I suspect it would be, “Why?” More specifically, “Why all the pain and suffering, especially to little children?”

To be more specific with an example (and there is, of course, not only one), here is one I have been dealing with.  Some folks who are friends of mine, but also part of the church I pastor, have a neighbor/friend who has a 4 year old who has been diagnosed with a glioma, an inoperable, aggressive, and fatal brain tumor.  He has had 3 surgeries so far- one for the tumor originally, and two for complications (bleeding and infection). The question “Why him?” has been asked a lot lately.

I believe we can ask that question and more any time we want. God is not afraid of our questions. But, will we be satisfied with the answer? I don’t know. God, of course, is under no obligation to answer. None. He doesn’t owe me anything.

But I can take heart that Jesus also asked why. Remember on the cross? “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Notice the “why.” But take note of the 4 words which precede it. Even though the grief over separation from His Father was great, Jesus still trusted (“Into Your hands I commit my spirit”). Jesus was forsaken so I might be forgiven. But even in His plain and agony (not physical), Jesus trusted.

We will NEVER understand all that goes on down here on earth. We will NEVER understand all the “whys.” That is not the issue. The issue is “will I trust?”

I don’t know what you or someone you love may be going through right now. In the end, it comes down to trust.

{Side note: I will be taking this Sunday off. I have had one off (and didn’t realize it), since sometime in 2021. This weekend Jo and I are going to chill and Sunday we plan to visit Ryan and Amanda’s home church (he comments on this blog). Your prayers for a “chill time” would be appreciated. Someone has said, “If you don’t come apart, you will come apart.” I prefer to do the former before the latter. Thanks}

September 15

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

After a day when we contemplated an issue that tested our willingness to trust and surrender (Thanks Ryan S.), let’s move on…to more of the same. 🙂

I think one of the hardest times for many of us is because we may not, or don’t, see the clear path, we have trouble moving forward. Sometimes we act paralyzed. Sometimes we simply hesitate following.

Let me revert to an illustration from the book. Many firefighters survive because they know a key truth: a meadow, brush, or even trees, can only burn one time. Many of them will run to the burn. It seems weird, but it is true. Many firefighters have been saved because they ran to the burn.

That brings up an important point. There is a positive side to adversity. Let’s be honest: most of us would like to avoid adversity. Avoid it like a plague would not be too far off. We see adversity as incongruous to a loving God and that said loving God would place adversity in front of us, let alone have us go through it. We do all we can to avoid it! We are far more interested in what will make us happy; God is far more interested in what will make us holy.

Instead of our natural aversion to pain and adversity, maybe we ought to embrace it. Instead of looking for a way around it, let’s stop trying to avoid it. Suffering can actually give us a greater platform for sharing the truth of God’s love.  Instead of running away, maybe God is saying, “Follow Me into the burn. You may not understand. In fact, you probably won’t. But follow Me anyway and I will lead you to safety. You will get to see what I can do.”

Truth: He does not want us to run ahead of Him; He wants us to follow Him. Even if that following has us meeting adversity.

And for your encouragement this morning, stop and read Psalm 86: 11-13. You’ll be glad you did.