Jesus, the Great Physician 

Unfortunately, and fortunately, I have been around some excellent doctors in my life. You do not want to go to the doctor, but if you do, you want it to be a good one. As you know, all people get sick, and doctors exist to help sick people.

In Mark chapter 2, Jesus makes a very simple, yet profound statement. He says, “The healthy do not need a doctor, only the sick. I have come not for the healthy, but for the sick.” What was Jesus saying? What point was He making?

If you read Mark 2:13-17, you will see that Jesus had just called a man named Levi to follow Him. This man had an evil profession. He was a tax collector and grew rich off the exploitation of others. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors could tax people on just about anything they wanted to and get away with it. They were some of the most hated people of the day.

 Jesus was passing by Levi’s tax booth one day and said to him, “Follow Me.” The Bible tells us that Levi left all things and began following Jesus. Later than evening, Levi invited some of his friends to meet Jesus and tell them how Jesus changed his life. At this gathering were all types of sinful people. Tax collector hung around thieves, prostitutes, liars, and other kinds of wicked people. These were Levi’s friends.

While Jesus was dining with them, some religious leaders observed this and asked His disciples, “Why does Jesus eat with such people?” It would have been considered a very bad thing for a religious person to associate themselves with such people. Jesus was different. He was not like the religious people. He did not care about how it appeared, because He came to seek and save the lost.

Jesus overheard their question and responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. And it is for the sick I have come, not for the healthy.” In a very simple statement, Jesus summarized His mission. His mission was to make spiritually sick people well. How was He to do that? By giving them a new heart! This is what Jesus did for Levi. He completely changed his life. He gave him a new heart. Jesus is the Great Physician.

But what did He mean when He said that He did not come for the healthy? After all, are not all people spiritually sick and in need of a new heart? The answer is yes. All people need a new heart and all people need Jesus. What Jesus was saying was directed to the religious leaders. They were sick, but thought they were healthy. Doctors cannot help people who will not admit they are sick. This was the case with the religious leaders. They were just as sick as the people they condemned, but they did not know it. They were not healthy and they desperately needed Jesus, but they thought they were okay on their own.

My friends, Jesus offers nothing to the person who thinks they are fine without Him, but to the one who knows they are nothing and have nothing apart from Him, to him or her He offers everything. The religious condemned the tax collectors and sinners and they judged Jesus for eating with them, when in reality, they were just like them. As I have said before, “Sometimes the one who appears to be the most righteous externally is actually the most corrupt internally.” This was the case with the religious leaders. They were wicked on the inside, but refused to admit it. 

This week, remember that Jesus came for sinners, which we all are, but only those who admit it, and recognize it, receive a new heart. Come to Jesus and be changed by the Great Physician. He is all you need.

Our Adoption Story: Grief, Faith, and Joy

As many of you know, my seven-year-old son, Trey, stepped into eternity with His Savior, after a yearlong battle with cancer in 2012-2013. September 1, 2016 will be Trey’s three-year anniversary in heaven. Needless to say, these past 3-4 years have been very difficult for our family.

In the weeks and months following Trey’s death, our family began a unique journey. It was a journey mixed with grief, faith, and joy. There were, and continue to be, days where the grief was and is overwhelming, but there were, and continue to be, days where our joy was and is inexpressible. We have learned how to live with pain, as we trust, hope, and rejoice in the goodness of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I cannot remember when it happened exactly, but one day at church, I noticed a little boy that I did not ever remember seeing. This young boy was full of life and energy, and for whatever reason, had taken a serious interest in Trey’s story. He would come up to me each week and say things like, “I can’t wait to meet Trey one day,” or “Trey is my hero.” He loved Trey, even though he never met him.

I began to ask about this child and quickly came to find out that his name was Andrew, and that a woman in our church was fostering him. To make a long story short, my wife and I began to pray about adopting him. He was about Trey’s age and my family was growing to love and care for him. All my children became very connected to Andrew as well, and were in agreement that we should pursue adoption.

My wife and I began the process of Department of Human Services (DHS) approval. From paperwork, to home inspections, to 27 hours of training, etc., we were finally approved. We were excited and expecting to be able to adopt Andrew. Unfortunately, shortly after our approval, DHS informed us that we would not be able to adopt him. That, in and of itself, is a long story, but simply put, there were certain regulations in place that did not allow for us to move forward with adoption. We were heartbroken. The good news was that the lady fostering Andrew in our church was able to adopt him, and she did. We rejoiced greatly in that.

Several months after all this happened, my wife and I got a phone call from DHS letting us know that Andrew’s birth mother had recently delivered a baby boy. Due to our relationship and connection to Andrew, DHS said we could be considered for non-related kinship adoption. We did not have to pray long about this and let them know that we were willing. Right around Christmas day in 2014, we brought a little four-month-old baby boy into our home. We named him Luke. We all quickly fell in love with him and began the process of moving forward with adoption.

As you might assume, we quickly ran into some challenges and were made aware that we may not be able to adopt Luke. We began praying very hard about this situation and sought to trust the Lord. We were not sure what would happen, but as we did with our son Trey, we laid this precious little boy before the Lord and simply said, “God, Your will be done.”

About ten months after we took Luke into our home, I received another phone call from DHS. They informed me that both Andrew and Luke’s birthmother had recently had another baby. This time it was a little girl and she was only four days old. They wanted to know if we would be willing to take her in and pursue adoption with her as well. My wife and I said, “Yes,” and in just a couple of hours after receiving the phone call, found ourselves taking this sweet little baby girl home. We named her Addi. In this process, our family prayed, waited, and simply trusted the Lord with these two precious children that God had brought into our lives.

While our family was on vacation in June of this year, we got the official word that we would be able to adopt both Luke and Addi (who are half brother and sister with each other and Andrew, by the way) in August! When we got the news, tears of joy streamed down our faces. We were so happy and relieved. On August 9, 2016, the Freeman family added two new members, Luke Kenneth and Adele (Addi) Joy! It was an incredible day of celebration and thanksgiving to God for allowing us the privilege of having these two children in our lives forever.

When I look at my life, I could have never imagined it looking the way it does. I miss Trey every second of every day, and cannot wait for him to meet his new brother and sister. But, because of Trey and how God used him in our lives, our hearts were opened to take in these two wonderful children. We like to say that Trey sent these children to us because he knew we needed them. I know that is probably not true, but I could see Trey saying, “Jesus, do you think you could send my family these two children? They miss me so much and they need a little help.” Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but whatever the case, God has used these children in our lives in ways I never thought possible. To Him be the glory!

God’s Plan A

Joni Eareckson Tada is a hero to me. She has been the best example to me of how to handle suffering and difficult things for the glory of God. Joni was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenage girl and has spent the last 40+ plus years as a quadriplegic. To make matters worse, she was diagnosed with stage three cancer just a few years ago. She has faced and endured more difficulty than nearly any person I know, yet she has done so with tremendous faith. 

In a recent article I read by Joni she said, “I thought when I became disabled I had missed God’s best for me, and that the Lord was then forced to go with some divine plan B for my life.” She went on to say that she thinks this is the case with many people. She said, “Many people assume that Satan’s schemes throw a monkey wrench into God’s plans, catching Him off-guard, and presenting God with problems He wishes would have never happened.” This could not be further from the truth. The Bible teaches that God is infinitely more powerful than Satan and God is in complete control of every single thing that happens in our lives and in this world. Therefore, nothing passes into our life that does not first go through the hands of God! Joni said, “While the devil’s motive in my disability was to shipwreck by faith by throwing a wheelchair in my way, I’m convinced that God’s motive was to thwart the devil and use the wheelchair to change me and make me more like Christ through it all.” That is why I love Joni Eareckson Tada. Her perspective on pain and suffering always points back to Jesus Christ!

As Christians, we must understand that God is determined to have us share in His joy, peace, and power. But there’s a catch. God only shares His joy on His terms, and those terms call for us, in some measure, to suffer as His precious Son did while on earth. As 1 Peter 2:21 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” Those steps lead us into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering where we become “like Him in His death”: that is, we daily take up our cross and die to the sins He died for on His cross!

I love what Joni has said, “While suffering sandblasts us to the core, the true stuff of which we are made is revealed. Suffering lobs a hand-grenade into our self-centeredness, blasting our soul bare, so we can be better bonded to the Savior.” God uses afflictions to make us holy, and we are never more like Christ, never more filled with His joy, peace, and power, than when sin is uprooted from our lives. Does this mean that God delights in our suffering? Absolutely not. In fact, in John 11:35, right before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He is found weeping. He is weeping over the grief He sees that death brings, even though He knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. The same thing goes for our suffering. God permits all sorts of things He hates, in order to accomplish what He loves. Just as God permitted Satan to thwart Job’s life, so He often allows hard things into our lives, not because He doesn’t love us, but because He does love us. As someone has wisely said, “Satan may power the ship of evil, but God steers it to serve His own ends and purposes.”

The reality for Christians is that pain and discomfort are not God’s ultimate focus for us. He cares about these things, but they are merely symptoms of the real problem. God cares most, not about making our lives happy, healthy, and free of trouble, but about teaching us how to hate sin and to keep growing into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As Joni says, “God lets me continue to feel sin’s sting through suffering while I’m heading for heaven, constantly reminding me of what I am being delivered from, exposing sin for the poison it is.” As I said earlier, “God permits what He hates, to accomplish what He loves.” As Joni so beautifully said it, “One form of evil, suffering, is turned on its head to defeat another form of evil, sin!” Therefore, Christian, in your suffering, you can smile, because you know that God is accomplishing what He loves in your life, uprooting sin in your heart and making you more like Christ! This is no “Plan B” for your life, but His good and loving Plan A!

The Gift of Pain

I recently read an article that spoke of a doctor named, Dr. Paul Brand. This doctor is a missionary surgeon who heads a rehabilitation branch of America’s only leprosarium. He said, “If I had one gift which I could give to people with leprosy, it would be the gift of pain.” In this article, he said that, “After years of working with leprosy patients, I learned to exult in the sensation of cutting a finger, turning an ankle, or stepping into a too-hot bath.” He went on to say, “Thank God for pain!” Dr. Brand believes that pain itself, the hurt of pain, is a gift. But what does he mean?

Doctors once believed the disease of leprosy caused the ulcers on hands and feet and face which eventually led to rotting flesh and the gradual loss of limbs. Mainly through Dr. Brand’s research, it has been established that in ninety-nine percent of the cases, leprosy only numbs the extremities. The decay of flesh occurs because the warning system of pain is absent. How does the decay happen though?

Visitors to rural villages in Africa and Asia have sometimes observed a horrible sight, a person with leprosy standing by the heavy iron cooking pot watching the potatoes. As they are done, without flinching he thrusts his arm deep into the scolding water and recovers the cooked potatoes. Dr. Brand found that abusive acts such as this were the chief cause of body deterioration. The potato-watching leprosy victim had felt no pain, but his skin blistered, his cells were destroyed and laid open to infection. Leprosy had not destroyed the tissue; it had merely removed the warning sensors that alerted him to danger. To a person with leprosy, the sensation of sticking their arm into scalding hot water was no different that picking up a stone or putting their hand in their pocket. They simply have no warning system for pain. It was this reality that caused Dr. Brand to see physical pain as a gift to the body, for without it, horrible consequences occur.

Just a physical pain is an early warning system to the brain, other types of pain can be warnings to the soul. As theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “Pain is a megaphone of God which, sometimes murmuring, sometimes shouting, reminds us that something is wrong.” Lewis went on to say that, “Pain reminds us that the entire human condition is out of whack. We, on earth, are a rebel fortress, and every sting and every ache reminds us.” Pain, seen in that light, is a gift from God that reminds us we are built from something more, for eternity. If we see pain from this perspective, in some sense, we, too, can declare, “Thank God for pain.”

Pain, suffering, trial, heartache, etc., does many things, but there are three things I have learned that allow me to see pain as a gift:

First, pain reminds me over and over that this world is not my home. As the Apostle Paul said, “For my light and momentary afflictions are producing for me an eternal weight of glory.” Every heartache and trial must be seen through that lens. Every time I grieve, I simply remember that my trial, when embraced by faith, is working and producing something of eternal significance. That reality allows me to endure the difficulties I experience in this life.

Second, pain keeps me desperate for Jesus! I often say that God does not want to “be a part” of our lives, He wants and deserves to “be” our entire life. Suffering has a way of keeping Jesus right at the center of our lives. When things are going well, we have a tendency to forget the Lord and begin living for ourselves. Pain is one of God’s ways of getting and keeping our attention.

Finally, pain and suffering make me more like Christ. The Apostle Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” When we suffer, we are never more like Christ. If He was perfect, and He suffered, why would we expect anything different? Our suffering connects us to Christ, but our suffering is not the end. As the Scripture says, “We who share in His suffering will also share in His glory.” What a glorious promise that is for Christians.

Dear Christian, pain is a gift from God. It reminds us we are not meant to live here forever, it keeps us desperate for Jesus, and it makes us more like our Savior. One day, our faith will be made sight. Until then, we walk by faith knowing that no tear we ever shed will be wasted, and one day, every tear will be wiped away. Press on!

Choosing to Trust

Psalm 56:3 states, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” This was one of my son’s favorite verses when he was in the hospital. I will never forget when he wrote it down and my wife took a picture of it and sent it to me. That verse was great for our son, Trey, but little would I know how much I would need that verse in my own life. There were times I was so afraid when he was in the hospital, and there are still times I get afraid now, even though I know he is with the Lord. When I get afraid, or have fear in my heart, I remember that I must choose to trust the only One who can remove my fear. I like what Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” I have learned and continue to learn that to set the Lord before me is to recognize God’s presence and His constant help, but this is something I must choose to do. Trust is a choice, but it is often a difficult choice to make.

 Why is that? Why is it so difficult to trust God? Deep down we know that God knows best and His ways are best, but yet we often struggle to trust Him in and through all things. As I have reflected on my own journey of learning to trust God, I have identified three things that often keep me from placing my trust fully in the Lord. These things must be combated with deep faith in God. As the famous quote goes, “Faith is not knowing what the future holds, but knowing who holds the future.” Even though Christians do know that all things will work out in eternity, we do not know how things will always work out on this earth. As we wait for eternity to unfold, what are the things we must combat on this earth that often attack our faith?

 The first thing to combat is our feelings. Many people are prisoners to their feelings. As their feelings go, so goes their life. We all know that we cannot trust our feelings. Feelings can change like the weather and they are often so very fickle. When we are afraid, hurting, discouraged, sad, etc., we cannot let our feelings be in the driver’s seat of our lives. Instead, a real, deep, abiding faith in the Living God must be in control of our lives. This is a choice though. We must choose to trust in God instead of how we feel. Psalm 56:11 says, “In God I will trust, I shall not be afraid.” Remember this, trusting God is a matter of the will, and is not dependent on our feelings. As we choose to trust God, our feelings will eventually follow.

 The second thing to combat is circumstances. It is hard to trust God, whom you cannot see, when things are falling apart in your life, which you can see. Like feelings, circumstances cannot be in the driver’s seat in your life. Why? Because things change all the time. This is why my favorite verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18 which says, “So we fix our eyes, not on what we CAN see, but on what we CANNOT see. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.” As Christians, we must choose to see the unseen, which is only possible by faith. Remember, your world may feel like it is falling apart, but as you trust God, He will provide peace and strength in the midst of your storm.

 The third thing to combat is people. You have to be careful whom you listen to. When you are in a storm, the voice you need to hear most is God’s voice. Yes, God can use people to speak truth into your life, but if you are not careful, you will begin looking to people, instead of to God, and sometimes people can lead you astray. Only the truth keeps you grounded, centered, and hopeful. When you are suffering or hurting, what you need most is the truth. Get in God’s Word and rest in the promises He gives. God is 100% faithful and every one of His promises is true. He, and He alone, can be trusted, but you must choose to trust Him.

 Never forget that trust is not a passive state of mind. Trust is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to embrace the promises of God and cling to them, in spite of the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us. This week, choose to trust God. He will never fail or forsake you.

Dying Well

Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” There was a time when Christians were known as people who knew how to die well. It was part of Christian concern to be known as people who know how to live and die well. As the Apostle Paul said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Christians for centuries actually believed that and lived that way. Today, the situation is very much different, especially for Western Christians. Not only are many Christians in America not living for the Lord like they should, but many also shudder at the thought of death. For many, death is a very unsettling subject.

I am convinced that the church needs to do a better job at preparing its members to face death and meet God. I am not talking about living morbidly, or with a “doom and gloom” attitude, but rather with an understanding that our days are numbered and that we are all going to die and stand before God. As one pastor wisely said, “You cannot live faithfully in this life unless you are ready for the next. You can’t preserve morality or spirituality or doctrinal purity or faithfulness unless you are living in light of eternity.” When we live in fear of death, we will not have the confidence needed to be effective for the Lord in our life. The Apostle John said, “Abide in Christ, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming.” Christians are to face eternity with faith and confidence, not with fear and shame.

In order to get us ready for eternity, the Lord allows difficult things in our lives. God uses suffering, pain, and sorrow in this life to make us homesick for heaven, to detach us from this world, to prepare us for heaven, and to draw our attention to Himself. The reality is that God does not want us too comfortable in this world, because the more at home we become here, the more we want to stay. The Apostle Peter said that we are “aliens and strangers in this world.” In other words, this world is not our home or final destination.

The point is that we are all under sentence of death. We are all terminal cases. Full acceptance of this truth removes a fair bit of unnecessary shock and rebellion and allows us to escape the modern Western mind-set that refuses to look at death, to plan for death, to live in light of death, and to expect death. For the believer, the time of death becomes far less daunting a factor when seen in the light of eternity. As theologian D.A. Carson says, “Although death remains an enemy, an outrage, a sign of judgment, a reminder of sin, and a formidable opponent, it is, from another perspective, the portal through which we pass to consummated life. We pass through death, and death dies. And the more a Christian lives in the consciousness of God’s presence here, the easier it is to anticipate the unqualified delight that will be experienced in God’s presence there.”

Christians, let us live in light of eternity, so that we are better prepared to die well. When death comes to me, I want there to be a glorious celebration that I am home, that I am finally free! Titus 2:11-14 sums it all up best, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Living like this will help you prepare to die well. See you next week!

A Frustrated, but Blessed Life

Perspective. It is an interesting word isn’t it? The word means “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” Much of this life for the Christian comes down to perspective. We cannot control many of the things that come into our lives, but we can control how we respond to them. For instance, we can choose to see obstacles and problems, or opportunities and possibilities. It all comes down to perspective, but not just any perspective. We need God’s point of view.

One of the biggest things I have learned in my Christian life is that God enjoys frustrating my plans. He does not do this because He is mean, cruel, or manipulative, but because He loves me, sees the big picture, and knows what is absolutely best for me. He wants me to learn to trust Him, so He often frustrates my plans to get me in a place of complete dependence on Him. Even though I know this about God, it is still difficult to embrace at times.

Recently I was thinking about some of the challenging things I have been through in the past, as well as some of the difficult things I am currently dealing with presently. When I look at these things from a human, earthly perspective, I sometimes get frustrated. There are things that happen that I simply do not understand and that make no sense to me. My finite human mind is limited in understanding, and when things happen outside of my control, even things that I know God is allowing into my life, I do not always respond like I should. However, when I set my mind on God and the truth of His Word, I find myself seeing things much more clearly.

As I reflected on all of this, a thought hit me. Yes, God frustrates many of my plans, but He does this for a purpose, a much bigger purpose than I can see. Because of that, my frustrations are actually blessings. Therefore, I am living a frustrated, but blessed life. Romans 8:28 says, “For God caused ALL things to work together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, nothing passes into my life except which God allows, and what He allows is for my good and for His glory. What He wants me to do is trust Him completely.

One of God’s greatest blessings in our life is His Word. His Word is full of promises, and each promise is guaranteed, because it comes from a God who is 100% faithful. God can never go back on His promise because He cannot violate who He is. He is God and He is perfect. Therefore, we can take His promises to the bank. Yes, trials and tribulations will come, but they do not have the final say on our life, God does. God is greater than anything that happens in our lives, and even if He allows things into our lives that frustrate us, with His perspective, we can actually see frustrations as blessings. Christian, be encouraged. You are living a frustrated, but blessed life because the God who loves you is in control and He can be fully trusted. As the Scripture says, “Our light and momentary afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension.” That is a promise that is 100% guaranteed.

Why is the Churched Organized Like it is?

One of the things that has always confused me is why Baptists have organized their churches as they have. I have served in and been a part of several churches in my life, and asked multiple pastors over the years why the church is structured as it is, and instead of getting the answer “Because we have studied the Bible and this is what we believe it teaches,” I’ve heard things like: “Well, it’s not perfect, but it is what it is,” or “I’d love to make changes, but our church is too entrenched in its current system to change,” and even “I’m not sure why we are governed like we are.” None of these answers are acceptable to me. As a pastor, when asked why we do what we do, I always want to be able to genuinely say, “Because we have studied the Word of God, and this is what we believe it teaches.”

The Scripture is clear, there are two offices in the church: elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). In nearly every instance where elders are mentioned in the Scripture, it’s always in the plural. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, the Scripture seems to be clear that shared leadership is God’s design. Yes, there always appears to be a leader emerge among equals as the spokesman (e.g. Moses, Peter, Timothy, Titus), but when it comes to burden and responsibilities of shepherding, there is equality in calling, qualifications, authority, and responsibility.

For nearly two years, I have studied the subject of church leadership/government with twenty men in our church. We studied the Scripture, read multiple books/articles, looked at Baptist history, interviewed pastors and church leaders, prayed, and sought the Lord. The result of our work led to the creation of a twenty-six page booklet that we have called, Rediscovering Church Leadership: A Biblical and Historical Overview. What we discovered is that a plurality of pastoral leadership is biblical, Baptist, and ultimately best for the church. A definition we have grown to love and embrace is that:

A biblical, New Testament church is ruled by Jesus Christ, governed by the congregation, led by a plurality of elders, and served by a plurality of deacons. 

Lord willing, we are seeking to make this transition at FBC Newcastle. Fortunately I serve a church that has a high view of Scripture and truly cares about doing what God has said…so, thus far, our people have responded with great maturity and wisdom (you know Baptists don’t like change :-)). We are going very slow in this transition process though and will walk through this unified, and the result, I pray, is one that will bring great glory to God and allow us to better shepherd all the people God brings to us.

Below is a link to our booklet and a sermon I recently preached. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

BOOKLET LINK:
https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.cloversites.com/31/316b8d1d-8b04-428c-bbe1-3ff2a39d5d0d/documents/FBCN_Elder_Book.pdf

SERMON LINK:
http://player.subsplash.com/41fcb81

When God Doesn’t Remove the Thorn

The Apostle Paul is largely known as the most influential Christian of all time. Next to the Lord Jesus Christ, no one has had greater impact on the Kingdom of God. Paul hated and was a persecutor of Christians early in his life, but was radically transformed by Jesus Christ, turning him into the one of the greatest Christ-followers the world has ever known. His life and testimony are incredible examples for all believers.

As impacting as the Apostle Paul was, he did not have an easy life. The Bible and church history tells us that he suffered greatly for his Lord, and ended up dying a horrific martyr’s death. One of the most incredible lessons we learn from Paul is how to be faithful in the midst of suffering. Paul was uniquely blessed by the Lord to receive divine revelation from God, but to keep Paul from becoming conceited and proud, the Lord gave him a “thorn in his flesh.” This was a figurative expression reflecting that God put something in Paul’s life that made him dependent on God for strength. 2 Corinthians 12:7 says, “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”

There has been great speculation as to what this “thorn” was. Some have speculated that it may have been something physical, like trouble with his vision. Some have stated that it may have been a spiritual problem, or an emotional problem. Whatever the thorn was, it was extremely troublesome to Paul. It was such a problem to him that the Scripture says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” But, the Apostle Paul’s answer from the Lord was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God was not going to remove the thorn, but would teach Paul how to trust Him with the thorn.

As I have reflected on Paul’s circumstances, I have learned much from his situation. So often, God does not remove hard things in our lives, but chooses to leave them, in order for us to truly trust Him. Here are three principles necessary for living when God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives.

First, God’s grace gives endurance, but we must rely on Him!

Much of the Christian life comes down to sheer endurance. God often likes to test us before He uses us. As I heard a preacher say one time, “God never uses anyone mightily that He doesn’t test thoroughly.” Paul was being tested. His situation was not about having faith in God to remove the thorn, but having faith in God, even if He didn’t remove the thorn. God may not always remove the trials in our lives, but He will give us what we need to endure them. We simply must rely on Him. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient, for My power is perfected in weakness.” God may test us, but He never leaves us empty handed. As the above Scripture says, “His grace is sufficient.” If you want to be used by God, which is the desire of every true Christian, prepare to be tested. God wants us to rely on Him and fully trust in Him, even if things do not go how we want or plan. But, we must always remember James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Christians may suffer in this life, but as we endure and rely on the Lord, one day it will all be worth it.

Second, God’s power gives strength, but we must yield to Him!

Jesus said to Paul, “…My power is perfected in weakness.” God’s grace is sufficient for us, but His power is also available to us. God does not just provide what we need to endure, but also what we need to overcome. It is in our weakness that God’s strength is made strong. This is why Paul was able to say, “…I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There is a certain freedom when a Christian realizes they have no power in themselves. But, a Christian must then yield to the Lord in order to have the necessary power to overcome the trials in their life. James, the half brother of Jesus said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God’s power is greater than anything we will ever face, and all He asks us to do is yield to Him. When we boast in our weaknesses, His power rests on us and works through us!

Third, God’s presence gives peace, but we must glory in Him!

Paul says that he endures what he endures for the sake of Christ. His ultimate desire was to glorify God. He even went so far to say that he boasts in his weaknesses so that Christ might get the glory through his life. Paul took no pleasure in the pain itself, but rejoiced and received peace knowing that God received glory through his suffering. God loves to display His glory and strength through our weakness, because it is then that He gets immense glory, the glory He alone deserves. We must learn and remember that it is not the absence of problems that brings peace, but rather, the presence of God. When God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives, He still provides Himself in the midst of our pain, and He is enough.

As Christians, we must rely on Him, yield to Him, and glory in Him. Then we will have the endurance, strength, and peace we desperately need when God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives!

The Blessing of Suffering

A word that everyone likes to hear is the word blessing. In fact, I do not know of anyone who does not like to be blessed in some way. Christians especially love to use the word blessing. I often hear things like, “I am so blessed,” “What a blessing,” or “God has really blessed me.” While all of these things might be true, I often wonder if we misuse and misunderstand what it really means to be blessed.

For many, blessing is often associated with receiving something that benefits them. Generally, people associate the blessing of God in their lives with certain answers to prayer, or specific provision in their life. People will pray for things such as a job, the birth of a healthy child, or for their cancer not to return, and when those things happen, they declare, “God is good. He has blessed me.” I would contend that in those instances, God is good and He has blessed you, but is getting what we want, or what we pray for on this earth, the truest definition of what it means to be blessed? I think there is a deeper meaning and understanding to the blessing and goodness of God.

Think of it from this perspective: the next time you pray for something, or ask God for something, and it does not happen the way you prayed, what will you declare? When you do not get the job, when your child is not born healthy, or when your cancer returns, will you declare that God is good and that He has blessed you? It is not often that people declare with great boldness and joy the blessing and goodness of God in their suffering or trial. We say things and sing things like “God is good all the time and all the time God is good,” but when things do not go like we want or expect, we are not quick to make such a declaration. Could it be there is actually blessing in suffering? Could it be that we discover the goodness of God in a much deeper way in the midst of suffering instead of in spite of it? I think the answer is yes! The Bible teaches that suffering is indeed a blessing from God.

1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” There is an invaluable blessing, which is gained through our trials. One blessing gained is that our faith is tried and proved. As C.H. Spurgeon said, “The way to try whether a ship is well built is, not merely to order the surveyor to examine her, but to send her to sea: a storm will be the best test of her staunchness.” It is one of the great mercies of God to have your salvation proved to you under trial. Trials prove the genuineness of our faith, and as we remain true to God under trial, we can be sure that our relationship with Him is not mere profession, but real consecration.

Christians in every age of time have always seen the blessing of suffering. They knew that when they suffered for Christ, they were in a way becoming like Him. The early Christians are recorded as being arrested and beaten for their boldness in preaching the Gospel, and after they were beaten, the Bible says they went home praising God because they “counted it an honor” to suffer for their Lord. The Apostle Paul declared that he wanted to know Christ through the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. The Apostle Peter said that we should not be surprised by trials, but should welcome them with joy, knowing that as we share in Christ’s suffering on earth, we will also share in His glory in Heaven. These, and countless others, saw suffering as blessing. They knew they were not storing up treasure on earth, but rather treasure in heaven. They had the right perspective and knew the deeper meaning of blessing.

As you think about the blessings in your life, do you only count the things you can see? Do you measure your blessings based on the things that benefit you? I am convinced that it is time we start seeing suffering as a blessing. It is time we show the world that real faith is not trusting God when He gives you what you want, but trusting Him even when He doesn’t. There is tremendous blessing in suffering, for when we suffer, we discover the goodness of God and genuineness of our faith. Rejoice in those realities!

%d bloggers like this: