Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

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