4 Anchors in the Storm

On January 19, 2020, I preached a sermon entitled, Anchors in the Storms. When I preached this message, little did I know what was coming to our world. At that time, I, along with most people, had never heard of the Coronavirus. The goal of the sermon was to help people prepare for and endure the storms of life that will inevitably come their way. As I have said many times, “In a fallen world, sometimes your greatest fears come true.” The good news is, because of Jesus, there is real hope. No matter what you have faced, are facing, or will face, there is always hope. I said that back in January, and I still believe it today.

In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul is heading to Rome on a ship with over 200 other people. They set sail from Caesarea, which under normal circumstances would take five weeks. However, due to a wide variety of circumstances, it took Paul nearly five months to complete his journey. They faced hardships of many kinds, including a terrible storm, making their trip incredibly arduous.

When all hope of being saved was lost because of the storm, an angel of the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” At just the right time, God spoke truth into Paul’s life, and he was able to encourage all on board.

As I studied this passage, I saw four essential anchors needed for the storms of life.

First, the anchor of God’s presence. Paul lived with a unique awareness of God’s presence in his life. When all the other men were panicked and afraid, Paul was able to remain calm because he knew God was with him. In this life, you are either focused on the storm, or the God of the storm. When your focus is on your problems, you will have no peace, but when your focus is on God, He will be your peace. As you have probably heard before, “Peace is not the absence of problems; peace is the presence of God.” The anchor of God’s presence is absolutely essential in this life.

Second, the anchor of worship. In this passage, Paul says there appeared before him an angel of the God to whom he belongs and whom he worships. This is very important. Worship is not a once a week event, it is a lifestyle. Paul’s life was worship. The word worship most literally means “worth ship.” Whatever we value above all other things is what we worship. I like to say, “What consumes us, controls us.” Our worship most simply comes down to what controls our thoughts, desires, and actions. Paul was a worshipper of God. We know it because his life revealed it. When the storms of life come, you do not want to be scrambling to worship, you want to be found already worshipping. For Paul, he did not have to try and do something foreign to him. When the storms came, and God appeared to him, it was personal. This was the God he belonged to and whom he worshipped. In this life, storms will come, and one way we can be prepared is by living a life of worship to God.

Third, the anchor of truth. This is perhaps the most important anchor we need in our lives. The angel appeared and spoke truth to Paul. He said that were would be no loss of life among those on the ship, and that they should not be afraid because God was going to make sure they got to Rome. Truth was needed in the midst of this chaotic situation. When the storms of life hit you, what you have to be anchored to is the truth. God has given us His Word, and we must hold fast to it. Life will be ever-changing, but God’s truth is never-changing. If you want to both survive and thrive in the storms of life, God’s truth must be an anchor in your life.

Finally, the anchor of faith. At the end of the day, the question for Paul was, “Would he believe what the angel of the Lord said to him?” I love what Paul says to those on the ship, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” Paul’s faith was real and authentic. He believed God would do exactly as He said. In our life, God can be with us and speak to us, but will we have faith in who He is and what He has said? Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Romans 14:23 says, “…For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” God wants us to trust him and He is completely worthy of our trust. Faith is an essential anchor in the storms of life.

This week, no matter what you are facing, walk in God’s presence, worship Him, embrace His truth, live by faith, and just watch how God will fill you and use you. These are four essential anchors in the storm. If you would like to listen to the sermon I preached on this passage, click here.

A Life of Example

If you ever needed a hero to follow, look no further in the Scripture than Joseph. He was a man who lived a hard, but extraordinary life. Joseph’s life was marked by struggle, trial, perseverance, and triumph. His testimony offers hope to anyone whose life has not worked out the way they planned and who may have wondered why God has allowed certain things into their life. As you look at the life of Joseph, there are several things we can learn from his story.

First, a life of example is marked by God’s presence and power. One of the themes of Joseph’s life was that God was always with him. Even when his brothers abandoned Joseph, God never abandoned him. The presence of God in Joseph’s life produced the power of God in his life, and he was able to endure and overcome many things he faced.

Second, a life of example is marked by purpose and passion. His brothers sold Joseph into slavery and he became a servant of a man in Egypt named Potiphar. Potiphar quickly recognized something unique about Joseph and began to put him in charge of many things in his home. Joseph served Potiphar well and exhibited tremendous purpose and passion in all that he did. Joseph’s passion came from his purpose, and his purpose came from God.

Third, a life of example is marked by purity and perspective. It was not long before another trial came into Joseph’s life. Potiphar’s wife took an interest in Joseph and she pursued him. She wanted him to have an affair with her, but Joseph would not sin against God or his master. Joseph was a man of tremendous purity and integrity, but he also had a great perspective. He would not compromise in the slightest.

Fourth, a life of example is marked by prudence and providence. Potiphar’s wife got mad that Joseph would not sleep with her, so she lied and said he tried to rape her. Potiphar threw Joseph in prison. While in prison, God was with Joseph and God gave him favor with the prison guard and other prisoners. Joseph had the unique ability to interpret dreams and did so for some of the prisoners.

It was not long before Pharaoh had a dream that he needed to have interpreted. He heard about Joseph and called upon him. Joseph interpreted his dream and Pharaoh pardoned him from prison and made him second in command in all of Egypt. He said that there was no one in the land with the wisdom and discernment of Joseph.

Joseph used his wisdom to store up grain for the famine that hit the land. One day, his brothers showed up because they needed grain. He had not seen them in over two decades. They did not even recognize him. Joseph could have thrown them all in prison for what they did to him, but he forgave them and said, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” Joseph saw the providential hand of God in his life. Instead of being bitter about his circumstances, he got better and became the man God wanted him to become.

Today, live a life of example. God’s presence and power are with you. Walk with purpose, passion, purity, perspective, and prudence. Above all, rest in the providence of God, knowing He is in complete control.


Embrace, Trust, Walk

Author Paul David Tripp says, “We are always either mourning the fact that we aren’t getting our way or celebrating that grace welcomes us to a new and better way.” He goes on to say, “I think there is probably a mix of mourning and celebration in all of us.”

I can say that my family is experiencing the reality of what Mr. Tripp is saying. Life has not exactly turned out as we had planned. The circumstances we find ourselves in are not ones we would have chosen. We can either bemoan where God has allowed us to be, or embrace the grace God provides to see us through. In our lives, there has definitely been a mix of mourning and celebrating, but we are choosing to embrace where God has us, trust in Him, and walk by faith.

Hard things happen to everyone in life. It’s not a matter of “if” challenges will comes your way, it’s how you will handle them “when” they do.

First, we have to embrace what God allows into our lives. This is very hard to do. I often say that there are two kinds of “storms” God brings our way: storms of correction and storms of perfection. Storms of correction are storms God uses to show us the error of our ways and get us to repent and return to Him. Storms of perfection are storms God uses to grow us in our faith. Neither type of storm is enjoyable to endure, but what God allows, He provides for. My family is embracing where God has us and we are growing. We are learning to lean on Him and keep our focus on what matters most.

Second, we have to trust God in all things. It is easy to trust God when life is good, but real trust happens in the trenches of life. When life falls apart, we have to trust the only One who can put all things back together. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” The truth is, we will never obey God if we do not trust Him. When we fully trust God, we will be better prepared to obey Him fully!

Third, we have to walk by faith! The Bible is clear, “The just shall live by faith.” The Bible also says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith is important to God and He wants us to trust and believe in Him. When you embrace where God has you and trust in Him completely, you will walk by faith. The challenge is walking not by what you can see, but by what you cannot see. As the Apostle Paul said, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.” God wants us to walk by faith as we trust Him with what we cannot see. That is the essence of faith. After all, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”

Today, let us embrace where God has us, trust fully in Him, and walk by faith. When we do that, we will be well on our way to experience the peace that surpasses understanding and the strength that only God can provide.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬

Thoughts for the Hurting

My personality lends itself to being high and low. I have to work very hard at being steady. Some days I am better at this than others. So, you can imagine how living with an emotional hole in my heart can make things extra difficult. I recently read something from a woman whose daughter passed away and she said, “I gave a part of my heart to my daughter that she took with her when she died, and I won’t get that back this side of heaven.” That reality resonates very much with me. So, what am I to do?

The truth is, God gives and takes away. If you don’t believe me, just ask Job. But, if we were honest, we just want God to give, don’t we? We don’t want Him to take and we certainly don’t want Him to take away the things or the people we love. This life is hard…very hard…but God is most concerned about conforming His children into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, today, I’ve been struggling, and as I am, I look to the Cross and am reminded that the Cross is the ultimate example of God’s ability to work all things together for good, even the most wicked deed ever conceived. Though those who put Jesus on the Cross meant to do evil to against Him, God used it for good, in order to bring many to Himself. Truly, in death, there is life.

I’m reminded of this: if God would require such intense suffering of His own Son, whom He loved, to accomplish a holy purpose, He surely has a purpose for your pain and mine. And perhaps part of that purpose is to learn obedience from what we suffer.

Why has God allowed so much suffering in your life and mine? Well, ultimately the purpose is not to disfigure us for life, but to mold us into the people who thinks, acts, and looks like Jesus Christ…and oh how that process of molding can hurt. But again why? So that you and I can display the glory of God by living as a reflection of His Son! 

Remember when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The blind man’s suffering was allowed because that is how God would get most glory from his life.

Now, we can either shun suffering or embrace it. I’ve done both, and I can assure you, shunning it only adds to the pain. However, when we embrace it, something happens in our hearts…there’s an intimacy with God, a freedom in submission, a peace in the pain, and even at times, a joy in the journey. As Nancy Guthrie says, “Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness—this is the kind of faith God values perhaps most of all. This is the kind of faith that can only be developed and displayed in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.”

Today, in faith, I’m crying out to God: “Father, would You please accomplish Your will? Would you give me a willing heart to embrace Your plan and purpose? Would You mold me into a vessel that You can use to accomplish what You have in mind?” Oh that I would truly mean that prayer because I know that’s what I need…I know that’s what is right. 

The truth is, I have come to know God more fully because I’ve experienced Him more fully in my sorrow. Lord, help me believe and embrace Your will for my life. 

Easter is More than a Holiday!

This past Sunday was Resurrection Sunday, known to many as Easter Sunday. For one Sunday a year, people come out of the woodwork for church. I do not know of one church on Easter Sunday whose attendance is down. All churches seem to have great attendance on that special day. But, have you ever stopped to ask why?

As a pastor, I am always amazed at this phenomenon. In fact, we often see the same kind of attendance right around Christmas. We often say that in the church, there are “CEOs”: Christmas and Easter Only attendees. But again, why? Why do people feel compelled to come to church more on those two times of the year than any others? As I have reflected on that, here are three reasons I have observed.

First, many see church as the social thing to do. For these, church is simply a social component in their life. They look at the church like they do being a part of other social clubs, and they attend at times when they feel it is more socially acceptable and popular. To attend on Christmas and Easter is simply the social thing to do, so they feel compelled to be in church on those days.

Second, many see church as the parental thing to do. For these, they show up because they feel their kids or grandkids need it. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “We come because my kids need to be here.” For so many, having their families in church on Christmas and Easter is driven by a compulsion to make sure their kids have some good old fashioned religion in them. 

Finally, many see church as the religious thing to do. For these, church is just another box in their life, and as long as they check the box once or twice a year, they feel they are good to go. Many see going to church like they do their annual physical with their doctor, or an annual tune up for their car. They just want to come in, get out, and carry on with their lives.

However, all of these reasons, and I’m sure many others like them, are not why people should attend church. While I’m thankful for the many who attend on Christmas and Easter only, I also grieve for them, because they are missing out on so much more. Church was never designed to be a purely social, parental, or religious practice. 

What was church designed to be then? According to the Bible, the church is not a building, it is a people. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means “the called out ones of God.” In other words, the church are the people who have entered a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and gather together to worship, serve, minister, fellowship, pray, grow, and evangelize. According to the Bible, church is not a box you check, it is a way of life. 

True Christians do not attend church because it is the social, parental, or religious thing to do. They attend, and attend regularly, because the church is their family and they need one another in this life. Think of it like this, the church is simply an extension of our personal relationship with God. God saves us individually, but unites us collectively. The church is a beautiful thing, because it reflects those Jesus has purchased with His blood and how He has brought us together. 

Easter Sunday has come and gone, but Jesus is still alive. Until Jesus returns again, FBC Newcastle will be celebrating His Resurrection every Sunday. If you don’t have a regular church you attend, come and worship each week with us. Why? Because Easter is more than a holiday. 

There is HOPE because JESUS is ALIVE!

Tomorrow, April 13, my son and hero, Trey Robert Freeman, would have been 11 years old. As many of you know, he went to be with the Lord on September 1, 2013 as a seven-year old. Trey has impacted my life in ways I will never be able to fully express.

To me, Trey will always be a little boy. I will always remember him as a five or six-year old. It is strange thinking that he would be eleven this week. I can’t imagine what it will feel like when his birthday rolls around and he would have been twenty, or forty, or beyond that. I, of course, hope the Lord returns before then, so we can all be together again, but until then, we remember, we grieve, and we celebrate.

When Trey passed away, a pastor friend said something very helpful to me. He said, “Jeremy, it’s okay to grieve, Christians just grieve differently.” That was an encouragement to me. I think sometimes Christians feel they shouldn’t grieve. Some think if they grieve they are not showing faith. That could not be further from the truth. Christians grieve, but they just grieve differently.

The Bible says that Christians grieve with hope, and because of who Jesus is and what He has done, there is great hope. Romans 5:3-4 says this, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Hope is a wonderful gift and I am thankful that, because of Jesus Christ, there is joy in my tears and comfort in my despair. While the grief is deep, our hope is deeper and greater still.

This week, as my family remembers Trey, and thinks about his life, his impact, and all the precious memories we hold in our hearts, we grieve, but we also celebrate. I cannot wait to see him again and rejoice together in the presence of God. Yes, we would have had a birthday for Trey this week, and that would have been a fun celebration, but it pales in comparison to the eternal celebration we will enjoy one day. That is something I can hardly wait to experience. Because of Jesus, death has been swallowed up in victory, and one day, all we will know is victory, for there will be no such thing as loss.

I know there are many people experiencing grief on many different levels today. Some reading this have lost a spouse, a child, a friend, etc., and it hurts. Living with emotional pain is perhaps THE hardest thing to do on this earth. I, for one, know I cannot do it on my own. I could never carry the weight of my pain on my own. If you are hurting, I encourage you to look to Jesus today. The Bible tells us that He loves us and longs for us to lay our burdens down at His feet. Take comfort in the words of Jesus when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

As we approach Easter Sunday, there is hope because Jesus is alive. We do not have to fear anything because He has conquered sin, death, and hell. Every pain and sin we have, He took on Himself when He died on the Cross, but He showed His power over all things when He rose again. If you do not have a place to worship, I would like to invite you to our Good Friday service on April 14 at 7pm, and one of our three identical Easter Sunday morning worship services at 8, 9:30, or 11:00am. We hope to see you at First Baptist Church in Newcastle. Come celebrate the power of the Resurrection with us!

“…Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”‭‭ 1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:54-57‬


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!

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