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Give thanks in all things, Scripture tells us.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).1

That can be a challenging thing to do when one is suffering, and the physical, mental, or emotional pains begin. We aren’t prepared to deal with them even if we know they’re coming. As the renowned philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Concerning suffering, been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

There aren’t any qualifications in the Lord’s command. There are no, “You don’t have to give thanks…” in these verses. However, sufferers are bombarded with questions. “Give thanks? Why is God allowing this? Why doesn’t He help me? Deliver me?”

So, to review, here is the Lord’s remedy for you and me in our suffering.

Rejoice.

Don’t stop praying.

Give thanks to God. That is His will.

It may seem unnecessary to say, but he Lord knows what He’s talking about. He is our answer in trial. Everything else leads to bitterness and despair because He alone is our hope.

The Lord elaborates on this command:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:18–21).

So, it looks like getting drunk or stoned to deal with painful issues is out. What’s in?

Singing.

Giving thanks.

Submitting to each other out of reverence for Jesus.

It looks like it’s not a great idea to get angry with someone who offers some seemingly thoughtless, insensitive advice, which may actually be based on the truth of Scripture, like someone saying to you in the midst of your misery, “God is in control.”

Yeah. Thanks.

But it’s true, isn’t it?

Or, “All things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

If these offerings of truth from friends and acquaintances anger us, we must ask why we want to reject them.

The following verses are humbling when we think we have it all together as Christians:

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:12–13).

I don’t find that the Lord gives us any easy excuses to rise up and reject His love and care. He expects us to endure.

With joy.

I find that I fall miserably short of what the Lord commands when pain comes to visit.

But I’m working on it.

Lord, please help us remain faithful in times of pain and trial. Help us, rather, to rejoice, keep praying, and give thanks singing songs that glorify You.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2016). Crossway Bibles

Gif courtesy giphy.

You know your life has changed a bit when the majority of your social interactions are with doctors, nurses, and employees and staff at medical facilities.

That’s been my life for the last month or so.

The procedure that has required these interactions is an upcoming hip replacement surgery. These, as the reader probably knows, are quite common. So is the pain one must endure in order qualify for the procedure. However, smack dab in the middle of this process to get the okay from the dentist, the doctor, the cardiac surgeon, and, of course, the orthopedist, I woke up early one morning with the greatest pain I have experienced in my life. The pain was so great that I could not move. The EMT folks had to pick me up and lay me on the gurney. The issue? Small intestine blockage in three places.

But that’s all fixed up now, and the purpose of this article is not to over-emphasize the physical pain I have endured. Multitudes have suffered as much and more, and a great number of people have no access to the medical care that we have in this country. We are blessed in this regard.

One of the most notable Americans of which I am aware who has endured great misery is Joni Erickson Tada. After a diving accident, she became a quadriplegic. Afterwards, Joni suffered depression, anger, and suicidal thoughts. Her faith was challenged. She has remained a quadriplegic for forty-five years. She also had breast cancer and a malignant nodule on her chest. both cured with chemotherapy. In spite of these challenges, she has pressed forward and has had a meaningful ministry.

Everyone on earth suffers. It is impossible to avoid it. How does the God of Christianity view these sufferings?

Great question. My initial answer is that He loves us and is perfectly aware of our trials. However, He doesn’t often alleviate them. This is what causes Christians to doubt Him, as Joni did.

One only needs to read the Book of Job to see how He responded to Job’s tremendous loss and pain. The Lord was only concerned about Job’s belief in Him as the sovereign Lord God Almighty. The Lord did restore Job’s family and fortune, but the grief, to be sure, must have remained. I am sure that losing seven children would leave one scarred for life. The startling truth is also that He purposed these agonies for Job. For Christian believers, this reality is a bit hard to square with His love for us.

When we have read Second Corinthians, we learn that the Apostle Paul suffered, too. But through Paul’s writing, the Lord supplied this answer to our questions about our troubles.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).1

The word “momentary” there means just that. The word “light” can also mean “insignificant.”

Insignificant.

This is God’s perspective. He looks at our suffering this way because He is comparing our afflictions with what awaits us in eternity. What is there is an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

Our problem is that we just don’t have that eternal frame of reference, nor do we have much of a clue what that eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison actually is. To inform us how little knowledge we possess, this is the verse most often quoted to give comfort to the afflicted:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I liken this sparse knowledge about the heavenly Promised Land to what the Lord gave Israel about the land He had promised them. It was a land of milk and honey, of blessing. Enemies awaited, over which He would grant victory. Not much else was offered.

The Lord expects us to trust Him, limited information or not. But let’s be truthful. When we suffer, He is the only hope we have to cling to. We must believe that He is good and loves us, and that, as the old song says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.”

Father, help us trust and love you as we go through the pain, sorrow, and trials of our lives.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2016). Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy tenor.

A while ago, one of my blog friends sent me an inspiring email. It was one of those slideshows accompanied by music, encouraging statements, and words of wisdom. I liked it. In fact, it was one of the few pass-along emails that I might pass along. There was one statement in this presentation, however, that I disagree with, and I related that to my friend. It stated, “Time heals everything. Give time, time.”

I wish time did heal everything, but it doesn’t. It is a lie and gives us false hope. It may cause us to wonder if we are flawed or deficient somehow because we struggle getting through our grief for what seems to be a long time, perhaps longer than is expected for psychologically “normal” people.

I think we all know by now that different people process grief in different ways. Laurie and I have watched crime documentaries where hardened police officers still tear up when they recount a murder case long past, or soldiers weep over the loss of a buddy during war time. I have experienced this in my life. The devastation caused by the loss of my mother from colon cancer healed over time, but still, occasionally, I will grieve over her death when I remember her. These experiences are common among us weak human beings. We love, and because we love, we will grieve when we lose loved ones who have passed away. The deeper the love, the deeper the wound, and the more grievous the scar. But the scar is, because we loved so deeply, a good scar.

However, God plus time does heal everything. We are told that in God’s kingdom, we will mourn no more.

“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).1  

Jesus will be the one ministering to our afflictions then as he does now, and His wounds will still be visible. After Philip doubted the fellow disciples’ report of the appearance of Jesus, proving He had indeed risen from the dead, Jesus walked through a wall of the room in which they had gathered. This is the account of that event:

“After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:26–28).

His wounds are obviously different than ours. We are healed—saved—because of them.

“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

But I wonder if those of us who have suffered through physical injuries for the sake of His name will bear the marks of those wounds in heaven, too. This, of course, is speculation.

There may be respected scars in heaven, and many believers may bear them. However, the most important among them will be the ones borne by the Creator of all things. The scars that Jesus bears are deep but good and worthy scars because He loves us so deeply. I am grateful—and will be for eternity—for that kind of love. I pray that I can love, at least in some measure, as He does and share in His suffering.

Paul beautifully wrote, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11).

Amen. According to Your will, Father.

1 All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

I met with a pastor a while back who is struggling. He is bi-vocational, which means he is trying to start a church and work at a secular job at the same time. He’s doing this in one of the poorest parts of our city. I admire him for this.

Regardless of this admiration, his bank account is suffering. He feels like he is not taking care of his wife as he should. He told me that he has dishonored God.

A few years ago, my wife, Laurie, shared an insight in the Bible with me from the book of Acts. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9–10).1

Laurie said, “Look what happened after Paul and Silas arrived.”

What do you think happened after they arrived?

Keep in mind that Paul had a vision from God. This man was calling, asking for help. Can you imagine the expectations that Paul and Silas had as they headed toward Macedonia?

It went well—at first. A few days after they arrived, they went down to the river to pray, and met a woman named Lydia at the river who came to know the Savior and was baptized. A few days after that, a slave girl was delivered of a spirit of divination. Paul may have been thinking, “God indeed called us here! Great things are being done for the kingdom of God for His glory!” It turned out that the child who was set free was a good money maker for some local—opportunists would be a kind word. Evil slave owners would be a better description. So, all hell broke loose. An angry mob seized and beat them.

We often forget what the Bible says about suffering for Christians, including those who are ministering people, even people who are called by the Lord to do something specifically. After having been called, the believer would think all would be sunshine and roses. However, Paul said an interesting thing earlier in Acts after men had stoned him in Lystra. “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22). He said it before he received the vision about Macedonia. So, my guess is that he wasn’t surprised about what happened there. And please note that even though he had been stoned in Lystra, he returned to that city. Paul, an apostle that did so much to bring the truth to the world, said this about his life:

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24–27).

Christian leaders today often teach that Christ has chosen us for greatness and He has plans for us to do amazing things. Such men should add that there is a cost to being called by God. He has purposed that we enter His kingdom “through many tribulations.” By “enter His kingdom,” I don’t mean only “go to heaven.” I mean entering His kingdom which includes learning what it means to have a King and bowing the knee to Him in everything—including suffering and the giving up our own comfort and lives.

1All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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In the last two posts, we have talked about two primary issues. The first was, “When terrorists strike, are they doing God’s will?”

The answers provided were “no” and “yes.”

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Like Jesus, Paul linked the idea of being a servant with suffering: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:3–10).

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romans
Christians are often taught that we are God’s children and “fellow heirs with Christ.” It sounds good, and it is good. It lines up with the biblical truth that He has given us everything we need to live our lives with Jesus and that He will continue to do so, often beyond our ability to comprehend it.

However, there is this interesting thing that Paul says in Romans 8 that I think we too often ignore. Look carefully, if you would, at the last part of verse 17:

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Our trip to India was challenging, a reality check, tiring and—wonderful.

Challenging, because—at least in the cities we visited—there are no physical reasons for one to live there. These two cities are dirty, polluted, and kind of scorched-earth urban poor—where there wasn’t concrete.

A reality check because of the above challenges and because the relational, cultural and political issues we face there are complex, and there are no easy fixes.

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From Voice of the Martyrs’ January 2009 issue:

“On March 21, 2007, Christianah Olluwasesin looked forward to the ending of school that day. That’s because the Christian teacher was to leave the government high school in Gombe, a city in Northern Nigeria, and be reunited with her husband, Femi. But first things first, she had to give her female students their final exam. The exam would test the students’ knowledge of Islam.

To prevent cheating, she collected the book bags of each student and brought them to the front of the class. One of the students began to cry. She told the class that there was a Quran in her bag and by touching the bag the Christian teacher had ‘desecrated’ the Quran inside it. Tears turned to outrage and anger, and soon the class was shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’—God is great.

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Tragedy in San Diego. I wept as I watched the CNN video of the interview with the husband and father, Don Yun Yoon. This man is an amazing, wonderful Christian, who deserves all our admiration—and prayers.

Here’s the link: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/12/09/military.jet.crash/index.html

I encourage you to watch the video, to watch Christianity in action.

Or perhaps if you’re from another persuasion, this is another example of how Christians are a blight on our society.

“A Korean immigrant whose family was killed when an F-18 crashed into his house returned home to survey the rubble and said he doesn’t blame the military pilot who survived the accident.

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