Thursday, January 31, 2008

One Year!

It was almost one year ago, Friday, February 2 (I had the dates mixed up a bit when I first published this, 3 hours ago) at around 10:00 PM, that Linda and I arrived at the Rex Hospital Emergency Room. Within 3 - 4 hours we were told that Linda had a brain tumor. Even at that time, we had a sense from the doctor that it was bad. On Saturday morning, more tests were done and we continued to get a sense that Linda's condition was serious. The biopsy on Monday afternoon confirmed the doctors' suspicions that Linda had a high grade glioma. We were told that Linda had 3 to 5 months to live - at best.

So, last night when our family gathered (Ben, Liz and the kids, Brian and Autumn, and Michael - Laura was unable to come) to commemorate one year since the presentation of the symptoms, it was a celebration of sorts. We finished our meal with communion, remembering why we have hope in the midst of our pain. Thank You, Jesus, for taking the punishment we deserved so that we might have eternal life when we believe!

Even as we thanked the Lord for giving us this year together, we were aware that Linda is not doing well at present. She has had a headache for a few days (though it just left a few hours ago), she feels "heat" inside her body, particulary around her neck, she has pain that goes from her left ear to her throat, and her confusion is no better, though not considerably worse. These are all symptoms that were present in December just before we went to the hosptial and Linda was diagnosed with Listeria. Let me hasten to say that she has had some of the aforementioned symptoms ever since she has returned home, but last night they were a little more pronounced, thus, we are a bit concerned. Linda cannot remember the time leading up to her trip to the emergency room in December, but she knows that her present symptoms were present, though more pronounced, when we went to the hospital. That concerns her. Please pray for my bride!

We continue to trust in the Lord. Thank you for standing with us in more ways than we can count. As you are praying for Linda, today, would you please also remember Cali Moody? Cali is the 2 year old girl in our church who also is being treated with chemo for a brain tumor. She is entering a very serious portion of her treatment, beginning today. Please pray that the line through which the chemo will be administered will stay clear. If you would like a little more information, please visit: Thank you so very much!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Still Waiting

I hope to write more extensively in the next few days, but let me say that we are still waiting on the Lord. Now, a lot of folks tend to think that means that we are waiting for God to do exactly what we have asked Him to do. That's not what "biblical waiting" is, though. To wait on the Lord is to trust God, and it usually is commanded for those in a hard spot - just simply trust Him. Oh, there is an expectation of God's work in our lives, but we do not always receive according to our desires. So, we wait. We trust. That's what we are doing.

The prayer time with the elders on Monday night was wonderful, intense, and powerful. We acknowledged ahead of time that God is sovereign and will act according to His will, but just as Moses stood in the gap for the people of Israel, the elders stood in the gap for Linda. We prayed for healing, believing with all our hearts that God is capable.

So far, God has not chosen to heal Linda. Our faith in Him has not wavered one iota. We are waiting on Him. Linda is certainly better than she was even a few weeks ago, but it would seem that healing would bring far greater improvement than we have seen, even if intense physical therapy would be required to get back to normal. We are not there, yet. So, we wait. And we continue to pray for a miracle. We ask you to continue to pray with us. Thanks, brothers and sisters, for your unbelievable persistent prayers and support.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Special Call to Prayer

Tonight, at 6:30, the elders of Grace Community Church will be coming to our home to anoint Linda with oil and pray for healing according to the biblical instructions found in James 5:13-18. We are asking you to pray with the elders and us for the Lord to touch Linda's body. It goes without saying that we trust God regardless of His decision, and that we recognize and accept that He clearly does not always choose to heal, even in response to prayers that follow the guidelines He established in James 5:13-18. We are aware of that. He is sovereign and we trust Him. But we are also aware that we have been invited to boldly pray for healing, and we will do so tonight. Please join with us in seeking the Lord's touch on Linda's body.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pic Lines and Such

Linda's appointment on Tuesday was rather encouraging. The pic line (through which IV antibiotics are taken straight to an artery) was taken out - PRAISE THE LORD! Her body has continued to accept the sulfa drugs, so the line was no longer needed. If she stops the medicine completely (which is unlikely, unless other body systems react negatively), then she would have to go through the desensitization process all over again. For now, we are quite happy about where Linda is with the antibiotics. We have not heard from the doctor about blood tests from Tuesday, so hopefully no news is good news. If he calls saying that immune system or liver concerns create the need to talk about the current course of treatment, then we will have a major prayer request!

Linda's other appointment, scheduled for this morning, was cancelled (we cancelled it) ahead of time because of weather. Even though the roads would have been just fine, I did not want to get her out in the cold rain with no one to hold an umbrella and help in other ways. That appointment has been rescheduled for the end of this month.

Linda and I really enjoyed reading Ephesians 1 and 2 yesterday! I am sure it was because of the circumstances, but I was struck by how many of the multiple blessings for believers that are stated in these two chapters are for future life - eternal life. I think so much more about heaven than I used to, and that is not a bad thing at all! Oh, not only am I still praying for a miracle, but I have spoken with the chairman of our elders to relay Linda's request for them to come and anoint her with oil and pray for her again in accordance with instructions in James 5. The elders prayed for Linda on her first full night in the hospital last February, but we both want them to come and pray again. Linda is amazing in her willingness to accept God's will, even if that means she is to beat most of us to heaven. She wants to live, though, and WE (the entire family) VERY MUCH want her to live, also! Thus, we want to make sure we pursue every biblical avenue - and at the same time, realize that we were all created for eternity, and time on this earth is limited at best, and without question, the best is yet to come! Hallelujah! I may start preaching if I don't stop! Anyway, please pray with us as the elders come to pray for Linda in the next week or so.

"May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you may know what is the hope (eternal life) to which He has called you . . ." Ephesians 1:18. Oh, go ahead and read the whole chapter!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

How is it Going? An Answer, Sort Of, and a Sermon

I wish I could tell you! Linda is doing better than she was last week, but not as well as she was doing two months ago. Praise the Lord, though, one month ago, Linda was in the hospital literally fighting for her life. She is here with us! Praise the Lord!

Linda's days are mostly good, but nights are difficult for her - discomfort, confusion, etc. Please pray about that. I apologize for the lack of information, but there is not much to say. I am encouraged at times and I have concerns at times, but things are fairly steady at present. Linda has two doctor's appointments this week, Tuesday and Thursday. She has been off the IV antibiotics for several days, but the pic line is still in. We hope that will be removed this week.

We know that there is purpose in our suffering. We both feel very much like it is our suffering, though she has the far more difficult role. The message today at church was the second of two messages about the ways suffering brings us to a closer relationship with Jesus. So, it is included here.

Intimacy with Jesus
Romans 5:1-5

How would you define the word, “intimacy?” You would almost certainly think of it in terms of a relationship with at least one other person. You would most likely not say, “a close relationship.” You would be more likely to say something like, “intimacy implies a really close relationship.” Often today when we hear people talk about an “intimate relationship,” they are referring to a physical relationship. That is not necessarily improper, but if you hear that term used in that way on television, it most likely is describing an improper relationship – that is, a physical relationship outside the bounds of marriage.

Of course, intimacy can also be inappropriate on an emotional level if you are married and you have an intimate emotional relationship with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse. But if you are married, you are a blessed man or woman, indeed, if you can characterize your relationship with your spouse with the word “intimacy.” We can absolutely have intimate relationships outside of marriage that are not improper, but you are more likely to hear women, rather than men, talk about intimate friends. I have a good friend named Jimmy, but you will never hear me say that we are intimate friends. Ain’t happening!

But, oh, that we could say we have an intimate relationship with Jesus, no matter who we are, no matter what our age is, no matter how long we have been following Jesus! We are going to talk a lot about an intimate relationship with Jesus this year here at Grace Community Church. It is my heart’s desire that every single one of us in the room today will be more intimate with Jesus at the end of this year than we are today. In fact, this time of the year always excites me to the possibilities of a better relationship with the Lord.

Last week was actually the beginning of our quest for increased intimacy. The topic of last week’s message may surprise you, though, if you were not here. The title of the message was “Called to Suffer.” Believers experience two types of suffering. One is the result of persecution because of our willingness to indentify with Jesus. All committed believers will suffer persecution, according to 2 Timothy 3:16. The other type of suffering we experience is the suffering that is part of the human experience, whether we are believers or not. All humans suffer, but for the believer, that suffering is mitigated, it is softened by the cross of Jesus. We saw that in several places last week in the book of Romans.

Our text this morning, also in Romans – Romans 5:1-5 to be exact – will continue the explanation of how suffering draws us closer to the Lord. If you were not here last Sunday, you missed some of the most encouraging bad news from the book of Romans that you could ever hear. Let me encourage you to download last week’s sermon off the Internet – it will make today’s text and message even more meaningful. Let’s get to it, Romans 5:1-5. Would you please stand as we read God’s Word together?

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 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.

The outline for today’s message is quite simple. We begin with, Intimacy with Jesus:

I. Through relationship

Now, that may seem almost like a rehash of the introduction, and it is self-evident, to be sure, but this is no ordinary relationship we read about in Romans 5:1. Look again at verse 1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Last week, we discovered that the wrath of God is continuously being revealed through death, through futility, and through moral degradation. When we learned about death, particularly from Romans 5, beginning in verse 12, we learned that death is more than a cessation of life on this earth – it involves judgment and condemnation – unless one has a personal relationship with Jesus. What does that involve?

To be related to Jesus, one must recognize that he is a sinner, and that not only is God’s wrath aimed squarely at him, but that he deserves the judicial wrath of a holy and righteous God. There is good news, though. On the cross, Jesus, Who was perfect and had never sinned, took the wrath that God had for me upon Himself. If I am to escape the wrath I deserve, I must first repent of my sin, which means to agree with God about who I am and to turn my life and any hope of heaven over to Him. Second, I must believe that Jesus died for me, and I must accept His death on the cross as payment for my sin. That’s what “faith” in Romans 5:1 is all about – repentance and belief in Jesus. And when you believe, God’s judgment is no longer upon you – you have peace with God.

The peace spoken of here feels really, really good. But it is not a subjective, or, “feely” kind of peace that is described. It is more of a legal standing that we have with the great Judge of the universe Who knows all about us. In our day, just as in every day before our time, there are those who believe that they “deserve” to go to heaven. But you have to know something – when you stand before the Judge of the Universe, He has all the evidence needed to condemn you. Not just your actions and your words, but your thoughts, your motives, the whole works. Peace with God is a big deal! And even though this peace is akin to a legal standing, I have to tell you that if you go to court for a crime that you committed, and it is a crime that carries a stiff penalty, you are probably going to get pretty excited if the Judge says, “Well, you are guilty, but I am going to extend mercy – no punishment.” It is not the kind of thing where when your spouse asks how your day went that you will say, “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot – I was guilty of a crime that carries a 10 year prison sentence, but the Judge let me off.” No, your spouse is already dancing with you!

If we are going to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, it begins, simply, with relationship. Have you trusted Jesus as your Savior? If so, you are privileged to grow closer to Him:

II. Through persistent grace

There is a certain mentality in our society that has a great deal of confidence in “self.” “Just give me a chance – I’ll show ya! All I want is a fair shake.” Well, we have already seen that the wrath of God was being poured out on us and we were heading for judgment and condemnation until Jesus got in the way of God’s wrath. And it was God’s grace that saved us – a gift He gave that we could not have earned if we could have put our best day ever back to back ten million days in a row. It was grace, all grace.

For many believers who taste of God’s grace, there is an unfortunate tendency to think that God starts us off with His grace and then we are responsible to keep up this Christian life that He gave us. Oh, it is not that we think we have to do good works in order to stay saved, but we must work for our rewards – it’s up to us and God is watching to see how we will do. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This life began with grace, it is engulfed and permeated with grace, it is lived moment by moment because of grace, and it will end with grace. Look again at verse 2: “Through Him (Jesus) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

We have access by faith – to Whom, or, to what? One would expect this access to be to God, as through prayer. It is true that we have access to God because of Jesus – 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In other words, we do not need a priest to approach God on our behalf – Jesus does that, and because of His efforts, we have direct access to God.

But that is not the truth found in Romans 5:2. We are told that we have access to grace – and aren’t you glad? Can you think of anything you have done as a Christian that would have gotten you into real trouble with another person if you had sinned against him or her in the way that you sinned against the Lord? Can you think of something this past week, in fact, that would have been really bad news in your relationship with Jesus had it not been for God’s grace? His grace never stops forgiving us, strengthening us, wooing us. In fact, it is more than clear that intimacy with Jesus would not be possible apart from His persistent grace. In other words, intimacy is more a result of His work than our work.

Now, this does not mean we do not pursue Jesus. Indeed, intimacy between two people is impossible without both parties making an effort to build the relationship. We will talk more this year about what we can do as believers to pursue Jesus, but we will never get anywhere close to where we want to be until we rest, or believe – that’s the faith spoken of here – until we believe that without Jesus’ persistent pursuit of us, intimacy with Him is impossible. When we swim in the ocean of God’s grace rather than being content to get our feet a little bit wet, we reap the benefits of the relationship that was begun in verse 1. So, what is our response to this great news?

We rejoice! “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” The word, rejoice, is a powerful word in the Greek. It means boasting and exultant rejoicing – the kind of rejoicing that you shout about. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? We belong to Jesus, and when we fall flat on our face, He doesn’t show His frustration and quit speaking to us – He responds to us in forgiveness and grace! Is it not true that the more you know about God’s dealings with you through grace, the closer you want to get to Him? You will also want to bring glory to Him, because you realize that all the good that is in you comes from Him. Glory to His name! “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Intimacy with Jesus is a possibility because we are justified and forgiven through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also possible because God’s grace is persistent, pursuing us every step of our lives. But there is another path to intimacy that is a bit more difficult to understand – it is the path that leads:

III. Through suffering

Whoa! That’s a change of pace, is it not? I mean, we have been talking about justification, and forgiveness of sins, and salvation, and intimacy, and access, and faith, and grace, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and now, suffering? What word does not seem to fit? As we look at things, suffering is out of place, but as God looks at things, not so at all. In fact, we can see glimpses in our relationships with one another here on earth. Just this past week, Linda and I had some wonderful late night intimate talks that we rarely had before our particular call to suffering. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at Romans 5:3-5: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings.” WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! We rejoice in our sufferings? It's not possible, is it, that the Greek word for rejoice is the same word used in verse 2, where we boast, we rejoice exultantly, we shout about the glory of God? It is, indeed, the same word. Not that I expect any of you – any of us, I should say – to fully follow the Lord’s instruction here, but let me show you how this would work if we really rejoiced in our suffering.

Let’s say the transmission in your car starts slipping. You take it to the shop, hoping against hope that the transmission fluid and filter just need to be changed. When you go to the shop to check on your car, the mechanic says, “Your transmission is shot. A new one will cost you about $2,400.” If your response is a Romans 5:3 response, you will say, “Yes! Thank You, Lord!” Then he says, “Can’t say that I have ever seen this reaction before. Are you actually excited about this? Most people think $2,400 is a lot of money.” And you say, “You better believe it is a lot of money, and I don’t have a penny of it, but this is a wonderful opportunity for me to grow closer to Jesus!”

That seems silly, doesn’t it? Is it? Look again at our text:

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 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.

OK, so no one here is likely to jump up and down when you face a financial or medical crisis. But, we are told to rejoice in sufferings. This is not the only place in the NT that such a command is given, is it? James 1:2-4 says,

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Hmm. Those words have a familiar ring, don’t they? Trials build character, don’t they? Well, they can, but our response will go a long way in determining how beneficial they are to us. In this passage in James, the purpose of trials ends with maturity – not a bad place at all, and exactly where God wanted them to end in this text. In Romans 5:3-5, there is an even greater end in sight than maturity, but that’s where it begins.

Paul says we should rejoice in suffering because suffering produces endurance. In fact, suffering takes us to a place that we would never choose to go on our own. When I was in seminary, I heard a lot of guys griping about reading books that were less than scintillating in style, but contained important content. I would usually ask them, “Would you ever choose to read this book on your own?” NO! “Does it contain information that you will likely need some day?” Skepticism was often expressed at this point, to which I would reply that you never know how God may use this information in your life.

It’s that way with trials. We would never choose some of the things that come our way, but we learn endurance when they are forced upon us. This word means, in fact, to endure under pressure. If we endure long enough, character is built. How much is character produced or increased in us when everything goes our way? We almost always determine a person’s character, or lack thereof, by how he or she acts in and responds to trials and suffering. Character is discovered and developed under fire. And to what does a tried and tested character lead? Hope!

Some of you have heard me say many times that whenever you see the word, hope, in the NT, you can know that it refers to a firm assurance of eternal life. It is a looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth where we will be like Jesus and where we will be in perfect communion with the Lord.

Consider this progression for a moment. We start with trials, we build endurance and character, and we end with a settled expectation of perfect eternal communion with the Lord. Instead of trials destroying our hope as one might expect, they actually serve to increase our hope! You might say that one of the purposes of trials in our lives is to make us homesick for heaven. Anyone know what I am talking about? Yeah, those of you who are on my side of the hill! No matter what your age, trials serve to draw you closer to God, to build intimacy in your relationship with Jesus. “Intimacy” is what the last phrase in verse 5 is about.

“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.” No, indeed, we will not be ashamed of our relationship with Jesus, because our treasures are being sent ahead to heaven – we have a sure hope, and the evidence of that is God’s love that is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. With the involvement of the Holy Spirit, the entire Trinity is at work building our relationship with the Lord. God the Father has saved us through the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit gives evidence of that work by pouring God’s love into our hearts.

Remember in verse 1 how we said that peace with God is more of a legal standing than a subjective feeling? Well, verse 5 is all about personal relationship, about intimacy. The Lord loves you more than you can imagine. In just a few verses beyond our text in Romans 5, Paul will say that even while you were a sinner, before you had any desire for God at all, Jesus died for you. He is calling you to intimacy, but you have to respond to His call in order to experience a closer relationship with the Lord.

Intimacy with Jesus – through relationship. Is Jesus your Savior? Have you committed your life to Him and accepted His death on the cross as payment for your sin? If so, you have experienced God’s grace. And you are the recipient of His grace day in and day out. His grace woos you to an intimate relationship with Him. Amazingly, the trials that we face and would love to avoid point us to Him. Even through our tears the reality of our future life with Jesus becomes clearer as we endure suffering that is borne of a personal sovereign design.

There is more than one way we could respond to this text, but let’s focus on that which obviously calls for a response that can only be made with supernatural help. You don’t need to close your eyes, though you can if you want to, but I would like for you to think of a particularly difficult trial that you are experiencing in your life right now. I am not going to ask you to get up and dance a jig, but I will ask if you would give thanks to the Lord for this trial. Tell Him you trust His Word, and that you know this suffering is for the best. Tell Him you want to be intimate with Him and that you realize suffering will serve to bring you especially close to Jesus, because He knows about suffering and responds to you in a special way when you suffer. Thank Him again for saving you and for His grace, and for pouring His love into your heart.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

So Far, So Good

Thank you for praying about Linda's desensitization trial with sulfa drugs. She spent most of the day in the doctor's office. She has not developed any reaction to the drugs - yet. Her doctor and pharmacist want us to keep a close check over the next few days because a reaction could still occur. This is a great first step, though! Keep praying and I will keep you informed!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Called to Suffer

When the sermons I preach at church speak to our trial, I usually publish the manuscript in this space. That is the case today. Before the sermon, though, let me remind you to please pray for Linda at her doctor's appointment on Tuesady (see last post). Her cough remains. She is often uncomfortable (back), and with the cough, her chest, throat, and ears hurt, so those are some specific prayer requests.

I hope God's Word (in the sermon) will minister to you.

Well, 2008 is here and the elders of Grace Community Church have determined that we will once again function as a body with a theme this year. Last year our theme was “Outreach.” Even though we emphasized the importance of evangelism from the pulpit quite a few times last year, we did not provide evangelism training, nor did we offer as many outreach events as we would have liked – but, there was a reason. The Lord changed our focus early in the year as it became clear that He was calling our church to a place of suffering. We have not yet been released from that difficult calling.

So, we will pursue another theme this year. No, not the theme of “suffering,” but our theme will be a response to suffering. Our theme for the year will be Intimacy with Jesus. It is clear to our elders, and I think to everyone here, that God has put our church in a bit of a holding pattern. That does not mean that we will not think about the future or that we do not expect growth. It does mean, though, that we believe the Lord is calling our church to be as close to Jesus as possible as we prepare to move forward. It would seem that one of the primary ways the Lord is drawing us to Himself is through suffering. Today’s message and next Sunday’s sermon will both deal with these themes of suffering and intimacy.

I said last Sunday that my text would be Romans 5:1-5. That will actually be the text for next Sunday’s message, which will be titled Intimacy with Jesus. Today’s text is Acts 14:8-23, though this will one of those rare messages – for me, that is – in which we will look at a pretty good number of Scriptures in order to try to gain some perspective on suffering. Acts 14 will establish the reality of suffering for believers, then for our primary focus, we will move to the book of Romans to answer the questions “why” and “how” both believers and unbelievers suffer. Before I confuse you further, let’s look at our text. I promise, it will make sense soon. Our text this morning is Acts 14:8-23. Would you please stand for the reading of the Word?

8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked.
9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,
10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.
11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”
12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.
13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out,
15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
16 In past generations He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.
17 Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifices to them.
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
22 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.
23 And went they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in Whom they had believed.

We are going to talk about two types of suffering this morning. The first type of suffering is one we just read about, the inevitable suffering that Christians will experience in this world because of their relationship with Jesus. Our time on this first point will be limited. In fact, almost half of our time on this point has already been spent reading the text.

The second type of suffering we will discuss, and that which will take most of our time, is the suffering that is part of the universal human experience. Every person alive suffers. We are going to talk about the why and the how of human suffering. First, though, our initial text tells us about suffering that believers must endure.

Acts 14 tells us that Paul and Barnabas brought the gospel to Lystra. When the Lord used Paul to heal a crippled man, the people of Lystra thought Paul and Barnabas were gods and they wanted to offer sacrifices to them. Paul and Barnabas were barely able to keep the people from doing so. Then, astonishingly the crowd moved from a desire to worship Paul to a willingness to execute him when they were persuaded to do so by a contingent of Jews that had come from Antioch and Iconium, a few towns where Paul and Barnabas had already preached the gospel. Paul’s enemies left him for dead, but the Lord delivered him from death – that time.

After Paul and Barnabas went on to Derbe and preached the gospel with much fruit, they returned to the scene of the crime – literally. I wonder how many of you would have gone back into the very town where you had been lynched and then back into the cities where the lynching had been planned? I doubt many of us would have that kind of moxie.

When Paul returned to the cities where he had faced persecution, he went to believers with a sobering message found in verse 22 – followers of Jesus will enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations. So, what does it mean that tribulation will be a part of the Christian experience? Plain and simple, Paul is saying that believers will always bring a message that aggravates the world system. We will always be swimming upstream. Our message, in fact, will raise the ire of those who do not believe. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying all who do not believe as we do are out to persecute us --- but some are.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think that God designed the church to be a political power? I don’t think so! Do you think there will ever be a day when committed followers of Jesus will be the most respected people of a nation? Oh, there may have been some of those times in the past in some places and it may happen again, but we will never have the worldwide acclaim and influence some Christians seem to crave. We are, as a church, called to suffer. If you have never suffered for your faith, then it is likely that very few people know about your faith. Granted, we do not suffer here in the same way our brothers and sisters suffer in North Korea, but it is true that suffering is part of our calling. Persecution will tend to either drive us toward Jesus or away from Jesus. In this year when Intimacy with Jesus is our theme, let us be willing to bear our crosses, which means, in part, to be willing to identify with the shame Jesus’ endured, and let us allow our suffering to drive us to Jesus.

But, what of the suffering we experience that is not a result of our faith? What about the sickness and the loss of loved ones and job losses and the relational pain we have experienced as a church this past year? Does that not count as real suffering in our relationship with the Lord? As I have said several times, if that is true, throw the book of Job out the window! The level of suffering that has visited us this year has led our elders to believe that we have been called to suffer as a church, and we also believe that suffering has been brought upon us in order to increase our intimacy with Jesus.

But let’s face it, all humanity experiences some of the difficulties we have encountered this past year. Suffering, after all, is a universal experience. Groaning is a universal language. Why is there such suffering? Turn, please, to Romans 1 where will look at verse 18 and then back up and look at verses 16 and 17. Let’s begin with a rather troubling revelation about one of the ways God relates to mankind. Verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Why is God pouring out His wrath on mankind? Because of sin.

It is important to note that the verb “revealed” is in the present tense in the Greek, which means a continuous action, so it would be accurate to translate “the wrath of God is being revealed.” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, week after week, year after year, every minute of every day, the wrath of God is being revealed to mankind. In just a moment, we will talk about how the wrath of God is revealed, or, the different ways we experience this wrath. You will see that believers and unbelievers alike suffer as a result of God’s righteous wrath, although the end result of suffering is much different for believers and unbelievers. But before we look at the ways God’s wrath is revealed, we must ask the question, “Is this all there is? Is God relating to us in more ways than through His wrath?” Absolutely, and the specifics are found in the two previous verses, 16 and 17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (That’s everyone. Anyone who believes in Jesus finds salvation) For in it (the gospel, this message that brings persecution upon us) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith.”

Once again, we find the word “revealed” in the present tense, meaning it should be read, “The righteousness of God is being revealed” all day, every day to the believer, for the rest of your life! That’s good news! Suffering, then, is mitigated somewhat for the believer – but it is not eliminated. Why? Because the wrath of God is being revealed to all humanity, and even those of us who have believed the gospel that Jesus died to placate God’s wrath against us still suffer because sin entered the world at the beginning of the human race with Adam and Eve, and because we have sinned. How is God’s wrath revealed? John Piper says there are three ways we clearly see God’s wrath revealed in the world, and they are all explained in Romans. We will move quickly, but you may want to write these down and look at them later – it is a good study.

The first way God’s wrath is being revealed universally is through death. We all die. Some die at 100 years of age, and some die before they live 100 days, but we all die. Why? Because of sin. Let’s turn to Romans 5. Look first at verse 12: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death spread through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The last part of verse 12 confirms what we already know – no one is exempt. We all will die. Then look down at the middle of verse 16: “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation.”

These are difficult words to absorb! So difficult, in fact, that many preachers who should know better are deemphasizing words like wrath and judgment and condemnation. But Scripture tells us that God’s wrath is being revealed in death, in condemnation, and in judgment. We cannot escape death, unless the Lord returns before we die, but we can escape wrath and condemnation through Jesus. More about that in just a few moments.

The second way God’s wrath is being revealed is in futility. You know about futility, don’t you? Let’s look at Romans 8:18-20:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him Who subjected it in hope.

You save and plan all year for a vacation, and when you get to your dream location, it rains all week – and you have the flu. Futile. You work hard, you plan wisely, you pray for wisdom, and then just a few years before retirement, you make a few bad investments, and, well, you know. Frustrating, isn’t it? I think it goes beyond that!

Linda and I had just begun really enjoying our empty nest years when her tumor changed everything. The last few years we have been planning our retirement, serving the Lord in Europe or in Asia while teaching English as a Second Language. Those plans are in serious jeopardy. “But, those were godly plans, spiritual plans!” Life is filled with futility, is it not? And futility is one way that God’s wrath is being revealed in our world. Verse 20 tells us that God is the one Who subjected the creation to futility. How do we know that verse 20 is talking about God? Because He is the ONLY one who could subject the creation to futility in hope. Man could not offer hope, Satan certainly would not – God subjected His creation to futility because of sin, but He did so in hope. We will explore the concept of hope much more fully next week.

Is futility all that we experience in this life? Of course not! In Romans 2:4, Paul asks the lost man on behalf of God, “Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” It is the same message that Paul gave to the people of Lystra – GOD is the one Who blesses us in any number of ways. We are told in Scripture that He sends the rain on the just and the unjust. So, we see a great deal of God’s kindness revealed to all men, but futility is a mark of His wrath.

The third way God’s wrath is being revealed is through the moral degradation that is so prevalent in our world today. One of the worst things that can happen to us is for God to let us go our own way. You have been there before, haven’t you? You get away with wrong attitudes or with wrong actions, and then one day you realize just how far you have gone. Some people never realize how far they have gone before it is eternally too late because God lets them go. That’s one expression of His wrath. Romans 1:28: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Paul was referring specifically to sexual perversion when he said their debased minds did those things that ought not to be done.

Well, we could spend so much more time here, but we can already clearly conclude that we suffer because of sin, and that suffering is revealed through death, in futility, and by moral degradation. It would be quite discouraging if this is where the story ended, but there is good news! Because of our limited time, you will have to plumb the riches of God’s truth on your own later today or this week, so once again, let me encourage you to take notes.

God’s wrath is being revealed in death, but Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for those who believe in Jesus. The sting of death has been removed for the believer – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57. I will not take time to read the verses, but please write them down and do the study! You know the verses in this passage, anyway – death has no sting for the believer, the grave is not victorious because Jesus has made us victorious. At the end of our lives, death moves in on us like a bee with a stinger, but just before we die, the stinger is removed and death must serve us as it ushers us into the presence of the Lord! Isn’t that awesome? There is more good news.

There is no futility for the believer. Romans 8:28 – We know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose. Did you get that? There is no futility for the believer. Everything that happens to us is part of God’s grand design, and don’t go trying to figure His design out, just trust Him. It does not mean that there is no pain – we suffer, for sure, but we can trust that God is not only working for His glory, but also for our good.

Last, the good news for believers is that we are freed from the power of sin. Romans 6 tells us so – the whole chapter. Do not get me wrong, we will sin until we draw our last breath, but the direction of the believer’s life will ultimately be to become more like Jesus. If you say, “I wish that were true of me,” then start believing – not in yourself, but in God’s promise. All these trials and difficulties, and even our failures, can lead us to intimacy with Jesus. Let it be so in your life this year.

Would the elders please come forward for communion? All of the Scripture we have read today, much of it from the book of Romans, tells us just how important Jesus’ death is to us. That’s why we gladly follow our Savior’s command to come to His table and eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine to remember His death and, as we are told in 1 Corinthians 10, to participate in the body and blood of Jesus.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Good Report

Well, we heard great news at the doctor's office today. Even though Linda's cough remains, there is no congestion in her lungs that create a concern of pneumonia. That is a huge relief. We are not unaware that the tumor and suppressed immune system remain huge concerns (as do a blood clot, diabetes that will not come under control, and other health issues), but we are grateful for the news on this day. ONCE AGAIN, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR PRAYING AND FOR YOUR MANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO LINDA!

Our next major request is that Linda will be able to overcome an allergy to sulfa drugs. She has to take antibiotics for six weeks - tonight marks four weeks she has been receiving intravenous antibiotics (a pump here at home). The problem with IV antibiotics through a pic line is that infection is almost inevitable if the line remains in place long enough. Linda needs to get the pic line out of her arm, but we cannot risk a return to Listeria by quitting the antibiotics. Sulfa drugs are a good alternative to the ampicillin she is currently receiving, but, as already noted, Linda is allergic to sulfa drugs.

On Tuesday, Linda is scheduled to spend almost the entire day (office hours, that is) at the doctor's office trying to become desensitized to sulfa drug allergies. The doctor will give her a very small dose first thing in the morning, then gradually increase the doses all through the day. Hopefully, by the end of the day Linda will be able to take the medicine without negative effects. If she is able to begin taking the sulfa drugs, she will not only be protected (as far as these drugs are able to protect one, that is) from a return of the Listeria, but she will also be protected against PCP pneumonia, which has been one of our biggest concerns since her liver counts made it necessary to quit taking Dapsone, an antibiotic used when sulfa drugs are not able to be used. I hope that makes sense!

Well, since I began writing this post, we were wonderfully interrupted by friends, and I also had to tend to "shot-giving" and other nightly duties. Since the time I began the blog, Linda's cough (the doctor thinks bronchitis, but did not prescribe any more medicines) has worsened. She went through a period of about a month around November and early December, when she battled a miserable cough. Many trips to doctors, x-rays, and even a CT scan revealed no pneumonia. That may be where we are again. Even though the infection is not a present threat, if the cough is as bad as it was before, Linda will be heading back into rough waters. So, please continue to pray!

There is so much suffering in our world. Our good friend, Nancy Dean, is in a very serious condition tonight in the UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. Ben Dean quit his Raleigh law practice a few years ago so that he and Nancy could serve as missionaries with Pioneer Missions. WHY so much suffering to such good people? If, as I exect, I am able to preach at Grace Community Church on Sunday, I hope to provide some biblical perspective in my sermon. I will provide the manuscript in this space.

So, we have great news to report, but we are a long way from normalcy! Life is seldom normal for any of us, though, and we are grateful to belong to the One Who controls the universe. I remember when all the religious leaders from several religions were asked to comment on the tsunami that killed so many people in Indonesia and other Asian countries in December of 2004. These leaders were asked if a loving God would cause such a disaster. Of courese, implicit in the question was the accusation that either God is not loving or that He is unable to stop such a tragic force of nature. I remember wondering why anyone would even consider worshiping a God incapable of stopping such a disaster? As I said, I hope to bring some perspective this weekend, but it will be a biblical perspective because my own personal perspective is only as good as my understanding of Scripture. I am sure I will write before then - thanks for checking so faithfully in order to be able to pray more specifically for Linda.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


More than I can say! You cannot begin to know how encouraging your notes and comments have been to Linda today. She is not one who ever seeks out encouragement (except from me, and that is as it should be!), but she cried repeatedly today saying HOW GRATEFUL she is for the encouragement. Thank you! We love you!

Cough is Back

We have a special prayer request. Linda's cough is back this morning. I heard one cough yesterday that I did not like the sound of, but since she did not cough further I forgot about it. This morning, after I awoke but before she did, I heard a deep, wet cough. Once Linda got up, she said that she had coughed through the night (I did not hear her) and that her neck and throat hurt.

I am sure you can understand why this calls for urgent prayer. The day we left the hospital, one of the doctors told me that the tumor is not the major concern (although I continue to think that the tumor is very much affecting Linda, as do some of the other doctors), but rather, infection is her biggest enemy. We see the Infectious Diseases' doctor tomorrow and he is the right one to see for this concern. His resources are limited. God's resources and ability are unlimited. Would you please ask Him to eradicate this congestion/infection in Linda's lungs?

This morning, Linda and I enjoyed listening to devotions from a CD given to us at Christmas taken from Randy Alcorn's book titled, Heaven. If you have read Alcorn's book, you know that when you read it you begin to long for heaven! Indeed, we do! I am just not ready for Linda to go anytime soon, so please pray! Hey, as I have said from the beginning, none of us has the promise of one more breath, much less another day - but her situation is critical, and we want you joining with us. There is a possibility that I am a bit overly concerned about this cough, but we will appreciate the prayer anyway!

I have never asked this before, but would you please let Linda know you are praying? You could either respond to this post (you can just say, "Praying" - please sign your name), or if you have a particular message for her (please keep it somewhat brief), you can send it to my e-mail address: God bless you!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year - New Mercies

Eleven months ago today, Linda and I were told that she has a brain tumor. A few days later, we were told that she would only be with us for a few more months. It is with great joy and pleasure that we ring in this New Year, though Linda was fast asleep when it came to the East Coast! I was washing dishes, gathering laundry, etc (well, OK - not exactly at midnight, but all around it!).

Can there be any more encouraging and comforting verses in Scripture than Lamentations 3:21-23? "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."

I imagine there are many of you who share my affinity for the wonderful hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness." The entire hymn is packed full of Scripture, but takes its starting and ending points from Lamentations 3:22-23. Do you know the context in which the prophet Jeremiah wrote these words? If you do not know, please read all of chapter 3 sometime today after you learn the context (next paragraph).

These words were written during, or just after, the destruction of Jerusalem by the mighty Babylonian army. There is a possibility that Jeremiah stood in the streets uttering these words while soldiers set fire to buildings, decapitated men, women and children as they (the soldiers) rode through the streets on their horses, and ripped open the stomachs of pregnant women with their swords and killed the fetuses in their bodies. Whether or not Jeremiah wrote these words in the midst of the horror or just afterwards, we are somewhat surprised to know the context to the words that have so often brought us comfort and peace.

But that is the way of things, isn't it? This world brings us sorrow, Jesus brings us peace in the midst of our trials (John 16:33). So, it is with our eyes fixed on Jesus that we begin this New Year. We continue to pray for a miracle! I have already prayed for that several times in this budding New Year. Because of the way Scripture is so often taken out of context, I feel compelled to say almost every time I write that to add that we are also praying "Nevertheless, Thy will be done." We pray that prayer occasionally, not nearly as often as we pray for a miracle, but that is our heart toward the Lord. It is not an easy prayer to offer when you want the miracle so badly, especially at this time of the year when hope is renewed for a better life. But, as Jeremiah was able to affirm God's faithfulness in the middle of horrific chaos, so we proclaim God's goodness and faithfulness (so much more than we deserve) to us, even though we find ourselves in a place we would NEVER choose to be. Having said that, let me say again, we continue to pray for a miracle - thank you for praying with us!

May this New Year bring you closer to our Lord. May you rest in His goodness and faithfulness, no matter how difficult your circumstances. May God richly bless you this year!