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It was Not Wicked for the Lord to Take Our Son

This post has been making it’s way around the internet lately, it gives a powerful testimony to God’s grace in the midst of tremendous suffering. Here’s an excerpt:

Haddon struggled through severe anemia and a virus, and his sweet daddy visited him nearly every hour, loving his little son who looked almost identical to him. For 40 hours we were with him, hearing a roller coaster of good news and bad news. On April 2, the Lord took our sweet boy to be with him. Just before he passed, we were able to sing to him. Ernie sang “It Is Well” and I hummed “A Mighty Fortress” the best I could. I held him for the first time, telling him we’d see him soon. I passed him to Ernie, and when the time came to take all the machines off, Ernie quoted Numbers 6:24-26 as the last words Haddon could hear:

The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance on you,
And give you peace.

You can read the rest here.

May 18 2011 | Blog | Comments Off on It was Not Wicked for the Lord to Take Our Son

Suffering as a Gift of Grace

weepPhilippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Now, you have to admit that even in English that’s a pretty hard verse to take. I mean how do you reconcile Paul’s words that “it has been granted to you to suffer” with the reality of the darkness and the despair of suffering in this fallen world? But when you dive into the Greek text underneath it, it becomes even more difficult.

Paul uses the word exaristhe, which means “gift of grace” to describe two significant realities, 1) That salvation is entirely a gift of grace, 2) that suffering is in the same way a gift of grace. It’s as if Paul is saying that the same grace which brought about salvation also brings about suffering. They are both equally gifts of grace and if we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” as he says in verse 27, then we must embrace them both as gifts from God.

So, the question is “How on earth do you get to a point where you can actually look upon suffering as a gift of grace?” I believe that there are two complimentary truths that help us to understand what Paul is driving at here. The first is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are actually suffering in the place of Christ.

Paul alludes to this on several occasions:

Romans 8:16-17 – 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

In Colossians 1:24 – 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

So, how can Paul say that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? I mean, didn’t Jesus suffer enough on the cross? I think what Paul is getting at is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are doing so in the place of Christ because Christ has already ascended to the Father and yet He has left the church here as his body to continue suffering for him until he returns.

John Calvin said, “The highest honor that is conferred upon us by Divine grace is that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction.”

There are many different ways of suffering for the sake of the gospel in this life. It may be a situation at work where you won’t be able to advance any further because of your faith in Christ, or it may be a more public situation. Back when I lived in WA, there was a time when my name was dragged through the newspaper’s mud because of my stand for the gospel. It may even be from within your family. Maybe your husband is spiritually lazy, or maybe he’s just plain spiritually dead. Perhaps your wife is antagonistic to your faith and your attempts to lead her spiritually. My friends, can I remind you that as John Calvin said every tear that you cry is a mark of distinction for a man or a woman suffering in the place of Christ for the sake of the gospel.

The second complimentary truth that helps us to understand why suffering is a gift of grace is that Christ has gone before us in our suffering. Hebrews 2:10 says, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Suffering is one of God’s primary means of drawing his people into closer fellowship and intimacy with Christ, because in suffering we have no place else to turn than to Christ who has gone before us.

Paul talked about this in Philippians 3:10 he said his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul actually desired to share in the sufferings of Christ, because in those suffering he believed that he would grow to know Christ better. You see, there is no valley so deep and there is no darkness to black that the precious Lord Jesus has not already gone before you and prepared the way for you.

I’ll wrap things up with one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon

Christ was also chosen out of the people that he might know our wants and sympathize with us. “He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” In all our sorrows we have his sympathy. Temptation, pain, disappointment, weakness, weariness, poverty—he knows them all, for he has felt all. Remember this, Christian, and let it comfort thee. However difficult and painful thy road, it is marked by the footsteps of thy Saviour; and even when thou reachest the dark valley of the shadow of death, and the deep waters of the swelling Jordan, thou wilt find his footprints there. In all places whithersoever we go, he has been our forerunner; each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel.

May 16 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

Suffering & Satanic Attack

The other morning I woke up almost in a panic. You see for the last several months I’ve noticed a greater and greater number of individuals and families within our church who are undergoing significant suffering. The issues range from marital troubles, to lack of work, to financial troubles, to death and disease but the common denominator is the issue of suffering.

Now on the one hand, this is life as it is in a Genesis 3 world where everything is broken. On the other hand, I remember enough from my theology classes in seminary to realize that every church has an enemy (the enemy) who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy us (1Peter 5:8). In the end, whether it’s the brokenness of this world or our adversary the devil, the result is the same: suffering.

As I made my way over to my early morning men’s group that day, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of despair over the heartache all around me. That is, until God broke through with some powerful reminders about Satanic Attacks and Suffering from the book of Philippians. Here are just a few of the things that warmed my heart that morning.

1) Satan may be able to cause suffering in the lives of believers, but Philippians 1:29 tells us that suffering is actually a gift of grace. So, when I suffer I am actually receiving grace from God, even if Satan is the dispenser of that grace.

2) Suffering is often times the harbinger of greater blessings. This isn’t as much from Philippians as from practical experience, but it seems that oftentimes when the clouds are the darkest God is actually preparing a very special blessing for His people. Spurgeon said that he actually learned to accept times of suffering as messengers of greater blessings to come, because the clouds are always darkest just before the rain.

3) I am not alone when I experience suffering, because Christ has already walked this path before me. The doctrine of the kenosis should be one of the most comforting doctrines in all of Scripture, because it reminds that Jesus has gone before us and has already experienced the full force of Satan’s fury and yet he arose victorious.

Philippians 2:8-10 – And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

4) Suffering is a means of gaining Christ. As Paul reflected on his pursuit of gaining Christ he wrote, that his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. “

I don’t think any of these truths lesson the heartache that goes along with suffering, but each of them is a precious reminder to me that suffering is not without purpose and that is a source of hope even in the midst of tears.

May 09 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

How Can God Allow Suffering?

Excellent thoughts here from DA Carson on how a God who is good can allow suffering.

How can God allow suffering and evil in the world? from A Passion for Life on Vimeo.

November 26 2010 | Blog | Comments Off on How Can God Allow Suffering?

Learning to Grieve (part 5) – Beauty for Ashes

SONY DSC                     Isaiah 61:3 has been an especially meaningful passage to me this last week, “[He will] give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…”  For the Christian there is always the promise of hope in the midst of grief, there is always the expectation that God will give beauty for ashes and will restore the years of famine.

The fact that Christians are able to grieve as those who have hope is one of the principle things that distinguishes us from the world.  As Amy and I sat through our recent IEP, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sense of hopelessness in the room.  There was no appeal to the greater plan of God, no thought given to the mercy of God in blessing us with a child who has some special needs, no mention of God whatsoever.  I certainly don’t begrudge the school system for their approach to an IEP, but one can’t help but notice the fact that life under the sun is full of grief and full of tragedies and without a Christian world view, we ultimately have to chalk all of the suffering in life up to nothing more than chance.  But life lived under the Son and His Father’s rule is full of hope, even in the midst of tears.

One final thing that I’ve learned through this process is the fact that grief is not a destination, it is a journey.  In our case this journey will almost certainly come with recurring reminders of the path that we are on.  Those reminders will come in the form of IEP evaluations, difficult questions about Micah’s future, his career, and a hundred other things we probably haven’t even thought about yet.  There’s no doubt that this will be a difficult journey for us as a family, but I believe that this path is actually a gift of grace.  This is a path that I have never been down before and because of my unfamiliarity with the terrain, I will need to stay especially close to my Guide who has already experienced the deepest form of grief and yet rose from the dead to offer hope to those who grieve.

November 04 2010 | Devotional and Learning to Grieve | 4 Comments »

Learning to Grieve (part 4) – Listening is the Essence of Wisdom

Come_Listen_To_Me_WSFaIt can be very difficult to know how to help someone who is grieving.  One of the things that Amy and I consistently run up against is how few people have experience with this kind of difficulty.  At first we got lots of suggestions from different people. We even had someone ask, “Well, do you talk to Micah?”, thinking that perhaps that would solve the problem Smile.  Of course we really appreciate everyone’s concern, and we know that our friends and family are really just trying to help, but the truth of the matter is that the most helpful thing that anyone has done for us through this process is simply to listen and to grieve alongside of us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-6 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. “  The idea Paul is expressing there is that as we enter into other people’s suffering, God comforts us as we experience their loss so that we can turn around and comfort them as we “patiently endure the same sufferings.”

What those in grief need more than anything else is wisdom and the essence of wisdom is the ability to listen well.  I have found far more help from those who were willing to simply listen and sit with me (Job 3:11-13), than from any of the “great ideas” that others have had for Micah’s situation.  It’s the wisdom to keep silence that gives friends and family the permission to speak when the time comes.

November 03 2010 | Devotional and Learning to Grieve | Comments Off on Learning to Grieve (part 4) – Listening is the Essence of Wisdom

Learning to Grieve (part 3) – What Will Others Think?

Angel_of_Grief_by_BitterSweetTears__xGrief is terribly self-terminating.  What I mean by that is that in the experience of grief we usually look to no one higher than ourselves, that is why grief has a tendency to be self-referential.  We feel as if no one has ever experienced this degree of suffering or loss before, which means that no one has ever been as alone as we are right now.

For Amy and I, one of the great difficulties of Micah’s disability is the fear of what other people will think of him.  He truly does love to be around other children, yet our hearts just break when they can’t understand him or when it’s obvious that he really doesn’t get what they’re saying.  Children are one thing and yet adults are something all together different.  Why isn’t he like the other children?  What’s he saying?  Why is it so hard to get him to do what I’m tell him to do?  Micah’s disability of such a nature that he is extremely high functioning, but there’s just something that’s not quite up to par with other children.  It’s certainly not that other adults are judging us, or looking down on us at all.  We live in a wonderful community, minister at a wonderful church where everyone really does love Micah.  I guess more than anything it’s the fear of the unknown, especially when it comes to his education and what others will think of him and how they will treat him.

As I said earlier, grief is inherently self-referential, that is until you find a reference far greater than yourself.  As I was crying out to God the other day about Micah and what the future will hold for him, I was specifically reminded of the fact that God too is a Father and that he also had a Son who others thought poorly of.  Isaiah 53 speaks of the Father’s Son when Isaiah writes, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him…He was despised and rejected by men…”  Now the point is definitely not that Micah is Jesus (far from it to be sure), but as I think about my own experience of grief over what others will think of Micah, I find great comfort in knowing that my Father has had the same experience with His Son who was despised and rejected by men.  I guess the point is that grief needs to go somewhere, it needs a reference greater than itself in order to find purpose and healing.  That greater reference is always going to be God and His own experience of suffering and grief in the incarnation and especially at the cross.

November 02 2010 | Devotional and Learning to Grieve | 2 Comments »

Learning to Grieve (part 2) – A Different Destination

The best description that I’ve found of what raising a child with a disability feels like is from Emily Kingsley.  Kingsley writes:

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

947511170_dea998692fAs Amy and I sat through Micah’s IEP meeting and listened to the progress that he’s made in the last year, there was certainly a lot for us to rejoice over.  God has been so gracious to our little boy in bringing about more speech and greater understanding, it really is beautiful to see how much progress Micah has made.

At the same time our joy is different from other parents joys.  We rejoice that Micah is using more words than he was, we rejoice that he is able to follow basic commands.  It’s not that where we are with Micah is a bad place, it’s just different from other people’s experience and in that is where we learn to grieve.  To use Kingsley’s analogy, we thought we were going to Italy and somehow ended up in Holland.  It’s not that things are worse, it’s just that there was a change of destination and that change requires a season to grieve the loss of what you thought would be.

November 01 2010 | Devotional and Learning to Grieve | Comments Off on Learning to Grieve (part 2) – A Different Destination

Learning to Grieve (part 1) – Loss

Grief_post_fGrief is kind of a funny word for me to be talking about at this point in my life.  I have three healthy young boys, a beautiful wife, and a loving church that cares deeply for me and for my family; yet in many ways I find this word inescapable.  As I’ve engaged in counseling with various individuals, couples, etc. it seems that grief is almost always present to a degree and as I’ve thought deeply about my oldest son and some of his disabilities, grief has been a close companion to me.  David Wiersbe said, “Nobody has a predictable journey through grief,” and I have found this to be true.  It seems that grief takes many different shapes and sizes over the course of one’s life and yet as sure as the reality of death and loss, grief will always be present in this fallen world.

Grief has been defined as a “multi-faceted response to loss.”  That loss could be a loved one, a physical possession, or (as in my case) an expectation or a dream.  For me the dream / expectation was that of a normal childhood and normal development for my oldest son Micah.  Just the other day Amy and I had a meeting with the school to discuss Micah’s needs and after an hour and a half of discussion, evaluations, a little bit of wrangling one thing is absolutely certain in my mind, we have both suffered the loss of a dream / expectation for Micah.  Micah’s IEP lists him as having severe difficulties in speech, and several other areas so much so that we are still trying to figure out how we can best help him.

In the first few years of my experience with Micah’s disability God was hard at work teaching me the discipline of waiting, which I wrote extensively about here.  It seems that as I enter into a new chapter of Micah’s life it is time for another lesson, it seems that it is time for me to learn how to grieve.  As I said earlier grief is a multi-faceted thing and no two people’s journeys are exactly alike, so this series of posts won’t be about “How to grieve” but rather it will be about what I have learned about my own grief with the hope that some of these lessons will speak to others in grief as well.

One of the most important lessons that God has reaffirmed to me through this process is the fact that whatever darkness I may face in life, Jesus has already gone before me and experienced the fullness of that grief for me.  In other words Jesus will always meet me in the depths of my grief.  Steven Curtis Chapman wrote about this through his grief over the loss of his daughter when he said, “When you realize the dreams you’ve had for your child won’t come true, When the phone rings in the middle of the night with tragic news, Whatever valley you must walk through, Jesus will meet you there.”  The presence of Christ in the midst of grief is what allows us “grieve as those who have hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

October 31 2010 | Devotional and Learning to Grieve | Comments Off on Learning to Grieve (part 1) – Loss

Leading Your Church Through Suffering

Excellent advice here from Matt Chandler on leading your church through suffering.

September 03 2010 | Blog | Comments Off on Leading Your Church Through Suffering

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