Was blind, but now I see.

4 : 10 October 2005




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M. S. Thirumalai

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Al Bishop


Suffering, pain, injustice, and trials seem to be normal experiences for most of us. But occasionally they seem quite severe. James Dobson wrote a book entitled When God Doesn't Make Sense. He gives several examples of great suffering experienced by individuals that are not 'deserved'.


One story concerns a 17-year old boy who was a bright student who finished near the top of his class in high school, went on to college, graduated with honors, and was planning to go to medical school. He applied to one of the better universities and he was one of 106 out of 6,000 applicants who were selected.

During his first term he began to ask himself about the Lord's will for his life. He compared that with the potential that he had for gaining a lot of money, independence, and affluence. And during his first term in medical school, while he was asking himself these questions, he decided he was not going to go for the megabucks. He was going to give himself in service on a mission field as a medical missionary. He went to medical school and during his first year he was diagnosed with acute leukemia and died before the semester was over. How do we make sense out of that?


Another illustration he had in this book was about a tornado in the Dallas area. It was moving along, well above land, not hurting anybody, and suddenly it just descended and destroyed one particular building and then lifted into the air without damaging anything else. It was a church. Some Christians would deal with these confusing situations by saying that there must have been some secret sin in the life of that young man and that church. Remember Job's friends? To explain the tragedies that came into Job's life they accused him of secret sin and that the tragedies were a punishment from God. And they were wrong!


On two occasions Jesus was asked questions about that kind of philosophy. A tower fell on 18 people and killed them and a group of people asked Him whether it happened because it was a punishment for their sin. "It has nothing to do with a sin of those people the way that happened." They said, "Whose?" He said, "Nobody was a worse sinner there." And the man born blind? The people came and asked him, "Whose sin? This man or his parents that he was born blind?" Jesus told them that the blindness of the man had nothing to do with punishment for sin.


Read James 1:2-4. When we look at these verses we are hit with a very unwelcome challenge. Verse 2: "My brothers, consider it all joy when you fall into various trials or testings." Now the old King James says "temptation" but you can tell it is not the temptation to evil or an immoral act by what follows. James is not talking about the sin of temptation because he says, "be assured of this, the testings of your faith will produce something you need." And what is that something? And could it not come through some other means?


What is the testing of our faith going to produce? At the end of verse 3 James gives us the answer. "The testing of your faith develops perseverance (or endurance)." Some of you may have older King James versions that use the word "patience" rather than endurance or perseverance. And patience is certainly a good quality to have. We need patience and testing is the formula for getting patience. It is the way it works, the way it develops. But to me, patience is just too passive of a word at this point.

The Greek word used here is "hupomona." The prefix "hupo" is an intensifier. It signifies something that is not ordinary but more, extra. And so James is taking about active, unswerving, constant, total dependability. It is more than just putting up with the difficult things or bearing them--like patience. Very often you hear people say, "Well, I got this cross to bear and I am bearing it." And what they are talking about is a whiny spouse or migraine headache or a lousy boss. James is talking about more than that. He is talking about perseverance. I define perseverance this way: The ability by the faith God gives you to turn bad things that you experience into greatness for the glory of God. It is redeeming the bad times and bad experiences for the glory of God.


I do not care how many times you say, "Jesus saves, keeps, and satisfies me." Until you have experienced the extreme stress of a heavy, heavy problem, you really do not know what you believe. You think you know what you believe, but in a sense you are hoping that when that time comes, you will be able to have the guts to stand up to it. That is when the test really comes. What is your bottom line? Think about that!

Joseph spoke to his brothers after their wicked treatment of him and after God worked perseverance in his life, "You guys meant to do evil to me. I have news for you. God intended it for good." And God did work good out of it and thousands of people were blessed. You think joy came to Joseph out of that experience? What an exciting thing to go from being thrown into a big ditch and left for dead to the point where you can minister to thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people.


Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-7, speaking of our relationship with Jesus Christ, says this, "In this hope you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may suffer grief in all kinds of trials." But listen to this, "But these have come." Why did they come? "These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine." Again in chapter four he says, "Don't think it strange or surprising at the painful trial you are suffering, but rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed."

How about this? John in Revelation 2:10: "Don't be afraid of what you are about to suffer," and here it comes, "the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. Be faithful." Paul the apostle in Philippians 1:29, "It has been granted to you…" Granted to me?! That sounds like a gift. "…not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake." Jesus Christ Himself: "In this world you shall have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world."


Jesus said in John 15:1-2: "I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more." We had a home in Sarasota that had a beautiful Hibiscus tree. People would walk past that tree and stop to look at it. One day we pruned it. Snip, snip, snip. And several days after that people would walk past it and complain and just mocked us for what we did. But several weeks later I tried counting all the blossoms and could not do it. The pruning turned an active healthy tree that produced some blossoms to a tree that produced many, many blossoms. It was beautiful. Pruning hurts but the results can often be spectacular.


And if we allow God to do that in us, our growth can be described in three ways. They are given to us in James 1:4. First, we will become mature or as the King James says, "perfect." Second, we will become complete or as the King James says, "entire." Third, we will lack nothing.

All three of these are closely related, but the original words are different. The best way to illustrate maturity is by using the word "teleos." "Teleos" is a word found in Romans 12. "Do not be conformed any longer to the world's way of thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." "Be transformed in order that you can discover (or test or to prove) what is the good, the pleasing, the perfect (the teleos) will of God." Greatness for God's glory! That is the purpose. It is not a self-centered thing. It is not that "I" become great, above others around me, but I become more capable of fulfilling God's will for my life.


Do you and I have a part in this transformation? Yes, we do. As we allow the Holy Spirit of God to use God's Word to implant into us new thinking, new ways of living, new goals, new aspirations, a new relationship to God, a confidence that we know we are walking with God, He changes us. In the 5th chapter of Galatians Paul points to a dozen characteristics of the natural man. But he immediately follows them with what he calls the "fruit of the Spirit." Once you take something out of your life you create a vacuum, an empty place, and there is the necessity to put something else in its place. When we make a commitment to remove the fruits of the flesh from our lives we must add the fruits of the Spirit to fill our lives, or as Jesus said, the end will be worse than the beginning. We cannot live empty lives and expect that the fruits of the flesh will not come back to harm us!

The second word has to do with being ready or fit to serve God. Colossians 3:8: "Put away (get rid of) all things in your life that are wrong: malice, wrong speech, lying, greed, sexual sins, ... ." Verse 10: "In its place you have clothed yourself with a brand new nature that is continuously being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you." In other words, when the spirit of God has planted His fruit in all the places where the old, natural man was before, then you are ready for service. And the third word has to do with being deficient in nothing. Would that not be great to be deficient in nothing? I would like that.


We can take all of this teaching to heart and still struggle. I do and a lot of you do, also. In his book, Hope When You're Hurting, Larry Crabb describes a personal situation. For several years as a child his wife was abused and she is still haunted by the memories. He says, "We have come to the conclusion that the only thing we can do is put on the full armor of God and fight this thing that is testing us all the time." As a pastor I know that to be true.

In fact, I could probably point to dozens of people who are in agony and stress over some particular problem. Dobson believes nearly every Christian has what he calls an "if-only problem." "If only I did not have this financial problem, I could really, you know, live for the Lord better. I would not be under all this stress." "If only I did not have this whiny spouse, I could really, you know, I could really be a witness and glorify God." "If only I did not have [this], if only I did not have [that]. How great life would be if I did not have [this] bad situation."


All too often, some Christians will look at another person's burden and say, "Well, if you only lived right, this never would have happened." They need to take a look at the history of the church. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Bad things happen to all of us. People we love die. People we love get into accidents. People we love get sick. And sometimes those things happen to us. Look at Job's suffering. He was a righteous man by God's own testimony but yet he experienced suffering. His suffering was not a punishment. But his behavior in the midst of his suffering distinguished him as a lover of God and a righteous man.


Here is another myth. "If God was God and truly God and truly good, He would remove this suffering and this testing from me." That idea fails to recognize the wisdom of God. Paul had some heavy burdens to endure in his life. One of them was so great that he prayed for God to remove it--2 Corinthians 12. After he had poured his heart out to God, pleading with God to relieve him of this problem, whatever it was we do not know exactly, the answer came back. "Hi, Paul. I hear you. The answer is, "My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness." "Who is doing the work around here, you or me?" God says. "I am the one who is at work in you." "God is at work in you," Paul writes, and "he who began this work will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.

It is God who is at work in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure." Did Paul stop praying when he got that answer? No way. What does he say later? "Pray without ceasing. In every prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God and the God of peace will comfort you and will give you peace beyond all understanding." Just hang in there and never give up.


Sometimes our suffering is for the benefit of another person. That is a toughie. I do not like having to endure things just so somebody else can grow. Remember Stephen? What is the result of Stephen's suffering? Acts 6:8 - 8:1 record what happened to Stephen. I wish I could reproduce the entire passage for you here, but it is too long. Do yourself a favor and read it for yourself.

Stephen may have been the greatest Christian alive at that time. Read what is said about him. "Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people…. None of them was able to stand against the wisdom and Spirit by which Stephen spoke. So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen." And later as he gave a defense against the accusations against him he gave what was perhaps the greatest summary of God's Old Testament ministry anywhere in the Bible. He told the unbelieving Jewish leaders what they should have already known. And that they should have recognized Jesus as their Messiah! They became so enraged at him that they stoned him to death. Does that seem fair?

Stephen follows God's leading and masterfully tells them the truth and he gets stoned for it! Why? Read 8:1. "Saul was one of the official witnesses at the killing of Stephen." Saul became Paul the apostle who wrote half of the New Testament. What he saw in Stephen troubled him. And when Jesus finally appeared to him on the Damascus road he was ready to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. Stephen was a great man who seemed to have died too young. But through his testimony God was able to prick the heart of a man who later became Paul the apostle. When you live well, even if that means suffering well, someone may be watching that God will lead to Himself because of your life.


One of my early struggles with Scripture was Romans 8:28. Even as a pastor, I saw people use it so trivially it used to annoy me. They used it mercilessly. "Oh, you say your brother died last night? Well, God works all things together for good." All in one breath. The suffering is minimized. Dobson says, "Whenever Christians talk about pain and suffering, someone can be counted on to quote Romans 8:28, 'And we know that in all things God works for good to those who love him, who have been called according to the purpose.'"

Christians go through the same kind of suffering that unbelieving people do, so how can it be said that all their difficulties somehow work together for good? Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose." Jim was a classmate of mine at Wheaton College. When I heard about his death at only 33, I said to myself, "What is wrong with me changing my life around and doing something brand new?" Ollie and I went to Seminary. One of the men who killed Jim Elliott came to Christ and later on baptized some of the children of the missionaries that he had previously killed.


What about the grace of God? What about it? Here is another story. A guy named Mr. Crebs and his wife had a 21-year old son. They had been advised to abort him when he was still in the womb. They chose to give him life. He was born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation. His parents do not regret their decision to bring him into the world because they believe that all life is precious. They are thankful for their son. He has touched the lives of many people in warm, wonderful ways. "God has used him as he is," Mr. Crebs said.

"Something happened when he was just 7 years old. My wife worked in a hospital. I had taken Chris with me to pick her up. She was late getting off, so Chris and I waited for her in one of the family rooms. There was another man there who was not well-dressed and in fact, he was a little smelly. I went to the nurse's station to ask how much longer my wife would be and when I returned, I saw Chris sitting by the man. The man was sobbing and I wondered what Chris had done to offend him, so I started to apologize. 'I'm sorry if my son offended you.' 'Offended me?! Offended me?! Your son is the only person who has hugged me in the past 20 years.' I realized at that point that my son had a more Christlike attitude and love for this man than I did."


God uses each person to accomplish some part of His purpose. He will use your pain, although it is not always immediately possible to see it happening. Learn what you can from the experience and grow. It is a delight to see some people growing through these type experiences. Maintain stability in your life in other areas as much as you possibly can. Allow your faith to increase. That is hard. You keep saying the same prayer over and over. "Lord, increase my faith." And find some way to praise God through it all.

When we are overwhelmed and discouraged about our lot in life, about our pain and suffering and frustration, God is still good. He knows and He understands how we feel and He still loves us. However, if you worry so much about yourself that you concentrate on yourself and your pain more than you are concentrating on God and what His plans are, you will not grow. You will become stuck in your pain. God does know and He can bring glory to Himself regardless of how you feel. How is your faith today? How is your faith? Is it healthy or is it conditional? Do circumstances or feelings limit your trust in God?

If Jesus Christ is in you, if you are a new spiritual person in Christ, then His promise to be with you until the end should empower you to deal with every situation that comes along. Look at Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." Do you feel that the Lord is near you or is He way off someplace? "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding." Notice it says "let your gentleness be evident to all."


This is a characteristic of your behavior. You are not isolated, in pain, but your gentle behavior is evident to all. Why gentle? Why not kind, or patient, or whatever? Why gentle? Think about it. Pain can cause resentment and resentment can lead to anger and anger expressed is not gentle. Gentleness amidst pain is a sign of the grace of God at work.

Where are you this morning in your faith? Are you able to see that God is able to do and bring something good out of every bad experience and that that thing which He brings out is not for your credit, but it is for the glory of God? And do you also realize that you will only experience the peace of God during difficult times if you are also living well and ministering to others. When we reach out to others while in our pain is when God works grace in us, not when we isolate ourselves and fixate on our pain. Yes, sometimes we need quietness and privacy to process our feelings but it is only in the ministering when the grace of God flows special from us to others. And with that flowing comes the cleansing power of the grace of God! What is the bottom line? God's grace is sufficient…to work all things out to His everlasting glory. Trust Him!



Al Bishop


Short Term Missions, a book by Roger Peterson, et al.

Solitary Poet, Poems of Reflection by Stan Schmidt.

Sharing Your Faith with Hindus by M. S. Thirumalai.

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