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“Every Day With Jesus is Like A Thanksgiving Holiday” By Dr. David P. Craig

“Thank God It’s Thanksgiving Everyday – Especially on Thursday’s!”

I have always loved the Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s one of the few times of the year where our very large family can come together from all over the United States and enjoy giving thanks for our many blessings. This year more than likely I’ll be having liquid formula through a feeding tube in my stomach. I already had the G-Tube surgically implanted in my stomach this past week. During chemotherapy and radiation around Thanksgiving time will be a time of great testing for me, when according to my Doctors I will be unable to swallow and chew due to the severity of my treatment for throat and neck cancer. Watching every one I love dearest passing around the turkey with all the trimmings will be something my eyes will enjoy, but not my taste buds. However, I’m good with that. I’m good with whatever comes my way because I can choose whether I’m a “reactor” or a “responder.” Let me explain.

Over the past decade I’ve had eye problems off and on – a cataract surgery and lattice degeneration in both eyes, which required laser surgery to repair numerous tiny little “tears” in the back of my eyes. A few days ago the Eye Doctor discovered I have a Vitreous Detachment and a Vitreous Hemorrhage in my right eye. After seeing a cataract specialist I was referred to another specialist who confirmed these diagnoses. All I know is that it is difficult for me to read, and that I see flashes of light at night, and what looks like a “blob” during the day out of my right eye. The Ophthalmologist thinks it should go away – but for now, I’m hoping and praying the “blob” will clear up.

I have also had an off-and-on battle with “Gout” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon had Gout as well – which makes me feel a little bit better about it – at least I’m in good company). They say Gout is a “rich man’s disease” (well one out of two ain’t bad – and “rich” isn’t the one). The first time I experienced Gout was after coaching one of my daughter’s soccer practices. I remember lying on the bed at night after soccer practice and feeling like someone took my right big toe and pounded it with a hammer as if they were really mad at the nail – and it just so happened my big “toe” represented the nail. It was excruciating. I’ve finally (after years of hopping, limping, and crawling through various “Gout” attacks) resorted to taking medication a few months ago – so far so good. The reality is I get “Gout” not because I’m rich, but because my body is missing an enzyme and therefore I manufacture too much uric acid which builds up “crystals” (more like little torturous demons) in weak areas of the body – joints in the extremities – and inflames them, so that even a bed sheet touching the inflamed joint hurts like you just got stepped on by a really upset “Chuck Norris.”

Today I am on my way to the hospital to get my face fitted for a mask that I will wear for radiation treatment. I will also have a CT-Scan to see if I’m ready to start chemotherapy and radiation for the Stage 3, throat and neck cancer I’ve recently been diagnosed with. God-willing I will begin treatment early next week (the sooner the treatment begins – the better). So what’s with all the grim news? Well, honestly, I truly believe that some tough days are ahead – but they will go a lot better if I have a thankful heart.

I also have learned something about life – We are either coming out of tough times, going through tough times, or about to go through tough times! The good news – is that as Christians we know that God “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13b). Warren W. Wiersbe calls the Christian life a “land of hills and valleys.” We journey from low points to high points and everything in between.

 Why Lord? What’s with All the Tough Stuff?

James puts it this way, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). In other words, if you want to lack nothing, be spiritually mature, and satisfied – the only way to do it, is by meeting all kinds of trials with “joy.” Why? Because God designed it that way! If you’ve got a problem with it…He’s got a bigger problem! He took our sin problem head-on and voluntarily. He sent His perfect Son to die in your and my place and exchanged His perfect record of righteousness for your (and my) heinous record of unrighteousness.

I didn’t choose to have a cataract or lattice degeneration in my eyes; Gout, or Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cancer. But, I do know for a fact that God has allowed me to have these ailments, and I can either react to, (negative thinking) or respond to (positive thinking) God’s sovereign will and plans. I know that God works everything out for my good, and more importantly, for His glory. I know that God can heal me if He chooses to do so. I know that He can use medicine and the skill of excellent Physicians, medications, diet, and the prayers of His people to rid me of my cancer if He so desires. I also know, that we live in a fallen world, and one out of one people die. As a pastor I’ve easily performed over 100 funerals, and I’ve also witnessed miraculous healings. However, I do not presume to know what God’s sovereign hidden will happens to be in my cancer. I only know that I must decide whether God is good or evil – and the track record is that I’m very evil, and He is very good – as a matter of fact Perfect and immutably so. Only God is infinitely Wise in His plans. I simply want to trust and obey Him in the midst of this trial.

 God is Good and Sovereign:

Lamentations 3:21-26 – 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. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

Psalm 90:12 – Moses prays, “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Proverbs 16:9 – Solomon says, “Man plans His ways, but the LORD determines His steps.”

Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”– in paraphrase: “All of our days are numbered before one of them came to be.”

Romans 8:18, 28-29, 32 – “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers…He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

In summary: God has given me a certain number of days to suffer and grow in wisdom. He has always been faithful to provide for all my needs. If He didn’t spare His own Son – how could He possibly abandon me now? In the days He entrusts to me I can either react or respond to everything that He allows in my life. He promises that everything that comes my way is ultimately for my good and His glory. Ultimately all of my suffering is not worth comparing with the glories to come. God has predestined and purposed for me in His infinite wisdom and love that through suffering my character would conform to the image of Jesus – so that I would look like His brother – an heir with Christ, adopted into the family of God! God will give me an allotted time known only to Him to make much of Jesus and to bring Him glory – nothing else really matters.

Are You a “Reactor” or a “Responder”?

Here is an example of the difference and importance of “reacting” to circumstances, and “responding” to them: If I begin radiation and chemotherapy on Monday and within a few weeks my tumor shrinks from 7 to 5 cm, and the cancer cells are disappearing – then that’s a positive “response” to the treatment – it’s working! My body is responding to the treatment. If the tumor and cancer cells metastasize to another part of my body and the tumor grows to 8-9 cm then that’s called a “reaction” to the treatment – it’s not working. My body would be “reacting” to the treatment. The treatment will either cause my body to “react,” (negatively) or “respond” (positively) to the treatment. Responding is good. Reacting is bad.

The good news of the gospel is that even when you or I “react” negatively in our thinking, Christ has us covered! Even when you or I “respond” it’s only by His grace that we’re able to respond the way we should. I thank God that my salvation is NOT based on the way I react or respond to everything in life. I thank God that it is solely by repentance and faith – God’s gift to me – sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria – that I’m accepted, adopted, and saved by my beloved Triune God.

I truly believe that we can respond to circumstances by responding by having a greater understanding of the incredible mercy and grace of God in saving us. Read carefully just a sampling of God’s amazing Triune grace and mercy in saving us:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or 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?” (Romans 2:1-4).

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16).

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

I like the way Pastor David Platt puts it, “Salvation has absolutely nothing to do with human merit and absolutely everything to do with divine mercy.” John MacArthur says it like this, ““There are basically only two kinds of religion in the world: those based on human achievement and those based on divine accomplishment. One says you can earn your way to heaven; the other says you must trust in Jesus Christ alone.” Tullian Tchividijian makes the same point this way, ““The Bible doesn’t tell the story of good people who do great things; it tells the story of great sin that is met with a greater Savior.”

Paul David Tripp writes, ““Because we sin specifically, the gospel intends us to grow in grace specifically…We must emphasize again and again the nowism of the gospel…Jesus didn’t just die for your past and future, He died for you’re here and now! To die for you, Jesus had to first live for you. He lived a perfect life in your place so he would be an acceptable sacrifice for your sin.”

When trials come into our lives in the form of a long traffic light that makes us late for work, an unexpected tax increase, or in the form of a pink slip from our boss, small or large trial – we all have them – where we differ and show what we are made of is in the arena of our character. Character is made in the shade of trials – the inner being. Our character is manifest in the light of the fight. It is in the heat of the hottest fire where the gold is most refined. Gold is never made without heat. Our purity came at a huge cost – the life of the perfect One – crucified (the greatest suffering), buried (the greatest abandonment), risen (the greatest triumph), and coming again (our greatest hope)!

Therefore, I am going to do something I’ve never done before starting this Thursday – Today. I’m going to make it a “Day of Thanks” – no matter what comes my way. I am going to choose to “respond” and not “react” – be positive and not negative – praise God and not whine to Him. I’m going to spend my entire day choosing joy over sorrow, and to focus on the Grandeur of the God of the Gospel.

Thursday’s for me – from this Thursday on – by God’s grace will be a day of responding to God in gratitude and thanks all day long. October 18, 2012 is going to be a day dedicated to Thanksgiving. I will not ask for anything of God. I will spend my day delighting in what He has already done and will continue to do for me. I will choose to delight in His nature and attributes. I will respond to Him by rejoicing in His plans that are ultimately always for His glory and for my good. As a Christian I know that even my suffering has a purpose – I know that behind every pain there is a plan by a loving God who suffered and was in more pain than I’ll ever know, in order to spare me from His wrath that I so rightly deserved. Now all I know is that because of the Triune work and plan of God I will never be punished for my wretched sin – Jesus took care of it, and stated “It is finished” two thousand years ago.

The new normal for me may consist of a lot of pain – but that’s ok because Jesus has been through the greatest pain on my behalf – out of love for the Father and love for me as His adopted heir in the family of God. His goal for me whether He gives me many more years or just a few more days is spelled out clearly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-8,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 Today is a Day of Thanksgiving because I’ve been:

(1)  Justified by faith (not my works – but the perfect works of Jesus on my behalf);

(2)  I have peace with Jesus – He’s not mad at me even though He died for “my” sins;

(3)  I stand in grace – undeserved, free, and infinite – accessed solely by faith in Jesus Person and Work on my behalf in his life, death, burial, and resurrection;

(4)  I can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God – I will see Him in His perfect glory forever – no blinders and no barriers because I am his child forever;

(5)  I can rejoice in my sufferings – because they have purpose – they aren’t by “chance” or “luck” – they are carefully designed by an infinitely wise and loving God to conform me to the image of Jesus;

(6)  My character will be produced by endurance, strength, and hope by choosing to respond and not react in the midst of the hardships – because the more I become like Jesus – the more prepared I will be to bring gratitude and glory to Him;

(7)  I have God’s love in my heart because He poured it there via the Holy Spirit – no more guilt or shame, because I’m covered by the blood of Christ, and the Spirit has taken up residence in my life forever – never to leave me nor forsake me;

(8)  No matter how weak I am – Jesus the risen one who conquered death – who died for my sin – who rose from the dead and will return and reign as King – the righteous for the unrighteous – how can I doubt His love or plans for me;

(9)  He can never love me more than he already has demonstrated – for while I was a sinner He died for me. I can never do anything to make Him love me more. So whether I “react” or “respond” because of my repenting of my sins past, present, and future – He’s got me covered by His blood shed for me.

Thursdays from this day forth will be “Days of Thanksgiving.” Not the all-you-can eat Turkey and gravy fests The focus on my prayers will be to be express my gratitude and “respond” to God’s amazing graces in my life. And if He never did another thing for me – only He would be worthy of all of my praise for Who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do for His glory and His Eternal Kingdom.

Today I Start with this Simple Prayer of Thanks – “Response”:

“Father thank you for orchestrating my election in eternity past. If you never did anything else than to pick me on your team – adopt me into your family and not make me pay forever for my sin – that would be enough for me to thank you each millisecond for the next billion years. Jesus, thank you for coming after me courageously and unflinchingly receiving the Father’s wrath for my sin – if it were only my sin it would have been brutal enough. But you also took on the sins of the world. You are the Man – there is no one who can be named in the same breath with the name of Jesus. At your name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are Lord. I do so now willingly, with gratitude, humbly, and filled with joy – that you would exchange your righteousness for my righteousness which to you are only as “filthy rags.” Holy Spirit, I am grateful that you regenerated me. You took a dead man with no ability whatsoever to trust in Jesus, and made me alive spiritually. You gave me the gift of faith in the One you pointed me to – the Holy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – and who took away all my sins – past, present, and future. Thank you Triune God for your plan to save me; your perfect execution to save me in totally fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law; and the reconciliatory requirements in order to forgive me on the basis of the name that above all other names, and You will reign as King forever and ever! – Amen!

I hope that you will join me in committing to making one day a week – it doesn’t have to be a Thursday; the date isn’t as important as your becoming focused on the Gospel – seeking to conform to being more like Jesus. I encourage you to join me in becoming a “responder” to the Gospel and not a “reactor” that doubts the goodness of our loving God. Please join me in giving God the Father, Son, and Spirit the gratitude and glory due Him for the great things He has done – let’s strive to be “responders” to His grace, and not “reactors” because of our foolish idolatries. Soli Deo Gloria!

 About Dr. David P. Craig

I am first and foremost a great sinner, saved by an even Greater Savior – Jesus Christ. I have been a pastor for over 23 years and working as a Pastoral Life Coach for the past year. There is nothing I enjoy more than teaching from God’s Word and pointing others to the focal point of the Scriptures and the Universe – it’s all about Jesus. I have no greater passion than to make disciples who make disciples of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Whether I make disciples by teaching large groups, coaching one-on-one, or in discipleship – the formate doesn’t matter to me. I love seeing and experiencing the Spirit of God come upon and transform lives through the power of the Gospel. I love to help people get more balance in their lives by identifying and delivering them from their idolatries and discovering that Jesus is always better than anything else. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, five outstanding children, two amazing grand sons, and my only claim to fame is that I know where to find lasting satisfaction and joy – and it’s to be found only in knowing Jesus personally and intimately.

 

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How Can A Pastor Prepare His Church for the Inevitability of Suffering?

“You will Have Tribulation” (by Dr. David P. Craig)

I think that only in “good times” can anything that resembles a so-called “prosperity gospel” develop. Dr. Ron Carlson made a very important point in a lecture twenty plus years ago that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If the gospel can’t be preached in the same way to every person in every tribe, country, and people group on the face of the earth – then it’s not the Gospel.” He was making reference to the teaching of Robert Schuller, whose “prosperity gospel” was failing miserably at the time in Russia in the 1980’s. People in Russia who had been under communist rule for so many years couldn’t relate to “health, wealth, and prosperity.” It was as abstract to them as living on Mars would be to us earthlings.

Over my 25 years in the ministry I’ve learned a few lessons about life. One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned is in the furnace of suffering: emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually. Life is tough and it seems to be getting tougher all the time. I am convinced that one of the most important ways a pastor can love his church is by preparing her with a deep and robust Biblical theology of suffering. A theology of suffering should be biblical, systematic (what the whole Bible teaches about suffering – not just isolated passages), deal with the problems of sin and evil, be Christo-centric, and be holistic (involving the promises and plans of God; practical ramifications; grapple with the emotions and pain of suffering, and so forth). A sound theology of suffering must ultimately lead to the peace, hope, and even joy that is to be found only in the Gospel.

 Should we be surprised, shocked, or indignant when we suffer?

In the 20th century more Christians were persecuted than in all of history combined. Conservative estimates place the martyrs at between 40-50 million. In the 21st century the martyrs are piling up and look like that number will double to over 100 million! Here is just a sampling of some Scriptures having to do with the “normal” Christian life – a life full of trials, tribulations, pain, and death:

Joseph as an elderly man who endured torture, exile, abandonment, and years spent in prison for crimes he did not commit said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

Job – who was the original “poster boy for suffering” said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face” (Job 13:15).

Peter tells the “elect exiles” scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the believers at Philippi, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—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” (Philippians 3:7-11).

James issues this declaration to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Jesus told his disciples after telling them that they would be scattered and persecuted for their faith after His crucifixion, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Pain, agony, trials, and tribulation – these are synonymous with the Gospel and the Christian life. There would be no Christians without the gospel. And there would be gospel without suffering. The testimony of the Bible is not “if” but “when” we will suffer. Evil, suffering, and death are tackled head-on by the triune God in bringing about our salvation. Look closely at the following Scriptures as they clearly reveal the Father, Son, and Spirit’s own travail and suffering in brining about our own deliverance from suffering and death:

“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:1-10).

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:6-11).

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:18-39).

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:18-21).

 How does a pastor prepare a church for suffering? (by Tony Reinke)

This was one question addressed at the recent T4G conference in Louisville. Jointly, C.J. and Matt Chandler provided answers to this often-neglected pastoral topic.

C.J. opened the session with a brief explanation of why this topic is critical in the life of the local church. He then invited Matt to share the story of the Thanksgiving Day seizure that led to his hospitalization, the discovery of a mass in his brain, and his surgery eight days later to remove a portion of his right frontal lobe. Before the 7,000 attendees Chandler recounted this unexpected and frightening time of his life and looked back at God’s grace in the midst of his recent suffering.

What sustained me through it all? Where did I find my feet landing over and over again? In the doctrines, in the theology, and in the beauty and magnificence of Christ and his salvation. There my feet could rest and there I had the ability to put my confidence in him and him alone. This has had ripple effects in the Village Church, which has had ripple effects in the evangelical community at large, where men and women who have not theologically lined up with necessarily where I am and where my heart is, all of the sudden are drawn in and want to have discussions around the beauty of God’s sovereign will.

Matt’s testimony and example were moving. Later, when reflecting on Matt’s role at the conference, C.J. said, “God’s grace is evident in Matt’s life in a profound way. His personal example of trusting God in the midst of severe suffering is compelling. I experienced this with Matt in private conversation at the conference and I think everyone experienced it as he shared publicly. His time with us was unforgettable and it will serve conference participants in an enduring way, long after the other conference messages are only a distant memory.”

C.J. followed Matt’s segment, briefly addressing an important question: How do pastors provide this foundation for their people before suffering arrives? In the remaining time allotted for the session, C.J. encouraged pastors to consider five points:

(1) Prepare your church for suffering through the preaching diet. For the task C.J. commended the books of Job, Habakkuk, and 1 Peter.

(2) Draw your church’s attention to living illustrations of people suffering well in the church.

(3) Develop a curriculum of supplemental books, chapters, articles, and audio messages on the topic. C.J. recommended:

(4) Point your church to the suffering Savior in the gospel. C.J.: “The great mystery is not why do I suffer? The great mystery is why would the sinless Son of God suffer as my substitute on the cross for my sins, receiving the wrath that I deserve, so that I might be forgiven and declared righteous?”

(5) When suffering arrives, be at their side. C.J.: “By God’s grace, when we care for people in the midst of suffering, they will never forget the difference we make. Their gratefulness will be deep and it will be profound and it will be unending.”

Part of the article above was adapted from C.J. Mahaney’s “View from the Cheap Seats” blog: http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/cj-mahaney/post/2010/04/23/cj-mahaney-matt-chandler-t4g-Prepare-Your-Church-for-Suffering.aspx (David P. Craig, Tony Reinke, C.J. Mahaney, and Matt Chandler – April 23, 2010).

 About the Authors:

 Matt Chandler: Matt serves as Lead Pastor of Teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas Fort Worth area. He has served in that role since December 2002 and describes his tenure at The Village as a re-planting effort where he was involved in changing the theological and philosophical culture of the congregation. The church has witnessed a tremendous response growing from 160 people to over 11,000 with campuses in Flower Mound, Dallas and Denton.
Alongside his current role as lead pastor, Matt is involved in church planting efforts both locally and internationally through The Village and various strategic partnerships. Prior to accepting the pastorate at The Village, Matt had a vibrant itinerant ministry for over 10 years where he spoke to thousands of people in America and abroad about the glory of God and beauty of Jesus. His greatest joy outside of Jesus is being married to Lauren and being a dad to their three children, Audrey, Reid and Norah.
Recently, Matt was named president of Acts 29, a worldwide church-planting organization.Over the last 10 years, Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 400 churches in the United States and networks of churches in multiple countries.
Matt speaks at conferences throughout the world and has written a couple of books, The Explicit Gospel, published in April 2012, and Creature of the Word, coming out in October 2012. Matt has been a tremendous example to countless thousands in his hope in the Gospel in his own struggle with cancer (currently in remission – thanks to the miraculous working of God).

David P Craig: is a Pastoral Life Coach residing in Tustin, CA. He specializes in helping young pastors and leaders with personal and organizational balance by focusing on the Gospel at the center of all of life. He has a special heart for those dealing with emotional and physical pain, and is currently trusting in the God of the Gospel in his own battle with cancer. He has been married to his best friend and lover for twenty years and has five fantastic children and two grand sons.

C.J. Mahaney: C.J. Mahaney leads Sovereign Grace Ministries in its mission to establish and support local churches. After 27 years of pastoring Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, C.J. handed the senior pastor role to Joshua Harris on September 18, 2004, allowing C.J. to devote his full attention to Sovereign Grace. He serves on the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and on the board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is author of The Cross Centered Life; Christ Our Mediator; Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know; Humility: True Greatness; Living the Cross Centered Life and Don’t Waste Your Sports. He is the editor of Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. He also contributed to Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, and to two additional volumes in the Foundations for the Family Series (Crossway). He has also edited or co-authored four books in the Pursuit of Godliness book series, published by Sovereign Grace Ministries: Why Small Groups?, This Great Salvation, How Can I Change?, and Disciplines for Life. C.J. and his wife Carolyn have three married daughters and one son. They make their home in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Tony Reinke: is a former journalist now serving as a theological researcher, writer, and blogger. He lives in Maryland with his wife and three children. He is the author of the fantastic book: Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.

 

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Dr. Charles R. Swindoll on The Messiah Who Understands Your Pain

“Getting Through The Tough Stuff of Pain” By Chuck Swindoll

HAVE YOU SEEN Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ? It’s like none other I’ve seen. It details the horrifying pain and anguish Jesus suffered in the final hours of His earthly life. By now, millions of viewers around the world have been moved beyond words by the graphic depiction of that violent and shockingly torturous ordeal. People of all ages, cultures, and races have looked on in alarm and disbelief as vivid scenes from the sacred story relentlessly rolled on, growing increasingly more bloody and intense. The film has stirred controversy that is unprecedented in recent history. But why? Why such shock at a story that has been told for centuries? Why the outrage over Gibson’s violent interpretation of Christ’s final days?

I would answer, because the film depicts and supports God’s revealed Word.

Many prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild and gentle at heart. They find quiet rest in the loving Shepherd of Israel, who smiles at children, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and speaks softly of a kingdom not of this world. Few wish to go much further. They resist embracing His inconceivable pain—His excruciating humiliation, that culminated in a horrible death at the hands of unjust men bent on cursing, cruelty, misery, and murder. No one wishes to dwell on such abject evil.

Yet that is precisely how the Scriptures portray Jesus—a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ” (Isaiah 53:3).

The Bible swells with more appealing and endearing prospects of the Savior. They are the names we love to let fall from our lips in song and in prayerful devotion: Prince of Peace, Lord of Hosts, the Good Shepherd, the Great Physician, Morning Star, Lion of Judah, Lamb of God.

But Man of Sorrows? That doesn’t sound like anyone we’d care to get close to, does it? Until we find ourselves in the crucible of the tough stuff of pain. Enveloped in a world of hurt, broken by life’s brutal blows, we discover He’s everything we need.

COMING TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF PAIN

Long before Mel Gibson even thought about making a movie that dramatically focused on the passion of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote his original script. It would serve as the basis of a drama to unfold nearly eight centuries later. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote of God’s promised Messiah—the One above all others who understands your pain and mine—the Man of Sorrows.

As It Relates to Jesus’s Life

Normally we don’t think of the Messiah in terms of weakness, sadness, deep sorrow, and grief. Yet Isaiah describes Him precisely in that manner, using just about every synonym available for suffering. Read slowly and thoughtfully the ancient prophet’s penetrating prophecy.

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3–5)

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. (v.7)

But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. . . . As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (vv. 10–11) That doesn’t sound like a milquetoast Messiah to me, wouldn’t you agree? No, Jesus endured, and therefore He understands the depth of human pain and suffering. Look again at a list of Isaiah’s words: despised, griefs, sorrows, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, scourged, pierced through, smitten, stricken, like a lamb led to slaughter. Today we would say, He’s been there . . . done that, even though we don’t like to think about it. We like to think of Messiah as winning, not losing. We want to see Him in white garments coming on a white horse. We like Him to be conquering and victorious. But that is not the way He was predicted to be.

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up the theme of Christ’s suffering when he writes, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and he was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7). I find that to be a remarkably comforting thought. The Son of God, in all His deity, being also fully human, felt the sting of impending death and called on His heavenly Father for comfort and help.

Stop and think about what you’ve just read. All of it has to do with pain—that four-letter word from which we try our best to escape. But Jesus deliberately did not choose that route. He accepted the pain, He endured it, and He embraced it. Webster’s Dictionary defines physical pain as “a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort . . . acute mental or emotional distress” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “pain”). Jesus knew such physical and emotional pain, as we shall discover in the pages that follow. Being the Man of Sorrows that he was, He understands and identifies with our deepest hurts and struggles.

If there is anyone who can meet you in your pain, you have found Him in the prophet Isaiah’s Man of Sorrows.

As It Relates to Our Lives

You and I enter this world screaming. Physicians tell us that one of the first signs of good, healthy lungs in newborns is that initial, piercing cry. The tiny child whose little frame has only moments before squeezed its way through a narrow birth canal screeches in pain when it leaves the warmth of the womb and emerges with a gush into the cold, cruel world—a world of pain.

From the moments we’re born until our final breaths, pain is our companion, albeit one we’d choose to abandon. Still, pain does have its benefits. Physically, for instance, pain signals unseen trouble, and it helps caring mothers and physicians pinpoint the problem. Personally, just like Christ, we learn obedience from the things we suffer (Hebrews 5:8). Spiritually, the pain of adversity helps us grow into mature people of faith (James 1:2–4).

Philip Yancey, in his insightful work Where Is God When It Hurts? writes,

“I have never read a poem extolling the virtues of pain, nor seen a statue erected in its honor, nor heard a hymn dedicated to it. Pain is usually defined as “unpleasantness.” Christians don’t really know how to interpret pain. If you pinned them against the wall, in a dark, secret moment, many Christians would probably admit that pain was God’s one mistake. He really should have worked a little harder and invented a better way of coping with the world’s dangers. I am convinced that pain gets a bad press. Perhaps we should see statues, hymns, and poems to pain. Why do I think that? Because up close, under a microscope, the pain network is seen in an entirely different light. It is perhaps the paragon of creative genius (Philip Yancey. Where Is God When It Hurts? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, 1990, pp. 22-23).

Emotional or mental pain is not quite as objective. Almost always on target, C. S. Lewis adds this comment, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’ . . . Sometimes, however, it persists, and the effect is devastating” (C.S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain. New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962, p. 156).

I love that quote! In other words, it’s hard enough to go to a dentist when I have a bad tooth, but where do I go with this broken heart? I suggest the answer is not that difficult: We go to Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, who is acquainted with grief, who understands our brokenness and pain. Pain has a way of turning us back to the Savior. That makes it essential for our growth and spiritual well-being. If you’re feeling despised, forsaken, rejected, crushed, or afflicted, Jesus understands (Hebrews 4:15). To what degree does He understand?

To answer that, let’s revisit those final hours of Jesus’s life and look closely at the categories of pain He suffered.

THE PAIN OF GETHSEMANE AND THE ANGUISH OF THE CROSS

At the commencement of Christ’s ministry John the Baptist pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). I’ve often imagined the dull sense of dread those words must have sent through Christ’s soul—knowing He’d one day be the actual “Lamb led to the slaughter.” Yet His physical suffering was only a portion of the cup of suffering He would be compelled to drink.

 Relational Pain

Matthew 26:30 tells us that Jesus and His disciples had just completed their final meal together, which they ended by singing a hymn. That must have been an extremely emotional time for the Savior, as He reflected on the torturous anguish He’d soon endure and those He’d be forced to leave behind. The men He had lived among for so many months knew nothing of what would soon unfold. But Jesus knew what was ahead of Him from that moment all the way to the cross. If there was ever a time when He needed the strong support of His closest friends, it was in those ominous hours in Gethsemane.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:36–38).

Gethsemane. The word means “oilpress.” Symbolically it is easy to see how it represents those places of deep, pressing pain and mental agony. We each have our own Gethsemane to endure. Perhaps you are in the depth of yours today. Maybe not; for you it could be in the future. Maybe you’ve passed through one and before you could catch your breath you’ve entered another. It’s always something! It’s at those times that having a few close friends means the most. We lean on them and draw strength from them.

In one of the most intimate scenes from Jesus’s life, Matthew writes of the Savior inviting His closest friends to remain with Him as a ready source of encouragement and support: “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’ ” (v. 39). Christ’s pain was so intense He pleaded with His Father for a way out of it. Don’t hurry over that. In Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus prayed with such intensity that He dripped sweat that “became like drops of blood” oozing from his skin and falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

Drenched in pain’s agony, Jesus returned to His friends in hopes of finding some needed encouragement. But in that time, when He needed them the most, His disciples failed Him miserably. Read carefully through this tender but convicting scene, and allow Matthew’s words to touch you deeply. Let your heart be broken.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold the one who betrays Me is at hand!” (Matthew 26:40–46).

Each time Jesus returned to His friends, they lay snoozing in the grass. What a pathetic scene. To make things worse, as we saw in the previous chapter, one of His close companions stood ready to betray Him publicly. Jesus knelt in Gethsemane, broken in spirit and betrayed, anguished of soul and grieving, missing the comfort of those He had mentored for over three years. Truly alone, He now experienced the deep, relational pain of failed friendships and would soon feel the kiss of the traitor.

There is no place more alone than one’s own Gethsemane. Support groups are great. I believe in them and encourage every one of them in our church. But there are personal Gethsemanes you must walk through completely alone. You’ll always feel a deep loneliness while you’re getting through the tough stuff of pain. That’s when Christ will be there. Your best friends may fail you. Some will try to understand, but often they can’t. A few, frankly, will forget you. Some may turn against you. In the agony of your need for relational support, you’ll have all you need with Christ. You will find Him at those times closer than a brother. I know. He has met me in my own Gethsemanes, and He will do so again and again and yet again.

Internal Pain

A good friend of mine and former fellow church staff team member, David Carder, has spent years counseling brokenhearted people. Dave offers a rare insight into the reality of internal pain as he observes, “Knowing doesn’t automatically fix feelings.” Isn’t that an excellent insight?

In spite of the fact that Jesus knew all His life He would suffer a horrible death on the cross, such knowledge did not remove the internal agony
He endured when the zero hour arrived.

Jesus had known for thirty-three years that the cup of suffering would come. Knowing all of that for so long didn’t fix His feelings of intense pain. When the full weight landed on Him at Gethsemane, He pleaded for relief.

Herein lies a vital lesson for all of us: we are never more presumptuous than when we try to give hurting people the feelings we think they ought to have in their anguish. Don’t dare invade that tender, internal space! There are occasions when another’s anguish is essential for the accomplishment of God’s plan. Even though some of us wish to rescue others from pain, we need to restrain ourselves from doing so. Let’s guard against cutting in on God’s plan. Don’t try to fix people’s feelings. Our best involvement is usually to “keep watch and pray.” To stay near and be silent. To be available and to support.

Jesus understands better than anyone the silent cries of your internal pain.

 Physical Pain

For those who have seen The Passion of the Christ, I need not rehearse in detail the depth of physical pain Christ endured. The brutalities were horrific and like none experienced by anyone before or since. A quick glance at Matthew’s list provides an overview of the intensity of what Christ experienced physically.

  • He was seized and treated harshly like a common criminal (Matthew 26:57).
  • He was spit on in the face, slapped, and beaten (26:67).
  • He was bound and scourged, according to the other Gospel writers (27:2; Mark 15:15; John 19:1).
  • He was spit on again and mercilessly beaten with a reed (Matthew 27:30).
  • He was crucified, spikes driven into His hands and feet, and later a sword was thrust into His side (27:33–35; John 19:34).

Imagine the horror of having iron spikes pounded into your hands and into your feet. Or the excruciating humiliation of being hung naked in plain view of a gawking crowd. Insects no doubt swarmed His bloodsoaked body. It must have been a horrible event to witness, to say nothing of personally enduring it!

Christ’s body had been so mutilated He didn’t even look human. The physical pain He must have borne is nothing short of mind-boggling. Still there was a pain more severe than that which He felt physically. Thankfully because of Christ it’s a pain you and I will never know.

The Ultimate Pain—Separation from God

Though Christ’s relational, internal, and physical pain were horribly intense, the pain of being separated from His Father goes far beyond our ability to imagine. Matthew writes, “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45–46).

For the first and only time, God turned His back on His Son. It was at that moment Christ bore all our sin. That’s why the Father could not look on Him—because of the affront of our iniquities. Christ experienced the ultimate pain—separation from God the Father. In absolute loneliness and pain Jesus screamed, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

Let me assure you, you cannot have a heartache that Jesus doesn’t understand and with which He doesn’t identify. You cannot have a physical pain that somehow escapes His awareness. You cannot have a crippling disease, a disability, a grief, a heart attack…not even a debilitating fear or panic attack that He cannot understand or feel.

He’s felt it all. Therefore He’s there to walk with you through your most profound depths of pain, if you’ll only let Him.

Do you have a lingering scar on your heart that won’t heal? Look at His hands, His feet, and His side. Feeling humiliated and alone? He knows what that feels like. Are you so confused by your circumstances that you’re tempted to bargain with God for relief? No need. Without one word from your lips, He understands. He’s touched with the feelings of our weaknesses, and therefore He identifies with them.

Perhaps you’re lonely. Your lifelong mate has gone to be with the Lord. You face an uncertain future—all alone. You may have recently been forgotten. Your parents told you to get out of their lives. Perhaps your husband or your wife just walked out for good, rejecting you for someone else. Or you may have just read a cruel letter from an adult child that included seven words you cannot bear to believe: “I never want to see you again.” Relationally, you need somebody. Internally, you’re in anguish. Physically, you’ve reached your threshold.

You may be confused, living with deep emotional scars as a result of being abused. You may suffer from such a horrible and shameful addiction that you fear rejection by anyone who might discover your secret. The pain of shame grips your soul and ambushes your thoughts. Perhaps you feel helpless, enraged, confused, disappointed, depressed, misunderstood, humiliated, and at the end.

Ultimately you wonder, as Jesus did, why God has forsaken you. You may feel that, but hear this: you are not alone. There is hope. There is help with the Savior by your side.

GETTING THROUGH THE TOUGH STUFF OF PAIN . . . WITH CHRIST

I want to close this chapter [article] with several analogies I hope will provide you a measure of comfort as you walk with Christ through the tough stuff of your pain.

Relationally, no one stays closer than Christ. Christ is better than the most faithful husband, more understanding than the most comforting wife, more reliable than the choicest friend. No one stays closer than Christ. There is no friend more caring. There is no person more unconditionally accepting. There is no one more available or more interested whom you can talk to in the middle of the night, or at any other time, simply by calling out in prayer. He even understands your groanings—He’s able to put correct meanings to your inexpressible moans! He has promised never to leave you. He will not walk out on you. No one stays closer than Christ. I’ll say it again: no one.

Internally, no one heals deeper than Christ. You may say, “I’ll never be able to get over this grief.” Yes you can, but not on your own. That’s where Christ is the Master Comforter. He’s the “Man of Sorrows.” Remember, He is intimately “acquainted with grief.” He understands what there is to lose. He lost everything for you. His own family thought He was insane. Right in the middle of His ministry they came to take Him away because they were convinced He was losing his senses. He knows what it feels like to suffer in silence, to be the brunt of unfair criticism, to feel helpless when no one understands, when no one remains in
your corner. His balm of comfort penetrates. No one heals deeper than Christ.

Physically, no one comforts better than Christ. In the midst of your deepest physical pain, His presence brings comfort and strength. He may choose to restore your physical health, but frankly, He may not. Regardless, His grace is abundantly sufficient for you. His hand is on your life at this time of your affliction. It’s better than the hand of any friend, any partner, any parent, or any child, because when He touches, He brings great compassion and lasting relief. No one comforts better than Christ. Ultimately, no one sees the benefits of our pain clearer than Christ. He sees through the dark, winding tunnel of your Gethsemane all the way to the end. You see only the unrelenting, frightening, thick darkness. He sees beyond it into the shining light of eternity. Maturity, growth, stability, wisdom, and ultimately the crown of life await the one who trusts His unseen hand. Keep in mind, He owns the map that gets you through your Gethsemane. No one sees the benefits of our pain clearer than Christ.

Whatever you’re facing today, please remind yourself that your pain is no mistake. It is no accident. In fact, your suffering may be precisely what Christ will use to bring you to your knees, to draw you back to His heart and discover His peace. “Man of Sorrows,” what a name! It’s the name of the Son of God. His name is Jesus. It’s the name that represents the extremes of pain and understanding, companionship and relief. Perhaps you have never recognized your need for a personal relationship with God, through faith in Christ. You’ve gripped the reins of your life tightly in your own hands. I suggest you release them and turn them over to God. Come to His Son, Jesus. Admit where you are and express to him what you need. A simple prayer is all it takes to begin this life-transforming relationship with Him. I close with a simple prayer you may use to speak in the quietness of your heart to the One who longs to walk with you through the tough stuff of personal pain.

A Salvation Prayer:

Father, thanks for sending Your Son – the Lord Jesus to empathize with my pain.

 I know that I’m a sinner. I’ve made a royal mess of my life.

 I’m tire of the fight. I’m tired of the pain I’ve added to my life as if You didn’t exist.

 Today, I come to You (Lord Jesus),

  believing that You died for me and that You rose from the dead.

 I turn my back on my stubborn ways as I surrender all to You.

 Take the reings, Lord Jesus. I release them to You.

 I accept Your forgiveness, and I claim Your grace.

 As I repent of my sins, especially my idolatry in putting other things before You.

 I believe that only Your grace through Your perfect life, death,

 and resurrection can save me, as I accept your gift of eternal life. Amen.

 “Hallelujah, What a Savior!” by Philip R. Bliss

“Man of Sorrows!” what a name

For the Son of God, who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,

In my place condemned He stood—

Sealed my pardon with His blood:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we,

Spotless Lamb of God was he;

Full atonement! Can it be?

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

*The article above was adapted from the excellent book by Charles R. Swindoll. Getting Through the Tough Stuff: It’s Always Something. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

 About the Author:

Dr. Charles R. Swindoll is senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church, chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, and the Bible teacher on the internationally syndicated radio program Insight for Living.

Charles Swindoll’s Books:

  • You And Your Child, Thomas Nelson (1977)
  • Hand Me Another Brick, Thomas Nelson (1978)
  • Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Persevering Through Pressure, Thomas Nelson (1980)
  • Strike The Original Match, Multnomah (1980)
  • Improving Your Serve: The Art Of Unselfish Living, Word (1981)
  • Strengthening Your Grip: Essentials In An Aimless World, Word (1982)
  • Growing Strong In The Seasons Of Life, Multnomah (1983)
  • Dropping Your Guard: The Value Of Open Relationships, Word (1983)
  • Come Before Winter – And Share My Hope, Multnomah (1985)
  • Living On The Ragged Edge: Coming To Terms With Reality, Word (1985)
  • Growing Deep In The Christian Life: Returning To Our Roots, Multnomah (1986)
  • The Quest For Character, Multnomah (1987)
  • Living Above The Level Of Mediocrity : A Commitment To Excellence, Word (1987)
  • Growing Wise In Family Life, Multnomah (1988)
  • Living Beyond The Daily Grind: Reflections On The Songs And Sayings In Scripture, Word (1988)
  • Rise & Shine: A Wake-Up Call, Multnomah (1989)
  • The Grace Awakening, Word (1990)
  • Sanctity Of Life: The Inescapable Issue, Word (1990)
  • Stress Fractures, Multnomah (1990)
  • Simple Faith, Word (1991)
  • Laugh Again, Word (1992)
  • Flying Closer To The Flame (Re-issued as Embraced by The Spirit: The Untold Blessings of Intimacy with God, Word in 1993 & Zondervan in 2010)
  • The Finishing Touch, Word (1994)
  • Paw Paw Chuck’s Big Ideas in the Bible, Word (1995)
  • Hope Again, Word (1996)
  • The Road To Armageddon (with John F Walvoord; J Dwight Pentecost), Word (1999)
  • Start Where You Are: Catch A Fresh Vision For Your Life, Word (1999)
  • The Mystery Of God’s Will: What Does He Want For Me?, Word (1999)
  • Perfect Trust: Ears To Hear, Hearts To Trust, And Minds To Rest In Him, J. Countryman (2000 & 2012)
  • The Darkness And The Dawn : Empowered By The Tragedy And Triumph Of The Cross, Word (2001)
  • Why, God?: Calming Words For Chaotic Times, Word (2001)
  • Wisdom For The Way: Wise Words For Busy People, J. Countryman (2001)
  • Understanding Christian Theology (with Roy B Zuck), Thomas Nelson (2003)
  • Behold—The Man!: The Pathway Of His Passion, Word (2004)
  • Getting Through the Tough Stuff: It’s Always Something! Thomas Nelson (2004)
  • So, You Want To Be Like Christ?: Eight Essentials To Get You There, Word (2005)
  • When God Is Silent (Choosing To Trust In Life’s Trials), J. Countryman (2005)
  • Great Attitudes For Graduates!: 10 Choices For Success In Life (with Terri A Gibbs), J. Countryman (2006)
  • Encouragement For Life: Words Of Hope And Inspiration, J. Countryman (2006)
  • The Strength Of Character: 7 Essential Traits Of A Remarkable Life (with Terri A Gibbs), J. Countryman (2007)
  • A Bethlehem Christmas: Celebrating The Joyful Season, Thomas Nelson (2007
  • The Owner’s Manual for Christians: The Essential Guide for a God-Honoring Life, Thomas Nelson (2009)
  • The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal, FaithWords (2010 & 2012)
  • Meet Me In The Library: Readings From 8 Writers Who Shaped My Life, IFL (2011)
  • Saying It Well: Touching Others with Your Words, FaithWords (2012)
  • Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind, Worthy (2012)
  • Living the Proverbs: Living in the Daily Grind, Worthy (2013)

Swindoll’s New Testament Insights Commentary Series

  • Insights on Romans, Zondervan (2010)
  • Insights on John, Zondervan (2010)
  • Insights on James and 1 & 2 Peter, Zondervan (2010)
  • Insights on 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, Zondervan (2011)
  • Insights on Revelation, Zondervan (2012)
  • Insights on Luke, Zondervan (2012)
  • Insights on Galatians & Ephesians, Zondervan (2013)

 Profiles in Character series

  • David: A Man Of Passion & Destiny, Word (1997)
  • Esther: A Woman Of Strength & Dignity, Word (1997)
  • Joseph: A Man Of Integrity And Forgiveness, Word (1998)
  • Moses: A Man Of Selfless Dedication, Word (1999)
  • Elijah: A Man Of Heroism And Humility, Word (2000)
  • Paul: A Man Of Grace And Grit, Word (2002)
  • Job: A Man Of Heroic Endurance, Word (2004)
  • Fascinating Stories Of Forgotten Lives: Rediscovering Some Old Testament Characters, Word (2005)
  • Jesus: The Greatest Life Of All, Thomas Nelson (2008)

Honors and Awards

 

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3 Principles To Remember Concerning Trials By George Sweeting

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:2-3a

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

(1) Trials are a common experience of all of us. No one is immune. Trials are a part of living.

(2) Trials are transitory. Greek scholar C.B. Williams translates 1 Peter 1:6 this way: “In such a hope keep on rejoicing, although for a little while you must be sorrow-stricken with various trials.” Trials, though difficult, are “for a little while.”

(3) Trials are lessons that shouldn’t be wasted. Though not enjoyable or necessarily good in themselves, trials constitute a divine work for our ultimate good. Jesus never promised an easy journey, but He did promise a safe landing.

“God incarnate is the end of fear; and the heart that realizes that He is in the midst…will be quiet in the middle of alarm.” – F.B. Meyer

“Adversities do not make a man frail. They show what sort of man he is.” – Thomas A Kempis

“Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, “Shake well before using.” That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable.” – Vance Havner

“We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things.” H. W. Beecher

“Pressure produces! As we face the pressures of life, let it not just be a passive acceptance, but rather a positive cooperation with God’s purpose for our lives.” – George Sweeting

 

About the author: DR. GEORGE SWEETING is a former president and chancellor of the Moody Bible Institute He received a diploma from Moody Bible Institute, his B.A. from Gordon College, and his Doctor of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Sweeting has served as a pastor in several churches, including Grace Church, Madison Avenue Baptist Church, and The Moody Church and also spent nine years traveling the world as an evangelist. Dr. Sweeting has written numerous books, including The Joys of Successful Aging, Too Soon to Quit, Lessons from the Life of Moody, and Don’t Doubt in the Dark. He is the host of the radio program Climbing Higher and a former columnist for Moody Magazine. The above three points were adapted from one of his sermons on the purpose of trials in a Christian’s life.

 

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