SHORT-TERM PAIN…

Can you finish the phrase?  I just had a total knee replacement for the second time (I have two knees, so I don’t plan to do anymore). This round is a struggle. I was bearing down on my swollen knee, and a family member said, “Don’t do that. You’ll hurt yourself.” To which I replied, “Hospital people told me to do it, and you’re right–it hurts.”

When I go for my “required” walks in the hall, the first steps are painful. The knee wants to settle in with status quo (state as is). But what we’re going for is flexibility. Getting there hurts. If I don’t do the sometimes painful physical therapy, the knee will decide that we are settling for less than it is capable of.

I wouldn’t mind pain if it didn’t hurt so much. My preference is to not do the exercises. I’d rather lie in bed and groan once in a while. I need a long-term vision for the PT (and for life). People have coached me by saying from experience, “It’s all in the PT.” I would like to tell them, “But you don’t understand–PT hurts.” They went through it, so they do understand. They know that it will hurt much more in six months when I try to make my knee do what it should do, and it can’t, because I went the no-pain route.

I sometimes see pastors avoiding conflict. It hurts. Conflict is the light on the dashboard, saying that something needs to be dealt with. The light does not fix the problem; it only alerts me to the problem. How foolish if I put my hand on the dashboard to cover the light because I don’t like what it is saying. I must see the light as my friend, letting me know that I have business. I once tried to ignore the light telling me that the engine was hot. I figured I could get to the top of the hill and coast. Wrong. I didn’t drive the car home. It was towed. Cost me much more to ignore it than to deal with the problem.

Like I said it another blog: short-term pain–long-term gain. The opposite is also true. Avoid the conflict and it becomes a disaster. Deal with the conflict and learn how to live successfully. There may be fallout, but less than by avoiding it. Peter warns us not to be surprised at the trials that come our way, but we often do: “I thought it was going to be easier.” Jesus told us, “In the world you will have tribulation…”

So I am doing the exercises with a heavily swelled knee. The pain is actually my clue that something good is happening. Interesting. Sometimes we interpret pain as the absence of God. Maybe He is closest to us in our pain. Just as I got correction for causing pain to my knee, some “friends” who don’t understand may encourage you out of pain–the very thing you need to become all God wants you to.

When we get to the point where we can thank God for the pain that is stretching our spiritual muscles, we are posturing ourselves for long-term gain. Hey, I think I’m getting it. Back to the exercises. Ouch!

WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?

Here’s the best piece of advice I received about a school we were starting. A friend said, “Under-promise and over-perform.” I gave people a sales pitch, and it was ending up better than reality. That is dishonesty, though it doesn’t feel that way. I was just being positive about a good thing.

Jesus is not like me. Surprise!.  He talks about hardships we will need to endure. He warns as much as He encourages. He wants us to know what we are signing up for. He told would-be followers, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).  In other words, get ready for tough times, not a comfortable ride.

We somehow expect that because God is good, so is the future. The Christian life will be like a wonderful vacation. That is not what we are told or sold. Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you,” but we are. And maybe we expect that the better the Christian, the better the deal. The opposite is more often true. Look at Paul and Peter, super-apostles who suffered much and died as martyrs.

We are told to put all our marbles in the age to come. Peter, writing to exiles of the Dispersion about suffering, said, “Set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). He said that our “living hope” is waiting for us in eternity, and it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” us (1:4). Justice comes at the end of the end.

Paul didn’t remind Timothy of all the people who were saved, healed and filled with the Holy Spirit like we pastors often do. He said, “You have observed my teaching, my conduct…my persecutions, my sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10,11). He promised that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (12). Then he added, “Evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived” (13). Every New Testament writer said that it was going to get worse before it gets better–Jesus, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter.

Do they struggle with pessimism? No, but we do. So we give people the good news and not the “bad” news, which amounts to false hope. We give hype but not reality. And people are surprised that marriage, family, and the Christian life are harder than anticipated. Discouragement sets in because they think something must be wrong with them. Life is harder than it was supposed to be. Like the grandfather said to his grandkids, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t expect it to be so easy.”

Dear Christian: life is supposed to be hard. Paul “encouraged” his struggling understudy with these words, “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord…but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Eternity is the payback. We live for what is not yet. So we are not pulled down by hardship. It actually gives us blazing hope! Like a pastor friend preached, “Life is hard, but God is good!”

 

WAITING…

We have many friends who are waiting. We pray for ten couples who are more than eager to have a child. Some have waited a long time and are losing hope. One has given up. I met with one of these couples recently. Waiting can tamper with two important pictures: how we view ourselves and how we view God. I asked her if waiting had changed her outlook of herself. She answered, “Not now, but it did for a while.”

Haunting thoughts have time to germinate in a restless soul: maybe I wouldn’t be a good mother. Perhaps I don’t have what it takes. Or we transfer the shame to heaven: maybe God is not as faithful as we thought. Maybe He does have favorites, and I don’t happen to be one of them. Maybe He is testing us by not giving us children. Maybe He has disqualified us because of something we did earlier in life. Questions bombard young adults in the waiting room. We feel unprotected, and Satan opens fire. In our weaker moments, we agree with his assault.

My friend said that she has made it through the worst of it. She is now at a place of relative peace. They are thinking of foster children, still with the expectation of having their own as well.

Other friends are hopeful of being married. The clock keeps ticking, and it reminds them of the inner biological clock. Time could run out. Doesn’t God see? Doesn’t He care? Why is He singling me out? Why do five friends get married and I stay single and sad? What is wrong with me? Am I diseased? Am I not beautiful? Do I not have what it takes? I thought I did. I think I do. But no one is budging.

Delay is not denial, but it feels like it. Would it be easier to wait if we knew that the promise would be fulfilled at the end of the time period?  Yes, but what if time runs out and still no child, no husband, no job, no future. I want to believe that God sees me and cares, but in my troubled times I doubt it.

In our anxious waiting, we read the words of David and feel that he understands: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy says, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken” (Psalm 13:1-4).

We feel understood. Someone in the Bible who had a heart for God felt the way we feel. We are being validated. We are not alone and we are not crazy. Maybe we are being heard. Perhaps the answer is on the way.

David concludes his “how long” Psalm with confident words: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” With you, too!

5 FACTS ABOUT SONS!

Ladies, if we men can be a bride for Christ, then you get to be sons of the Father. Home is meant to be the closest thing on earth to heaven. For many, it is closer to hell. Even with good families, we can be left with love deficits and the feeling that we are not truly valued. Many carry these thoughts throughout their life. If we want to understand God’s Father love, we need to grasp sonship. Stick with me!

Paul writes to the Romans, showing the difference between living by the law and living by faith through the work of the Spirit. He uses the word “law” twenty-three times in Romans 7, showing the futility of a “we try harder” mentality. We can’t pull of the holiness thing by resolve. It brings a strong inner tension. How can I win over sin? Chapter 7 ends with Paul feeling enslaved.

Chapter 8 breaks out with a different reality: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How? The Spirit is mentioned 22 times, demonstrating God’s answer to human effort. He writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (“adoption”). And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The  Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory” (8:13-17).

 

  1. SONS WIN OVER SIN.

It is received, not achieved. Paul had done well by human standards, but it was all effort. Then he traded the merit system for the mercy system. He got to shed his performance mentality by going low and received status as a son by faith in Jesus Christ.

  1. SONS ARE LED BY THE SPIRIT.

The Father leads His kids step by step into their appointed destiny. We don’t have to make it up as we go. We are guided. Call it the GPS of the Spirit. And it works. Sons prove their relationship with the Father by the Spirit’s guidance (13). The inner compass is a Person.

  1. SONS ARE FREED FROM FEAR.

They have a family–for ever. Sin left us feeling guilt, shame, and condemnation. We wondered if the cycle could change. It did. We are forgiven, cherished, valued, and appointed to represent a good, good Father.

  1. SONS HAVE A FATHER AND A FAMILY.

We discover that we belong. We’re on the inside, not the outside. Slaves have a boss, not a father. They are unsure about their future. Sons have an inheritance, because the Firstborn shares His with us. We are called co-heirs. Glorious future. John Wesley described his conversion as exchanging “the faith of a servant for the faith of a son” (quoted in F. F. Bruce’s Commentary on Romans, p. 167). We learn to say, “Abba” and receive His love!

  1. BEING SONS GIVES MEANING TO SUFFERING.

Present hardship only reminds us of what is to come. Short-term pain will be translated into long-term gain. I get it!