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Pathway for Pain’s Purpose

“I just want to feel better.”

“Everything hurts too much.”

“This suffering is making me depressed.”

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Would you agree with any of these statements? Have you ever felt this way? Generally in our culture people would rather avoid pain for the sake of pleasure any day of their life and for any situation in which you find yourself.

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“You can endure a lot of suffering
when your heart is set on a purpose –
but if your heart is set on comfort,
you can’t endure any suffering at all.” G. Wilkerson

So, in the prep room for my recent lumbar discectomy surgery this week, my doctor greets my wife and me with a “religious question”.

“Here’s one for you, preacher,” he says.

“If a loving God didn’t want people to suffer so much in this world, why did he create suffering?”

Now, I’ve learned to observe body language and delivery in rather smug rhetorical questions like these, so I’m paying attention. Besides the nurse is administering the IV at this point and I’ve had nothing to eat or drink since midnight and no pain meds yet, so I’m a little edgy to say the least. The question was really meant to distract me from the IV needle procedure as it rolled off doctor “slick’s” tongue so eloquently. It was very well played for the timing of a significant timely back surgery and 4-week anticipated recovery.

He continued, “I mean, all people want today is comfort, but they don’t want maturity. That only comes through suffering.”

I fired away, “All we have to ask, if we’re not supposed to suffer is, why did Jesus suffer so much, and he himself is God.”

Quick as that, IV is in, saline drip started, rolling of the gurney, kisses to my wife, down the hallway and into procedure room. Lights, camera, action.

Seconds later I’m in recovery trying to open my eyes to the shouts in the room and the cold blankets and overhead fluorescents. Mr Olson, you did just fine. Everything went according to plan. They took a bone spur to alleviate the sciatic and your going to be good as new. No more suffering, no more pain. Mr Olson?! Wake up now.

Bells and whistles, IV drip tubes and finger-pulse clip, ice chips and ice packs, heating blankets and wraps to avoid blood clotting. This is going to be fun.

So doctor “slice & dice” got me thinking. Did God create suffering? Is this all His doing? Does God want us in pain? Does He enjoy that process in our lives? Wouldn’t this entire existence have been easier if we didn’t have suffering in the first place, like in the garden back at creation?

Yeah. That’s it. God didn’t create suffering, he created free will and gave mankind the choice to obey or the choice of … death, sin and distance from Him. Suffering is part of that, so God did create suffering (technically) but it wasn’t designed for us originally. Adam blew it by indulging rather than obeying God. This gets deep because one might say, “Oh, so if I obey God my suffering goes away”? Not exactly.

Because of “the fall’s curse” we endure suffering. It’s part of our world, unavoidable but useful now in the hands of God for His good work in shaping us to be like Jesus.

Maybe these beeps and noises in the recovery room are messing with me, or the meds are taking effect but again, it occurs to me, God didn’t create suffering for us, we chose it. God now uses it to draw us back to Him on a pathway if pain. It’s like the only way to relationship with God is on pain’s pathway. Look at Jesus, who endured the pain of the cross to make the only possible pathway back to relationship with God. Suffering is a tool for God’s use in drawing us to himself. Now, if our entire culture rejects pain and suffering at all cost, is culture essentially rejecting God?

Why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t like that question really because we play the judge in that question and place value on good or bad things happening. It’s an opinion of good or bad. Same with people. We assign good or bad to a person based on what? Exterior behavior. If a person does good, they are good and vise-versa. Who are we to judge? But it’s a cliche so let’s roll with it.

Here’s my point, people don’t want pain or suffering. It’s natural. I mean look at all the self care habits and dollars spent in a year. Billions are spent on pharmaceuticals to avoid or manage pain. (I should have picked that career path, sheesh.) Doctor “nip & tuck” told me, “hey preacher, you know why your kind and mine will always be employed?” No, why? “Because there will always be sin in this world, and there will always be pain. Job security.”

Not bad thinking for a spine guy.

Let’s not ramble too far. Why is there pain & suffering? God gave us a choice to seek him His way, through obedience, or to be chased and sought by him (since the fall) through pain’s pathway of suffering. God doesn’t want us to suffer for anything, although he uses this pathway to get our attention and grow us closer to being like Jesus. He let Jesus take in the worst suffering of human kind. Tortured to death. Mocked by thousands. Rejected, betrayed, denied, forsaken. Why? So a pathway would be paid with pain to take our real suffering away. Not physical suffering, this is just temporary. No Jesus’s pain takes the place of our real suffering and loss away, that separation from God is now mended in Jesus.

Sounds like God is a masochist. Sounds like someone had to pay for this to make it right. Like that time you threw a rock through the window and dad said, “Someone’s gotta buy a new one, and I didn’t throw that rock.” Maybe that was just my experience.

I don’t think God is like that. I don’t think He’s a “pay up” or get out kinda God.
Too much love.

I think Jesus is the “new Adam” in Hebrew Adam’s name means dirt. Jesus is the new dirt, the new creation. The new way for God’s pathway to be made right. When Jesus didn’t sin, ever, it was God’s way of saying people can live the life I created. People brought sin into the world, but God uses that suffering and pain as a way to form us into his likeness, like Jesus.

So, doctor “fix it”, when you ask “If God didn’t want is to suffer so much, why did He create it?” There’s my thought. He didn’t create it for us, but He gently uses suffering in us as a pathway to Jesus and restoration with God. Out of love, not payback. For our maturity, not masochism.

I don’t want pain either, as much as the next guy. But I do want to be drawn closer to God, so I’m at a crossroads. “God, this hurts and I don’t like it, but if it means you’re drawing me closer to you and we walk hand in hand, do whatever you want. Didn’t someone say, “Take this cup of suffering & death from me, YET, not what I will, rather Father, what you will”? Oh yeah God, you said that in Jesus.

Make me like that guy, just remember to be a little gentle. Pain still hurts.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on April 26, 2013 in Leadership

 

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The Burning Bush Meets Real Life

I like reading the Old Testament of the Bible. It’s interesting to pictures some of the events from today’s perspective looking back into history. In reading it, we find that the God of history interacts the same with us today.

I read Exodus 2 & 3 about the beginning of Moses’ life and see the complexity of how God cares for his people and is concerned for their suffering. When we face suffering in life, chronic pain, long-term disability, injustice and oppression today, we can rely on the divine interaction of God who is concerned for us and takes joy in our healing, redemption and reconciliation from a sinful world.

Pastor Marty Gale from the Jewish Celebration Congregation in Loveland, Colorado helped reveal to me some further truth about the burning bush event in Exodus 3 recently.

When God came to meet with Moses from the midst of a burning bush, God is concerned for the suffering of His people. He draws Moses closer to Himself by igniting a bush without consuming it on Horeb, the mountain of God. Moses draws closer, but is told that the location is Holy ground and must keep his distance. Pastor Marty enlightened me by saying that the word “bush” is not in the Hebrew text, rather it’s the word sneh, which is thorn. English translations prefer the word bush because of the story it provides, but Acacia-wood thorn bush is the appropriate translation.

Thorns come from Genesis 3:18, where Adam must cary the curse of his sinful action into the rest of his days while harvesting the earth and tilling the ground. Thorns are a representation of sin, for they are introduced into creation as a result of sin. Thorns represent sin and sinful man.

God mentions in Genesis 6:3, that His Spirit will not contend with mankind forever, meaning that God is working out a plan to make His presence dwell with sinful man and combine the relationship as originally intended in creation. When God encounters Moses at the event of the burning “thorns”, His fire from heaven is from within the thorn bush, rather than consuming it. Fire from heaven is God’s present reality all throughout the Old Testament as representation of God’s presence. Elijah calls down fire from heaven a number of times as judgment from God on sinful humanity. The fire by night and pillar of cloud by day are representations of the Holy Spirit of God leading wandering Israelites through the wilderness as a guide. Fire is present in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle to represent the presence of God. Even James and John the “sons of thunder” in Luke 9 ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritan town for not believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus reassures them that the timing for such things was inappropriate.

How will the Holy fire of God ever come to dwell with the sinful thorn of humanity?

We read that the thorn of Acacia wood is woven to make a crown for Jesus to wear at his crucifixion. He dons the sin of man upon his brow where blood is mingled down upon his face. His willingness to take the sin of humanity upon himself at the cross is the mark of God’s presence dwelling with humanity forever.

In Acts 2, the culmination of the burning “bush” event takes place when, 7 weeks after Passover, at Pentecost, the Spirit of God like a violent rushing wind blows through the room where the disciples were gathered and what appeared to be ‘tongues of fire’ came to separate and rest on each one of them. The fire of God is present and dwelling with the thorn of mankind, but is not consuming them. The fulfillment of the burning bush in Exodus 3 takes place after the power of the resurrection of Jesus, and the church is born with power from God as divine presence and human thorny sin dwell together.

Finally, the Apostle Paul, who suffered a thorn in his flesh in years of ministry, writes words of God’s reconciliation to the church in Corinth about God’s burning mission for His new bride.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21, possibly my favorite collection of missional scripture, tells the church in Corinth, and correspondingly tells us as believers in Christ, that we are reconciled to God. Not by work that we have done, but by the ever generous grace of God who reconciles us to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ, so that we might have the ministry of reconciliation. We who believe in a God who is concerned for our suffering, are to become reconcilers for those who feel hostile to God.

The old way of life, separation from God – distance from the divine due to our sinful thorn, is gone now. The new way of life has come. New life living is forever inaugurated in the blood, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that our thorny sinful lives might be filled with the divine fire presence of God from within and not consumed. God is not distant from us any longer. We have been drawn near to God to dwell with His divine nature in Christ through the Holy Spirit and become missionally reconciling to our neighbor.

Suffering is real. I read today in the Associated Press that “as many as 2.4 million people may be victims of human trafficking worldwide at any given time, calling it “a shameful crime of modern-day slavery.”. Suffering is chronic and crime is a trillion dollar business. It’s an example of the thorn of humanity taking aim at the claims of God and questioning His concern for relief of human suffering.

When reading the text of the Old Testament, the calling of God in the burning “thorn” bush to Moses and fulfilling it’s metaphor in Acts 2’s Pentecost presence of the Holy Spirit from within sinful humanity… we see that God dwells with his people once again, but doesn’t rely on the unstable vow of humanity, rather God relies on His Covenant Promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that one day “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham].”

We suffer & it is not fair. The thorn of sin is a curse we must endure, but thanks be to God who is concerned for our suffering, hears our cries and is quick to rescue, send the Redeemer in Christ Jesus and reconcile us to God. May we come to know that our reconciliation to God, His Holy Spirit fire dwells within us and does not consume us or destroy. He fills us so that, like a burning thorn bush, we become ministers of reconciliation.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Sermons

 

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What is Easter apart from the Cross?

As this week, known as the Passion for Christians, culminates with Resurrection Sunday, it occurs to me that I prefer resurrection over the crucifixion.

In short, I don’t like suffering. I like joy, peace, pleasure, comfort, forgiveness, grace… I don’t like to go through hard times in order to grow.

In 2008 I climbed Mt. Rainier with a group of friends from church, and the climb was killer, but the exhilaration of standing on the top of the world, was worth overlooking my pain in the climb. I still don’t like the pain, and I often complain about it to whoever will listen.

As I think about the weekend approaching, I recall that Jesus never complained about having to face the cross. Is there a Scripture I’m missing where Jesus focuses on himself and whines about the coming pain? Is there somewhere in the Bible where Jesus complains about walking everywhere, or not having something to eat, or not having any money on his ATM card, so he forgoes that caramel macchiato at M&M’s (Mary & Martha’s) Coffee & Espresso stand? I don’t think so. Then, why do I complain so much when things don’t go my way?

I’m just sayin’, I’d rather have the rewards of the resurrection, than the pain of the cross, and I think lots of Christians feel the same. Do you?

But, were it not for the cross, we wouldn’t have resurrection. I don’t mean just Jesus’ resurrection. We wouldn’t experience resurrection in anything of our own. Hope is missing if not for the pain of the cross. We have hope because Christ suffered a brutal death. We gain hope when we suffer, because hope is the dream for something better out there. Hope is the glory of the cross. If not for suffering, struggle, pain, absence, abandonment, betrayal, denial, doubt… if not for these things, we don’t experience hope to come.

Watchman Nee (China, 1903-1972) writes,

“God must bring us to a point – I cannot tell you how it will be, but He will do it – where, through a deep and dark experience, our natural power is touched and fundamentally weakened, so that we no longer dare trust ourselves. He has had to deal with some of us very harshly, and take us through difficult and painful ways, in order to get us there… But then at last it is, that He can begin to use us. We would like to have death and resurrection put together within one hour of each other. We cannot face the thought that God will keep us aside for so long a time; we cannot bear to wait. And I cannot tell you how long He will take, but in principle I think it is quite safe to say this, that there will be a definite period when He will keep you there… All is in darkness, but it is only for a night. It must indeed be a full night, but that is all. Afterwards you will find that everything is given back to you in glorious resurrection; and nothing can measure the difference between what was before and what now is!”

How have you been avoiding pain in your life due to your sense of control, or a need to maintain composure, or even your desire to “look good” in all situations?

How would it grow you to walk through your pain, rather than work so hard to avoid it, so that you might experience true resurrection?

There is a hope awaiting you in the future, but it takes “the way of the cross” for us to experience it fully.

Quick story to end: Someone came to our church, Crossroads Greeley, back in February of this year. After the service he came up to me and said, “Pastor, thank you for speaking truth to me today.” I welcomed him into our fellowship, met his wife and young baby. I didn’t hear from him for weeks and wondered if they were still around. Another friend told me that he turned himself into the police, after that Sunday, for a crime he’d committed and of which he wasn’t convicted, years ago. He’s now serving his time, as a new man of God. He’s going through the pain of his cross as a criminal (Jesus wasn’t a criminal), and he’s longing for the hope of freedom to come.

Again, I’m a wimp. I don’t like pain. I avoid the crosses in my life, and don’t like to endure hardship for the sake of the gospel… but God is asking us to long for the hope of resurrection only after experiencing the crosses in life. I’ll grow through this, if you’ll grow with me.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Sermons

 

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