The Beauty That Comes From Pressure...


 Today's Devotional Thought:

 James 1:2-4, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Geologist Dr. James Clark recounts visiting the Soviet Union a few years after Communism dissolved. He was asked to preach at a small Russian Baptist church that lived through a long season of persecution. Some in the congregation had been in prison because of their testimony in Christ.

Others had husbands or relatives that had suffered or had even been killed for their faith. Dr. Clark decided to use the following geological illustration:

Clay is actually composed of many microscopic clay mineral crystals, which not even a light microscope can see. But under pressure the clay minerals are not crushed or made smaller. Rather, they grow larger. The minerals change into new larger biotype grains forming slate, found on many homes. With even more pressure, the minerals become even larger. And some are transformed into garnets, which are semi-precious gems.

Clark said:

I explained to the congregation that this geological process illustrates how pressure and suffering can be used to refine, purify, and mold a person into a more beautiful soul. I will never forget what I saw when I looked at the congregation. It seemed like the whole congregation was sparkling. The babushkas' (old women) eyes were gleaming bright with tears recalling past suffering. What makes a gem so attractive? It's the reflection. And these dear women and men were reflecting God's glory through the suffering they had endured.

The metamorphic rock story doesn't end there. With even more pressure applied, a new mineral forms called staurolite (see picture). The name is from two Greek words meaning "stone cross." The twin variety forms deep under high mountains in the shape of a cross. A reminder of Christ's ultimate suffering for us all. [Adapted from Dr. James Clark, "Dr. James Clark Speaks on Metamorphic Rocks," You Tube (12-2-10)]

When it comes to your suffering no one can answer why. Whatever trial you face no trite answer will make it easier. But you are not alone. God will go with you and as He does He can use your suffering to make you into a beautiful soul. How do I know? Because of the cross. When God says, "I understand your pain," you can know He does. When He says, "I can turn ashes into beauty," you can turn to the cross and know it's true. He already has and He will do it for you too.

 Prayer: Father, we thank You that You loved us and love us even now when we suffer. We thank You for the hope that You can work even our suffering into something beautiful. If we must face it we will and can if we have You. Will You go with us along this road? Will You carry us when we are too weak to stand? Will You turn our tears to laughter and our mourning to joy? We know You can and have the hope You will. In Jesus name, amen.

Suffering achieves purpose...

Today's thought:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Your light and momentary troubles are achieving something. What Paul is saying that all suffering has purpose and if it has purpose it has meaning.

C.S. Lewis said, "We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We saw how true this was after 9/11. Millions flocked to Churches. Bible sales went through the roof. A decade after the tragedy that brought so much suffering New York, a media saturated culture, a mostly nonChristian culture, pollsters have found a change in the spiritual climate of that city. A report that came out in 2011 said, "Researchers say the faith of New Yorkers changed significantly from September 2004 to January 2011. Their religious behavior (like going to church, reading the Bible, and praying) started to steadily increase." (10th Anniversary Study: Faith in New York Since 9/11, The Christian Post). For the world suffering has the purpose of driving them to God.

But for we who believe suffering has a more profound purpose. James tells us to, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). Suffering can do many things to us but the one thing it never does is leave us the same. Over and over the Bible talks about suffering as a refiner's fire that purifies us, that changes us in ways that are impossible any other way. It changes us for a purpose.

A famous evangelist told the following incident: I have a friend who in a time of business recession lost his job, a sizable fortune, and his beautiful home. To add to his sorrow, his precious wife died; yet he tenaciously held to his faith -- the only thing he had left. One day when he was out walking in search of employment, he stopped to watch some men who were doing stonework on a large church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. 'Where are you going to put that?' he asked. The workman said, 'Do you see that little opening up there near the spire? Well, I'm shaping this stone down here so that it will fit in up there.' Tears filled my friend's eyes as he walked away, for the Lord had spoken to him through that laborer whose words gave new meaning to his troubled situation. (Daily Bread)

As we come to the holiday season for many of you it intensifies your suffering. It reminds us of the empty chair around the table. It shows us our depleted bank account. It magnifies the loneliness of our quiet days. Though there are not easy answers to why you are suffering, though you may have to wait till heaven to fully understand, all suffering has purpose and because it has purpose it has meaning.

Prayer: Father, during this time of year so many hurt. Will You be a comfort and shelter for them in their pain and suffering? Will You draw close to the suffering and afflicted? Will you open our eyes so we can see them in their suffering and lend prayer and encouragement? You love us. Help us to love You even when we suffer. In Jesus name, amen.

[Today's thought adapted from: Giving Thanks in Spite of Thanksgiving. Listen to full message at:]

For when we ask why...

Today's thought:

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

We look at this world with its evil, suffering, pain and brokenness and wonder, why? If God is so good why did He allow this world to exist in its present fallen state? Or, why does He not take evil out of this world?

These were the thoughts that we're going through my mind several years ago as I sat by the bed of my Mother as she lay dying in a hospice from lung cancer. The one who stood up for me all my life could no longer stand...or open her eyes, or speak an audible word, or wrap her arms around me in love's embrace. I watched as cancer slowly extinguished the flame of her spirit that once burned so bright. I wondered, why?

I grappled with this question in the quiet dark nights that followed. It would swirl in my mind as I lay in bed, my wife sound asleep beside me, as I stared at the ceiling, silent tears sliding down my checks into the pillow. My heart cried out to God in desperation and with a deep aching throb. "Isn't God good? Then why?"

The answer did not come right away. Not until I was ready and able to accept it. It was not what I expected or imagined, but once I saw it and God spoke it in my heart, I understood. I knew this answer theologically but it took on incredible depth and richness when it finally was spoke into my life. You might think the answer is trite or inconsequential but I assure you it is not. It is true and mysterious.

Why God does not take evil out of this world is simply this: He loves you. You see, it's in Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." God knew us before we even took a breath. More than that, Ephesians 1:4, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love..." God knew us before He even created a thing and He responded to that knowledge in love.

Now consider this: what if God took evil out of the world tomorrow? To do that God would have to take you and I out of this world and out of existence. If this world were a perfect place, you and I would not be in it. It would be the same as wishing for a different father. Had my Mom had me with a different man, a better man, I may be better looking or stronger or smarter, but I can't ignore the fact, I would not be me. I would have never existed.

But God knew us. Before we existed we were a reality in the mind of God. Not just the work in progress that we are, mind you, but us, the finished product in Christ (1 John 3:2). He weighed out the evil, the horrors, the atrocities, the suffering, and death—all these things have brought Him great pain and anguish too (we do not suffer alone but God suffers with us throughout all human history)—in one hand and His love for you in the other and you were more important, you were more precious, more dear to Him than all the rest.

It's no less mysterious now that I have an answer. As the Psalmist muses, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4).

So now the mystery isn't, "Why evil?" but rather, "Why does God love us so much?" For God has suffered, perhaps the most, when He sent Love to this world in the form of Jesus. He had to turn His back on His own Son while on the cross, to pass upon Him our judgement and punishment. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). An answer and a marvelous beautiful mystery in one.

Prayer: Father, I am a sinner in need of Your grace. You have suffered greatly because of Your love for me. But still You loved me and sent Your Son to die for me that I might have eternal life. I thank You for this mysterious love, that I can neither fathom nor comprehend, but is all the same real and ever present. What can I say but that I love you because You first loved me. That is answer enough and mystery enough for me. In Jesus precious name, amen.

Suffering as a good soldier of Christ...

Today's thought: 

2 Timothy 2:3, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny." Paul, an apostle of Jesus who knew a great amount of suffering in his life and ministry, said, "Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3) I hear this and think, 'Is Paul some sort of masochist?' I do not believe Paul wanted to suffer anymore than anyone else did. I do think that Paul had a much different attitude towards suffering than we have today.

I think the difference is between being resigned to suffer or accepting suffering. Resignation and acceptance are two different things. We have all met people who are resigned to fate. They say, "This is just my lot." They have given up fighting. "That's life," they say. I think of Eeyore the donkey from Winnie the Pooh. He used to say in his morose way, "Could be worse. Not sure how, but it could be." On the other hand the Christian accepts suffering and uses it as a springboard, a platform. "Resignation is surrender to fate; acceptance is surrender to God," says Elisabeth Elliot. She says, "Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe. Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny. Resignation says, 'I can't,' and God says, 'I can.' Resignation says, 'It's all over for me.' Acceptance asks, 'Now that I'm here, Lord, what's next?' Resignation says, 'What a waste.' Acceptance says, 'In what redemptive way can you use this mess, Lord?'"

And who is Elisabeth Elliot? A woman whose husband lay flat on his face, dead in a river with an arrow in his back—martyred for Jesus Christ. What did Elisabeth Elliot do? She said, "In what redemptive way can you use this mess, Lord? I know that my Redeemer lives. He died to make me fit for heaven; he lives to make me fit for earth. Now, what are you going to redeem, buy back, out of this situation?" Elisabeth Elliot took the hand of her 6-year-old daughter, and Marge Saint, the wife of another martyred missionary, took her daughter's hand, and they all walked back into that tribe that had killed their missionary husbands. They weren't killed; they were accepted. They translated the Bible, and the whole tribe came to Christ.

Marge Saint's daughter, who went with her mother into that tribe, recounts what God did in that village. She says, "I remember at 15, I stood in the river where my father had died, and I was baptized by the man who killed him. That man is now the pastor of that tribe." In what redemptive way can you use this mess, Lord? Paul was not simply resigned to suffer but accepted his suffering as a "good soldier of Christ" knowing God can redeem any and all messes and use them for good.

Prayer: Father, we can’t always understand our suffering. We don’t know how You can use it, change us through it and work it out for good. It is not our task to understand but to push forward in the battle as one who is willing to suffer for Your purpose and glory. May that glory be seen in us today as we “fight the good fight” and seek Your will. We love You because You first loved us through Jesus, amen!

Suffering for good...

Today’s Thought:

1 Peter 3:13-17, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

What does this look like?

In his book, Everyday Evangelism (IVP, pp. 21-22), Tom Eisenman tells a moving story that shows that we all can be effective witnesses in this hostile world if we will combine good deeds with verbal witness in submission to Christ’s lordship. David, a ninth grade boy in their youth program, was big for his age and very tough, but he had a heart for Jesus. In school he was making a coffee table for his mother as a Christmas gift. He finished it a few days before Christmas and left it in the shop so he wouldn’t have to take it home and hide it. On the last day of school before vacation David went to pick up his table. He was shocked to find that someone had stolen it.

David had a lot of friends. It didn’t take him long to find out who took his table. It was a younger boy who was unpopular and frail. David easily could have beat him up. Instead, he spent his entire Christmas vacation in the shop at school making a duplicate table. When he had it finished, he went to the other boy’s house. When the younger boy opened the door and saw David standing there, he was petrified. David just said, “I have something I’d like to give you and your family for Christmas.” He handed him the new table.

The younger boy burst into tears. He went into the house and came back with David’s first table. The boys talked. The younger boy asked forgiveness, and David granted it. Within a few weeks the younger boy was attending the youth program at the church and eventually he became a Christian.

Would you examine your own life? Are you zealous for good deeds, even when you’re mistreated? Are you able to give a gentle defense of the gospel? Do you fear the Lord Christ above everyone else? If not, make the necessary adjustments. Then God will use you mightily as His witness in this hostile world.

Prayer: Father, you ask us to follow the great example of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Would You give us strength and the proper perspective to do that? We thank you that Jesus, the righteous, died for us, the unrighteous. It is through His grace and mercy and by His example we pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.