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It’s hard to believe it’s December. As another year draws to a close, I reflect on another year of joy and sorrows. The older I get, the more the sorrows seem to accumulate to the point where they can overpower the memories of all the joy I have in my life. The older I get the more I feel my body showing it’s age.

Yet Paul’s words in 2 Corinthian 4:16-18 remind me, “do not lose heart (NIV).” He reminds us that as Christians there is much more than the sorrows of this world and our failing body — “inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” With Christ Jesus in our life we are actually growing and maturing our eternal body inside of us.

Some days it is difficult to remember that everything in this world is temporary. The only eternal value it has is how we use what God has given us here to help others learn about Christ Jesus. Paul encourages us to keep a proper perspective: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (verse 17).”

The next time your body’s aches and pains remind you of your age; the next time the struggles of this world get you down, remember the eternal hope we have in Christ Jesus. “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 (verse 18).”

“Is their hope? Is healing possible?” I asked my friend. “Yes,” she replied. “It is possible.” I looked into her eyes and I sensed her response was not just empty words. “You know from experience, don’t you,” I remarked. “Yes,” she nodded, “I do.”

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Knowing that she had gone through trauma; knowing she had suffered gave her answer credibility. And now, because of the suffering in her past, she was able to bring me comfort; bring me hope that healing is possible. She knew first hand how God can help us through traumatic events in our life. In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul wrote about our compassionate God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (NIV).”

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Our suffering teaches us to reach beyond ourselves and rely on God. It helps us to learn perseverance that deepens our faith in Christ Jesus. It shows others the authenticity of our belief in God and where we put our trust. The suffering we endure also provides hope to those currently suffering. We can tell them because we share the sufferings of Christ, we also share in the comfort that abounds through Christ.

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The struggles we go through in life can deepen our faith and reliance on Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:9 that struggles cause us to “not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” But it is the aspect of bringing comfort to those who are struggling that helps to deepen the bond between us and other Christians. In verse 7, Paul told the Corinthians, “just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

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As a community of believers we should be united in our suffering and our joy, giving praise to God for both. Paul reminded us in verses 10-11, “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

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Autumn leaves fall from trees

Like joy in life slipping away

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Dry leaves sway, drifting down

Like sadness piling by my feet

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Barren tree exposed to cold

Sorrowful emotions laid bare

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Darkness of night moves on in

Nothing to see but despair

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Flakes of snow tumbling down

Freezing cold numbs the mind

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Pure white snow blankets it all

Frost-bit body feels the pain 

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Morning light pierces the dark

Squinting eyes see some hope

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Melting snow drips away

Warming light eases the pain

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Buds appear on barren branch

Soul renewed by God’s own hand

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Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

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As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:10-11

I have journeyed through the deep, dark valley

Felt the pain, sorrow and trauma

Struggled to take each step forward

As I traveled that beaten down, rutted path

Occasionally I glanced up from far below

And noted a slim slit of light high above the canyon walls

Wandering in this deep pit of despair

I encountered many others trudging with heads down

Focused on the darkness and the worn path below

I tried to direct them to look up at the light

But they refused to listen, called me names

Attacked me with hateful words and foul language

Discouraged, I soon found myself with my head down

Feeling beaten, weak and tired I slumped on the path

I cried out to God for help, cried for what seemed like days

Then I heard someone walking by me

I couldn’t even lift my head to see who passed

I could hear their feet stop and step next to me

I felt a hand upon my slumped and weary shoulder

I tried to look up but could not muster the energy

“I will walk with you, help hold you up,” the person said

I felt two strong arms pull me to my feet

I looked forward at the deep, dark valley ahead

Too weak to take a step, this person nudged me forward

We journeyed for months along a winding path

Often barely able to see the light above

Eventually we emerged out of that deep, dark valley

Surrounded by daylight, we sat a moment on the edge

I could feel the light warm my chilled body

I peered over the edge and looked down at the valley

So dark and deep I could not see anyone in it

Then I looked up at my partner through this journey

I saw not one, but many faithful followers of Christ

Those obedient to His call, to answer my cries for help

Still weakened from my journey, I asked them, “Why?”

One of the faithful answered, “I once walked that valley;

I know the pain you felt, I know you needed help.”

I nodded and looked back down at the valley

I too now know the pain of that lonely journey

Perhaps with renewed strength I will return to the valley

To help others emerge from the realm of darkness

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” — Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV)

Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” — Psalm 31:21-22 (NIV)

Anyone who has stood inside a majestic cathedral and gazed up at the towering stained glass windows can’t help but stand in awe at the beauty. The intricate detail of all the pieces precisely aligned create amazing images illuminated by sunlight. It’s a breathtaking feeling that gives us a sense of the infinite magnificence of our God.

But this week I had a different view of stained glass windows. I thought of all the small glass pieces laying on a table in random piles; pieces carefully cut with precision by a master craftsman. To the casual observer, all those pieces look like a bunch of shattered glass, broken and useless. But the craftsman has the full picture in mind and knows how to assemble the pieces to create an inspiring image illuminated by the light.

Sometimes your life might feel like all those pieces of colored glass scattered on the table. All you can see are shattered pieces all over the place and nothing makes sense; broken pieces full of pain and suffering. Mixed within the assortment are blackened pieces of glass that block the light; dark pieces Satan tries to wedge in to create a false image of your life; dark pieces that block the light. In the middle of all these shattered pieces you need to rely on God to help you put It all together.

God is the master craftsman who has a purpose and plan for your life. He sees all of your brokenness and the scattered pieces of your life. He knows how to bring it all together to create a life illuminated by the light of Christ Jesus; a life that can inspire others with the Spirit of God. He can remove the dark pieces and the false image of your life if you humbly submit to the work of your creator; letting go of your efforts to piece your life together so God can form you in his image, illuminated by his light.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NIV)

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. Job 17:11-12 (NIV)

England 2012 (594)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 27, 2010.

When someone close to us is sick or injured, we tend to pray for healing. When we struggle with emotional or difficult situations, we desire release from the pain. When tragedy strikes, we yearn for the time before life was ripped apart. We cry out to God for healing; to take away the pain; to relieve the suffering. But when there is no response we wonder why he has abandoned us. The real question, however, is whether we have abandoned God.

In the midst of suffering in this world it is difficult to remain focused on God. In Psalm 22 David expresses this emotion when he writes “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (NIV) In the midst of his torment, as his enemies pursue him, David shows his humanity by wondering why God does not save him. He reminds God in verses 4-5 how he saved Israel before, how “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”( NIV)

It’s the same rationale we sometimes use when we are burdened with adversity. We look at past times when God has come to our aid. We see others experience healing, the injured become whole again and others who seem to avoid tragedy all together. We remind God how he helped the faithful before and wonder why he does not help us now. In these times it is difficult to see life beyond our own struggles, to understand God’s bigger purpose. Our feelings of abandonment are a very real part of our life on earth.

Jesus experienced this emotion of feeling abandoned by God. While dying on the cross he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIV). In the wake of his crucifixion, most of his followers fled for their lives. While Jesus could have sought to save himself from the immense pain of the cross, he remained focused on God’s plan for us. After his cry to God from the cross, “Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” (Matt. 27:50 NLT) This set the stage for his resurrection and our salvation.

While our pain is very real, we must be careful that it does not cause us to abandon God and his purpose. It is a part of surrendering our life to Jesus so that we may become his instrument. In the midst of his distress, David maintained his reverence for God. “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!” (Psalm 22:23 NIV). Continuing our reverence toward God in adversity points us toward the time when we will be fully restored with God, a time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4 NIV)

Each time I read the book of Exodus I wonder how the Israelites could be so short-sighted and constantly desire to return to their old ways. Why would they willfully chose to worship idols instead of the God who created the heavens and the earth? Why would they desire to return to the enslavement of Egypt instead of the land God promised them? I believe the answer lies in Exodus 2:23-24.

In the beginning of Exodus we find the Israelites enslaved in Egypt by a Pharaoh who had forgotten how Jospeh saved Egypt from ruin by famine (Exodus 1:8-10). The Israelites were now so numerous that they were viewed as a threat. So Pharaoh “made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields (14, NIV).” How the Israelites dealt with this ordeal says a lot about them and their view of God.

Exodus 2:23 tells us, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out.” It’s interesting that it doesn’t say they cried out to God, but rather it says they just “cried out.” It’s a subtle but important distinction that God hears their cry and chooses to act even if the Israelites did not cry out to Him. It explains a lot about why the Israelites throughout the book of Exodus were so quick to turn to idols and desires to return to Egypt. Like us, they were often immersed in the immediate struggle and lacked faith in God’s promise.

As readers of the Old Testament, we have the advantage of seeing the whole picture of God’s future plan; the ability to see God’s ultimate purpose for Israel. We don’t always have that vision for our own lives. Sometimes we can become like Israel where we are so immersed in the immediate that we only see our current pain and struggles. At those times we must remember to not just cry out, but to cry out to God. Pray he will help us to focus on His plans instead of just our current trials.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26 (NIV)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” – Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

There was seemingly no end in sight as the trials continued to pummel us. I lost count of the times that I cried out to God to spare us; to rescue us and others experiencing the excruciating emotional pain each week. But it just continued, the trials were relentless with seemingly no end in sight. Yet there were times when the eye of the hurricane would pass; times when God would remind me of his grace and his love. There were frequent times when dear friends would lift us up in prayer and the peace of God would suddenly be evident In the storm.

There is no doubt the suffering of the last few years has changed me. I cannot go back to the person I was before the storm blew through my life. Certain passages in scripture now resonate with me like they never did before my trials. When Paul writes about the thorn in his side in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, I can feel the piercing of the thorn and the torment that shook his confidence. I understand more fully Paul pleading for God to remove it. And I understand better that the Lord’s grace is sufficient, that God is made perfect when we are weak.

I have found that when I come to the end of myself and my arrogance, God can begin a new work in me for his kingdom. I am better able to rely on God for my strength to see me through the trials in life. Where once I did not understand James 1:2-4, I now know that the trials I face help me to persevere in my faith. The more I draw closer to Christ Jesus, the more I mature in my faith.

I feel I am only beginning to understand perseverance and how it is shaping me in my faith In Jesus. I am only beginning to appreciate how Christ can meet all my needs. Perhaps I am getting closer to the point where I can thank God for blessing me with trials.

The man stands on the street corner holding a sign that says, “Hungry and Homeless, please help!”

Tomorrow he will return with the same sign.

Innocent people are gunned down in the streets in a violent act and war wages on throughout the world.

Tomorrow the violence will not cease.

Computer hackers from the other side of the world empty the bank accounts of people struggling to earn a living.

Tomorrow the stealing will not stop.

In a hospital bed cancer ravages the frail body of a child as he clings to life.

Tomorrow the cancer will remain.

In the midst of all the suffering, the overwhelming and endless need, sometimes I feel helpless to change anything.

All is not right with the world.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:17

Some day the world will be made right.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Rev. 21:4

But today I can bring hope to the hopeless.

“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.” – 1 Peter 3:15

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