suffering

Continue to Pray for Pastor Saeed and Family

A couple months ago I had the privilege of interviewing Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has spent the last year in two different prisons in Iran where he has been tortured, abused, and told to deny his Christian faith. He has led many people to Christ in prison. Naghmeh has spoken multiple times on Fox News and CNN, even in front of Congress asking for her husband's release.

Please watch this powerful interview and continue to pray for Naghmeh and her family. They would love to see Saeed home for Christmas!

Offering H.E.L.P. in Suffering

This past weekend two high school graduates were killed in a car accident here in Humboldt, Iowa, where I pastor.  In light of this tragedy I shared these words on my church Facebook page as a way to encourage our community to give real H.E.L.P. to the hurting families and friends in our area. H – Hope not answers. When people are in the midst of suffering, they need hope more than answers. Hope is not found in solving the problem, but running to a person. Jesus. We may not know why everything happens, but we can hope in the person who understands suffering more than anyone and sympathizes with us in it.

E – Enter into their pain. Empathize with them. Did you know that grieving with someone can be the single most helpful expression of love and care? Weep with them. Just be there for them and be with them.

L – Listen to them & Love them in tangible ways. Seek to understand their situation. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” If you must speak, tell them, “I am standing with you. I am grieving with you.” And love them in tangible ways. Make a meal. Offer a small gift. Spend time with them.

P – Pray for them and Patiently walk w/them through the long journey of suffering. In the deepest of suffering, some may find it hard to even pray. We can intercede for them and carry this burden. And oftentimes, after the initial help has arrived, we forget the one who is suffering over time. But this is when the church is even more needed. To patiently walk with them and be with them through the long road of suffering.

Offering Real H.E.L.P. in Suffering

This past Sunday I preached on our paradoxical life as Christians. Ours is a life of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). I used an acronym to remember how we give real help to those who are suffering. H – Hope not answers.  When people are in the midst of suffering, they need hope more than answers. Hope is not found in solving the problem, but running to a person. Jesus. We may not know why everything happens, but we can hope in the person who understands suffering more than anyone and sympathizes with us in it.

E – Enter into their pain.  Empathize with them. Did you know that grieving with someone can be the single most helpful expression of love and care? Weep with them. Just be there for them and be with them.

L – Listen to them & Love them in tangible ways. Seek to understand their situation. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” If you must speak, tell them, “I am standing with you. I am grieving with you.” And love them in tangible ways. Make a meal. Offer a small gift. Spend time with them.

P – Pray for them and Patiently walk w/them through the long journey of suffering. In the deepest of suffering, some may find it hard to even pray. We can intercede for them and carry this burden. And oftentimes, after the initial help has arrived, we forget the one who is suffering over time. But this is when the church is even more needed. To patiently walk with them and be with them through the long road of suffering.

Anything you would add?

How to Abound

Most of the time when we talk about trials, we think of physical suffering, pain, and loss. And we should. After all, the Bible does. For example, 2 Cor. 11:24-28 records the many difficult trials Paul faced as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul knew the pain of suffering and loss. And through these trials he learned to trust in God. But he learned something else. Something we often forget. Paul learned to be content in EVERY situation.

In Philippians 4:12, Paul speaks of God’s provision and how he learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Paul knew how to be brought low and how to abound. In every circumstance, he was content because he understood that life was filled with both trials and blessing, suffering and prosperity.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Paul I picture him suffering all the time. I picture a man who never enjoyed one moment of physical comfort or pleasure. Yet, it’s clear that there were times where he had plenty. I'm not sure what that entailed, but in those times Paul knew what to do. He abounded in thanksgiving. He continued to trust in God and not in what he had. I wonder if we do the same.

You see, for most of us, we face a different kind of trial each day. The trial of prosperity. Prosperity can be a dangerous trial for the Christian. Instead of bringing us closer to God, it can take us further away from him. Charles Spurgeon once said,

The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the refining pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God!

Wow. Most of us have never thought that God would test our faith by giving us abundance. And these mercies of God can actually take us away from God if we receive them with the wrong heart. So like Paul, I want to learn to be content in every circumstance. I want to learn what it means to be brought low in times of adversity. And I want to learn how to abound in times of prosperity - so that my soul would be satisfied in Christ alone no matter what comes my way.

That's my prayer for you today as well.

 

How God Comforts Us in Our Darkest Days

This is quite a story. It reminded me of my friends, Dustin and Kellie Shramek, who lost their precious son, Owen, about 8 years ago. In the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Dustin wrote a chapter about some of the lessons that God taught him–lessons about God, and also lessons about how and how not to minister to those in nearly unbearable grief and pain.

After the book was published, Women Today Radio did a brief interview with Dustin; here’s an excerpt:

How has Jesus sustained you through the dark days?

At first it was hard to see how Jesus was sustaining us through the dark days. Yet deep down I knew that he was. My mother died when I was sixteen, two years after I had become a believer. After her death God lead me to Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, 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.” Having endured through her death I had come out on the other end with my faith intact and I again had hope that God was for me.

After Owen died my wife, who had not experienced the death of one so close, never believed that she would be able to have joy again. And while I certainly didn’t feel joy, I knew that one day I would. The suffering I had endured through my mother’s death had indeed produced hope. Even though my firstborn was dead I believed that I would again have joy. I had experienced God’s faithfulness and I knew that he would be faithful again.

The text, though, that impacted me the most was 2 Corinthians 7:6, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” During the first months after Owen’s death we felt very little comfort from God. At times I struggled with anger thinking, “God, I know you are sovereign and so you are the one who brought this about. I accept that, but the least you could do is draw near to us and give us comfort.” On the six month anniversary I was reading through all the e-mails and cards we had received from God’s people and I was reflecting on the help we had received from his people where he was born. Then I read this verse and it dawned on me. God was and is comforting us by the coming of countless brothers and sisters in Christ. Often we don’t feel the warm presence of the Lord in our suffering, but that does not mean he has left us alone. We are a part of the body of Christ and it is through this body that he ministers to us in our darkest days.

(HT: JT)

A Picture of the Gospel: Christian Workers at Nuclear Plant in Japan

My twin brother, Mark Wolter:

There are several Christian men working on the pipe connection for the cooling system of the Fukushima nuclear plant. These are workers that have volunteered to essentially sacrifice their lives for the good of their country and the world. I find it interesting that so many are Christians despite there being about 1 Christian man in every 400 people in Japan. Please pray for these men. (Read the rest ...)

Continuing to Pray for Japan

Please continue to pray for the people of Japan. I posted a couple videos and John Piper's prayer below.  In the first video, my twin brother, Mark, appears at about 9:20 sharing about how he's been affected by the earthquake.  The second video shows more of the unbelievable devastation.

Father in heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.

O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.

And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.

Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.

Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.

May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures' pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.

In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.

In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.

Japan, My Twin Brother, and News Article

By now all of you know about the devastating earthquake in Japan.  Many of you also know that my twin brother is a missionary there in Kyoto.  He and his family are doing fine as they live about 450 miles from the epicenter.  They did feel the tremors, but their big concern now is praying for and helping the people of Japan.  Go to his blog and read more about what he had to say. I was interviewed today by WHAS.  Here's the brief article. There may be a couple more interviews coming.  Pray for the right words to speak that would honor God in this time.

When Life is Hard ...

What a great reminder from Justin Taylor quoting J.I. Packer about how to understand the “unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things” that happen to us.

Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under especially difficult conditions.

Perhaps he has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us.

Perhaps he wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.

Perhaps his purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself in conscious communion with him; for it is often the case, as all the saints know, that fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest. . . .

Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.

Read whole thing ...

Death Precedes Life

Michael Wallenmeyer on how change in the church can often be painful, but needed:

Here is what the gospel tells me, death precedes life. The good news of the cross is that Jesus was willing to go through the pain so that others could experience new life. My greatest hope and desire is that this same gospel truth is at work in our church.  God is always reforming His church, and sometimes reformation means something dying for God’s glory.

(Read the whole article, "Missional Pain and the Hope of the Gospel")

Garden of Eden vs. Garden of Gethsemane

R. Kent Hughes:

  • The first Adam began life in a garden.  Christ the second Adam, came at the end of his life to a garden
  • In Eden Adam sinned.  In Gethsemane the Savior overcame sin.
  • In Eden Adam fell.  In Gethsemane Jesus conquered.
  • In Eden Adam hid himself.  In Gethsemane our Lord boldly presented himself.
  • In Eden the sword was drawn.  In Gethsemane it was sheathed.

(Taken from Nancy Guthrie’s book, Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, pg. 31-32)

The Cause of Christ's Bloody Sweat

R. Kent Hughes:

No one has ever known the sorrow our Lord experienced [in Gethsemane].  Luke the physician says, "And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44). 

But what was the cause of Christ's bloody sweat?

It was not the pain that caused the horror.  It was not the shame.  It was not the imminent desertion of his disciples.  It was the fact that he was going to pay the penalty for our sins!  The understanding of what the sacrifice meant, which only omniscience could bring, caused our Lord to break out in a bloody sweat (emphasis mine).  It was the crushing realization of the horror that crushed him.  Christ's resolve to endure the agony, even at such a great price, demonstrates his lordship and divinity.

(Taken from Nancy Guthrie's book, Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, pg. 32-33)

God Comforts Us in Our Brokenness

A good word here from Jared Wilson:

When our heavenly Father looks upon the broken mess of our lives, he doesn’t snicker or sigh.

He ministers to us a sweeter comfort than any temporary and worldly comfort we’d sought before.

We are told by the prophet, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” [Ps. 51:17].

God doesn’t despise us in our brokenness; he comforts us in it.

The greater the brokenness, the greater the impulse to trust him.

The greater the trust in him, the greater the joy of his salvation.

So, then, the further to the end of ourselves we go, the more of Christ we will enjoy.

(HT: JT)