Tuesday, May 06, 2003

When You Have Pain
[column submitted May 6, 2003, written for Community Press newspapers]

Once, when I was working in a steel fabricating plant, I caught my finger in a punch press. The bone was broken and tore through the skin. My father-in-law, an engineer at the same place, took me to the hospital and asked me about what happened.

"When I first looked at my finger," I explained, "I thought it was just a bad cut that wouldn’t stop bleeding. But then, it kept stinging." "Yeah," he said matter-of-factly, "pain is a pretty sure sign that something’s wrong." I laughed at that sage observation.

Ironically, about ten years later, my father-in-law ignored months of constant pain before finally seeing a doctor. By the time he did, it was too late. He had cancer and lived only four more weeks. Pain really is a sign that something’s wrong.

This is as true of emotional, psychological, or relational pain as it is of the physical variety. And just as it’s smart to look for help when we have physical pain, we should also look for help when we confront these other sorts of discomforts. When we have emotional, psychological, or relational pain, we need to do three things. We need to look in, look out, and look up.

We need to look in and see what we're doing to contribute to our own pain in life. People who enroll in Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous call this taking a "fearless moral inventory" in which they honestly look at themselves, faults and all. Even if the immediate cause of pain is, for example, an insensitive, uncaring spouse, people must look at themselves to see why they become and live with the role of victim. This sort of honesty is a key to healing, just as an accurate diagnosis leads a doctor to make the right prescription.

In Old Testament times, King David had an affair with another man’s wife and then had the man murdered. After a period of dishonest concealment, David was confronted for his sins. He confessed that he was in the wrong. David came to know that failing to look inside oneself causes pain. He writes in Psalm 32, "Happy are those...in whose spirit there is no deceit. While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long...my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer" (Psalm 32:2-4).

We also need to look out. When we have pain, we need advice from trusted people in order to experience healing. That might mean going to a psychotherapist, a pastor, a friend, or better yet, to many different such people. Proverbs 11:14 says, "Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances."

Finally, we need to look up. A few weeks ago, I was going through a painful time. I was at wit’s end, not knowing what to say or do. This had been going on for several months. It finally dawned on me what I needed to do. I found a quiet place and had a heart-to-heart talk with God. (Some people call that prayer.) I told God everything: I recapped the situation, named what I’d tried to do to remedy things, listed ways I’d contributed to the pain of it all, and told God just how helpless I was feeling. Finally, I said to God, "Lord, I’ve been so incapable of changing things for the better. I just give the situation to You. I can’t handle it any more. You’ll need to fix it."

While the painful situation hasn’t completely turned around, I can say that the very next day, I detected marked improvements.

When God walked the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, He said, "Ask and you will receive..." (John 16:24). Why would we want to carry pain on our own shoulders, when simply for the asking, God is willing to bear it with us?

If you're dealing with pain in your life, it's a pretty sure sign that something's wrong. You need to remember that simple formula: Look in. Look out. Look up. God can use these steps to set you down the path to healing.

[Mark Daniels is pastor of Friendship Church. You’re invited to worship at Friendship any Sunday.]
Please pray for the people whose homes or businesses were destroyed by yesterday's tornadoes, asking God to help them to rebuild their lives. Pray also that God will comfort everyone who mourns as a result of deaths caused by the tornadoes.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Easter After Tremors:
Seeing the Blessings Jesus Brings
Luke 24:36b-48

(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 4, 2003)

Did you hear about the joker who woke his wife up in the middle of the night, yelling, “Honey, I can’t see! I can’t see!” His wife awoke and asked, “Why?” “It must be that I’ve got my eyes closed,” he said. In most jurisdictions that husband’s bad joke would have been the basis for justifiable homicide. But he also makes a good point: You cannot see if you keep your eyes closed.

In our Bible lesson for this morning, the risen Jesus is shown trying to help His disciples see some very important things. Several times in today’s Bible lesson, Jesus tells His disciples to see. It seems to me that there are three major things that Jesus wants you and me to see as we encounter Him today.

First: Jesus wants us to see that His resurrection spells the end of our anxiety. The first thing He tells the disciples as He meets them today is, “Peace be with you.” Knowing and following the risen Jesus brings peace. That doesn’t mean that we might not have times when we confront things life depression or anxiety. But over the long haul, the follower of Jesus Christ lives with peace at the core of their beings. There’s good reason for that.

A few years ago, there was a TV show called First Edition. The premise was simple. Every morning, a guy would receive a newspaper outside his door. But it was the newspaper for the next morning. He had a clear view of the future, a clear idea of what he needed to accomplish. Jesus is our first edition, our clear view of the future. The Bible tells us for example, that while we may not know all the particulars about heaven, people who follow Christ will be like Jesus. Those who follow Jesus know where their futures are headed and He makes clear that our greatest accomplishments come when, just like Him we make love of God and love of neighbor the number one priorities of our lives. Knowing that we belong to God forever puts day to day life in perspective and helps us to move through each day unafraid.

One year ago, this building was little more than a dream and some scratches on paper. We broke ground on May 18. But site work wasn’t really going until July. The arches in this core section weren’t up until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Yet, we had our Boeing 747 Christmas Eve worship—that’s what I call the worship when those CO2 blowers went off, making this place sound like the runway at an international airport. But God has graciously allowed us the use of this facility and is helping us to use it as a tool for reaching out to our community with the Good News of Jesus. God always makes a way for those who surrender their lives to Jesus Christ even when we can’t see it. Jesus’ resurrection spells the end of our anxiety.

Second, Jesus wants us to see that, no matter what setbacks or griefs we may endure, His resurrection shows that God is in control and that God’s good plan for us is right on schedule. That’s why in today’s Bible lesson Jesus says to His terrified followers:

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?...These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled...Thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day...”

Last November 21, a gunman killed missionary Bonnie Penner Witherell as she started her work day at a clinic in Sidon, Lebanon. This Christian clinic helps pregnant women and new mothers from low-income households and from Palestinian refugee camps. Today, Bonnie Witherell is still having an impact on many people’s lives. People at her home church in Lynden, Washington sew soft flannel receiving blankets that are distributed in the clinic in Lebanon where Bonnie once worked. Hundreds have been produced! In spite of her grief, Bonnie’s mother, Ann Penner, sees that God is being glorified through her daughter’s life and death. One of Ann’s sources of strength is Psalm 139, which finds King David telling God confidently:

"...it was You Who formed my inward parts, You knit me together in my mother’s womb...[and] In Your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them yet existed."

Nothing catches the God we know through Jesus Christ off guard. When Jesus died on a cross, it was part of God’s plan. So was Easter Sunday morning. The gunman who killed Bonnie Witherell may have thought that he was thwarting God’s good plans. But God will not be thwarted. His love can’t be killed off. No matter what tragedies or challenges may happen in this world, God is unbowed. He keeps loving, keeps helping, and keeps moving all with faith in a heaven-ward direction, empowering us to live lives that reflect His goodness. God is in control and God’s good plan for us is right on schedule. We can be confident of that!

Third, Jesus wants us to see that because He is risen from the dead, we’re to share Christ with the world, beginning with those who are closest to us. In our lesson, He tells His first followers that they are His witnesses starting in the very town they were in, Jerusalem. Jesus says that as His witnesses, we’re to tell others about “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” in His Name.

Sin, you know, is a condition of the heart and mind. It’s separation from God that prevents us from being the people God made us to be and ultimately, results in death. Sin is like static that we get on a radio. It keeps us from being clearly tuned into God, from knowing God’s will for our lives, from loving God and loving neighbor. When we tune into Jesus, we’re in synch with God and with God’s plan for us. Our call as followers of Jesus is not just to follow Jesus; we’re also to tell others and show others by the lives we live how to “tune in” to God. Jesus puts it simply in our lesson this morning: “You are witnesses...”

It’s interesting how Jesus puts that. He doesn’t say, “I’d like you to be witnesses.” Or, “At 10:00 on Sunday mornings, you’re My witnesses.” He says, “You are My witnesses.” And here’s what I’ve observed: Folks out there in the world are watching us. They’ve seen enough of people who claim to be Christians but exhibit the most un-Christian behavior. People see us at work, at play, at the PTO meeting, in the church lobby. But when they see us do they see Jesus in us?

I’ve told the story before of what happened to Walt Kallestad, a Lutheran pastor in Arizona. He stopped into a convenience store and made a purchase. The clerk gave him his change and after he’d cruised down the road a bit, it dawned on him that she had given him too much money back. He decided he needed to go back to the convenience market. “Here,” he told the clerk once he’d arrived, “you gave me too much change.” “I know,” the woman said, “I was at your church for the first time last week and you talked about honesty. I just wanted to know if you meant it.”

Whether we realize it or not, for good and ill, those of us who go to worship and claim to be followers of Christ, are witnesses twenty-four, seven. The person who truly lives securely in the Kingdom of the risen Jesus Christ wants to live authentically. We’re not perfect. But even our imperfect lives can tell the world whether following Jesus really changes a human being from the inside out. We are witnesses.

Chuck Colson, the one-time Watergate conspirator became a follower of Jesus Christ, went into prison ministry, and is a leading voice for Jesus Christ today. Interviewer Larry King once asked Colson how he has been able to avoid so many of the moral pitfalls into which Christian leaders fall. Colson responded, “I tell people, ‘Don’t follow me. Follow Jesus!’”

That’s our call from God! Jesus wants us to see that through Him, the power of anxiety is banished from our lives; that through Him, we know that God is in control and working right on schedule; and that because of His resurrection, we are His witnesses. But before we can see any of these things, we must open the eyes of our hearts and stay focused on Jesus. We need to follow Him, all day, every moment of every day! We need to be completely, totally, unreservedly surrendered to Jesus Christ. That’s what I want to challenge you to do this morning: to make it your life’s work to open the eyes of your hearts and follow the risen Jesus always.

[The true story of missionary Bonnie Penner Witherell is told in the May-June, 2003 issue of Prayer Point, published by Samaritan's Purse. Walt Kallestad tells the story of what happened to him at the convenience store in one of his books; I can't remember which one. The Colson quote comes from a sermon by Robert R. Kopp which appears in The Abingdon Preaching Annual: 1997 Edition. The notion of sin as static, a very good way of illustrating the Biblical concept of sin as seen in Psalm 51, is something that Robert Schuller does in one of his books; again, I can't remember which one.]