The following was the devotional I gave this morning at the first South County Lenten breakfast for 2011:
In 1987, Dr. Gregory Stock published a little volume entitled “The Book of Questions”. One of the questions goes: would you rather endure one day of intense suffering, or a life of low-level but long-term pain?
It then goes on to ask, what is an immunization, if not enduring short-term pain to avoid a life of crippling disease? The suffering of polio, diphtheria, yellow fever, measles, and smallpox were before my time - but some of you may have seen them.
Life itself contains its inoculations. The “terrible twos” taught each of us that the universe contained other human beings - and that we were not in charge of them. Puberty taught us that we had the power to define ourselves as individuals separate from our parents. Both processes, as you know, involve moments of anguish for all involved. Both remind us that the universe does not revolve around us. They are no different than immunizations; they just take longer.
The point is that we grow through seasons, and the seasons often involve trials; but the long-term benefit is real.
Of course, we have a choice.
We can live according to our plan: Party On, Dude! Take care of Numero Uno! Numb ourselves, live for the pleasures of the day; look what you made me do; and oh, that person had so much life ahead of them.
We can live according to another human’s plan: Hating ourselves when we don’t meet their expectations; hating THEM when they don’t meet OUR expectations; or opening ourselves up to the learned helplessness of the abused.
These choices, among several others, make a fundamentally flawed assumption: that this life is all there is. That you only go around once. That after this life, if there is anything at all, there is reward or punishment based solely on the grade we earn for ourselves. It is all about us.
There is another choice. Listen to these passages of Scripture.
James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Romans 5:3-5: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of a sound mind.”
Matthew 5:11-12: Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
God became Christ, came down to Earth, and suffered like none of us will ever suffer to show us this: This life is just the start! If we will allow ourselves to get our vaccinations - if we will persevere through life’s lessons - if we let life be about His plan, and not ours - we will have a future that we did not earn, but that will still be greater than ANYTHING we can imagine. No other belief system in the world has that message.
As many of you know, God granted me the incredible blessing of a beautiful wife for 32 years. Terri passed away August 3d of last year, at the age of 53, as I held her hand. And I have never, and will never, endure such pain again in all eternity.
If this world is all there is, then that is a sick, cosmic joke. If this world is about justice for my actions, then my life can only be an abject failure. But if Christ is who He said He was - and I believe He is - then I have been immunized against ANYTHING this world can throw at me. I have persevered through that loss, and therefore I can persevere through ANYTHING this world can throw at me. I can continue to find joy, and spread joy. And when this life is over - because I will live for Christ, not for me - someday, I will get Terri back. Because she accepted Christ’s gift, and lived her life for Him.
Ladies and gentlemen, this Lenten season is about deciding who is in charge. It is about rolling up your sleeve. And it is about accepting God’s leadership, which - through joy, tribulation, and perseverance - will surpass the boundaries of your imagination.
Compared to eternity - it’ll only pinch for a little bit.
Dr Ken (how are YOU doing?) FP