Sept. 18 – Oct. 30
Click below to find your new seven-week discussion group!
“Pain demands the attention that is crucial to my recovery.”
— Philip Yancey
Several months after the tragic events of 9/11, I found myself in a Barnes & Noble, looking for some type of answers to that horrific event. I remember asking the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? I couldn’t understand how a sovereign God would allow pain and suffering for his children.
If I were God, I would just take all pain away so that my children wouldn’t know any type of suffering. That’s what most parents want to do, right? In my search, I came across a book written by Philip Yancey titled Where is God When it Hurts? In the book, Yancey tells a story about Dr. Brand, who spent his entire working career focused on serving leprosy patients.
The problem facing lepers is that they suffer severe nerve damage. Essentially, they lose all feeling, so they don't feel the pain of their disease.
Having no pain would be awesome, right? No more stubbed toes. No more painful paper cuts. If you have suffered the excruciating pain of a paper cut, you know what I mean. No pain would be a good thing, right?
If no pain is good, then why did Dr. Brand spend his entire career trying to restore the nerve endings of lepers? Why would he want to create pain for his patients? Leprosy doesn’t kill you, it kills your ability to recognize a problem. When you and I get a cut, we pay attention to the area to protect it from infection. A leper becomes infected. When you and I develop a sore, we favor that area to decrease the chance of further injury. A leper continues to injure the site, because they are unaware of the problem. For lepers, pain is a good thing. Pain makes them aware of an issue.
In a crazy way, I believe that pain is a gift from God, because it tells us there is a problem.
Many times in life we try to get rid of pain as quickly as possible, whether the pain is physical, emotional or spiritual. But, because we often want a quick fix, we miss the opportunity to see our need for God. Pain communicates to us that we are not in control of the situation. And if we find ourselves not in control of that specific situation, what else aren’t we in control of? Hopefully these moments bring us to our knees, not in pain but in humility, humble enough to admit that we can’t make things right on our own, and that we need a Savior to heal us.
Typing the words "stupid questions" into Google, I selected "50 Stupid Questions Asked on Yahoo! Answers" and began reading some seriously absurd questions that made me wonder what train these people fell off of. Be that as it may, at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus asking a man who had suffered from an incurable illness for 38 years if he wanted to be healed seems like a dumb question too (see John 5:1-15). Personally, I can’t think of ever having been ill and wanting to stay ill. I mean, at the first sign of a cold, I’m headed for Walgreens or CVS to stock up on NyQuil. But, according to one commentator, a Middle Eastern beggar could have made a good living begging for handouts in that day, so the question may have been fair to ask.
Regardless, there was a legend surrounding the pool suggesting that an angel would, from time to time, come down and trouble the waters. The first person who came into contact with the pool afterward would be cured of his or her illness. Whether the legend is fact or fiction, no one knows. Perhaps it had something to do with sacrificial animals being washed there before being offered to God that gave life to the legend. Your guess is as good as mine. Nonetheless, many sick people believed it to be true and gathered there every day, hopeful that today would be their day.
For many of us here in the 21st century, the therapist’s office is a pool of Bethesda, where we sit in the waiting room, hoping today will be our day. For some, it may be the offices of J.P. Morgan, Charles Schwab or Smith Barney. And, sad but true, others look to the church as their Bethesda, coming week after week, waiting for the man standing behind the pulpit or at the lectern to stir the waters. They hope to get in before the waters stop churning, but they never move an inch.
Had the unfortunate man at Bethesda been there the longest? Was that why Jesus went to him? What are we to learn from this story, anyway? There are many lessons wrapped in these verses, but here are a few things I think about :
1) Contrary to what some believe and teach today, the baptismal waters are not a fix. The waters themselves cannot wash away sin.
2) No matter how long you have been looking, the answer is the same today as it was when you first began searching: Jesus.
3) Never give up on God. Look to Jesus, and it just may be that today is the day you will find what you have been looking for.
We all hate feeling alone. We may like to spend time by ourselves sometimes, but there’s a huge difference between being by yourself and feeling alone. Being by yourself is a physical thing. Being alone is a mental, emotional and psychological thing. Being by yourself is solved by others. Being alone takes more than just someone coming up and sitting next to you to fix.
The sick man we looked at in Sunday's sermon (see John 5:1-15) was a living example of what it looks like to be alone. He had been sick for so long. He had been paralyzed for so long. He had no one around to help him. For so long, he was used to people trying to avoid him, get away from him, and probably not even make eye contact with him. He must have felt alone. He must have felt unnoticed.
Until Jesus came by.
Jesus didn’t just pass by him. Jesus didn’t avoid him. Jesus didn’t look on him and shake his head as he continued on his way. Jesus saws him. Jesus noticed him. Jesus approached him. And Jesus had compassion for him.
I think that, far too often, we get stuck in this idea that Jesus doesn’t see us. That Jesus doesn’t see what’s going on in our lives. That he doesn’t see the hurt caused by sickness, death, addiction, divorce, relationships or abuse. We think that he doesn’t see it or, at the very least, that he doesn’t care.
But I think this story gives us hope.
This man was a man that no one paid attention to. But Jesus did. This man must have thought that no one cared about him. But Jesus did. There’s no way this man could have seen a way out of his pain. But Jesus did.
Today, no matter what you’re going through — no matter the hurt, no matter the pain, no matter the sorrow — Jesus notices you. Today, find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Find comfort knowing that Jesus sees you.
One of the main things I have come to understand in life is this: belief determines behavior.
Now, not all of our behavior flows directly from our beliefs, for each of us can be very good at behaving irrationally at times. But, for the most part, our behavior flows directly from what we believe to be true.
If you believe a chair will support you, you sit in it.
If you believe the chair will break, you don’t sit in it.
If you believe you have found the perfect person, you marry them.
If you believe someone is intolerable, you don’t marry them.
If you believe having children will make your life happier, you have them.
If you believe having children will make your life miserable, you don’t have them.
I’m sure we can all agree that the majority of the time, our beliefs determine our behavior.
Now, let’s see what you believe the answer is to this question:
Did God ultimately create us for life here on earth or for life with him in eternity?
This is one of the most important questions you could ask yourself, because what you believe the answer to be will determine how you behave every day of your life. It will affect every area of your life. It will affect all of your motives, how you set your goals, how you behave in your relationships, how you approach your job, and how you spend your free time. But, most importantly, your belief on this matter will determine:
If you believe that you were created for life here on earth, then:
If you believe that you were created for life with him in eternity, then:
Now, I’m pretty sure that every one of you reading this will say you believe that God created you for life with him in eternity. And I’m also pretty sure that — if you are anything like me — the way you approach God, what you seek from him, what you expect from him, and how you respond to him do not look exactly like what I just listed as the way you should behave based on your belief.
So, what is the problem? Where is the disconnect?
If behavior flows from belief, why are we not living as if we were created for eternity? Why are we approaching God as if we were created for life here on earth? Why are we seeking earthly blessings from him instead of eternal blessings? Why are we expecting him to deliver all our earthly-minded wants and desires? Why do we treat him as if he is failing at his job, just because our life doesn’t look like we want it to?
If this describes you, then the problem lies in one of two places:
He is a God full of love and grace, and he knows that the thing you need most is him, even when you don’t know it. If you believe this, then come to him, place your life fully in his hands, and be ready to experience the ultimate joy as he gives you all that he is.
The story of the young ruler who asked Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life has always fascinated me. He was bold enough to ask the question but not courageous enough to respond in obedience to the answer. I think we do the same thing far more often than we would like to admit.
Have you ever gone to the doctor and asked, “What must I do to be healthier?” If so, what did the doctor say in response? I would guess it was something like, “Make healthier food choices and exercise more frequently.”
Have you ever gone to a financial advisor and asked ”What must I do to retire comfortably?” If so, I bet the response was along the lines of, “Spend less and save or invest more.”
Have you ever gone to a teacher and asked, “What must I do to earn a better grade?” If so, the response was likely, “Study more for tests and complete your work on time.”
Have you ever gone to an employer and asked, “What must I do to earn a higher wage?” If so, I would assume the answer was, “Work harder and produce better results for the company.”
We tend to ask the same type of question this young man asked of Jesus. The question was straightforward enough, as was the response. The young man didn’t like Jesus’ response, and the text tells us he missed eternal life.
My guess is there are some of you reading this devotional who are still unhealthy because you didn’t like the doctor’s orders. Truthfully, the guy typing this devotional is still unhealthy because he didn’t like the doctor’s orders. Some of you still don’t have money set aside for retirement because you didn’t like what the financial advisor had to say. For others, you find that you are still struggling in school because you have yet to heed the advice of your teachers. Some readers still haven’t gotten that bump in salary because there simply aren’t enough results to drive the wage up. And out of all the excuses you and I can generate as to why we are still unhealthy, broke, failing or earning minimum wage, the one thing we can’t say is we don’t know why. We know why, and it is because we shrugged off the truth and went our own way.
The tragedy of the rich young ruler isn’t that he was rich, young or influential. The tragedy of this young man had nothing to do with his ability to follow the most measurable of the 10 commandments. The tragedy was that, when told the truth about eternity, he just couldn’t follow the wisdom of Jesus. He felt like the temporary safety provided by material things would ultimately suffice in the eternal — and he was mistaken.
I don’t know how often you ignore the counsel of humans when it comes to temporary issues like health, wealth and education, but may I urge you to heed the counsel of Jesus for the eternal things? What he told the rich young ruler is true for us today. We do not get the privilege of eternal life with Jesus apart from Jesus.