The Choice Seems Easy…

As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain, so will you always be my people, with a name that will never disappear,” says the LORD.All humanity will come to worship me from week to week and from month to month. And as they go out, they will see the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me. For the worms that devour them will never die, and the fire that burns them will never go out. All who pass by will view them with utter horror.” Isaiah 66:22-24 NLT

The choice seems pretty easy doesn’t it? Life or death. Eternity as one of God’s beloved worshiping Him forever…Or we can choose death. We can choose rebellion. We can choose an eternity apart from God. When put in these terms the choice seems rather clear…well obviously you would choose life.

The truth is though, apart from God we always choose death. We will always choose rebellion.

“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.” Romans 8:5-8 NLT

Thus, we see our need for Jesus. We need the very life of God to live within us, for apart from the life of Christ there is nothing but death.

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Colossians 1:19 ESV

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him…” Colossians 2:9-10 ESV

The grace of God in granting me life boggles my mind. If you have been given that life it should boggle yours too…for it is only grace. I know that it has nothing to do with me, because I know exactly how wretched I am apart from Christ. Apart from Him, we are all wretched and swimming in our own death. That is the beauty of grace. From that wretchedness beauty arises…and that beauty is nothing less than Jesus himself.

If you don’t know that you have this life, but feel that you want it…that you need it…you desire this beauty…Perhaps it is God telling you that you are indeed his. Is he calling you? Is he showing you how beautiful Jesus Christ is? I pray that perhaps he is.

Tribute to my Grandmother, Eunice Canuel

Below is the message I preached at my Grandmother’s funeral. She was truly an amazing woman.

Eunice Mills Canuel, September 15, 1914 – August 15, 2010

I want to start out by saying thank you to you all for being here. Our family is so grateful for your presence here, and I know Granny would have been thrilled to see you all, she always loved being surrounded by her loved ones.

My grandmother was the greatest person I have ever known. That is a bold statement, but I stand by it. I mean no disrespect to anyone else here, I have been blessed to know, love, and be loved by many great and wonderful people, but my grandmother’s selfless love, sense of humor, and just her overall outlook on life has had an unparalleled influence on me. Still to this day my fondest childhood memories are of being with her. Whether it was learning to play rummy, which became one of our favorite things to do together, or sitting on the front porch swing talking about how things used to be back in the old days, I loved being around my granny. I’m sure every member of my family can share similar stories, and I’d be willing to bet, most of them would end in laughter, whether it be something granny said, or did. She kept you laughing…that is one of the things I loved most about her.

As much as I loved granny, the last few years have been really hard for me to take, and I know that I’m not alone. Her mind gradually grew worse, to the point that she didn’t even know who I was. Her body began to deteriorate, as the effects of Alzheimer’s took its toll. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, and I can’t think of a worse way to watch a loved one suffer. To be honest, in the last years of her life, I did not visit my grandmother as much as I should have, because it was simply too hard for me to see her in her condition. For anyone else who has watched a loved one go through this, my heart goes out to you.

As I said, my grandmother was a wonderful person. I would put her righteousness up against anyone else in this room. If anyone came close to living a sinless life-which we know is impossible, it was my grandmother. Knowing what an amazing woman she was, I think is one of the things that made it harder to see her suffer. We’ve all heard the phrase, and I’m sure many of us have even asked the same question before, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” When we see our loved ones suffer, we tend to have 1 of 2 reactions. First we ask, “where is God in this, or why would God let this happen”, which many times leads to anger or bitterness towards God; Or second we might question the very existence of God, as in our minds a “good” God wouldn’t allow this type of suffering.

When I was getting ready to prepare this message, my mind initially went to the book of Job. I was going to talk a lot about suffering, the different types of suffering, and God’s graciousness through it all, and offer some perspectives on suffering and give some thoughts on some of God’s purposes through suffering. As I began to prepare this message, it became clear that it was going to be a 2 hour sermon, and I don’t think any of us wants to hear a 2 hour sermon that revolves around suffering tonight, with our hearts so full of sorrow already. As I prayed, and asked God to give me the words to share tonight, I believe he has led me to another passage. I believe God has decided that what we need to hear tonight, what I need to hear tonight is some words of comfort. With that in mind, let us look to one of the most precious promises in the entirety of Scripture. The words I am about to share with you are, to me, some of the most beautiful words God ever breathed, and inspired the Apostle Paul to put forth in His Word.

Let us now turn our attention to the 8th Chapter of the Book of Romans, verses 31-39

As I watched my grandmother suffer, especially over the last few days, and as we suffered watching her, and even now as we suffer and mourn her loss, what a comforting thought that nothing, nothing at all can separate us, nothing could separate her, from the love of God.

I believe my dad and I got a small glimpse of that the night before she died. As she laid in her bed, slightly gasping, periodically crying out that her legs were in pain, at one instant she shouted out, “OH LORD GOD HELP ME!” Here is a woman that no longer recognized her grandchildren, and even her son at some points…yet she recognized that God was the only one who could help her at that moment. She didn’t know who her family was, yet she knew who her God was.

I prayed for the last few days before her death, for just a moment of clarity for her, where I could look into her eyes, and know that she recognized me, and we could share a moment similar to what we used to before her mind began to deteriorate. I too believe God answered that prayer. Right after my dad left to get some rest the night before grandma passed, I asked her if it would be okay if I spent the night with her. I said, “Granny, it’s been a long time since I spent the night with you, is it okay if I stay here?” She nodded and said, “I mean you can!” Now chances are, she was out of it, and perhaps she still had no clue who I was. But in my mind, I believe I got a glimpse of the old granny. As I looked in her eyes I felt like for the first time in a really long time, she was looking back at me with love. I kissed her head, and told her I loved her. That is a moment I will cherish until the Lord takes me out of this world.

That is evidence my friends of the love of God, and his pouring out of his grace upon us, even in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. Many people think that being a Christian means no sickness and suffering, or that God will take away all of our pain and our trials. I don’t know where they get this idea, but it’s not in the Bible.

The bible is filled with examples of God’s people suffering, the greatest example is the suffering of God’s own son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Jesus was even referred to in Scripture as a “man of sorrows”.

I am here to tell you folks that if you are a Christian, if you are a human, you are going to suffer. Just look at the text I read today. Verse 32, “He” being God, “did not spare even his own Son”. In verse 35 it talks about calamity, persecution, hunger, destitution, danger, and even death. We are never promised a life free of suffering, but what we are promised is that nothing, as Paul says in verse 38 and, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell”….No, not even Alzheimer’s “…can separate us from God’s love”.

Romans 8:28 tells us that, “God causes everything, get that everything, to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Everything means everything friends. Suffering and death included. I believe suffering and death serves two purposes in God’s plan. 1st it reminds us of sin, and ought to show us our need for a savior. Romans 8:33-34 says, “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one-for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”

Adam and Eve our first parents sinned, and brought sin and death into the world. We continue to repeat their sins every day of our lives. Even my grandmother, as marvelous as she was needed a savior, Jesus Christ, was and is that savior for her, and all of us who will call on him.

In the book of Job, the oldest book in the Old Testament Job, a man whom God referred to as righteous, and blameless, talked about his own need for a mediator between him and God. He talked about his confidence that one day He would see His redeemer. That confidence was justified and personified in Christ, not just for Job, not just for my grandmother, but for all of us who will call on Him.

2nd Suffering and death brings us into the very presence of God. It is often during the most difficult of trials that we as believers experience God with us, right where we are. Even more so though, the death of the believer brings them into the very presence of God, where they can bask in His glory, that is shown perfectly in the face of Jesus Christ. That is the promise of the Bible. That is the Gospel my friends. We can escape this world so stained by sin, so full of suffering, pain and death. One day, if you are a believer in Jesus, you will be in His very presence, He will welcome you home one day. What a glorious promise that is. I rejoice that my grandmother is there right now. I rejoice that her mind is sharper than it ever could have been in this sin stained world. She has now been given insights into this creation that I long for. More than anything she is enjoying being with, and worshiping her Lord, her Savior, her redeemer.

I found it interesting yesterday, after grandma passed, the gown that the hospice center put on her had two very interesting phrases written on it. It had sort of an Islandy print, but the words were what really caught my attention. In a few places it had the word, “Destination” written on it. Very fitting, because finally Grandma has reached her destination. In several places though, and I had to chuckle when I read it, it read, “Paradise Discovered” I made the comment to my stepmother, that today she has indeed discovered paradise.

So as we mourn today, let’s not mourn for Grandma. There is no need. As sorrowful as our hearts are for our loss, at least temporarily, let us not have any sorrow for her. I am confident she is having the time of her life. Even if she could come back and be with us again, she wouldn’t do it. She is right where she wants to be. She is where I long to one day be. I pray all of us here today will one day be where she is.

The Purpose of Suffering

This is a blog post I wrote for a friends blog, Blogging Theologically. It is about a week outdated, as my wife’s grandmother has now passed away, and my mother-in-law’s cancer has actually been diagnosed as a stage 4, and the prognosis is not very encouraging. I think in light of those things, the truths I talk about in this post are even more important to hear. Blessings as you read…

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

            Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

            Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

            In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

(Job 1:6-22 ESV)

I have now been a Christian for about 5 years. To be perfectly honest over these 5 years I have been extremely blessed, and have had very few real trials. Like Job at the beginning of this book, I have suffered very little. For many, this is their picture of the Christian life, one of perpetual blessings, whether it be health, wealth, prosperity, etc. I don’t believe as we read the Bible however, that is the perspective we get.  The Christian life and the lives of the people of God are indeed lives filled with suffering. Look at Christ, how much did he suffer? Look at Paul, how much did he suffer? Look at the prophets, read through the Psalms. The Bible is filled with suffering. I’m sure we even know Christians ourselves, who right now are really struggling in some aspect of their life. If not our neighbors, it’s not hard to see how much other Christians are struggling and being persecuted in other parts of the world.

Like I said though, as a whole, and up until now, this has not been my experience. That seems to be changing. This is not a pity party for me. In all honesty, I am very blessed, and my struggles, and my issues, and the issues that my family is going through, while they are very hard things, in comparison to what many others in the world deal with, they are not that bad. Still, suffering of any kind, is not easy. It’s even harder to see those whom you love suffer.

My wife’s grandmother, whom she has always been very close to, is dying. Literally any moment, or any breath, could be her last. She is a Christian, and is ready to go. She has even been praying for the Lord to take her. She is tired, and sick of suffering, she just wants to be with Jesus. I can certainly understand. While I rejoice that her eternity will be glorious, and that she will soon be in the presence of Jesus, it is hard seeing other members of the family suffer. My wife’s mother and aunt especially, they do not grieve well. My wife on the other hand, has an excellent understanding of the sovereignty of God, and the glory that awaits her grandmother, and is joining her grandmother in prayer that the Lord will take her soon. Still I know seeing other members of her family suffering, and grieving, is tough on her. It is tough for me, so I can only imagine what she is dealing with.

To add to that, my wife’s mother, who is already grieving for her mom, has been diagnosed with some form of colon or rectal cancer. At this point they are estimating stage 3, but we won’t know more for a few days. Again, my wife is taking it pretty well, though I know she is suffering, and grieving at seeing her mom weak, and in pain, and frightened at the uncertainty of the treatments that await, not to mention the potential loss of her mother. We are hoping and praying for the best, but we know either way, the next year is going to be a difficult one. We may even be forced to sale our house, in order to move in with her parents, to help care for them. (My wife’s father is also in poor health) We have 4 children, so moving in with her parents will not be easy, if it comes to that, so we will be greatly mourning the loss of our personal space, and time. Still we are eager to help them in any way we can, as they have been such a help to us in raising our family.

I could go on, about all the stuff going on in my life, and the life of my family right now. Let’s just leave it at, life is difficult right now, I have touched on the major issues, but there is much more, which I will spare the readers.

I quoted the above passage from Job for a couple of reasons. First, it tells us that God is sovereign, even over our suffering. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a lot of comfort. To know that my God, is in control, even in the midst of my suffering, it is very comforting to me. When bad things happen, many Christians tend to want to blame Satan, or think they are being tested or punished. The fact is, Satan too, is under the thumb of God, and can only do what God allows him to. Job was a righteous man, so he wasn’t being punished for anything. As you read through the book of Job, though you’ll discover that God did have a very real purpose to allowing Job to go through these trials. Through his suffering, Job saw that His view of God was too small, and he got a glimpse of the enormity, and the overwhelming power of God. (Job 42:1-6) Secondly, we see from Job an excellent response, and the way all of us ought to respond to suffering and trials. After Job lost all he owned, and his very children, the text says that Job, “fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job understood God was in control, though I don’t think he fully got it yet, as you’ll see later in the book, still Job knew all he had was from God, and that God could take that away if he so chose. Still Job chose to worship, and praise God even in the midst of this trial. I can’t even imagine losing all I had, and my children. Would I praise God in the midst of that? I would hope so. I would hope my faith would be that strong, I would hope I would have that firm a grasp of who God is. Will I be an example even now, as my family is going through many trials, and will I give God praise even now, in the midst of all we are going through? I don’t see any other option. Even now I must rejoice that I worship a sovereign and loving God.

I will leave us now with a word from the Apostle Peter, in which he tells us what the purpose of suffering is. 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

All we suffer is for the purpose of making Christ known, and to bring him much praise, honor, and glory. May we all be found faithful in the midst of our trials, Amen…