How Much Suffering is Too Much?

Enough. Have you ever said that to God?

Enough suffering, Lord. I’ve had more than my fair share of trouble. When is it going to stop?

Remember the trials and tribulations of Job? His near-perfect life was disrupted by trouble. Lots and lots of trouble. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health in a swift series of events that seemingly defied explanation.

Many of us know someone like Job. Someone who has experienced extraordinary suffering. I have a friend who lost his father, brother, and wife, all within five months. Another friend and her husband have been unemployed for several years and suffer from several debilitating illnesses. Still another friend has breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy in the hope that surgery will be a later option. (Right about now you may be wondering if it’s safe to be my friend!)

I recently learned of another person who received bad news. Joni Eareckson Tada has breast cancer…again.

What did you think when you read those words? Did the word enough spring to mind? After all, Joni has been a quadriplegic for more than fifty years. Instead of hiding in a corner or throwing herself a life-long pity party, she became an author, speaker, and founder of Joni and Friends, an international ministry that shares the hope of the gospel and offers practical help to those impacted by disability.

She is an advocate for those with disabilities and the author of forty-eight at least 48 books. She is also an artist, having learned to paint with a brush between her teeth. Joni does all this and more from her wheelchair.

And after battling Stage 3 breast cancer in 2010, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again two months ago.

Why breast cancer? Why now? Rather than ask these kinds of questions, Joni viewed her cancer through a different lens. She has often said that “our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God.” This diagnosis is no different.

When she was first diagnosed eight years ago, Joni noted with her characteristic sense of humor, “Although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me – even if it is from His left hand (better from His left hand, than no hand at all, right?!).”

Joni did not ask why because she was already sure of the answer. She went on to say, “Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured that Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope, and strengthen our witness to others…”

She added, “For years I have hoped that my quadriplegia might encourage people struggling with cancer… now I have a chance to truly empathize and journey alongside, affirming that God’s grace is always sufficient for whatever the disease or disability.”

After receiving this repeat diagnosis, Joni said, “What good is it if we only trust the Lord when we understand His ways? That only guarantees a life filled with doubts.”

It’s easy for us to quote Scripture when life is pleasant. But when we’re confronted with a dreaded diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or a financial loss, can we say with Joni, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6)?

When confronted with suffering, often our first inclination is to ask, Why? Perhaps a better question to ask is, Why not? We live in a sin-sick world. God never promised us a life free from trouble. However, we can choose how we will respond to the uncertainties and difficulties of life.

I love how Joni puts it: “Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.”

What next step is God calling you to take today in faith?


 
Thankful for the Assurance of Heaven

In honor of Thanksgiving, I considered writing a post about all the things for which I’m thankful. Then I considered writing a post about all the things for which others should be thankful.

But I decided to get ultra-personal.

Those who know me personally know my husband graduated to heaven this past summer. What you may not know is that his last 2 years of life were spent radically different from the decades that preceded them…both physically and spiritually.

This is a bittersweet holiday for me. My first without Russ. Yet I’m incredibly thankful to know he is now with his Savior.

How can I have such assurance? The Bible tells us of heaven. Still, it’s one thing to read about heaven, but it’s another to know it’s true in the face of a terminal illness.

Here’s a link to the testimony Russ shared last May – a testimony shared with the knowledge that his death was a month or two away.

Listen for yourself and then you decide whether my assurance is justified.

Russell Pennington Testimony

 

After you hear it, you’ll know what I know…heaven is real and as the Bible promises, we can, indeed, have the assurance of that destination if we know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And there’s nothing better to be thankful for than that.


 
What are You Leaning Into?

leaningEver hear someone refer to God as a crutch? Something only weak people need to lean on to get through life?

I’ve always found that argument irrational, all the more so when promoted by people who practically worship rationality.

It implies that weakness is the exception. But aren’t we all weak in one area or another?

Superman is a fantasy figure, and even he had a weakness: kryptonite (or Lois Lane, depending on your point of view 😊). Show me one person who won’t admit to any kind of weakness, and I’ll show you a person who is delusional.

And even if we agree that everyone has some type of weakness, it’s still not easy to personally admit it. Our culture reveres strength. An admission of weakness carries the stigma of being “less than.”

Less than adequate.

Less than acceptable.

Less than whole.

Admitting weakness requires admitting we need help. That’s usually okay physically. If you break your leg, it’s foolish to try walking without the aid of a crutch or other tool to help you get around until your bone heals.

So why is it many of us find it next to impossible to admit we need help mentally, emotionally, or spiritually?

If the Bible is true—and nothing has yet proven that it isn’t—then we are weak in every area, not just physically. Jesus Christ became human to bring the healing and wholeness we need, first spiritually, and in other areas of life, too.

To reject the wholeness He came to restore to us would be as foolish as a person with a broken leg rejecting crutches or a wheelchair.

We all lean into something or someone when we’re weak, whether we admit it or not.

When life doesn’t make sense, which way do you lean?

When tragedy strikes, which way do you lean?

When your energy is sapped, which way do you lean?

Do you lean into God or away from Him?

  • The atheist denies God’s existence and leans into humanity’s wisdom.
  • An agnostic leans into the certainty that it’s impossible to be certain about God.
  • The Christian admits his or her need, and leans into God, through the cross of Christ and dependence on His Holy Spirit.

Real foolishness is denying our weakness in the face of the overwhelming evidence of our need.

Do you really think people are born good? Then why is it we never have to teach a toddler to say “no” or “mine”? Or why do we have to teach a child to share, but we never have to teach a child to be selfish?

Adults are no better. We just learn to hide our sin under a veneer of civility (although these days, even civility has suffered a black eye).

Take a long look around. Then take a long look in the mirror. There are no exceptions. No, not even one.

That’s the reason Christ came to earth as a human and died for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves. He met our greatest need: the need to be restored to the divine relationship for which we were created.

If Jesus Christ is not who He said He is, then in the words of the apostle Paul, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19 NIV).

The older I get, the more I realize that often the worst thing I can do is try to make sense of life with my limited perspective and understanding. For if this world really is all there is, then life is, indeed, a cruel joke.

I recently experienced a severe loss. It has left me feeling weak. But when I lean into God during my times of need, I gain:

  • strength in my weakness
  • peace as I face unexpected circumstances
  • equipping to accomplish the tasks before me
  • and hope as I face uncertainty.

Corrie ten Boom said it best when she said, “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”

Whatever you’re facing today in your weakness, will you lean into Jesus Christ?

It’s the strongest thing you’ll ever do.


 
Oaks From Acorns Grow

Oaks from Acorns Grow

Remember the song, “Tall Oaks from Acorns Grow”? It’s a cute children’s song—one I hadn’t thought of in decades…until I began catching up on long overdue yardwork.

For the past 2 years, circumstances have caused me to neglect our yard. Shrubs grew wild and leggy. Weeds invaded where flowers should have bloomed. Two years of growth in a state where the growing season is year-round.

The solution to tackling this task is much like the answer to the riddle about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So in recent weeks I’ve trimmed a bit, weeded a lot, pruned the plants I want to keep, and cut out the unwanted vegetation. Even with all that work, I’ve barely made a dent in our abundant Florida growth.

Oaks from Acorns GrowBut before discouragement could set in, I realized that in recent days I’ve been crunching acorns underfoot. And the children’s song came to mind.

We can joke about clichés, but the truth is, the large oak I labored under did indeed start as a tiny acorn. Planted in fertile soil, it simply did what it was created to do: hold its ground and grow.

As I work in the dirt, reflecting on oaks and acorns, I’m reminded that even though it might seem as if my situation is burying me, God is using it to plant me instead.

Oaks from Acorns GrowStill, I need to remember…

The darkness can be frightening, but His light shines brightest in the dark.

The duration and weight of our circumstances may be painful, but the combination of time and pressure drives us to the One who is our Refuge.

And the sense of loneliness in the face of our trials helps us appreciate the intimacy of our relationship with the One who created us, saved us, and indwells us with His Holy Spirit.

Thinking about acorns and oaks also reminds me of the passage in Isaiah 61:1-3:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (NIV).

This prophetic passage pointed to the Messiah—Jesus Christ, the anointed One who would come hundreds of years later to God’s chosen people as their Savior and Lord. It speaks to people who are hurting.

Those who feel buried in dark circumstances.

People in mourning and despair.

People who have been waiting so long that they’ve almost given up hope.

Yet this passage refers to God’s people as “oaks.” Plantings of the Lord for His glory.

Are you feeling discouraged today? In dark despair? Are you convinced your circumstances will bury you because you don’t have the strength to persevere?

Consider yourself planted instead. And know God does not abandon His children, regardless of their situation. Run to Him when you’re lonely. Welcome the light of His presence to dispel the darkness. Trust His perfect timing.

And remember…oaks from acorns grow.


 
Next Page »