Blessing of Suffering
You are Here - Follow Jesus and receive the blessing
The Blessing of Suffering
This past week I made visits to a couple of hospitals. One was Mt. Carmel West in Columbus and the other was St. Ann’s right here in Westerville. Both of these hospitals, and I would assume practically every hospital, has these “You are Here” signs posted nearly everywhere. This sign (IMAGE) was posted in between the elevators on the 4th floor of Mt Carmel West Hospital. I’m not sure if anyone thought I was weird but I took a picture of this sign with my phone. These signs pretty much all convey the same message. Whether you are in the Polaris Mall, the Columbus Zoo or Disney World the point is to locate your current location. “Let’s see where I am? Here’s where I am.” Because now that I know where I am – I can pinpoint where I want to go. Today we begin a six week series called “YOU ARE HERE!” Obviously, all of us are here today in this building. You may have come here by choice, by invitation or by accident. I’m not sure – I just know you’re here now. You may be doing well – you may be doing lousy. Maybe you are married, wish you were married or wish you were not married. Maybe you have kids or wish you did have kids. Maybe you are healthy or recently diagnosed that you are not! I don’t know your situation, but God does. You are here. The day is September 19, 2010 and nothing about your life is a surprise to God. Once you figure out where you are then you can determine where you want to go!
Now here’s a crazy question! Is there anyone here today who would like to experience God’s blessing? Yes, but how? Please hear these words - Follow Jesus and receive the blessing! I have personally experienced that if you follow Jesus you will receive blessing! Now what in the world does the word blessing mean? Blessing can be a prayer prayed before a meal. “Let’s pray this greasy pizza and Mountain Dew will nourish our bodies!” The blessing would be God performing a miracle! Junk food actually nourishes! Words often bless people. It’s why most couples getting married want to be married in a church. They seek words of blessing from God. We say a hearty “God bless you” when someone sneezes because at that moment their heart skips a beat and literally they are in the hands of God. May God bless you and your heart starts up again. Jesus said in Matthew 5:3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit..” That is “fortunate, well off or happy”[i] are those who are completely dependant on God just like a poor person is dependant on charity. The Apostle Paul said this in Ephesians 1:3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. That word “blessing” is eulogia (yoo-log-ee'-ah). Doesn’t that word look familiar? What English word comes from this word? “EULOGY!” Now what’s a eulogy? A eulogy is a commendation[ii] or a tribute spoken or written given at someone’s death.[iii] God commends us. He gives us high praise (blessing) when we recognize him as the One who made us. I was at an all day seminar this past Thursday with five other people from Westerville Christian and a man by the name Hugh Halter said allot of things that day. But one comment stuck in my mind. He said, “Blessing is God’s tangible touch on your life.”[iv] I want that touch? Do you? If you do, turn to the 4th chapter of Ephesians. Ephesians 4 is where we will spend the bulk of our time for the next six weeks. Do you need a Bible? If you do raise your hand real high and someone will bring you a Bible.
I seem to preach out of Ephesians quite often. I have preached messages in chapters 1, 2 & 3 and have done series (Marriage 411) in chapter 5 & (Satan’s Strategic Plan) in chapter 6. The reason I find myself drawn to Paul’s letters is that they are written to us – the church. Paul knows the Ephesians well – he spent three years in Ephesus. Now he’s in Rome – in prison and he finds himself led by God’s very spirit to explain what the church is and what the church should do. That’s how you divide this six chapter letter. Chapters 1-3 help us see what the church is. Chapters 4-6 help us see what the church is to do.
Last year a Maryland woman went on vacation but before she left she took two plastic freezer bags and filled them with gold and silver coins. The coins were valued at $40,000. She took these two bags and hid them under a pile of leaves near a church thinking they would be kept safe – after all, it’s a church! A groundskeeper found the bags, brought them inside and the church thought they’d received a huge anonymous donation only to have this lady show up a week later asking if anyone had found her coins! They did have her coins and convinced her to take them to a bank and place them in a safe deposit box.[v] Some people think the church is safe. Some people think the church is inspiring. Some people think the church is irrelevant. Some people think the church is a joke! It’s just a religious institution. It’s just a building where people gather to worship a God they cannot see and hang out with people they do not like. Paul said it this way! Let’s read the first three verses of Ephesians 4! (4:1-3) There is one body… The world just doesn’t get a church that fights, splits or argues. And so to eliminate fights, splits or arguments Paul reminds us of the spiritual blessings we’ve received in Christ – created, chosen, adopted, bought back and sealed[vi] by the Holy Spirit. And through God’s spirit we can bear the fruit of humility, patience and loving understanding. Disunity will make people shake their hands, but unity will blow people’s minds. And not just unity but blessing. And remember, blessing is God’s tangible touch on your life. Go back to Ephesians 4:1. Do you remember me saying, Follow Jesus and receive the blessing? Well, here Paul has followed Jesus. Actually Paul has gone to places that Jesus has never been and what does it he get – heartache! That doesn’t seem fair does it! You serve God for most of your adult life and you wind up with crummy accommodations in a Roman prison cell!
The Apostle Paul invites us today to join him in experiencing the blessing of suffering. We have been getting some interesting answers to our survey question posted on our website. The Question is…Presently, what is your greatest fear? Answers include: Snakes, Bears, Nuclear War, The Dark, Failure, Losing my job, My wife dying before me, The process of dying, One of my kids gets kidnapped, Not being accepted, My kids will walk away from God! I’m curious. Do you think Jesus wanted to succumb to any fears while he was on this earth? Maybe the fear that we would only love him for what he would give us? Honestly, I’ve done that before. Oh God you are so great. Thank you for giving me this, this and this. God, you keep stuff like coming and I’ll love ya till the day I die! Can you imagine a marriage built on that same reasoning? I only married you for what you can give me and the day things start going south, the time we lose income, the moment I begin to hurt, buddy, sister – I’m out the door. No marriage can survive unless there’s faithfulness in both the better and the worse!
It blows my mind that Paul sits in a Roman prison cell all because he spoke up for God. He wouldn’t stop declaring that Jesus rose from the dead. “You Athenians worship a god you don’t know – let me introduce you to a God who I know personally!” Can you imagine being in prison? Have you been following the story of Sarah Shourd, her fiancée Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal? They were detained on July 31, 2009 by Iranian authorities while hiking across an unmarked border from Iraq into Iran. Sarah was released just a few days ago after being held in solitary confinement for more than a year only being able to see her two friends for two 30 minute periods a day. Shane and Josh are still in captivity! I’m NOT sure what these three will say about prison. But Paul’s life shows us there’s blessing in suffering!
I don’t know how you define suffering? For Paul right now it’s the loss of his freedom. It’s the loss of comfort. He’s in prison. I would guess that nearly all suffering involves the loss of someone or something! The Bible gives us a list of blessings that result because of suffering. Jesus tells us our reward in heaven will be great.[vii] Peter tells us that our suffering means we can relate with Jesus’ pain.[viii] Suffering forces us to look to heaven. Suffering gives us a life altering paradigm shift. We now realize that this world is temporary. James tells us that suffering produces perseverance.[ix] And since we live in a world of instant gratification, perseverance is exactly what we need. James promises that enduring suffering will grant us the very crown of life that God promised him. Suffering will almost always produce humility. You want to be a humble person because if you won’t humble yourself on your own – God will do it for you! Suffering also provides a tangible gift – it’s called a testimony. Mike & Cindy Bish have a testimony to share because of Sam’s battle with cancer. Your story provides the way for people to hear God’s story. Paul wrote five of his 13 NT letters while in prison. Paul could have sulked. He could have become depressed. He could have become bitter. Why didn’t he? Because Paul was already a prisoner before he went to jail. Are you? Has God captured your heart? (Thorn image) Several weeks ago my family and I went to eat dinner at Donatos. We ordered a large pizza and everyone ate but there were four slices of pizza left. So I looked at those slices and said let’s talk fractions. And my daughter Jeanna said, no way – this is Friday Night and I don’t do math on the weekends.
[i] www.E-sword.net/Matthew 5:3
[ii] www.E-sword.net/Ephesians 1:3
[iii] Encarta Dictionary: North America English/Eulogy
[iv] Hugh Halter, The Tangible Kingdom Seminar, September 16, 2010
[v] FoxNews.com – Maryland Woman leaves $40G worth of coins at church, 11/19/09
[vi] Wilkinson & Boa, Talk Thru the New Testament, 402
[vii] Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
[viii] 1 Peter 3-4 (NIV)
[ix] James 1:2-3 (NIV)