Redeeming Pain

When history speaks, do we listen?

by Terry Powell

It’s one thing to say that God’s sovereignty redeems our pain or weakness for a greater purpose. It’s another thing altogether to see a vivid illustration of the truth.

David Brainerd (1718-1747) took the gospel of Christ to Indians in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, often living alone with sparse food rations and exposure to cold. Extremely melancholy in temperament, Brainerd endured long episodes of joylessness, often slinking into despair over awareness of his sin, or over an incapacity to feel more love for the people he was trying to reach. Physical frailty accompanied his psychological anguish. He died of tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday.

A couple years after launching missionary work among the Indians, in 1845, God’s Spirit brought a spiritual awakening in New Jersey. Within a year, the church Brainerd started numbered 130.

Brainerd kept diaries in which he described bouts of despondency, disclosed his consciousness of sin in light of God’s holiness, and recounted efforts to evangelize the Indians. Their pages teem with honest self-disclosure as well as desperate dependence on God for physical and emotional sustenance.

Twenty-two places in his diaries he yearned for death as an escape from his misery. Yet he persisted in proclaiming Christ, even when his own temperamental makeup eclipsed his ability to experience the joy inherent in the gospel. One entry revealed his acceptance of weakness and deeply-entrenched desire to finish well: “Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God… Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey.”

After his death, the fruit of Brainerd’s life multiplied exponentially. In 1749, Jonathan Edwards, in whose home Brainerd died, took the diaries and published them as a Life of Brainerd, a book that’s never been out of print. Renown missionaries and leaders galvanized by Brainerd’s story include John Wesley, Henry Martyn, William Carey, Robert McCheyne, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray, and Jim Elliot.

The borders of Brainerd’s impact weren’t expanded in spite of his emotional and physical afflictions, but because of them.

His story resonates with so many servants over the years because when push comes to shove, they, too, wrestle with sinful propensities, episodes of despondency, and physical frailties. They believe they are candidates for the same divine grace they observe in Brainerd’s life. John Piper, himself buoyed by Brainerd’s story, offers this apt summary statement: “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”

How can God use you despite physical or emotional frailty?

For biblical indicators that God uses weak, needy people, read these texts: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9-10. Resources quoted are The Life of David Brainerd, by Jonathan Edwards, and The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction on the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, by John Piper.


Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Terry has a new blog at http://www.penetratingthedarkness.com. It deals with the believer’s depression and other mental issues. Please visit him and tell him “Hi” from me.

Discernment and Your Ministry

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“He begs God on behalf of a human
as a person begs for his friend.”

Job 16:21, NCV

I’ve been thinking about a class I had in Bible School.  The instructor made a comment that has stuck in my thinking for over 30 years now.  I have relied on it countless times in ministry since. It has helped me piece together certain issues of the heart.

When we “preach” to a person, we are actively accelerating the judgement of God in their life. When we pray for that same person, we delay this judgement and allow more room for the Holy Spirit to work.

 

Preaching

Now I know this is a generalization, and yet the basic premise of preaching and praying has a specific action.  When you preach, you are calling that person to make a decision.  They meet up with the truth and must decide for themselves.  This is a very sensitive moment.  If they consider your message at all– you must understand, one way or the other, that it will require a decision.  Either they act on it, or they’ll decide to reject it.

Within the Bible we often see judgement coming to someone, and very often it comes right after a “declaration of the truth” by a witness or a sermon.  Those who hear the word must choose to believe it, or spurn it.  Even a neutral position is a position. A decision must be made on all light that comes their way.

Prayer

Perhaps this may be easier to see.  The Word is full of men and women who interceded for others.  If preaching accelerates God’s judgement on a person (or group,) than prayer decelerates it.  In a sense, authentic intercession can give them more time.  It delays things, without approving them.

A classic case is Abraham.  He intercedes, and by doing so desires to save and deliver God’s own.  He “stands in the gap” for the unaware.  We see him “negotiating” with the Lord, trying to make a deal of sorts. He is bold and somewhat presumptuous. And actually, this is a regular occurrence with different circumstances.  Many in scripture do seem to get intensely involved in the lives of the people they represent.

“I will surely not stop praying for you, because that would be sinning against the Lord. I will teach you what is good and right.” 

1 Samuel 12:23

 Conclusion

Should we preach or pray?  We must consider, I think, the certain obligations of both.  I believe at the end of a person’s life, they have had both dynamics working.  Its like the tide– it ebbs and then advances, and perhaps that will help us to do the right thing at the right time.  We understand the necessity of preaching, and just as important the work of prayer.  We must do both, but grasp the issues behind each work.  Both are necessary for one to come to faith in Jesus.

Seeing the effects of our actions brings us into a deeper understanding of the life in the Spirit.  It motivates and will guide us.  We start to understand the Lord’s ways and become aware of what is happening in the world that is around us. This new discernment can only sharpen our work.

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Some Things Must Be ‘Prayed In’ [Intercession]

Apostle-Paul

16 “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should,

  • how wide,
  • how long,
  • how high,
  • and how deep his love is. 

19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Ephesians 3:16-19, NLT (My bullet points)

Paul has a ‘rocking’ prayer life. The church of Ephesus would have swelled on the spot with such an amazing prayer. I have to believe that sometimes preaching and worship isn’t enough. There is a need for intercessory prayer instead.

Prayer interjects what preaching can’t. Good worship is critical, but there are needful things that are only drilled in by prayer. Paul knows this, and even though he is quite far away, he can disciple that church at a distance– through prayer. Prayer is Paul’s way of touching the church, even across the ocean!

Paul's cell at Mamertine
Paul’s cell at Mamertine

Most of our Bible heroes had seasons of  intercession.

Abraham for instance, stood and begged God for Lot’s life. Moses beseeched on behalf of Israel. Of course, Samuel and David would stand on Israel’s behalf. These are men who regarded intercessory prayer as a critical part of their walk. They ‘stood in the gap’ so others might live.

In Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, it seems he wants to solidify some essential things within them. The prayer is marvelous. He has a confidence that he is making a difference in the spiritual lives of the church, even if he is chained to a guard in Rome. Ministry doesn’t have to be restricted by distance.

There are powerful truths in this part of Ephesians, and will penetrate the hearts of the hearers. With Paul confined and unable to visit the church, he must revive the heart of an intercessor. I hope you find someone to pray for.

”Jesus Christ carries on intercession for us in heaven; the Holy Ghost carries on intercession in us on earth; and we the saints have to carry on intercession for all men.”

–Oswald Chambers

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The Hiding Place– Corrie ten Boom Learns to Forgive

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“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32, NLT

Great hearts are often shuttled through experiences with intense forgiving. The Father tutors us through out our earthly lives, with many visits to this classroom. It is here we get our learning. It will happen several times in our walk, and we carry different nuances, or slants. Each time we are required to forgive authentically. The course is set for us. We can’t choose to skip these lessons without injuring ourselves, and harming others.

We are learning to love– it is our calling and destiny. There are no “accidents” or misaligned ‘drop-outs’ here. We step into our classroom, and the Teacher and Comforter begins His instruction. Many things will strike you as diabolical. Deep inside us we have simply no idea of how “this” will turn out for good. And you’d be right. But the power of God steps in, and “all is well”.

Corrie ten Boom-- Writer, speaker, Christian
Corrie ten Boom– Writer, speaker, Christian

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian. After her release from a Nazi concentration camp, she began traveling the world and speaking to any who would have her. The needs of postwar Europe were desperate. She traveled as an evangelist telling people who Jesus is and spoke about His redemption. She gave many people hope.

Through her travels she came in contact with a few of the guards that had been a part of the Nazi regime and had to practice forgiveness that only Jesus can bring. The first encounter with one of her previous jailers proved to be most difficult.

Here is an excerpt from her book, “The Hiding Place”.

“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

She then took his hand and the most incredible thing happened.

From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Corrie’s Wisdom for Us

  1. There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.
  2. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
  3. It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.
  4. When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
  5. Faith is like radar that sees through the fog-the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.
  6. Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

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Thoughts from Other Believers

Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.    Author Unknown

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.   C.S. Lewis

There is such a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It takes two to reconcile, so it is not always possible to be reconciled. But it takes only one to forgive. So if people do you wrong, forgive them, whether or not they ask for forgiveness. You cannot cancel their sin. Only God can do that, and He will only do it if they repent. But what you can do is set aside your own anger, bitterness, and resentment towards them.   Philip Graham Ryken

Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”  Ken Sande

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For her efforts to hide Jews from arrest and deportation during the German occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) received recognition from the Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” on December 12, 1967.

“The Hiding Place” and her many other books can be purchased at Amazon.com. It really must be read and there is a movie out with the same name.

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Preaching, Without Preaching

One-filled-with-joy-preaches-without-preaching.―-Mother-Teresa-Quotes

“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10

“Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.”

Psalm 33:1

There is a power emitted from a life of joy.

We can see it and hear it in the lives of joy transformed people; many others, not so much. The deep joy we see is the most significant evidence we can know of the real presence of Jesus Christ. As we journey with joy, we become a living ‘billboard’ of God’s reality.

This is an awesome thing, when you think about it. But it also ‘takes the pressure off’ a believer’s witness to a watching world. The light is God’s, and when it shines out of us it is the ‘clincher’ for many people. (So, you should relax some.)

My first contact with Christians was at a ‘hippie’ commune in the early 70s. These were ‘Jesus People’ and when I saw peace and joy in their faces, I just knew it was real. It wasn’t anything that was said, rather it was the way they said it. Their countenance was filled with a joy that couldn’t be faked. (I would’ve known it if it was.)

Evangelism has more in common with joy than with a formulaic presentation. It is good to know ‘the Romans Road’ method of preaching; it is far better to know the God behind it. The witness of joy will significantly touch hearts when nothing else will. There is no better witness to an unbeliever than ‘Jesus inside’ a believer!’

I led teams of evangelists in the streets from 1986-1989 with S.O.S. Ministries in San Francisco and Berkeley. We distributed tens of thousands of tracts and Bibles. I learned to preach at ‘the cable car turn-around’ on the streets at Powell and Market, and many other places. We would always prepare out hearts beforehand by a time of praise and worship. We would seek the ‘infilling of the Holy Spirit’ before we stepped out into the city.

The infilling part was critical, and we knew it. The methodology could be learned– but we weren’t salesmen. We had to be ‘in tune’ with the Holy Spirit first and foremost. Today, 2014 we still must radiate Jesus to those who don’t know Him yet. Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is the net we use to catch souls.”

Come away with Jesus, and spend real time with him. Joy and peace will follow you when you truly meet with him. He makes his servants shine. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.’

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Further Reading from Brokenbelievers.com:

https://brokenbelievers.com/2014/03/14/catching-hearts-like-fish/

https://brokenbelievers.com/2011/10/20/is-evangelism-our-greatest-fear/

 

 

The Fishbowl and Your Pastor

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”  Anon.

“A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation.”  A.W. Tozer

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Having been a senior pastor for three years, and in full-time ministry 20+ years, I have had to adjust to the constant surveillance of my life and my families. To be so visible, was wearying and maybe even demeaning at times. I was constantly “center-stage.” It’s funny but these two ingredients– the fishbowl and a pastor’s love for his/her people combine to create quite the interesting concoction. There is nothing like it. But overall, the fact is we are now quite visible to all.

However there is a special momentum you see when you are a pastor, you have a real sense of things moving , (if they really are.) However your flock will keep you both humbled and elated by their antics. You also will continually fight with the idea of ownership– but you don’t own them, God does! He will make sure you understand this, over and over. The flock is His, you are only a partial excuse, out from His will.

First of all, every pastor is a sinner. They have weaknesses and faults just like church members. This is not to say that they are not to live as an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3) and are not to have met certain moral qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). But we must be realistic about their sinful nature. They will continually do battle with the old nature which is still part of their lives, and will do so as long as they live. Pastors can be pretty ignorant at times. It does seem to be that folly is the human condition. They should understand this.

Total victory over sin will not be won in this life. Sanctification will take place; victories will occur; bad habits and sins will be overcome – but there will be many battles to fight until the day of glory… Remember that your pastor and his family constantly live in a fishbowl for all the church to see – and sometimes the sight is not always going to be particularly attractive.

They are humans also! The fishbowl life has its own special work in the pastor’s heart. Sometimes I believe His call on us is the deep point He makes in order to save us. It may be true. that those who are called “pastors” are those who are the most desperate, who really need to have this call in order to save us.

“God uses prisons to train people for future roles of leadership or martyrdom.’  Chuck Colson

Pray for your Pastor, pray for his/her family. This is by far and away the most significant work you could do for them. If they preach well, tell them. They want to know (even if they say they don’t!) Encourage their spouses, they alone have to live with failure and discouragement “behind the scenes”, without an outlet. They do know the real person who is a pastor. And please remember this, they are not your servants, but your friends.

Rattlin-Red-Bird

October is Pastor Appreciation Month–

You still have time to do something– (Like an Amazon Gift Card. “hint! hint!”)

Partial Source for post: A section from an email from Grace Notes, Curtis C. Thomas
Life in the Body of Christ, Founders Press, 2006, p. 151, 153,
 

A Pastor’s Transformation

Pastor-homeless-peoplePastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured left) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.

The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited– Matthew 25:31-46.

 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”

He then dismissed service until next week.

Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.

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Bryan’s Note: Some have made this account to be nothing more than a “urban myth,” kind of a good piece of  Christian “schlock” that never happened. I personally can’t say for sure. I simply can’t vouch for its veracity. But all I really know is that it speaks to me in many ways about following Jesus. For that alone, I am thankful.

More of Jesus, less of Bryan.

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.