Living Faithfully in Trying Time/Part 4
|By: Michael Easley; ©2010 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Edited for publication.|
|Frederick Haupt, a German scholar, writes, “The endurance of the Christian will not be complaining, weary, despondent, or grumbling. It is inspired and filled with a pious and heroic will”—don’t you like that?—“a pious and heroic will to hold firm in persevering. The Christian is not referred to by his own power but the needed power of resistance is given to him by God Himself.”|
©2010 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Edited for publication.
Second Corinthians 1:7: “Our hope for you is firmly grounded.” That’s a good little nail in this letter, because this letter gets ugly at times. “Our hope in you is firmly grounded.” Verses 8 through 11 talk about patient enduring. We don’t have time to look at it all. But endurance is the capacity to bear up under the face of difficulty. And one little caveat for you Bible students, BSF, or Precept folks: you know, we use the word longsuffering in our New Testament, patience. This is a different word. Longsuffering and patience is more the idea of life. This word for endurance means enduring people. Now, think about that! It’s the endurance of problem people that he’s talking about here, not the endurance of the problems life throws at us—cancer and all that. It’s the people we’ve got to put up with.
At my father’s funeral a few days ago, there were some people in there that I just wanted to give them a “dope slap,” you know. I just wanted to say, “My dad’s dead. My mother is broken hearted. Would you just shut up?” I mean, I’m sorry, that’s the cynical side of the Christian part of me. You know, just snap out of it! What are you talking about? There’s a grieving old woman over there who’s devastated, burying her husband, her life partner. And there’s three of her adult children that are trying to figure each other out after 19 years; and grandchildren and relatives from out of town. This is not about you! We’re supposed to endure those people. I’d like to do something else with them, but I can’t.
Frederick Haupt, a German scholar, writes, “The endurance of the Christian will not be complaining, weary, despondent, or grumbling. It is inspired and filled with a pious and heroic will”—don’t you like that?—“a pious and heroic will to hold firm in persevering. The Christian is not referred to by his own power but the needed power of resistance is given to him by God Himself.”
Verse 8, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead: who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.”
Third and last, our hope and confidence regardless of our circumstance. As earlier, we have the accumulation of Paul’s trials, now we see Paul on his knees. Very quickly, four observations under this affliction: burdened excessively; beyond our strength; despaired of life; the sentence of death. Each is a message in itself.
Burdened excessively—it’s overwhelming; beyond our strength. Have you ever baled hay? I baled hay one time in my life, and I asked God that I would never have to bale hay ever again as long as I live. I mean, those 75-pound bales, when I was 20-something; I mean, I was tossing them on the truck in perfect order, in line. And by the end of the night they weighed 862 pounds apiece. I mean, I’m dragging them up my shins and up my waist, and I got more hay in my nose than in the back of the truck. And the top of the hay pile was a leaning tower of Pisa. I mean, it was a disaster. And I was doing it for a friend for free. How stupid could I be? I was beyond my strength.
Despaired of life. A young couple—brand-new 28-year-old pastor, in the first church I served in—the couple had a stillborn 8, 9-month-old baby boy. Perfect baby boy. The father was Middle Eastern, the mom was an American of Greek descent. And I went to the hospital. And he was a big man. And when he saw me, he wailed. I’d never heard a man wail before. And you know how hospital halls are linoleum and tile and concrete. And the sound, I mean, it was unbelievable. I had my little tiny poplin suit on, I was a 180-pound stick, and this huge guy is coming at me, and just hangs on me, and is sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. I had never encountered a guy like this before. And I just kept patting him and patting him. I don’t know how long; it went on for eternity. And then, finally, I’m walking around the corner, and then I see his wife, and we start all over again. And the weight of these two, I’m looking for a seat! He was a huge guy.
So we’re finally sitting down and then she finally catches herself, and she goes, “I want you to come hold my son.” I’m 28 years old; I don’t know, you know, the Bible from anything, and I’m going to go hold a dead baby. She takes me down into this room of stainless steel and this little guy wrapped in a little blanket. And the nurse hands me this little 8-pound-and-change, perfectly-formed baby boy who’s still warm. His fingers and toes are perfect; his eyelashes are formed; he’s got a little fuzz on his head; not a thing wrong with this little guy, except that he’s dead. What would you say? Some of you maybe have been there. What would you want to hear? I didn’t know what to say. Despaired of life: the two of them despaired of life. They did not want to live.
Paul says we have the sentence of death on us. They were hopeless.
Five lessons. Number one, you have to reframe your view of suffering. I have to reframe my view of suffering; you have to reframe your view of suffering. You cannot let the world teach you theology. You must reframe, recalibrate, re-attenuate, constantly change your view of suffering in your life. As one of you shared with me, you’re depressed; one of you shared with me some of your troubles and problems; one of you shared some of your medical issues; some of you have some church challenges. You’ve got to reframe the suffering. You can’t blame a person; you can’t point the finger; you can’t start the fighting. You’ve got to reframe the problem. Your God is sovereign even though you suffer, period. I’ve got to remind myself of that when I’m at my worst. I’ve got to reframe the situation. I want the spiritual ibuprofen; I want the spiritual narcotics; I want to learn what God wants to teach me so I can get over this. I want to know why; I want to know how. We may never know.
We went through a period where everybody was blaming their parents. Some of you men and women in this room, your children probably came back and blamed you for stuff. And there was a period when Christian psychology really went way out of bounds, in my humble opinion. I think it’s good; I think it’s necessary; but sometimes I think it’s a little goofy. And it went way out of bounds for a while. And everybody’s parents were evil, that was the big phrase. “Your parents were evil.” Well, yeah, we’re all evil. Next question? I mean like, okay, so what? Blame mom and dad for everything? And it hit me one day in the middle of a sermon I was preaching on this. I said, “You know what? Maturity is when you stop blaming mom and dad and you own your own sin. That’s when you’ve started to grow up. Yes, my father abandoned me; yes, my father abused me; yes, these things happened to me. God is sovereign! Am I going to live the rest of my life because my dad did this or didn’t do that, or my mom did this or didn’t? What a sorry life! Grow up! Learn to work through it. That’s maturity. Reframing, reframing.
Number two, there is divine purpose in suffering, but we may never know it this side of heaven. This is where my daughter always gets real sanctimonious, and she says, “Dad, I hate these Christians who always say, ‘Well, you’re going to learn some great purpose for your suffering’.” She’s too much like me. It’s really scary. She says, “Dad, you know.” Because she’s heard me say, “I don’t know. I don’t even try to find out anymore.” As I said yesterday, I don’t ask why, I ask how to live.
When I was in one church, I did a lot of counseling. I don’t anymore, because I’m not any good at it. I did a lot of counseling in the first church I served. And I would go get these continuing education units. And one of the classes I went to was a former police officer that started working exclusively with the teens who got involved in the occult. And he would go into a crime scene, whether it was kids playing around with the Ouija board or pentagram, or whether it was the real deal. This is in the early 80s, so this was pretty leading edge stuff. This was before computers; this was images he had taken pictures of and made slide presentations of. For six and a half hours I sat in a psychiatric hospital where he was teaching those of us who needed continuing education degrees for our counseling. And he was showing us these slides. He looked like a Harley Davidson rider, and he was not a Christian.
And he was going on and on about all the things he’d seen, and he’d try to come back to abusive fathers, sexually abusive men in their life, early exposure to the occult. He defined the occult in certain terms. He didn’t believe in God, but he believed in the devil. It was very interesting, because that’s what he had seen as a cop. He’d seen what people had done. And I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “We get these kids who’ve come out of these really abusive satanic relationships, and we finally get them isolated for a long enough period of time.” He did a lot of this himself. And he said, “The tipping point is when I can get them to understand this one issue: there are some questions, some ‘why’ questions, you’ll never have answered.” And if you can’t accept that—there are some ‘why’ questions you’re never going to have answered—you’re not going to get through this. But then he would assure these kids, “If you can say, ‘I may never know the answer to why that happened to me,’” he would say, “I can promise you we can help you get through this.” And he had the evidence and the kids to prove it.
I thought, what a great spiritual analogy. There are some why questions, I don’t know the divine purpose. But if I trust my Savior and say, “Where was I when you made the heavens? Where was I when the light began? Where was I when the floodgates opened? Where was I when the morning sun dawned? Where was I when the earth revolved? Where was I…?” I don’t need to know. I need to know that He knows, and be satisfied with not knowing why.
Number three, suffering may enable us to help others IF we suffer well. Suffering may enable us to help others IF we suffer well. In 1 Peter 2:20, I’ve written in the margin of my Bible, “Easley, if you’re going to suffer, don’t suffer for self-inflicted stupidity.” The verse says, if we suffer for sin we’re stupid. That’s my paraphrase. If you’re going to suffer, suffer for something that you should suffer for; but don’t suffer ‘because you shot yourself’ kind of suffering.
And so, if we suffer well. And so, I think, I hope, I can help those who live with chronic pain. And it seems when I talk about backs and bad pain, people line up to talk to me about backs and bad pain. I didn’t choose this one, you know. I wanted the train with one track that went slow. I didn’t get that one; I got this one. Some of you have had an abortion, and so a young woman who is facing an abortion needs to talk to you. Some of you had an affair and you’ve worked through that; and a young man or woman who’s dabbled with an affair needs to talk to you. Some of you have had a son or daughter that’s broken your heart in a thousand bits, and you still pray for them, and I’d bring up their name and you’d sob. And you need to help some poor parent who’s got a kid in the making like that. Some of you buried a husband or a wife; and when she loses her husband, he loses his wife, you need to go talk to them.
And you don’t have to have any answers. Barbara lives with pain; that’s why I want to talk to Barbara, not because of anything else. She’s lived with it longer and tougher than me, and she gets it. If you and I suffer humbly and well, others will gain from our pain. If you and I suffer humbly and well, we will comfort others.
Four, at the end of the day we only have God to trust because, verse 9, “it is He who raises the dead.” I love the way Paul puts that in there. “Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust ourselves.” In other words, you’re going to die, Paul. That was the verdict given. Well, nothing I can do about it; I’ve got to trust God now. That’s the end of the story. God takes all the props away. You know what the mortality rate is, don’t you? One hundred percent. You know what the margin of error is? Zero. We’re all going to die. Joyful sermon! Work out, eat right, do good work, train well, invest well, you might die before you get to enjoy any of the labors. But at the end of the day, I trust in God, not in my measly little plans. My good friend Dave Ramsey says, “Cash is king,” and I go, “Not when you’re dead, Dave.” It’s left to your kids, somebody else. Today’s serving the king: that’s all I’ve got.
Five, prayer. Verse 11 specifically states, “joining in helping us through your prayers so that thanks may be given by many persons on the behalf of the favor bestowed on us, that the prayers of many….” The apostle is convinced that people’s prayers helped. And this is the great mystery. And the lesson is simply this: prayer is. Prayer is. Prayer doesn’t work or not work; that’s a non sequitur. Prayer is. Prayer is a relationship; prayer is dependence upon Him; prayer is need when I can’t work it out; prayer is when the props are gone. And I have concluded that most of the pain I endure in my life is because, if I didn’t have it, I would not pray. Most of the troubles he brings across my path are because I’ve got no solutions, but I can pray to one who does. And this text tells me, Paul said prayer helped.
Now, many people say, “I could tell people were praying for me. I can tell people are praying for me.” When I came out of the hospital it was, “What did you learn?” Everybody was so eager, like, “The pastor’s going to speak. Let’s all listen.” I go, “You know, I didn’t learn nothing yet. I learned my neck hurts really bad, and I’m in a foul mood. That’s what I’ve learned. Leave me alone.” And Cindy rolls her eyes and walks away: “Some spiritual pastor I married!” If half of the people who told me, “I prayed,”… I have some people that say they pray for me every day. I believe they do, but I also think some of them lie. I don’t even pray for myself every day. Some of you are really godly and you pray every day. I’m just not that godly. I pray every day, but not necessarily for the same thing every day. But anyway, I have people that say, “I pray for you every single day.” And I’d say to the Lord, when they say that, “Lord, if half the people who tell me that are telling me the truth, it’s a good thing.” Because if they quit, I’d probably evaporate right here, right now. I’d just be gone, because my flesh and my will and my self control are so weak and fragile and frail sometimes that I say God must be holding me together somehow, because I ain’t doing a very good job of it. And that’s what I point to. I don’t know if that’s what it means, but that’s what I point to to say I believe that’s what’s happening, is that the prayers of the saints are holding me together. Because I’ve got no explanation for it.
And there are days when I have extraordinary strength and energy and I go home and I say, “God, bless you.” And there are days when I feel like I have been run over by a gravel truck from every direction and I go, “God, bless you.” I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with all that, but I’m going to try.
Phillips Brooks, 1884, one of my favorite quotes: “The reason we are led into trouble and out again is not merely that we may value happiness more from having lost it once and found it again, but that we may know something which we did not know except by that teaching; that we may bear upon our nature some impress”—isn’t that great?—“that we may bear upon our nature some impress which could not have been stamped except on natures just so softened to receive it.” I love that! We’re led in and out of trouble, not just to learn something and get over it, but it softens you, so that then his impress can leave a mark that otherwise we would not have received. The Candle of the Lord, 1884, by Phillips Brooks.
Some of you have heard me talk about my story of friendship with Floyd Sharp. Floyd was a mentor to me for 15 years. He was a retired psychologist. He was a drug salesman with a pharmaceutical company for 16 years. And he contracted bone cancer. It took them a long time to diagnose it, and when they did it was too late. And there were probably no less than 20 errors on the medical community’s part. And as they got into it and found out the extent of the bone cancer, they started having him sign these waivers with all his treatments, because they knew how liable they were. It was a real disaster.
And Floyd was one of the strongest Christian men I ever knew. Floyd looked sort of like Hemingway: cropped beard and hair the same length, salt-and-pepper; glasses; he wore, remember those zip-up suits? Some of you guys probably still have those jumpsuits, like you work in. He wore those almost every day, with black Reebok high-top tennis shoes. And he would take smiley stickers and stick them on himself. Got a picture? Tall drink-o-water Texan, always had a cup of coffee in his hand, and he had this laugh that went “Haw-haw-haw-haw.” His favorite television show was Gunsmoke. Got a picture of the guy?
We’d go to Luby’s Cafeteria, and he would look at the woman behind the counter with the hair net, serving the carrots and the raisin salad, and he’d say, “You look like you need a hug.” She’d leave her station and walk all the way down to the cash register and come out and hug Floyd. And these little ladies: “Well, where’s my hug?” and one by one, the lines, the food serving stopped, and all these old ladies in hair nets are hugging Floyd. I’m going, “How does he get away with this?” And we go back in line; you should have seen the food on his plate when we got to the end of the line. I mean, it was hanging off the plate. And he had this standard thing he did every time he went. The manager would come by and go, “How’s your lunch, Floyd?” He’d go, “These beans are not hot.” Every time he did this. They’d bring him out a big bowl of beans: he’d smile. A second bowl of beans. He was a character.
He had the gift of encouragement. He often said, “You know, Michael, I don’t know how to counsel.” He’d stated a counseling ministry. “I don’t know how sexual addictions and all these problems, I’m just an encourager. I’m just an encourager.” His second career was to become a Christian psychologist. And he did it until he was 72 and died of bone cancer.
Floyd read Calvin in the morning, memorized Psalms on his walks, quoted the Psalms back to me, knew the Bible better than any layman I ever knew. He happened to be the chairman of an Elder Board of a little unknown church in Irving, Texas, that hired some guy named Chuck Swindoll in 1960. Floyd was one of the wisest men I’ve ever known, and a friend for 15 years.
He taught me how to be a dad. He taught me how to encourage my kids. He said, “Michael, make memories, make memories.” I’d go home; I’d say, “Floyd, Cindy and I are just like this, just like this.” He’d say, “Not the same, but let me tell you a story.” And he’d tell me some story about Deborah. He called her “Delightful Deborah.” Delightful Deborah. And he’d tell me some story and then he’d look into the distance. He’d go, “She’s an enigma to me.” A lot of help you are! You’re supposed to help me with my marriage. And what was he saying, “You ain’t going to figure it out, Michael. You’re not going to figure it out.” He said, “Michael, you know what your problem is? You’re thinking logically. That’s your problem. This isn’t about thinking logically; it’s about how she feels. Forget logic, forget solving the problem, forget logic.” Every time! “Michael, you know what your problem is?” “I know, I’m thinking logically.” “That’s right. You haven’t learned it, though.” He was just full of that kind of witticism.
Floyd shared Christ with people all the time and in a masterful way. His heart was getting enlarged because of the bone cancer. There’s a cascade of events that happens as you die and your body starts to give up. And they went in and said, “We have to try to put a couple of stents in or this enlarged heart is going to kill you. It’s going to buy just a little bit of time, maybe some weeks or months, but if we don’t do something you’re going to die really soon.” And so they prayed and talked as a family and they agreed to do the procedure. I talked to him a couple of days before the procedure. He was in another part of Texas, I was in Virginia at the time. We laughed and cried and prayed on the phone.
I got a call from his daughter that morning and she said, “Michael, Floyd died on the operating table.” She said, “His last act on earth, after he kissed Deborah and me good-bye, the doctor came in and told him all the things that could go wrong and all the things that… and he said, ‘Stop. Stop. You’ve told me that already.’ And he grabbed his arm and he said, ‘Dr. So-and-so, I know you’re going to do your best. I’m not worried about you. You’re going to do your best. I want you to promise me, though, that you’ll investigate the claims of Jesus Christ that you and I have talked about so many times. Will you promise me that?’ And held onto his arm.” And that doctor came, over an hour one-way, to his funeral that I served, at Floyd’s memorial, and sat in the far back row, because he’d never had a patient like Floyd.
That’s the way I want to go. “The comfort with which we are comforted,” so that when others go through those afflictions…. And, my friend, I’m here to give you some bad but good news—it’s going to get tough at times. But if you can hold your breath for the wave to crest, your feet will hit the bottom and there’ll be some sand down there. And you’ll get another breath and you’ll get going again. And you may be the one to comfort someone in the way they need more than you’ll ever comprehend.
I believe that about you. Do you?
Father, we need your help. In Christ’s name. Amen.