Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 4

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
Things do happen to make us lose heart. Things happen to discourage us. Things happen, life is broken. We go through heartache, through divorce, through disease, through illnesses, through diagnosis that we don’t want to hear. How do we hang on to hope?

Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 4

This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.

[This is the conclusion of Part 3]

[Mark 14:58, hang on. We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands. And in three days I will build another made without hands.” Jesus’ words. Write it down. You’re going to want to look at it later, Mark 14:58.]
I will destroy this temple made with hands. Is He talking about the temple complex? No, I’ll destroy this temple that was made with hands. What’s He referring to? Adam, born of the lineage of man. My body is fully incarnate, just like yours, I’m decomposing, Buckley said. Jesus said the same thing. The one made with hands is decomposing. Apart from the nephesh, the soul, the breath of God, the image of God, the soul that is within us, we’re nothing but a few minerals and compounds and a bunch of moisture. And in three days I will build another one made without hands. Christ’s incarnate body, John 1:14, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” What’s that word mean? You heard it translated in the King James “tabernacle”. The word became flesh and tabernacled. It’s the same word. It’s a tent. It tabernacled among us. It wasn’t Him; it was Him. It wasn’t Him; it was Him. Blow your mind trying to figure it out. Fully God, fully man.
Now look at 2 Corinthians 4:18. “Looking at what is seen, but toward the eternal.” We groan.” See that in chapter 5 verse 2: “We groan.” It also shows up in verse 4, “we groan.” “Groan” is an expression we think of as a complaint. If someone tells a really bad joke it’s a groaner. But “groan” is not used in this way. This is an involuntary response. That’s what it means. It’s an involuntary response.
When I sleep at night, some nights I don’t sleep so well and Cindy will say to me in the morning, “You didn’t sleep well last night.” And I try to ignore it and I just don’t listen to her. And she says, “You didn’t sleep well last night, did you?” And I go, “No.” “You know how I knew?” We’ve only had this discussion 18,000 times. I say, “How’d you know?” “Every time you turned over you went ohhh. You groaned and I could tell you were in pain.” Now I’m sleeping through it half the time. I’m not conscious of what I’m doing. She says, “I know when you’re in pain because I hear you groan every time you move. And other nights when you move you don’t groan and I know you’re probably sleeping a little better.” It’s an involuntary response to an undesirable circumstance.
Now here’s the kick in the pants. The word here is stenazo, which means a narrowing or a constricting. And if you’ve had stents put in or in my case, cervical stenosis where the vertebral bone was squeezing my spinal cord and if they didn’t cut it open and put some rods and pins and screws back there to hold it in place I’d be in a wheelchair today. And you get stenosis in your arterial, you can have arterial stenosis. You can have mitral valve stenosis. I have spinal stenosis. That’s what it is.
Look again at it. “We groan, longing to be clothed,” verse 2, “our dwelling, inasmuch as having put it on, we don’t want to be found naked. For indeed while we’re in this tent we groan, being burdened.” We’re being squeezed to death, an involuntary response to an undesirable circumstance. And all God’s people said amen. We’re going to groan in these shells. It’s not just a run-of-the-mill groaning. It’s a groaning and a longing to be clothed on heaven from high.
What’s he saying here twice, verse 2 and verse 4? “I don’t want to die because I don’t want the process, but I have to die to live.” We’re not living right now, men and women. We’re dying. I’m dying. You’re dying. Everybody’s dying. Die, die, die, die, die. Die so we can live. We can really live. We don’t want to be unclothed. The metaphor is I don’t want to face death. Swallowed up is another one. It’s just a mind boggle. We could go on with this for hours but you’re about to go to sleep so I’ve got to quit.
“The mortal experience will be swallowed up.” How is it swallowed? What does swallowed up mean in the Old Testament? Good thing, bad thing? When the tribe, Korites, had the contraband, swallowed up. The earth opened up and swallowed them. It’s not a good term, in other words. It’s not a good thing for the earth to swallow you up. You see the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when, you know, went he after the chalice, the cup of Christ allegedly, and it’s swallowed up by the earth. Sean Connery says, “Let it go. Let it go. It’s not worth your life. Let it go.”
It is worth your life. It is your life. You’re going to get swallowed up. Swallowed up is a wonderful picture of destroying something, and that’s what’s going to happen to you and me. Verse 5: “Now He who prepared us for this very purpose.” Are you hearing what Paul is saying? He gave us a tent. It was a temporary dwelling place just like the tabernacle, just like the adam, just like the temple complex, just like Jesus’ body. Destroy this temple made with hands and I’ll raise up one made without hands.
“He who prepared us for this.” Listen to some versions, how they render it. This really helps. NIV: “God who had made us for this very purpose.” The new NIV says: “The one who has fashioned us for this very purpose.” The King’s English: “He hath wrought us for the same self thing.” This is why we needed new translations. The New King James said: “He who prepared us for this very thing.” The New Century version: “This is what God made us for.” I like that one. This is what God made us for. No matter what version you use, God has prepared us for a mortal life, such as it is, to be swallowed up by death so that we can live. I can say it again. No matter what version you use, God has prepared us for a mortal life, such as it is, to be swallowed up in death so that we can live. Kind of bizarre stuff, isn’t it? If it’s not you’re really asleep or you just don’t care.
Now, as painful as it is, it’s His design. Ordinary mortals don’t get it. He talked about jars of clay in the prior chapter. When you go to Israel someday, which I hope you will, we’ll take you to Megiddo. When we go to Megiddo there’s two things you always see at Megiddo. You see these big iron red bloodworms about that long that are everywhere. And they don’t know why they’re there, but they’re there. And then you see potsherds. And you see potsherds everywhere. You can pick up any piece of potsherd on the ground and it’s at least 1,000 years old. And when I take our groups I take them over to Caesarea Philippi. And while they’re eating lunch I sneak over to an antiquities building, and behind the antiquities building; it’s just a warehouse. They throw out in a dump pile all the stuff they’re not going to use and reclaim a number. They have the good stuff in the back, in other words, behind lock and key. But they just dump it out of the back.
I found pieces of braided pottery. I found complete handles. I found all sorts of these little jewels. And I sneak over there and I fill up a backpack with about 40 pounds of it and then I smuggle it back to the bus and then I go through the bus and give everybody an antiquity. It’s at least 2,000 years old. That stuff was the current days solo cup, water bottles, in the landfill. It’s plastic you throw away. You break it. It’s pottery. It’s nothing. It’s just pottery. Remember the Indiana Jones thing? Take an ordinary pocket watch, buy it off a street vendor for $10, bury it in the sand for 1,000 years, priceless. Why? Why? What a dumb thing.
Well, he explains what’s happening. Notice what he says. As painful as the design may be, ordinary mortals were just jars of clay, a means by which he’s doing this is to show the power of His resurrection. And to encourage us he gives us a guarantee, a pledge, a promise in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The word “pledge” here means an installment or a down payment. It’s used twice in 2 Corinthians 1:22. It’s used in Ephesians 1:14. All of them refer to the Holy Spirit as a pledge. In Modern Greek it means a deposit, and in Modern Greek it means an engagement ring. Because when you give someone an engagement ring you’re making a deposit. I’m going to marry you.
So here he says I’m giving you My Spirit as a pledge. All this you’re going to go through, this life, such as it is, this tent that’s falling about, this mortal life also that is being swallowed up, we’re fearing death. We don’t want to be naked. This is not going well. It’s life in these earthen vessels. And the way I want to show you is I’m going to give you a pledge. I’m going to give you a deposit. I’m going give you a ring. I’m going to prove to you I’ll take care of you in the person of the Holy Spirit who indwells in you and in me who have trusted Christ and Christ alone.
Well, let me give you some quick lessons. Number one: how can he be confident speaking about such realities? Dying is a daily proposition. I think the older we get, the more our physical maladies take their toll on us,, we can’t not think about dying. We just do. We think about it a lot. We lose friends. We have tragedy happen to us. I don’t want to be a morbid person. I want to be a candid real person. And I read these chapters and Paul is talking about dying. You can get around it any way you want to. You can grumble all you want and go, “I’m never going to hear that Easley guy again. He’s sick.”
I am sick and I’m dying and I’ve got my epitaph picked out. I told you I was in pain. I need frequent reminders of this mortal life also. Because in the morning when the gravel truck has run over me and I’m laying in bed and I’m sitting there going—and this is how my brain works. And it’s probably mild depression at times. I’m not embarrassed to say that because when you live with this level of pain sometimes you get a little discouraged—and you go, okay, I’ve got to get out of bed. That means I’ve got to move. That means I have to sit on the edge of the bed. That means I have to stand up. I have to walk to the bathroom. I have to visit the little room. I have to take my clothes off. I have to turn the shower on. I have to get in the shower and get wet. Then I’ve got to shave my face. I’ve got to brush my teeth.
And I can lay there for 20 minutes going, “How the heck am I going to do this?” Forgive me for saying “heck.” I shouldn’t have said that at The Cove. How in the world do I do this? And a lot of days I don’t want to get out of bed. This mortal life stinks some mornings. And I know if I get out of bed and I get in there and I take the three little pills the doctor gives me and I get in a hot shower and I get moving, in about 20 minutes I’m not quite as melancholy. And then I get the two things I need after that, oxygen and caffeine. This is oxygen and this is caffeine. God’s second and third greatest gifts to man, air-conditioning and caffeine. I sit there and I read and I wake up, literally and metaphorically. But I’ll be candid, there’s not a morning goes by I’m eager to get out of that bed. I just feel like you know what.
You? It can be emotional, physical; it can be the heartbreak of your kids, your husband, your wife, your father, your mother, your injuries as a child. Dying is a daily process.
Secondly, physical suffering may be the result of sin, but it’s always a result of the fallen nature. Sometimes you get around Christians and, you know, they’re quick to say, was there a besetting sin and maybe you confess all the sins and they want to go into our past. And I’m not against all that wholesale. I just think sometimes we’re always looking for snake oil. Sometimes I think we’re just groaning because we’re sinners and we live in a sinful condition and a sinful fallen estate. I don’t believe in global warming because the earth groans already, warm or not. I don’t worry about those things. Sure, I don’t want to pollute the environment, so forth and so on, but I’m not going to lose my salvation over it.
The earth is a tent as well, but it’s not made in the image of God. You can’t stop earthquakes and tsunamis and droughts. I love these scientists that study tsunamis. I just love it. I just love that they can convince somebody, they can bamboozle somebody to give them millions of bucks to go study tsunamis. I think this is just joyful. I think it’s just joyful. And they’ve got these things built out in the oceans and they’re studying tsunamis. And you know what they’re going to find out? Tsunamis are bad. And they’ve got lots of data to prove it. Well like Japan doesn’t know that already. The Philippines don’t know that already. We need warning systems. Oh, really! What could you have done to move a million people off a dime? You can’t do this stuff. Well, scientists are going to do it. They’re going to figure it out. Make a good pitch. Physical suffering is a result of the fall. The earth groans to be redeemed too.
Three: Americans are poor at suffering. That’s a real duh lesson, isn’t it? We are poor at suffering. The minute we get a headache we reach for the Ibuprofen or the acetaminophen, or depending on which one our doctor told us not to take. You should see the little pharmacology I carry with me. It’s crazy the pills I carry with me. I keep detailed lists of them. I monitor them. I sit there and I go I’m dying, I’m a dying vessel. I tell Cindy often, this is going to kill my liver. This is going to kill my kidneys before my back ever kills me. Do I want to medicate myself to death slowly over time, or die of pain? Which choice do I have?
I had a doctor one time; I was getting off all my pain medications and I was a wreck and he drove—a very nice friend back in Chicago—he drove from a long distance to come down and buy me this narcotic. It was oral morphine is what it was. And he got it in script and he brought it to me and I’m just going to say it, because this is what—he’s a Christian doctor; I’m quoting him, okay. I’m not saying it—and he took one out. These are $40 pills. He took one out, he said, “Michael, take your damn pill.” I said, “Doc, I’m trying to get off that stuff.” He said, “Then I’m going to let Cindy take it.” He said, “If you don’t she should.” You know, sometimes you’ve just got to take your pill.
There’s no nobility in suffering. There’s no nobility in being horrible to the people around you. I’m crummy at suffering. Everything’s a dysfunction, a disease and you know, something my father did or didn’t do to me. That’s when you’re owning your sin: you stop blaming everybody else and you take your pill.
Four: I need to talk about suicide for a moment. Too many people contemplate it. There’s an attraction to it, no question. If you’re in incalculable pain and you’re at your wits end and you’ve lost your family perhaps, and your job, and so forth. I’m not minimizing it for one second. I can say with some authority I understand the desire. But I can also say that life is sacred. And I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m trusting Him in the meantime.
I went to introduce Jeremy to a friend of mine, Barbara, who has MS. And she’s the most godly woman I’ve ever met. Barbara has episodes. She has a different form of MS than Jeremy does, and she’ll be in bed sometimes for three months where light, sound and touch send her through the roof. There’s no narcotic, no medication, nothing they can do for it. I believe it’s trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve that has to do with your head and the way the lesions affect the brain of a person with MS. And she lives with excruciating pain and she never complains. Spencer is a little older than me and I said, “Spencer, how does she do it?” He says, “Michael, she never complains.”
So when I was at my worst, this is before instant messaging and texting and all that stuff, but we did have email. And I remember at 2:00 in the morning, at 3, 4, 5:00 in the morning when I was so awake because of the pain and none of the pills were helping and I’m pacing and I’m pacing. I’m laying and stretching, and standing, begging God for help, I get on line and I, “Barbara, are you awake?” And Spencer had set up a little, this is before wireless, he’d set up a little wire thing, and she could peck out just like this is how slow she typed. “Yes, I’m up. How are you?” “Barbara, how do you do this?” “I have three things in the bottom of a dark tunnel: God, pain and me.”
When she got a little better we went out to dinner and we went out and she got her hair and make-up done up. She looked like a million bucks and she was so excited just to be outside after three months in bed and at home and so frail. And we went to this beautiful French country restaurant in northern Virginia. I can still see the four of us sitting there. It was just like this little epiphany; there was a cloud around us. It was so fun to be with Spencer and Barbara and talk to them and talk to Barbara. I said, “Barbara, how do you it? How do you do it?” And she says, “Well, I never want to go there again, but I sure enjoyed being there because all I had was Him and pain.”
Another friend of mine with two liver transplants tells the story. He calls it the corridor of life and the corridor of death. You go to the hospital. You take your clothes off. They give you these embarrassing things. You put them on. You sit down. They come ask you your name 18 different times and your birthday, what you’re allergic to, what’s happening to you. They lay you on the gurney. They take your glasses away. If you have any dentures, any implants, you have any, you know, all they ask you? And then they say, “Alright, you can kiss your bride now.” And the last thing they do is take off your wedding ring and give it to your spouse.
And he says, “Then they roll you down in a marsh land. You’re counting the ceiling tiles and looking at the ugly fluorescent lights.” And if you’ve ever been to the hospital, good for you. It’s a horrible ride down there. I mean, and you go down the corridor and you’ve kissed your kids and you’ve kissed your wife two or three times and you’ve given her the ring and you’ve signed the paper that says there’s a 3% morbidity rate to this surgery, meaning 3 out of a 100 people don’t live. Every piece of paper you sign just says I won’t blame the doctor, I won’t blame the doctor, I won’t blame the doctor, I won’t sue the hospital, I won’t,… Okay, go do it to me. Right, that’s what it’s all about. And you’re wheeled down the thing.
And I have this little game I do when I go into surgery. I have this game. I try to fixate on what the last thing I remember. And with my last surgery this woman came in, a nurse, and she’d just smoked a cigarette on her break. When she came in it just smelled like a tobacco factory and as she walked in I was like whoa, was it a Camel, what was that you were smoking, lady? And from the time that happened it was about 20 more minutes before I was given an IV and I was out. That’s the last thing I can remember. And then when I wake up, and why do they always wake you up? Any of you doctors in here? It’s the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life. And they go, “You have to wake up, Mr. Easley.” I go, “I’m so comfortable. Leave me alone, man, let me just sleep it off.” “No, you’ve got to wake up,” because they’ve got another body they want to get in there and cut on. That’s what it’s about. I’m having a nice nap. Leave me alone, you know. Goodness, this is better than Ambien. Can you take some of that home, you know?
And they wheel you into the room and the pain starts to wake you up and then you’re, okay, I realize what I’ve just been through. What was I thinking? And you start to recover from all that and then I go back to that, “Where was I? Oh, yeah, I remember the nurse smoking that cigarette.” Then I go, you know, and then it catches up with me. I guess You’re not done with me yet. I woke up here.
You’re here today. You’re here right now tonight for a reason. God help you to be the same when you leave here tomorrow afternoon. Don’t be the same. Don’t just wake up tomorrow morning and be the same. Our hope is in the resurrection. Remember when Paul was picked by Jesus? He’s persecuting Christians. He’s killing Christians; with hardy approval putting Stephen to death. There’s this great scene in there where Ananias is minding his own Ananias business and God says, “Go to Damascus to a street called Straight, look for a man named Saul.” You know the story too well. “But Lord, Lord, you know what this guy’s done to Your people? You’ve heard about this man?” “Go.” What does He say? “He’s a chosen servant of Mine.” What’s next? “That I might show him how much he must suffer for My namesake.”
How would you like to have that as your mission plan? Acts chapter 9, verses 15 and 16: “I will show him how much he will suffer for My namesake.”
The movie, “A River Runs Through It.” If you’ve not seen the film, I don’t know that I can recommend it. It’s an extraordinary movie. I love it, but you can’t recommend movies as Christians, so I’m not recommending the movie for the record. But it’s the story of two boys born to a Presbyterian minister. One has a very horrible exotic life and is killed in his early 20’s. The other one goes on to be a professor and teach in Chicago. And they grow up around the Blackfoot River in Missoula, Montana, fly fishing. And the story is set, I believe the first line of the book is, “In my home there was a fine line between religion and fly fishing.” And the father teaches them the metaphor of fly fishing and life. So this is the older son as he looks back on his life at the end of the movie.
I’m not haunted by waters. I’m not worried about New Age mumbo jumbo, but we’re all headed there. Howard Hendricks said it often, “We are not the living headed to the land of dying. We’re the dying headed to the land of the living.” “This mortal life also, the body they may kill.” Momentary light affliction over the eternal weight of glory. Lift your chin up once in a while and see that the earth, this earth, is not our home.

Prayer: Father, we love You. We need to love You well. Help us not to be morbid or morose about the brevity and complexity of life, but to be wise and smart stewards of the time You’ve given us. Help us to evaluate our life according to the Scripture, the Word of God, according to Your word, Your Spirit along with Your people and not with the world and circumstances tell us about this fleeting existence. I look forward to not just a new body, but to seeing You face to face when indeed the things of the earth will be dim. In Christ’s name, amen.


Read Part 5

1 Comment

Leave a Comment