What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity/Part 8
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2005|
|Many of us have asked the question, “Why does God allow those who love and serve Him to suffer?” Dr. Bill Gillham describes what it is like to allow Christ to live through you, no matter what.|
What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity – Part 8
Dr. John Ankerberg: Many of us have asked the question, “Why does God allow those who love and serve Him to suffer?” Maybe you’re suffering right now and God is going to use this discussion to encourage you. My guest is Dr. Bill Gillham, a former university professor, who came to Christ when he was an adult. Bill had a lot of wrong assumptions about what it meant to live the Christian life, but God taught him step by step. Bill learned about giving up control of his life to the Lord and to trust Christ to live through him. Along the way, Bill experienced the birth of a son who was mentally retarded and later died. Why did God permit this suffering? I’d like you to listen as Bill describes what it is like to allow Christ to live through you, no matter what. Listen:
Dr. Bill Gillham: Now, maybe you’re saying, “Well, Bill, you’re making it sound like the Christian life is a Hallmark card; you know, picture perfect.”
I don’t mean it to sound that way, gang. I’ve been through lots of tough things—having a mentally retarded child; having physically incomplete kids and these sorts of things. This is no picnic, gang. This is not a huge Wal-Mart Super Center that God has got us living in. We’re in a situation in enemy territory and bad things can happen to good people. But our God is sufficient. We are to, in faith, give our problems to Him and let Him deal with them by faith. And if they turn out fine, if He removes the circumstance, great! Praise God! But you know, sometimes He’ll just give us the grace to go through it. The neat thing, though, troops, is this: You don’t have to face life! You don’t have to live with a hammerhead husband. You can let Christ live with that man through you, by faith. And it doesn’t take more faith. You use the same faith you used to get saved with, only you just kind of dial the channel one notch over and trust Christ as you life and act like Christ is carrying the ball—and He’ll do it.
Ankerberg: Next, Bill likens the morale of many Christians today to those soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. Listen:
Gillham: Bob Dole made this statement. He said, “The long gray line didn’t let America down in that war; America let down the long gray line.” And I really think he was on to something there. And you know what happens in a situation like that? The fighting man out there in the field, because there’s no consensual “big picture” that both the leader and the men are in agreement upon, he can begin to get disenchanted about the whole thing. He thinks he’s being ripped off. And he becomes very disenchanted with the leadership. He thinks the leadership is unfair. And so his morale begins to plummet and he loses his resolve to self-sacrifice.
I think that this describes a lot of Christians today. They don’t understand why God allows us to suffer. They don’t have any consensual big picture that they’re in agreement with, that God, “our leader,” is in agreement with, and so because of that, the devil puts resentment into them and a lack of resolve into them and they become disenchanted with the whole thing. And a lot of them just bail out. A lot of them continue to go to church and say, “Oh yeah, I’ll give my money,” and so forth because they want to go to Heaven when they die, but they just are grinding it out here on planet Earth wondering where God is when everybody’s hurting so badly.
Ankerberg: Now, how many funerals have you been to, how many tragedies have touched your life, that someone quoted the verse: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” Did those words irritate you? Do you understand the meaning behind those words? Bill says we should never quote Romans 8:28 without quoting the next verse. He explains why. Listen:
Gillham: Now, there’s a very brief two-verse passage in Scripture that I think pretty well gives us in a nutshell the big picture with God, and that’s Romans 8:28-29. I personally think that we should never quote verse 28 without verse 29, because verse 28 says, as you know, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” And if you just leave it like that, it leaves so many questions unanswered, like, “How could anything good possibly come out of this marriage?”
“How could anything good possibly come out of my having this mentally retarded child? I just don’t understand that.”
But if we’d go ahead and read the second verse, 29, that’s going to give us the answer to these questions: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [Now, that means it’s going to happen, gang] to become conformed to the image of His Son.”
Ah, the lights come on. You mean that, God, you’re going to actually use these bad things that are happening to me, many of which are of my own doing; many of which are from the devil? I understand that. But some of them I really don’t understand where they’re coming from. In fact, I feel kind of like they’re unjustified. I don’t know. I don’t deserve this. Why is this happening to me? I’m trying to be a pretty good guy and why is this thing happening to me? But you say that you will take the good, the bad and the ugly and you’ll use it to make me more like family. Okay. I can live with that. I realize I’ve got some rough edges that need to be sanded off and I understand that you can apply this heavenly sand paper to me and sand off these rough, fleshly edges in my life here on planet Earth. And by doing that, you will be conforming me more to the image of Christ.”
It’s kind of like one time when I was with my kids at a craft show down in Missouri one time. We were watching a woodcarver and he was making a cigar store Indian come out of this log. And I marveled at that. And I said, “How in the world does that guy do that?”
And one of my kids said, “Oh, Dad, it’s easy. He just chips away everything that doesn’t look like an Indian.”
Well, it’s kind of that way with us and the flesh. Gang, we’ve got fleshly old ways that God has to deal with and He allows the evil one to chip away at these old fleshly ways because He wants us to emerge as the new creations we really are in Christ Jesus. He will allow these circumstances to come to me. And He doesn’t cause all of them but He allows them. He could stop them if He wanted to, but He allows certain of them to come to me so He can allow that sandpapering process to take place in me. And I want that. I want to be conformed to the image of Christ and you do, too. I don’t want to “waste my sorrows.” I want to live on this planet a life that overcomes.
Ankerberg: Listen to this verse concerning suffering: Jesus said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21). What does this mean? Apparently it means that, if we suffer for our Lord, someday He will reward us by allowing us to reign with Him. We don’t know all that this verse implies, but as Bill says next, Christians should remember that Earth is the only place we’re going to get a chance to suffer for the Lord. Listen:
Gillham: Now, gang, this is tough teaching, but I want to challenge you here, that Earth is the closest thing to hell you and I will ever experience. It’s the only place we ever get a chance to suffer. And if we’re going to be conformed to the image of Christ, what was part of Christ’s life on planet Earth? He suffered on planet Earth and that’s all part of the mix that goes together along with the joy of our salvation and all the good stuff comes a certain measure of suffering. But folks, we need some things like that, a little bit of that is important. Now why? Because we’re going to reign with Christ.
Now, I want to ask you a question. The fact that I went through some tough times on planet Earth, if God is somehow going to put me in a position of authority over—I don’t know what now—but let’s say it’s over other humans some way that are still on the earth. Now, I don’t understand what I’m saying now, but let’s say that’s what it is. Do you think that the fact that I went through some tough times will make me a more compassionate leader in the eternity of eternities? I think that’s a no-brainer. It will produce that in me. It will take off some of the rough edges from my personality and I want that.
Now, I want to ask you a question: Why are you riding the glory train? Are you riding the glory train because you want to get to the destination, i.e., Heaven? Or are you riding the glory train because you are in love with the Engineer, Jesus Christ? You see, our purpose on planet Earth is to fall more deeply in love, even to the point of being passionate. I don’t mean sexually obviously. But passionate—matching our passion with God’s passion as He pursues us here on this planet, jealously pursues us. He wants to be number One in my life, not because He’s an egomaniac that needs to have his ego pumped up all the time. No, no. But He’s passionate for me to return the love that He gives to me back to Him, and I want that. I want to grow in that. And suffering is an important factor in this whole mix.
Ankerberg: Now, if I were to ask you, “Do you have a relationship with God just for the good things you can get out of Him, or because you really love God for Himself?” What would you say? Maybe you don’t know the answer to that question. If so, Bill explains how you can tell. Listen:
Gillham: One time I said to God, “Lord, I really want to know that I love you, that I love you.” And so He spoke back to me. Now, I don’t mean I heard a voice come out of the ceiling but in my thought life He spoke to me.
He said, “Well, Bill, what do you want? Heaven or Jesus?” And I said, “Well, I don’t understand that.”
He said, “Well, what if Heaven were a dry and thirsty land with no beautiful trees or wildlife or no fun going on or anything. Just a grind, you know. You had to work hard there out in the field and live in a crowded apartment and everything like that. But the upside would be that Jesus would be there and He would be your dearest friend. He’d be working with you side-by-side out in the field; living with you in the apartment. You could just have a great time fellowshipping. And on the other hand, what if Hell were this beautiful, wonderful place that you’ve always thought of as Heaven? Like the mansions and the deep shag carpets and the wonderful food and all your friends and all that kind of stuff, and no devil there. The devil would have been banned. He’s out somewhere else. But Jesus is not there. You’d have this wonderful environment but Christ is not there. He’s over here in Heaven, you see. So, Bill, what do you want? Heaven or Jesus?”
And gang, I was stumped. I’d never broken them apart. And so I wrestled with this for a long time, asking, “Lord, I don’t understand! I’ve got to know.”
And so I believe that He showed me a little simple illustration that clarified the thing for me. And so these thoughts began to come one day. What if Annabelle were to get sick and the doctor would say, “Well, she’s going to have to move to eastern Colorado, out in the desert, or she’s going to die.”
What would I do? Would I say, “Now, Sugar, I’m sorry but, you know, Colorado like that, that eastern desert, that’s never been my thing. So I’ll tell you what. You move on out there and I’m going to stay here in our home that we’ve both loved and we’ll just retire—you in the desert and me over here. Oh, and once a week we’ll fly to a central location and we’ll meet and hold services for about an hour and I’ll bring a little message and you a song, and we’ll sing some hymns and pray. And then we’ll split and go back to our locations. Oh, and we’ll connect a few times a day—like before meals I’ll call you and talk for 15 seconds. And before bedtime I’ll call you and deliver a 15-second monologue.”
My brothers and sisters, that’s what passes for the relationship some Christians have with Jesus. When they die and go to Heaven, they’re going to meet Him only for the second time. Folks, that’s not what God wants for you. He wants to build an intimate, bonding, loving relationship with you. And that’s available to you. In fact, it’s normal Christianity. This is the place where we’re to be together just with the Lord and people and learn to walk with God. And gang, unless there’s a little suffering thrown into the mix, we’re never going to develop the compassionate side that Jesus has. It’s got to be that way, gang. It’s a softening process. Don’t fight it. Let God handle it for you. As a man who has gone through a lot of suffering in his lifetime, I testify to you that this works.
Ankerberg: Now, are we saying that you ought to go out and search for suffering so you can grow in your walk with the Lord? No, of course not. And if you’re going through tough times, what is proper to ask from the Lord? Bill explains.
Gillham: Now, I’m certainly not teaching that you ought to go out searching for suffering so you can grow. Hey, God is the One who is conforming us to the image of Christ. God is the One is working “both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.” And “I’m confident,” it says in Scripture in Philippians 1:6, that He is going to work this whole thing out and conform us to the image of Christ. He is at work in you to do this. And so there will be things that will come into your life. The Scriptures say, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Now, that word tribulation, that’s the devil’s work. But He says, “You will have it.” Jesus said, “Be of good courage, because I have overcome the world.” He is going to do it through you as you trust Him to do it through you.
Now then, let’s say you’re in the midst of some really tough times right now. This gives you an opportunity to do a couple of things. Number one, you need some wiggle room. Okay. It’s fine. I see no problem whatever to go to the Lord in prayer or to talk to someone who has the gift of faith or whatever to pray with you, and ask God to take this thing away. But I practice, “But God, if there is a higher purpose, if you’ve got a higher purpose I want your purpose because your will is better than my will. I may be settling for a whole lot less than the best and you want only the best for me. So I want your will in this thing.”
So after this, then, I begin to affirm Him and praise Him for the way He’s running the world. I tell Him that, “If you had to run for reelection every day, I’d still vote for you. Because I not only love you, I like you. You’re doing a great job.”
And if I don’t praise Him, gang, what I’m saying is, “I know how to run the world, or my corner of it, better than God does.” And that’s just a presumptuous, wrong, fleshly attitude. So, as I affirm Him and praise Him in my circumstances, regardless of what they are—and I’ve had some tough ones—I kind of give God two options. He can either remove the circumstance supernaturally, or He can so flood me with His grace that as I go through it and afterward I will say, “This was good. I actually am glad I had this experience. I’d hate to go through it again, but I’m glad I had that experience because it drew me closer to Jesus Christ.”
I have a friend who says it this way: that when you perceive that you’re in the midst of unjustified suffering, you’ll either get bitter or better. If you move toward Christ and affirm Him and praise Him and thank Him, you’re going to get better. If you gripe and mumble and kick, you’re going to get bitter. Oh how I pray that you’ll take that affirmative route and praise God in the midst of your suffering. Trust Him. He’s trustworthy. He’s not being mean to you. He loves you. He proved that on the cross.
Ankerberg: I want to finish by letting Bill talk about how Christ helped him when one of his four sons died, and continues to help him with a personal health problem that he suffers from today:
Gillham: Now let me give you both sides of the story from my own pilgrimage on planet Earth. First of all, a story about God removing the circumstance. I’ve mentioned that Annabelle and I have four boys, and our number two son, Mason David Gillham, was profoundly retarded. That was a tough, tough time for us. And when Mason was 12 years of age, he weighed 56 pounds and he couldn’t see, he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t move his joints. He had to be manipulated. And we had help. God graciously allowed us to put Mase in a situation where they could take care of him medically. And we would go to visit him regularly and one day while we were there, I prayed this prayer—and it was no more meaningful than saying a blessing at a meal table. What I’m saying is, I wasn’t down on my face or anything like that. The family circled around Mase and I prayed something like this, “Lord, we’ve tried to use Mase’s little life to bring glory to You, letting people see that we’re victorious in life through Christ. But, Father, he’s just a little prisoner in his earth suit. He’s in solitary confinement in there. If You could just release him from that earth suit, we would give you the glory for that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
We went home and the next day God took Mason out of his earth suit. And he was okay, medically speaking. They were mystified as to why he died. I know why he died. God took him. And we gave God the glory. So God removed that circumstance from our lives. Now, there’s more to the story. I don’t have time to tell you but, man, it’s a glorious story about how God has used Mason’s little life to touch the lives of thousands of people.
Now, the second one, where the grace is sufficient. I’ve got a disease called Minear’s Disease. I’m deaf in my right ear and I’ve got a hearing aid in my left ear. Now, I live with Minear’s Disease. I don’t have good balance, and it’s a problem. But God has given me the grace to live with it, and I regularly tell Him, “Hey, it’s okay. It’s just fine. This is not going to come between you and me. I not only love you, I like you. And if you had to run for re-election, like they say, I would vote for you if you had to run for reelection every day. You’re doing a great job of running the universe. You’re just a wonderful, wonderful God and I love you, Sir. And it’s just a wonderful privilege to walk with you on this planet.” God’s grace is sufficient, my brothers and sisters. Praise Him in all things and for all things.
Ankerberg: Let me ask you, are you suffering in some way today? Are you trusting Christ to live His life through you in spite of your circumstances? Have you told the Lord, “I love you. What I’m experiencing, it’s not going to come between us. If you were running for reelection, I’d vote for you every day.” I hope that you have. Bill summarizes what we’ve talked about today:
Gillham: Now, if you are going through some sort of suffering, I want to make a recommendation to you that I think is biblical. It’s fine to ask God to take it away, unless He has a higher purpose for it. And if He does, then He’s going to give you the grace to go through it. And just begin to affirm Him and praise Him in the midst of your suffering. You’re not being hypocritical to do that; you’re being obedient. He says to praise Him in all things and for all things. And through all those things, through that, my brother and sister, you will begin to know Jesus in a much more intimate manner.