"There is nothing, no circumstance, no trouble, no testing that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has come past God and past Christ, right through to me. If has come that far, it has come with a great purpose."My brother, Tim, is a worship and youth minister in a Baptist church in my home state of Tennessee. Tim's senior pastor and colleague at Oak Street Baptist in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, Joe Miller, has just recently been diagnosed with cancer. The situation doesn't sound very good as I understand it from Tim.
First, let me call upon you to pray for Brother Joe. I had the privilege of meeting Brother Joe last fall when we visited my family in Tennessee. Joe is everything you might expect a Southern Baptist pastor to be. He is charismatic in the pulpit and calm under pressure. He has a clear love for his flock and a tender spirit for those of his community that need to receive Christ as savior. Pray for Tim as well. I spoke with him today by phone and, as you may expect, there is a lot of pain and pressure coming his way now.
We believe that God is sovereign over the affairs of life. We know that God deserves the glory for the salvation of even one lost soul. But, do we believe that God is still sovereign over pain, sickness, and affliction? Is God sovereign or asleep at the wheel when tragedy strikes our church family? Where is God when you lose a relative to a sudden or untimely death? How can God be sovereign when a young couple is faced with the possibility of having to bury their small child who is dying with a brain tumor? Does God really have a plan, a purpose, for the pain we encounter in life?
Warren Wiersbe wrote, "When God permits His children to go through the furnace, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat. His loving heart knows how much and how long." This summer we at New Beginnings lost a piece of our heart when Danny Offenbacker, one of our founding elders, passed into the arms of Jesus from cancer. Danny fought cancer for three years and all along the way personified, even if imperfectly, what true faith in Christ is all about. His famous line was that he was constantly comforted by the knowledge that his Creator God held him in "the palm of His hand". God knew all along when it was time for Danny to go home.
Death and disease are an unfortunately reality of life in a fallen world. However, God is greater than any disease, or any affliction, or any unforeseen tragedy that may come our way. Brother Joe knows this. He told Tim this week that either Jesus will bring him home to glory through this cancer, or God will bring glory to earth through his miraculous healing. We shouldn't despair simply because the temporal outcome is in doubt. As Paul the Apostle said, "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).
It is never easy to face the fierce winds of suffering or to be tested in the flames of affliction. But, "being easy" isn't the point. The point is God's purpose, His plan, for all that He sends our way. Romans 8:28 still rings true today: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
The cross of Jesus Christ endures as an abiding testament to God's purpose to reverse the curse of rebellion. The emblem of suffering and shame has become for us a symbol of salvation, hope, and peace. Rather than running from God or blaming Him for our trials, may we run unto Him. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
I'll close today with this; Paul writes in Philippians 4:10-13 -
"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."That's my prayer for Joe Miller today.