Saturday, November 12, 2011

Redemption Through Suffering

We focused in a previous entry on the first half of John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have over come the world.” Jesus overcame the world on the cross. He paid our sin debts and frees us to live out the dreams God has for us. God will take the sufferings we go through and redeem them—turning them into some of the greatest, most beautiful things in our lives. When I graduated from high school the day after the graduation ceremony a tornado went through town and devastated a whole subdivision. That was back in 1990. Last week my husband and I drove through that little subdivision and you would never have guessed that it had been destroyed. In fact it is better today then it was before the storm. That is what God does with our lives when we have gone through suffering. He rebuilds our lives so that we are better when we are built back up then before we suffered.
Consider the vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 37:1-14. In this vision the Lord has Ezekiel standing in the middle of a valley that is filled with dried up, dead corpse—in fact they are so dead that they are only dried skeletons. Then the Lord asks Ezekiel “can these bones live?” Notice what Ezekiel says “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Look at how big Ezekiel concept of God’s sovereignty was in that statement. I can imagine if God ever asked me if a dried up, old dead skeleton could live my answer would most likely be, “No, you must think I am crazy to think a pile of bones could live again.” That is not what Ezekiel did—his faith was big and he knew he served a big God. So he acknowledged God’s sovereignty and realized that God has the ability to bring a pile of dried up bones to life. Then God does something else that seems even more absurd. He told Ezekiel to tell the bones to come to life. Ezekiel in total obedience obeyed God. Can you imagine how he must have felt? What would anyone who heard him tell dead bones to live again think? Have you ever had a time in your life where the Lord was asking you to do something that seemed outlandish and put you at risk of looking foolish?
I remember my senior year at Greenville College I had such a situation. I had a break between classes and my roommate did not so I would have my devotions at that time. Well, during my devotions I was praying and I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to give a specific cassette tape of praise and worship music to one of my classmates who led the music during chapel services whose name was Jonathon. I asked the Lord to have Jonathon talk to me after the next class we had together. Since Jonathon and I did not spend time together outside of class this would have been an unusual occurrence. Jonathon stopped me after class and said, “Charity, we have not talked in a while. We really need to sometime, but I have to go right now.” Then he left. The exchange was so quick that I had not even had a chance to pull the tape out of my backpack. So I left a message for him to call me when he got home. So he did. I went over feeling certain of the humiliation coming. I wonder if that might be how Moses felt when he was to go before the Pharaoh. The humiliation never came. You see, Jonathon had been visiting a church service and the song “Awesome in This Place” had been used in worship and Jonathon had sensed the Holy Spirit telling him to use it in the next Christian Life week. So he had started looking for it. He searched for a while, but had never been able to find it. When I handed him the tape—the title was “Awesome in This Place” . The Title song was the very song he had been searching for, but not been able to find. The song was used the very next week in our Christian Life week during chapel services.
Ezekiel obeyed God even when it seemed silly and God brought those bones back to life—just like he encouraged my faith and Jonathon’s faith that day. Those bones were hopeless, but God brought hope to the hopeless situation. Jonathon had lost hope too. He had lost hope that he would find the song to use. Then his hope was restored when it was handed too him.
When we are in the midst of suffering sometimes it can really look hopeless. We can feel like the bones in that valley, but God is the God of the impossible of the hopeless. We need to look at his sovereignty and realize that he is bigger than we could ever imagine. We need to let go of the limits we put on God—it is only then that we give him permission to invade our hopelessness and he can bring new life to dead parts of our lives that appear to be the end. Until we let him into our disappointments, hurts, and sorrows he will never be able to bring us to the good things he wants to bring into our lives through those circumstances.
There are so many different things those bones can represent in our lives. I think the dearest are our dreams. So many times we see our hopes and dreams crash, leaving us full of pain and disappointment. I believe God wants us to give our dreams to him. He will at that point turn those dreams into what he plans them to be. Then he brings them back to life. Breathing new life into something that was once dead. So we need to give our whole life with all our hopes, dreams, disappointments, pain, and heartache all over to the Lord and watch him do miraculous things with our lives.

Building us back better than ever before
I remember a time during some my family’s darkest times, I was driving when I heard a line from a song that described how I was feelings. “Life can be so cruel when you know that you have given all you’ve got but it’s not enough.” That is exactly how I was feeling as I sat at that stoplight. I was working two jobs—I worked between 90 and 95 hours per week at the time, but it was not enough. My husband was not getting better and we were still bankrupt even though we were gaining in a couple of areas. Caleb was acting out in his need to be with his mommy sometimes. Simeon was under a year old and I missed him terribly. I was giving everything I had, but it was not enough. The emotional pain that my family was going through at that time was very real. There were in fact times when I wondered if things would ever get better or if they would always be this way. That was not my deepest fear though—my deepest fear was that things would get worse (I would have rather died than have them get worse). As the Lord has been delivering us from this situation I am learning some of his principles in a new way.
In the book of Joel chapter 1 verse 4 describes how Victor and I were feeling. “What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locust have left other locusts have eaten.” Victor and I had lost our friends, our home, our car, our credit rating, Vic’s job, Vic’s health, my health, a business, and our good name. We felt like we had lost everything. I was feeling hopeless and helpless, but most of all so tired that I did not want to go on anymore.
I am glad this was not the end of the story in the book of Joel or for us. If you read further through Joel he does make reference to the locust again. Joel 2:25 “I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locust and the locust swarm.” What does it mean when God says he will repay us for the lost years? We can not go back in time and live it over again. God does take our bad experience and redeem them. He builds us back better than before. He repays us with a life that is better because we went through the situation.
It has been a few years since I have sewn, but I used to do that quite a bit. I remember one dress that I was making and I sewed the sleeve on at the neck seem. When I realized I had a choice, I could continue sewing only to have a dress that was not wearable since I have yet to meet a human being with an arm coming out the top of their body or to rip the seem out and resew the sleeve. Many times God sees some things in us that in the long run would make us not able to fulfill our purpose. The dress with a sleeve coming out of the neck would not be wearable. Since a dress that is not worn does not fulfill its purpose, then it would have been a waste of fabric, thread, buttons, and time. Sometimes God has to rip out seems in our lives so that we can more effectively live out his dreams for our lives. In Joel and in Ezekiel God took the apparently ruined and hopeless situations to rip out seems in their lives and rebuild something even better. The ripping process is painful, but necessary.
I could not resew the sleeve in its proper place until that seem had been ripped out. Then I was able to pin it in and sew it where it was supposed to be. I am still discovering all the things God was ripping out of me in the experiences I went through. Just like the dress was better when the sleeve was taken out and resewn, I will be too.
What is God ripping out of your life? I know it is painful and let me encourage you. This process will not last forever and God will bring a renewing that will make you happier, more usable, and better equipped as a Christian to fulfill the callings he has for you in this life. So hold to the Lord and see the new life he will bring you in the end of it all.

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