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Come Out of the Darkroom

August 14, 2018

Everything that is exposed to the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. That is why it is said: ‘Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” Ephesians 5: 13-14[1]

My father was a gifted photographer. He joined the Navy when the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  The Navy trained him as a photographer, and he worked for the Pentagon during World War II in photographic reconnaissance. He became a commercial photographer after the war.  His black and white photographs were works of art. My brothers and I all spent time with him in his various darkrooms, watching him transform undeveloped film into images. After film is developed, the image can be seen on the film or printed on photographic paper. But the images must be born in darkness before they can come to light.

That is often the case in our lives. We must often stumble through darkness before we are led to the light. When we are in a completely dark room, we cannot see what is in the room. It is only when light is brought into the room that we become aware of our surroundings.   In the same way, God leads us to wisdom and to an understanding through his divine illumination in the Word and in his revelation in the dark places of our lives. Wisdom is often born in the darkness of suffering.

Father Robert Spitzer, whose physical world is perpetually dark because he is blind, calls suffering “the high point of wisdom.”[2] In Sunday’s Old Testament lesson, Solomon begins Chapter 9 of the book of Proverbs with this statement: “Wisdom has built her house: she has set up its seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1). What are the seven pillars? The seven pillars represent a complete and perfect wisdom. The number seven in the Bible represents completeness and perfection. Father Spitzer writes that we can be brought from suffering to completeness and perfection within the context of faith because God’s love is unconditional and his goal is to bring us to eternal life. We are brought to faith through God’s grace—Jesus’ death on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit.[3]

In teaching us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10), Solomon is not referring to the type of terror that grips us when disaster is about to befall. We do not shrink or cower from the Lord in dread. The fear Solomon is referring to is from the Hebrew word yirat, meaning a reverence or awe of the Lord (Yahweh). Reverence or an awe of God is the beginning of wisdom. It is that awe and confidence in his unconditional love that lifts us up before God to make us fearless in the face of life’s challenges. Before he died, Joshua told the people to “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness (Joshua 24: 14). Solomon’s father, David, wrote: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34: 4). He goes on to tell us that while we all suffer during our lives, “The Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34: 17-18).

We don’t automatically step from the darkness of depression, despair, grief, and other dark places to a place of light and peace.   And even when we do emerge from a dark place, we know that it isn’t a permanent escape. As long as we have breath in our bodies, there will be setbacks. There will be struggles.

Our only hope to escape from the darkness is in God. When we are in awe of God, we begin to walk toward the light. God begins to illuminate a path out of the darkness through his Word, circumstances, medical professionals, and others along the way to help move us out of our own personal dark places.

Paul encourages us to live as “children of light”: “You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of light consists of goodness, righteousness, and truth). Find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5: 8-12).   When we walk with Christ, his light will shine on us and through us to others: “Everything that is exposed to the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. That is why it is said: ‘Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5: 13-14). When you walk in the light you become a beacon of light to lead others out of darkness.

We walk toward Jesus because we know that he wants only the best for us, he will see us through this life, and has prepared a place for us in heaven with him. We are on earth but a few short years compared to our forever life with God after we leave this “vale of tears.” Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6: 68-69).

To whom indeed. Where shall we go? There is only one answer to that question: come out of the darkroom and into the light. When you do, you will see the image of God stamped on your soul.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Sunday are Proverbs 9: 1-10 or Joshua 24: 14-18; Psalm 34: 12-22; Ephesians 5: 6-21; John 6: 51-69.

[2] Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., The Light Shines On in the Darkness: Transforming Suffering Through Faith (2017) Ignatius Press, p. 23,

[3] Id, p. 24-25.

Running the Race

August 10, 2018

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6: 51)

Like the Scripture texts from last week, bread plays an important role in this week’s texts as well.[1] Bread is mentioned 361 times in the King James version of the Bible. Bread was the basic sustenance of life in Biblical times, and also played an important part in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread” in Hebrew. He said “ I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). The feeding of the 5,000 and other miracles and examples of Jesus’ hospitality involved bread.

Bread is a key component of the Last Supper and of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a symbol of how Jesus will take care of our needs. Homemade, fresh bread is not only tasty, but it contains the key nutrients to sustain life. It satisfies our hunger. It nourishes, sustains us and fills us as Jesus fills us when we come to Him, when we give Him our burdens and ask for His forgiveness. Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51).

When Elijah was running for his life and became too tired to go on, he begged God to take his life “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19: 4b). But God had other plans for him. He fed him bread and water that sustained him for the next 40 days and nights: “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat. He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights, until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19: 5-8).

Have you ever been so tired, that life seemed futile? Have you ever been to a place when giving up sounded like the best plan? That’s where Elijah was at that moment. He had been running ahead of Ahab, who was in his chariot! Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot for 17 miles to Jezreel (“The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (1 Kings 19: 46). But when he got to Beersheba, he just wanted to give up, and he prayed to God to let him go—to take his life. The “angel of the Lord” who came to him twice to give him sustenance to carry on was none other than the pre-incarnate Christ. It was Jesus, the bread of life, who spurred Elijah on without additional food, to travel another 200 miles to meet God on Mt. Horeb—where God had given the law to Moses. After being fed by the pre-incarnate Christ, he fasted for 40 days and found God.

Sometimes it is when we are at our weakest that we are rescued and find God. That was the case with David as well, when he had nowhere to go, and found himself at his enemy’s gate. The pre-incarnate Christ, the angel of the Lord also rescued him: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34: 7-8).

Paul, like Elijah, was sent by God into the world to work in his kingdom—just as you and I have been called. Paul encourages us to put aside our old lives and to take on the attitude of Christ—the bread of life: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4: 22-23).

Jesus, the bread of life, is calling you. He is calling you to run the race. He is calling you to get ahead of your enemies. He is calling you to go the extra mile. He is calling you to reach out beyond your comfort zone. He, who is the bread of life, will give you sustenance for the journey. He will give you what you need to get you to where he wants you to go. You can count on it. Answer the call.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Scripture texts for Sunday are 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34: 1-8; Ephesians 4: 17-5:2; John 6: 35-51.

Surviving Boot Camp

July 30, 2018

I am the bread of life. He who come to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Those who have survived boot camp in the military do not wish to repeat that experience. They inevitably recount the trials they endured during that difficult period of their lives—the blistered feet, the forced marches, the bland food, the barked orders, the never-ending fatigue, the sore muscles, the oh dark thirty wake-up calls, etc. But boot camps abound today outside of the military—and people flock to them. They pay good money to go to boot camps or to send their kids to them. Why? Because boot camps toughen people up—they get them into shape. They teach discipline and obedience and create bonds between the participants. This week’s Scripture texts give us hope to face the boot camps in our lives.[1]

The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert was boot camp for the generation who left Egypt and for the new generation who grew up in the desert before they entered the promised land. The old generation was a whiny generation; they constantly complained: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16: 3).

The new generation was born in the desert and accustomed to the harsh environment. They were tougher. They learned to obey and to lean on God and on each other. They learned to trust God day-by-day. They learned to live day-to-day—to take only enough manna for one day, and to eat the quail the Lord sent each evening: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God’” (Exodus 16: 12).

In the gospel lesson, Jesus compares himself to the manna that God sent to the Israelites every day: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert . . . Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world . . . I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6: 31-35).

The right kind of stress can bring people together—it can bond the participants of the stressful situation together. Shared difficulties and challenges forge strong bonds. Such circumstances give rise to a camaraderie that results in unity of purpose—to survive the immediate challenges of the situation. Those who have been through boot camp, law school, the Great Depression—those who have trained hard on a team together—forge strong bonds. People of different backgrounds with different talents, personalities, strengths and weaknesses come together to help each other to achieve a common goal. They are unified in purpose.

That is what Paul was talking about when he wrote, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4: 3-5). There is one overriding faith that brings us all together in the church—our faith in Christ Jesus, crucified. It is what holds us together in a bond that has been unbroken over centuries of challenges. Despite our differences, Christians of many nations and denominations are one in Christ and can rejoice with David: “The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145: 13b-14).

Jesus is the bread of life. God is our sustenance. He will provide for your daily needs, as he provided for the daily needs of the Israelites in the wilderness.  If you depend on him, he can help you bring your church, your family, your work group, or your team together when you face common challenges.  In interacting with your brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter the denomination, remember that you were called to one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.  It is the God who will see you through the boot camps of your life. Look to the bread of life and you will never hunger or thirst.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35.

 

Deeper Than the Deepest Ocean

July 23, 2018

His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1-9)

It was late August 1987, a few days after I had given birth to our third child, Michael, when I looked out the window of my room and saw a beautiful rainbow.  Southern California doesn’t get much rain during the winter, and a summer shower is even more rare. I was reminded that day of God’s promise to send rainbows as a testament to his love and faithfulness: “When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my promise to you and to every being, that never again will the floods come and destroy all life. For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth” (Genesis 9: 14-17, Living Bible). God’s love for us is much like a parent’s love for his or her child. Scripture tells us that our heavenly Father has adopted us into his family.

God’s love for us is apparent from the first pages of Scripture to the last, as demonstrated in this week’s Scripture texts.[1] The texts remind me of the words to the Petula Clark song “My Love” substituting “God’s” for “my”: “God’s love is deeper than the deepest ocean, wider than the sky; God’s love is brighter than the brightest star that shines every night above; and there is nothing in this world that can ever change God’s love for me.” God’s love endures forever.

We never need to worry that God’s love will run dry, or that his kindness and mercy will stop—the psalmist confirms to us that no matter what “His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136: 1-9). There is nothing we can do or say to turn off the spigot of God’s love. It flows freely like a great moving river. It flows abundantly. He never turns his back on us. His love endures forever.

Jesus’ love for his disciples and the people he encountered was evident. They flocked to him. He was winsome and loving. He shepherded them. He cared for them and about them. He healed them: “And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed” (Mark 6: 56). He loved them. He helped them. He healed them. His love endures forever.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that it was his prayer that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3: 17-19a). His love for us is deeper than the deepest ocean, higher than the highest mountain, wider than the sky, and it shines brighter than the brightest stars.

Human love helps us understand God’s love for us, but it is the tip of the iceberg compared to God’s love for us. There is no beginning or end to God’s love. He is always with us. He always has our best interests at heart. He wants only the best for us. He suffers when we suffer. He laughs with us and he cries with us. He feels our pain and our sorrow. He touches us in our anxiety. God’s love is a bottomless well of living water that surrounds us, comforts us, embraces us, heals us, and provides for us.  Lower your bucket into the well of living water of God’s love for you.  Someone said that the Bible is God’s valentine to us. His love for us is expressed in the pages of Scripture. You will be strengthened and refreshed when you drink daily of the living water in Scripture where God expresses his love for you.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Genesis 9: 8-17; Psalm 136: 1-9; Ephesians 3: 14-21; Mark 6: 45-56.

Lacking Nothing

July 16, 2018

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23: 1)

This week’s Scripture texts[1] reminded me of a book by Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack,[2] based on the Twenty-Third Psalm. The premise of the book is that the Twenty-Third Psalm describes the life that anyone can have who chooses God to be his or her shepherd. When God is your shepherd, you will lack nothing. While no one—including David–has a problem free life, when you turn to God as your shepherd, he will see you through your anxieties, fears, and difficulties. A life without lack means a life with God. It is the life described by David in that psalm and elsewhere throughout Scripture.

David describes a shepherd who takes care of all of the needs of his flock. He takes them to green pastures where there is plenty to eat. He leads them to rivers and streams where they can drink their fill of fresh, life-sustaining water. He guides them safely through difficult terrain and protects and comforts them. He prepares a feast for them in a place where they may live forever: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right path for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23).

Jesus is our good shepherd. He died for our sins, was resurrected, and set off a revolution. The world has never been the same since. Jesus was the “righteous Branch” described by Jeremiah, as “a King who will reign wisely . . . This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior” (Excerpts, Jeremiah 23: 5-6).   Jeremiah contrasted the corrupt leaders of the day –“shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture” in verse one– to the Messiah, the Righteous Savior who was to come. The Messiah would be the perfect shepherd, who would take care of all of the needs of his flock.

Mark writes in the gospel text that Jesus planned to take his disciples to a quiet place to rest: “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6: 32-34).   The Good Shepherd’s compassion trumped his own fatigue. He saw to the needs of his flock before his own. He took care of all of their needs. He nurtured them spiritually, and then fed the five thousand. He instructed his disciples to give them something to eat, and turned five loaves of bread and two fish into enough bread and fish to feed five thousand men (actually about 15,000 people with their wives and children): “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish” (Mark 6: 41-43).   When Jesus is your shepherd he is all you need. You will lack nothing.

When you are separated from the Shepherd, he will find you. Paul writes “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2: 13). No matter where you are, the Shepherd will find you. A couple of years ago I described a painting by James Tissot called The Good Shepherd, in which the artist depicts a shepherd emerging from an outcropping of boulders with a lamb around his neck, that he had just rescued from the rugged terrain. I like this painting because it reminds me that every time I wander off, Jesus, my shepherd, will come and get me and bring me back to safety. No matter how deep the water I find myself in, or how rocky the terrain, he will come for me. He will never abandon me. (See “The Good Shepherd,” https://dianereagan.com/2016/04/15/the-good-shepherd/)

Have you experienced a time in your life when you didn’t know if you could pay your bills that month or wondered how you could cover an unexpected expense, when just in your moment of need an old debt was repaid to you, or unexpected income was received to cover your expenses? Have you been so filled with fear or anxiety for the future that you had nowhere to turn but to the Good Shepherd, and he came through for you?   Have you been through a dark valley where you could not find your way out, but the Shepherd was with you and brought you to a place of safety? Have you been in so much physical or mental pain or anguish that you were desperate for any relief, and finally received relief?   The Good Shepherd will not abandon you. He will be with you throughout your life if you make room for him and keep the lines of communication open.

God reminds us that even in the midst of pain and anguish you will be comforted and experience the joys that are yours through Jesus Christ: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6: 30-44.

[2] Dallas Willard (edited by Larry Burtoft and Rebecca Willard Heatley) Life Without Lack (2108), Nelson Books. The book is based on a series taught by Willard in 1991.

Our Forever Home

July 9, 2018

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV).

Public and private animal shelters advertise that the animals in their temporary care are looking for “forever homes.”  The dogs and cats in their care want a home where they will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Each animal is looking for a home where it will be welcomed and cherished throughout its life–a forever home. In such a home, the animal will be loved and blessed by the family for years to come. But the animal can’t choose the person who will adopt it. The person who adopts the animal chooses the animal; the animal cannot do anything to make the adoption happen. The animal must be chosen.

In the same way that a person chooses to adopt a stray dog or cat, Paul emphasizes that God “chose us;” we have done nothing to deserve the gift of salvation.  It is all God.  It is God who welcomes us into our forever home.  And like a person who makes plans in advance to adopt an animal, God planned out his adoption for us in advance: “Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!)” (Ephesians 1: 5, The Message).

Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Ephesus in modern day Turkey around 60 AD. This center of trade on the Aegean Sea had been the headquarters of his ministry for about three years. In what seems like an endless paragraph in the first chapter (verses 3-14), Paul lists God’s blessings on his people over the ages.[1] These blessings, that include our adoption into the family of God, continue through eternity—our forever home. In fact, God blessed his people before he created the world: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV). In these verses Paul points out that God’s plan for our salvation was in place even before he created the world and that it will continue for eternity (“in the heavenly realms” v. 3).

And in case we missed it, he reminds us that Jesus Christ redeemed us and forgives us “through his blood” (verse 7). Referring to “Jesus’ blood” was first-century shorthand for the fact that Christ died for our sins.   His death on the cross was the price he paid to redeem us—to obtain our freedom from sin. Paul tells us that Jesus did these things for us because of “God’s grace that he lavished on us”(verses 7-8). It is by God’s grace–not through our own efforts–that God gave us the gift of salvation.

But that’s not all. There are more blessings.  God offers salvation to everyone.  The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our eternal salvation: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance . . . ” (verses 13b-14a). The blessings that we receive now are merely a foretaste of the blessings we will enjoy forever in God’s presence.

We are strays without a home, wandering from place to place until we find our rest in Christ. Christ offers us a forever home. When you become a member of the family of God, you are inducted into an eternal family of endless blessings. The psalmist declares: “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants . . . Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other . . . The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest” (Excerpts Psalm 85: 8-12). Our God is a God of endless blessings. He is a God who chose us to be adopted into his family before we were born. We were given a forever home. It is a home that we can enjoy during our time on earth, and beyond.

Turn to Christ today to admit your wrongs and your total inability to find rest and peace without him. When you turn to him, he will open his arms and bring you into the family of God—your forever home. When you find your rest in Christ, you will begin to receive a stream of endless blessings that will last forever.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85: 1-13; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6:14-29.

Power Made Perfect in Weakness

July 2, 2018

’My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I still remember these words of a sermon I heard many years ago: “I got problems.   You got problems. All God’s children got problems. The good news is that we are candidates for a miracle! No problem, no miracle!” The Bible is replete with stories of people who suffered from various illnesses and afflictions who were healed. But Paul explains that no matter how faithful we may be, God doesn’t always give us the means to be healed or to solve our problems. God often uses our weaknesses to bring us closer to him and to give us the strength that we need to soldier through [See Power Up, https://dianereagan.com/2018/06/18/power-up/%5D.

We don’t feel lucky when we’re chronically ill or are beset with problems. But Paul told us to boast about our troubles. That’s what he told the church in Corinth: “Therefore, in order to keep me from being conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9).

Some Biblical scholars surmise that Paul’s malady was a chronic eye disease caused by the blinding light he encountered on his journey to Damascus when Jesus confronted him after the resurrection.  He consulted with Dr. Luke in 50 A.D. in Troas, and Dr. Luke traveled with him for the remaining 18 years of Paul’s life—in part, as his personal physician. Paul thought that he knew God’s purpose in not removing his problem: to prevent him from becoming conceited due to the visions and revelations he received from God. Paul’s experience teaches us that even when God doesn’t heal a chronic illness or give us the means to solve a problem, he gives the faithful the means to cope with the problem. God led Paul to Dr. Luke who traveled with him and enabled him to continue to spread the gospel.

God uses ordinary, imperfect human beings like you and me to accomplish his purposes. He used Ezekiel to bring his word to the Israelites, and told him not to worry about whether he succeeds: “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 2: 4-5). God uses ordinary people for his purposes. Don’t worry about whether you have 3 followers or 3 million followers. If you are doing God’s work, he will take care of the numbers.  He will use your strengths and your weaknesses for his purposes.  Someone said that God uses cracked pots.  We are all broken at some level—and Jesus will use our suffering and brokenness for his glory.  All God’s children got problems.

When Jesus sent his disciples out on their first preaching assignments, he counseled them not to worry about rejection: “Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:9-11).  Jesus knew from experience that even a wholly human and wholly divine person such as himself would not have a 100% success rate. Jesus was rejected in his own hometown (Mark 6: 1-3).  Jesus was falsely accused and mocked. He suffered disappointment, rejection, despair, pain, humiliation, and other failures—and he knew that his disciples would suffer as well.  He wanted to prepare them and us for life’s inevitable difficulties.  All God’s children got problems.

Psalm 123 encourages us to look to God in our suffering and failures: ”Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt” (Psalm 123: 3).  God in his never-ending mercy and compassion will sit with us in our pain and will help get us through it.

If you are suffering from a chronic and debilitating illness or difficult problem, look to Jesus. If you are broken in body, spirit, or soul due to cancer, depression, or other illness, turn to Jesus. If you are lonely, jobless, or dejected, call on Jesus. If God has not healed you or shown you a solution to your problem—try turning it around like Paul did. Consider it a badge of honor that God cares so much for you that he will give you the grace, strength, and power to carry your burden.   Seek all of the medical and other assistance available to resolve the illness or other problem, but don’t forget to turn it over to Jesus.   He promised to give you the strength to bear it and he will carry you through it.  Our pastor used this phrase a few months ago: “A set-back may be a set-up for a step forward.”   Step forward with the Spirit by your side.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan