A Perspective On Pain

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How can pain be a blessing?

Good morning everyone! What is your reaction to pain? Unless you have some masochistic tendency you probably start looking for some relief. Where is the Tylenol or Aspirin? Is there a drop-in clinic close to my home? Can I make an appointment with our family doctor? I know that the pain in my side is from a fall on the ice. Did I break a rib? Maybe cracked a rib? So what do I do now? Yes, when we experience pain-whether physical, mental, or emotional-it cries out for relief. Yet have you ever considered pain to be a blessing (albeit in disguise). Whoa, you say, how can pain ever be a blessing? I recognize that at first blush we find it hard to fathom that pain could be a blessing, but I hope that you before this message is finished you will agree with me that pain can be a blessing that has served us well in the past and is necessary for our survival. So, let's take the next several minutes to broaden our perspective on pain. The Genesis Account of Creation Genesis 1:31 (HCSB) 31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good ... If you carefully read the first chapter of Genesis, you will see that seven times the author states that God looked at his creation and saw that all He had made was good-not only good but "very good" in verse 31. In this 21st Century scientists have gained more knowledge of the physical universe than we have ever had in human history. We have learned about the creation from sub-atomic structures to massive galaxies and clusters of galaxies with black holes at the center of these galaxies. We now recognize that our earth is perfectly positioned in outer space. If the orbit of the earth were any closer to the sun, we would burn up. If the orbit were further away from the sun, we would become a large ball of ice. The axis of the earth is titled approximately 23.5 degrees from the plane of its orbit around the sun. That gives us our seasons. We who live in the Northern hemisphere have been pointing away from the sun but in a few months will be experiencing the warmth of summer as we again point towards the sun. So we see that the bible clearly states that God's creation is incredibly good, and our contemporary knowledge of creation reinforces that statement; however, this very good creation is not limited to the planets, stars and massive galaxies like ours with a diameter of 100,000 light years but also includes the human body made in God's image. Psalm 139:14 (NIV) 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. The language in Psalm 139:14 is quite terse, so let's consider some of the outstanding characteristics of the human body. Did you know the human nose can detect a trillion smells? When we breathe most of the air enters through one nostril and the active nostril changes every few hours. Extraocular muscles in the eye are the body's fastest muscles. They allow both of your eyes to flick in the same direction in a single 50-millisecond movement. Your tongue is made up of eight interwoven muscles, similar in structure to an elephant's trunk or an octopus's tentacle. Our skin is the body's largest organ comprising 15% of our body weight. Further, we have about 45 miles of nerves in our body. There are 12 pairs of nerves to and from the brain and 31 pairs of nerves that are connected to the spinal column. Truly the human body is amazing or as the psalmist put it, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". But let us consider what happens when we no longer feel pain. An excellent example of that is found in leprosy. Leprosy primarily affects the skin and nerves outside one's brain and spinal cord, called the peripheral nerves. It may also strike your eyes and the thin tissue lining the inside of your nose. The main symptom of leprosy is disfiguring skin sores, lumps, or bumps that don't go away after several weeks or months. These skin sores are pale-colored. It usually takes about 3 to 5 years for symptoms to appear after coming into contact with the bacteria that causes leprosy. Some people do not develop symptoms until 20 years later. The time between contact with the bacteria and the appearance of symptoms is called the incubation period. Leprosy's long incubation period makes it exceedingly difficult for doctors to determine when and where a person with leprosy got infected. Once leprosy has damaged the peripheral nerves in the hands and feet a person loses feeling. That in turn can lead to loss of fingers and toes. You are probably familiar with the Christian author, Philip Yancey, who authored best selling books like The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing about Grace? What you may not know is that Mr. Yancey is unabashed in his praise of his mentor, Dr. Paul Brand, a medical doctor who treated lepers in India. As Yancey puts it, Dr. Brand gave faith to Yancey's words and Yancey gave words to Dr. Brand's faith. They worked closely together over many years up to Dr. Brand's passing and co-authored a few books. Mr. Yancey quotes Dr. Brand as saying that there is one gift that he wished that he could give lepers-that was the gift of pain. If they could feel pain, the pain would alert them to anything that might damage their extremities. In one case Dr. Brand sent a leprosy patient home after treatment. After one night's sleep the patient woke up to find that the flesh on one finger was chewed to the bone-apparently by a rat that ate his flesh, but he felt nothing. On another occasion this patient woke up to find the fingers on the other hand fused together. He had fallen asleep and let his hand fall into an open flame. Again, he felt nothing while the flame burnt his flesh and fused the fingers together. Lepers can lose their sight to the disease. A healthy person blinks regularly. If he or she were to stop blinking for more than a few minutes they would experience pain in their eyes and resume blinking. However, a leper with peripheral nerve damage may not feel pain and continues to stare out of unblinking eyes eventually leading to blindness. How tragic and preventable if the person could just feel pain. Now most of us will never contract leprosy and the possibility of losing fingers, toes, or our eyesight to the disease because we cannot experience pain in our extremities. But during a lifetime we will experience pain at different levels and in different contexts. Let's examine a few of them in detail. Pain due to sin We often describe God as a loving, compassionate God, full of grace and mercy. And indeed these are correct and important attributes of God; however, we may tend to downplay the fact that God disciplines us like a loving parent will discipline a wayward child. Proverbs 3:11 (NIV) 11 My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, Proverbs 3:12 (NIV) 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. One example of sin is excessive use of alcohol. God's word does not condemn drinking alcoholic beverages per se. After all the first miracle that Jesus performed was to turn water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana, but it is excessive use of alcohol that is condemned. Proverbs 20:1 (NIV) 20 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. If you do use alcohol to excess, you will reap serious consequences. If you embrace the bottle at night, you will embrace the commode the next morning with a bad headache and a churning stomach. Prolonged abuse of alcohol causes carnage on health and relationships. It led to the premature death of my father at age 49 and my younger brother's divorce and later his death at age 50. It was a major contributor to the breakup of my mother's second marriage to my stepfather. Of course, alcohol abuse is just one example of a sin that reaps a painful harvest. Lying, stealing, adultery, coveting and so on are clearly contrary to God's holy nature. We should not be surprised by pain in our life when something is seriously wrong. Like a loving parent our God is concerned about our physical and eternal life. He is patient and gracious, but he will not turn a blind eye to the sin in our life. He will introduce pain of some form into our life to correct sinful behaviour. To quote C. S. Lewis, the British writer and lay theologian from the last century, God whispers in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain. Pain calls for a response whether it is a headache or a heartache. If you are experiencing unexplained pain, humbly ask the Lord what he is saying to you through your misery. Lord, is there something that needs attention in my life? As the folks in Alcoholics Anonymous like to say, you will only take corrective action when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Deep Personal Pain Of course not all the pain that we suffer is due to personal sin. We live in a fallen world. We can and do experience personal trauma so perhaps I can share a few scriptures and personal experiences that have taught me key lessons about the personal pain which I have experienced, and I know others have experienced as well. Let's start with reading Psalm 23. Psalm 23 (ESV) 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness] for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell] in the house of the LORD forever. This psalm is perhaps the best-known Psalm in the entire bible. I am sure that a complete message could be prepared on this psalm alone, but I just want to emphasize one key point from the psalm. If you read the psalm carefully you will notice an important distinction between the first half of the psalm and the second half. In the first three verses David references the Lord in the third person-he makes me, he leads me, he restores, he leads me. Notice the change in the pronoun in second half of the psalm. David addresses the Lord in the second person-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. What is there about this short psalm that transitions from making third person statements about God to a very personal address to the Lord? The hinge or transition is found in the fourth verse. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. David is speaking about a personal experience that he describes as walking through the valley of the shadow of death. This could be a life-threatening event, but it can also involve the passing of a loved one-a husband, wife, parent, sibling, close friend and even a child who predeceases us. David's psalm indicates that there is a change to a more personal relationship with the Lord when we experience a brush with death. This divine intervention has been discussed in our GriefShare meetings and is confirmed by my personal experience and the experience of others. I have heard that the loss of a mate after several years of marriage is the most painful experience that any of us will go through. I have never lost a child to death so I don't know if that is more painful, but I experienced the death of my wife of nearly 25 years and can testify that the impact is emotionally devastating. But I also want to reassure you that should you go through this valley of death at some future date you will find supernatural help in the midst of your grief. A few months ago one of our GriefShare alumni and I were comparing our experiences after losing our mates. We found that both of us had a vision or revelation of what happened to the departed spirit of our spouse. In my case I could see Carole with a couple of angels accompanying her to heaven immediately after her death. As she was leaving, she said to the angels, I need to tell Keith and the girls that I am okay. One of the angels replied, Sorry, Carole, you can't do that. That was it-all over in a few seconds. Is that what happened at her point of death? I probably won't know for sure but what I saw and heard was consistent with her character wanting to reassure me and our two daughters that she was fine after her passing from this life. Sometimes the personal pain is work related. On one occasion I was laid off after 23 years of unbroken and loyal service to an employer. If you have ever experienced a similar layoff after years of service only to be thrown under the bus, you know how that rips into our very being. Here is one scripture that I was reminded of shortly before the layoff notice came. Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Was I dismayed at what happened? Yes, but was I strengthened and helped? -absolutely. The Lord was with me through a painful place in my career and he blessed me with a better job at a comparable salary to the previous position and note this, the new job was only a 15-minute commute from my home. Many people in Toronto, where I was living at the time, would give their right arm for a job with such a short commute. Yes, we can experience incredible personal pain through the death of a loved one or something like a major disruption in our career but there is another type of pain outside of ourselves that I hope we are equally sensitive to. Pain in the Body of Christ On one occasion Philip asked Jesus to show the disciples God the Father. Look at Jesus' response. John 14:7-9 (NIV) 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." 9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? During the time of his earthly ministry Jesus could point to himself as the living embodiment of the Father but after his resurrection Jesus ascended to his Father's throne. So if people want to see God on earth in the 21st century where do they look? To answer that question we have to examine a metaphor that Paul used to describe the church. I Cor. 12:26-27 (NIV) 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. The apostle Paul compared the Christian church to a body with many parts. Both believers and nonbelievers should be able to look at the church as the present-day body of Christ to see what Jesus is really like. In other words the church has the responsibility to mirror Jesus to the world and our response to the pain of individual members of the body is a powerful witness to the life of Christ in us. Consider the pain that Christ's body experiences in our day and age. In some places in the world Christians are imprisoned or even martyred for their faith. Others have suffered unemployment during this pandemic and economic hardship. Some Christians have seen damage to their homes caused by earthquakes or tsunamis. We believers are not immune to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other physical afflictions. And as I mentioned before some of our brethren have lost loved ones through death. James the brother of Jesus had this advice for us. James 2:15-17 (NIV) 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Our local congregation has generously supported the relocation of refugee families from refugee camps in Africa to a new and better life in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Thank God we had the resources to help a small part of the body of Christ move from a painful squalid existence in Africa to a new life in Canada with hope for the parents and their children. As Jesus once said, If you do this for the least of these my brethren you do it unto me." (Mat. 25-36-40). We serve the body of Christ as we serve those in the body who experience life's pains in its many forms. Pain that Jesus Experienced. This message is being prepared in the midst of the season of Lent leading up to a rehearsal of the events surrounding the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. No discussion of pain in the Christian context would be complete without at least touching on the subject of the incredible suffering that Jesus experienced at the end of his earthly ministry. I expect that in the next few weeks we will explore the subject of Jesus' suffering in greater depth so let me just give a cursory overview for now. Matthew 16:21 (NIV) 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Jesus was no stranger to pain. He experienced personal agony caused by the actions of the men he led for three years. The night before his death he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot for a handful of coins. Peter who vowed that he would die for Jesus (Mat. 26:35) denied even knowing him (Mat. 26:69-75). The rest of the disciples ran like scared rabbits (Mat. 26:56). Jesus suffered the humiliation of an illegal trial at night where some spit in his face, pummeled him with their fists, slapped him and mocked him (Mat. 26:67-68). Later he was subject to a Roman scourging that typically was so severe that it sometimes caused the death of the prisoner. With incredible loss of blood and no sleep Jesus was forced to carry his cross (actually the patibulum or cross beam) to his crucifixion site aided by Simon of Cyrene whom the Romans pressed into service (Luke 23:26). At Golgotha, he was nailed to a Roman cross and went through incredible torture every time he wriggled his battered body up the rough wooden cross to take in another breath. But out of the greatest pain imaginable came the greatest good for all mankind. Praise God! Conclusion During the past several minutes we have completed a brief overview of pain from the human body to the death of Jesus. We have seen that God gave us miles of nerves that communicate danger in the form of pain that gets our attention and prompts us to take appropriate action to stop the pain. We have seen that God will use pain to discipline us when we are off track spiritually. We have rehearsed our need to be sensitive to the pain of suffering in the church, the body of Christ. And we have briefly looked at the pain that our Saviour experienced at the end of his earthly ministry when he died for the sins of all mankind. Praise God for the blessing of pain! *** closing prayer *** Word count: 3545 Time: est. 27 minutes Sermon A Perspective on Pain0Page 1 of 1 (c) Keith M. Roberts0New Life Christian Fellowship0March 7, 2021
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