Dear Friends,

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures,
speaks in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains. It is His megaphone
to rouse a deaf world.” – C. S. Lewis. As I continue to speak and write
about Heaven – Our True Home, I am hopeful we can all get a more heavenly
perspective on the pain and suffering in the lives of others and the world in
general (e.g., Where was God on 9-11?), and our own very personal pain that
can cause us to doubt God or work to draw us even closer to Him. As we will
see, this heavenly perspective is taught and modeled by our Lord Jesus Himself
as well as many others throughout Scripture.

In John Eldredge’s book The Journey of Desire he tells the story
of a beautiful sea lion who had somehow been washed up on to a desert and now
was lost and surviving in a small water hole beside a shade tree. He initially
frequently sniffs the winds for the scent of salt air and his true home, the
ocean. But after a while he loses hope forever for finding his way back and
settles down in his mud hole making the best of it he can. He may have stayed
there until he died had it not been for a fierce windstorm that blew for forty
days and stripped his shade tree and dried up his water hole. Then with much
courage and resolution he began to walk (as best as a sea lion could) back toward
the sea – his true home.

Often it takes trials and suffering for us to be reminded that this world is
not our true home, that we live in a fallen world (Romans 8:17-25) and God has
set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We try so hard to make a heaven
on earth and yet, like the sea lion, we are living, or merely surviving, in
our own water hole. Many nations other than America are not as deluded by this
water hole existence as we are because they live in daily poverty or at best
eke out a living. Maybe this is part of the reason that Christianity is growing
rapidly in countries where people suffer both from poverty and persecution for
their faith while it is declining in America. (e.g. China, Africa, South America)
But even here in America we can’t escape suffering – broken homes,
disease and death strike the rich and the poor. And even the affluent “Can’t
Get No Satisfaction” as the Rolling Stones proclaimed.

Joni Eareckson Tada, the young teenager who became a quadriplegic from a diving
accident some thirty-five years ago, is a powerful witness to the Biblical perspective
on the purifying power of pain to refocus our hearts on the Lord and eternity.
Kristen and I wept through her book, Heaven – Your Real Home,
which we highly recommend. If anyone has earned the right to be heard on the
subject of suffering she certainly has as she continues to joyfully and faithfully
serve the disabled community through speaking, writing, and as an artist. (She
paints beautifully holding the brush with her teeth.) Listen to some of her
exhortations regarding suffering and heaven. “It is rare to see believers
who for the sake of heaven, purify themselves (i.e., from sin). But how could
we be thrilled to meet the Lord face to face after clinging on earth to the
very sins for which He died? No one can hope for heaven while consciously clutching
onto sins he knows to be offensive. Once you see your afflictions as a preparation
to meet God, you won’t be quick to call it ‘suffering’ again.”
John, in his first epistle, says the same: “We know that when
He (Jesus) appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He
is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He
is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)
Imagine a bride (and men, we too are
called the bride of Christ – Revelation 19:7) in the bridal chamber stuffing
herself with chocolate cake getting it all over her face and beautiful white
dress. And then stealing the pads and pens and cramming them down the front
of her dress; then having to walk down the aisle before all the spectators embarrassingly
covered with stains, spots and wrinkles (Ephesians 5:27) to meet her pure, spotless
Bridegroom, Jesus. One day each of us as Christ’s bride will appear before
our Bridegroom and it will be too late then to clean up our dress, our life.
(1 Corinthians 3:10-15) We can let the fires of suffering do its purifying work
now if we respond in faith and obedience rather than doubting our Lord’s
love and goodness and turning away from Him in distrust and disobedience and
suffering loss at the judgment seat of Christ. “These (trials
and suffering) have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold,
which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and
may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
(1 Peter 1:7)
As Randy Alcorn says in his book Safely Home, “Real
gold isn’t afraid of the fire,” – i.e., real faith isn’t
afraid of suffering for Christ for it is for our eternal good. Though there
always will be mysteries and we may never know the reason for our suffering
on this side of heaven, we are called to believe what God says through His Word
about His purposes for our suffering. And the God who allows suffering also
became one of us in Jesus the God-Man and out-suffered all of humanity combined
when he bore our sins and thus the wrath of God on the cross and experienced
God-forsakenness in our stead. (See Isaiah 53) And as we fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith and meditate on His Word of truth, God
transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and conforms us more
and more into the image of His Son. “And 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. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined
to become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:28-29) “For
it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because
he is conscious of God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for
you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. When they
hurled insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.
Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins
in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but
now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (See
1 Peter 2:19-25)

The great paradigm shift that we all need to make in order to live lives of
radical faith is from the temporal to the eternal perspective. “This
is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)

If not, we will settle down in the water holes and shade trees rather than risking
the long hard walk to the sea. Even the Old Testament saints like Abraham and
Moses understood that and were looking for a heavenly country, not just the
promised land. (See Hebrews 11) “And so Jesus also suffered outside
the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. Let us, then, go
to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have
an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you
are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice
that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed
when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ
you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and God rests on you. If you suffer
as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. So
then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves
to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (See 1 Peter 4:13-19)

Until He Comes,

Len and Kristen

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