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"On Suffering - the Shadowlands"
-by Michael Clark.
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"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial
which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened
to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's
sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be
glad with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13).

To write on this subject is sheer folly. First off, it is not a
message that comfort-driven Americans with all the money
want to hear. Secondly every time we dare to write on an
unpopular subject that involves denying ourselves, Father
requires us to walk it out shortly thereafter.

But we can obey or we can chose the easy way out. The
gospel of the kingdom of God is not the modern gospel of
convenience that fills mega-churches with joyful followers.
Are we willing to lay all at Jesus' feet and take up our
crosses and follow Him, or are we going to be followers after
another gospel, another Jesus, led by another spirit?

My wife, Dorothy, and I recently bought a DVD of the movie
"Shadowlands." It is a story played out by Anthony Hopkins
and Debra Winger about a period in the latter days of the life
of the famous Christian author, C. S. Lewis. Funny how
Hollywood can catch the essence of life from time to time,
even more than the most gifted preacher ever hoped to.

"Isn't God supposed to be good? Isn't He supposed to love
us? Does God want us to suffer? What if the answer to that
question is, 'Yes'"? I suggest to you that it is because God
loves us that He makes us the gift of suffering.

"I'm not sure that God wants us to be happy. I think He
wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to
grow-up. We think our childish toys bring us all the happiness
there is and our nursery is the whole wide world. But
something must drive us out of the nursery to the world of
others and that something is suffering.

"You see, we are like blocks of stone out of which the
sculptor carves forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which
hurt so much, are what makes us perfect."

With these words being spoken at a lecture by Lewis (known
by his friends as Jack), the stage is set for a divine collision.
Lewis, the great Christian wit and man of insight has it all
quite figured out. But into his well ordered life of Christian
philosophy and academia as an Oxford professor, by whom
one could set their watch, comes an American atheist
divorcee named Joy Gresham. She becomes his undoing.
She sees things as they really are in a way that none of his
admirers nor any of those in their ivory towers could see, for
hers has been a life filled with pain and suffering.

Lewis at one point was laying out to her his theory of why
there is suffering in this world that is governed over by a
loving God. To this she asks if he had ever really been hurt.
He tells her how he was hurt when his mother died when he
was nine years old adding, "The first time is always the
worst." At this point, my wife Dorothy responded, "That's
not true. The pain keep growing."

Here we see the crux of the matter. THIS is where most of us
are. We get hurt early on in our lives and we build a lifestyle
about us that will never let it happen again. If we are
successful, "The first time is the worst," because the first
time is the only time. We set out to take control of our lives
and even the lives of those around us as we build our fortress
of protection, refusing to be hurt again. We scheme, we
posture, we coerce, we climb. Never mind that we wound and
control hundreds of people around us as we dig in and build
our perimeter. I know, I am a Vietnam war veteran. I have
been what is known as "trip-wire vet." My wife knows the pain
of living with someone who has tried to be "safe" at all cost,
swearing never to let people hurt me like that again. It is a life
surrounded by trip-wires, booby traps and concertina wire
fences. Woe to the person that dares to enter your space.

Have you ever wondered why the Bible says that Jesus
learned obedience by the things that He suffered? I mean, He
is the Son of God, right? Perfect in every way. Why should
the all knowing Son of God have to learn anything? I think it
is because the Author of our salvation had to be tempted in
every way, just like us and yet overcome.

Vulnerability goes hand in hand with unselfish love. You can
not truly love without laying yourself open to suffering. Anyone
who has raised a child knows that this is true. First you say
to yourself, "I sure will be glad when he is potty trained." Then
when you have passed that hurtle it is, "I sure will be glad
when this two year old turns three." Then, "Man, I sure will be
happy when he can entertain himself." "I sure will be glad
when I can send him off to school." "I sure look forward to the
day when he graduates and can get out there on his own and
I can quit worrying and suffering." That is the biggest delusion
of them all. The suffering and pain of having a child never ends.
As they get older the propensity for trouble ever increases,
and their life struggles, failures, divorces, bankruptcies, etc.
all become yours, one way or another.

So how do we deal with this pain? Well, some of us parents
run out quickly to extinguish the fires. We bail them out and
try to protect them from the consequences of their own
foolishness. They sow the wind and we reap their whirlwind.
We become living "saints," always doing the right thing by
them--or are we?

Then there is the other tactic. When in Vietnam men were
dying all around us. At first you cared and mourned their
loss, but after a while the pain was too much so you got
callused and indifferent after the third of forth time and you
told yourself, "It don't mean nothing." Some of us have
learned to deal with pain by becoming hardened to it. We
have walled off our hearts so that no one else' pain can reach
us. This has been my poison of choice in the past. If you
don't bother to really love, you can't get hurt.

Over the last few years of suffering much at the hands of my
fellow saints in an effort to "have fellowship," I have become
much like our brother C.S. Lewis. I dug in and studied those
scriptures that had been hurled at me and used to justify their
Christian indifference (now there is an oxymoron), to find out
the antidote. How can I become immune to this kind of abuse
and still be a "Christian"?

In another dialogue between Lewis and Joy Gresham we hear:

Lewis: "Personal experience isn't everything."

Joy: "I disagree. I think personal experience is everything."

Lewis: "So reading is a waste of time?"

Joy: "No, its not a waste of time, but reading is safe, isn't
it? Books aren't about to hurt you."

Lewis: "Why should one want to be hurt?"

Joy: "That's when we learn."

Lewis: "Just because something hurts does not make it
more true or more significant."

Lewis: "I am not saying that pain is purposeless or even
neutral, but to find meaning in pain... There has to
be something else. Pain is a tool. If you like...

Joy: (she interrupts) "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse
a deaf world."

Lewis: "You have read my book. You know me too well."

Survival at all cost. THAT is the nature of man be he heathen
or saint. We glibly say as we are called to give our Wednesday
evening "pop-up testimony," "I just want to follow Jesus."
Have we ever REALLY looked at where He went? When he
was about to go to the cross, he told his overconfident
disciples, "Where I go you can not follow." They were not
only unable, but down inside no matter how sure they were,
they, like many of us, WE'RE FLAT-OUT UNWILLING to
take up their cross and follow Him. A deeper work was still
needed to walk as selflessly as the Master.

The cross is not some pretty gold symbol on a gold chain
that adorns the pretty neck of some movie star or model. It
is an instrument of suffering, self denial and death. It is also
an instrument of unselfish love. Those who follow Jesus
must deny that inward drive to preserve themselves and dare
to love as God loves--at all costs. Those who dare to take
this path find out early-on that most of the ones they love
will do anything they can to keep from going the distance
with you, including denial, betrayal and totally forsaking
you. You have the smell of death about you. Paul wrote to
the Corinthians, "Now thanks be to God who always leads
us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance
of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the
fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and
among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma
of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life
leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?"
(2 Cor 2:14-16, NKJV).

Interesting how these two verses align; Among those who
are being saved--the aroma of death, but among those who
are perishing--the aroma of life.

Are we sufficient for these things? Are we ready like Jesus
and Paul to not let anyone dissuade us from going up to
Jerusalem to die when our personal cross calls us onward.
Are we willing to preach a gospel that will not only cost us
our lives, but all our popularity with family and even with our
fellow saints? If you think that the life of Jesus was a fluke,
have you ever read about the lives of those who have gone
before us, who walked by faith (read Hebrews chapter
eleven). THESE were the true faith teachers and they paid
for their faith with lives of suffering and rejection.

No "prosperity doctrine" to be found here. They risked all
their creature comforts to follow the leading of the Father.
These were persecuted, sawn in two, and lived in caves.
This is the narrow way. These are true sons of God.

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