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1 1 Peter 4:12-19 The Message There has been a lot of talk in the last few months about President

Obamas new stimulus package. The financial sector of our society is suffering, to a degree because of greed and bad decisions. It has, unfortunately, filtered down from Wall Street to Main Street and people are losing there jobs, and in some cases their homes. These are hard times and according to some experts its going to be a long time before things get better. When financial problems hit home, we wake up quickly and realize we need to change our spending habits, tighten our belts, and get our financial house in order. I believe God uses pain and suffering to stimulate our spiritual lives- to move us forward- to change us-even to bring healing in our lives. Pain and suffering grabs our attention and wont let us go until we deal with it and get our spiritual house in order. Without a doubt, God uses suffering to motivate us to change. This was evident in the life of a man that we celebrate every year in February. On February 12 we celebrate Abraham Lincolns birthday, who has been called by many our greatest American hero. There have been over 14,000 books written about Lincolns life. He has been studied, dissected, and even though his life was flawed, like me and like you, he still shines as one of the greatest and most revered men ever. Much like Jesus, who I believe is our greatest hero, he became great through suffering. Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote a book entitled Lincolns Melancholy. Here is what Joshua Shenk wrote: Abraham Lincoln shows how suffering can be bound up with a spiritual purpose. He sank so deeply into that suffering and came away with a felicitous blend of humility and determination. Whatever ship carried him on lifes rough waters, Lincoln came to believe that he was not the captain but merely a subject of the divine force-call it fate or God or the Almighty Architect of existence. Yet, however humble his station, Lincoln know himself to be no idle passenger but a sailor on deck with a job to do. In his strange mix of deference to divine authority and willful exercise of his own meager power, Lincoln achieved transcendent wisdom, the delicate fruit of a lifetime of pain.

A revealing glimpse into his spiritual life came in the summer of 1863, when, as a president mired in the Civil War, Lincoln faced fires burning all around him. In early July, costly military victories at Vicksburg, Mississippi and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, opened an opportunity, Lincoln thought, to end the war. When the opportunity was lost, he described himself as oppressed and in deep distress. Around the same time, draft riots in New York City-which brought this jewel city of the North to its knees in bitter anti-black violence- accentuated the ongoing horror. Amidst this intense pressure, a grieved Lincoln found peace by acknowledging his own powerlessness. He found solace in the Scriptures. Once he took a small Bible from the stand near the sofa and began to read. A quarter of an hour passed, A housekeeper remembered, and on glancing at the sofa the face of the President seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone, and the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope. Wanting to see what he was reading, she pretended she had dropped something and went behind where Lincoln was sitting so she could look over his shoulder. It was the book of Job. Job, the oldest book of the Bible, is all about suffering, pain, testing, and then blessing. It details Jobs journey through pain and how it stimulated his spiritual life and brought him to a greater understanding of God and how to overcome in the midst of pain. To embrace Christ is to embrace suffering Matthew 16:23-25 The Message Philippians 1:29 NIV Theres far more to this life than trusting in Christ. Theres also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming Helen Keller Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller

There are a few things we need to understand about suffering. Suffering is real Suffering entered our world through Adams sin and can only be fully understood through the lenses of a fallen world However, God is in charge of the Universe and there is more to the Universe than pain and suffering Philip Yancey in his book Soul Survivor tells the story about a medical doctor, Dr. Paul Brand, who became convinced that suffering and pain were a gift from God and very necessary to our world after spending his life trying to heal victims of leprosy. Here is what he wrote: Brands career centered on perhaps the most problematic aspect of creation, the existence of pain. I was writing the book Where is God When it Hurts: he invited me to consider an alternative world without pain. He insisted on pains great value, holding up as proof the terrible results of leprosy-the damaging faces, blindness, and loss of fingers, toes and limbs-all of which occur as side effects of painlessness. As a young doctor in India, Brand had made a groundbreaking medical discovery that leprosy does its damage merely by destroying nerve endings. People who lose pain sensation then damage themselves by simple actions as gripping a splintered rake or wearing tight shoes. Pressure from sores form, infection sets in, and no pain signals alert then to tend to the wounded area. I saw such damage firsthand in Brands clinic. I thank God for pain, Brand declared with the utmost sincerity. I cannot think of a greater gift I could give my leprosy patients. He went on to describe the intricacies of the pain system that protects the human body. It takes firm pressure on a very sharp needle for the sole of the foot to feel pain, whereas the cornea of the eye senses one thousandth as much pressure, calling for a blink reflex when a thin eyelash or speck of dust brushes the surface. Intestines do not sense pain from being cut or burned-dangers these internal organs do not normally confront-yet they send out the urgent pain signal of colic when distended.

There is not doubt in my mind that pain is a gift. It calls our attention to our physical problems that would otherwise be ignored. God uses pain and suffering the same way to call our attention to our spiritual problems. There are several ways suffering enters our lives. Lets look at a few. A great deal of suffering is a consequence of our personal actions and choices (sowing and reaping From Galatians 6:7,8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. If I get pulled over for speeding on my way to church, and I get a ticket, it is a result of my own bad actions. I am reaping what I sowed. Sometimes suffering is the result of our own personal choices- bad choices. Suffering is a natural result of following Jesus and sharing the Gospel For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow his steps 1 Peter 2:21 NLT But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Dont be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. 2 Timothy 4:5 NLT Sometimes suffering is the natural result of following Jesus. The Apostle Paul was run out of town, imprisoned, beaten and left for dead. The Apostle Peter, tradition tells us, was crucified upside down in Rome. The Apostle Thomas was shot through with arrows in taking the Gospel to India. John was boiled in oil. Even Jesus was rejected, beaten and crucified. When we follow Christ at times we suffer.

Suffering is a tool God uses to teach us and to bring about spiritual fruit and Christ like character Romans 5:3-5 Deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state (George Elliot) It is clear from Scripture that suffering brings strength of character and produces hope as God pours His love into our hearts. We must not run from trials and troubles; we need to embrace them for the Christ likeness it brings into our live. Suffering is often used by God to test our faith and to increase the level of our faith. 1 Peter 1:6,7 One of the ways God tests our faith is through the fires of suffering, not just physical, but emotional, financial and even relationally. In Scripture only believers were tested. Why, because it was their faith that God wanted to prove and increase that we might be more like him. On the temple mount in Jerusalem there now stands a mosque instead of the Temple. When I was in Israel I took a tour of the temple mount and the mosque that covers a great rock. The rock upon which Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac. God was testing him and when he passed his test of faith, God provided a lamb and told him not to harm his son. He did the same for us when he provided a lamb for us, Jesus the lamb of God. Israel 40 years Jesus 40 days

6 Testing refines us, empowers us, changes us, purifies us like the finest gold so that we are ready to be used for Gods glory, just like Jesus Sometimes God allows suffering to come into our lives to get us to change course and correct a sinful pattern before things get out of hand. Romans 8:23 Christ is coming. We will see Jesus face to face and receive new bodies. Finally no bald spots, bunions, bridges, bulges, new bodies What a wonderful day that will be when the promise becomes a reality, when hope is fulfilled and when we spend eternity in heaven. I hope that you are ready. I hope that you are fully engaged in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember that no one ever truly meets Jesus and remains the same. Everyone who authentically meets Jesus is radically changed forever. Yes, we may suffer now but someday God promises those who trust in Him that there will be no more death, tears, suffering. God will dwell with us and we with Him, but until that day we will all be touched by suffering. All of our spiritual lives will need to be stimulated if we are to become like Him and sometimes it takes suffering. If Gods own Son was not spared suffering, can we really expect to escape the grasp of pain and suffering? I dont think so.