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The Furnace

"When you go through the waters, I will be with you." Isaiah 43:2....."There is a nearness of God that I could only experience in suffering." Michelle Cushatt

Suffering is an aspect of our faith journey that seems to have little, if any place in the western church. We like to focus on the "wonderful plan" He has for our lives, or that He's placed "greatness" in all of us. There is truth in both, but it's "wonderful" and "greatness" as defined by Him, and not us. Few of us believe that the path to either should contain any real degree of suffering. Indeed, a great deal of our theology centers on the avoidance of, or escape from suffering in any form. This is in direct contrast to what Jesus said to His Church. He said that tribulation, suffering, would be present in the life of His people. It's presence was to be expected. It could not be avoided. Could it be that our having such a difficult time accepting this is the reason for our experiencing so little victory, joy, and peace in a fallen world where, as one said, "the works of death get all the recognition?"

Michelle Cushatt is a woman who has suffered through the attacks of a cancer that has ravaged her body three times now. Her Doctor's have told her that they're hopeful concerning her future prognosis, but they can offer no guarantee. She said that she has come to the place where she had to choose to either "be captive to fear, or trust the One who has numbered my days." That's a place few of us want to go, but I believe it is a place that all will come to at some point in the journey. When we do, when you do, what will we choose?

In the book, "The Insanity Of God," those who suffered intense persecution for their love of Christ, said that they knew, expected, that they would suffer for that love. They knew it would be a part of their life, that they could not escape it. More, they didn't want to, if it was to mean a severing of their deep relationship with Him. They, like Cushatt, knew that nearness of Him that could only be realized in suffering. What do we know of that? Do we have any real desire to know of that?

We in the west, for the most part, have no idea how to deal with suffering, and all the emotions that can come with it. We try to medicate it, eradicate it, avoid it ,or escape it any cost. And the cost of all that is too often, our intimacy, even our relationship with Him. No one wishes to suffer, but life in a fallen world will bring it upon us. What will we do with, and in it? Moses, at the burning bush, was tasked by God to lead His people out of the bondage of Egypt. Moses didn't want to go, surely in part because he knew the suffering that would be involved in obeying such a sending. The Father told him to remove his sandals, his shoes. Cushatt said that in return, God gave him two new ones; His Presence and His Purpose. These would be with him in all the deep waters to come. Fear confronted him face to face. It would do so many times more. Moses would choose, in the midst of the fear, to trust the One who had numbered his days....even in the deepest of his sufferings. Can we? Can you and I trust the One who has not only numbered our days, but holds each one of them in His hands? We need to "take off the shoes" that stand upon our strength and ability, and our expectations, and put on those that are rooted in His strength and might. They, He, will carry us through the waters, fires, earthquakes, and darkness. We live in a fallen world controlled by the evil one, and that fallen world will always be hostile to the life of Christ that is carried by those that are His. There will be pain. There will be tears of sorrow. There will be suffering. All of these will be real. In that reality, He will show Himself a greater reality. What we can know in the midst of all of it, is that the One who holds all of our days, also holds us. In His embrace, crushed to His heart. We will experience that the joy of the Lord is our strength....even in the pain. We may not have answers for all of our "Why's," but we will have Him. And He will carry us through. As did the three in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, we will know an intimacy with Him we could never have known otherwise. In the furnace of suffering....we will see, and know Him. And as we walk through the furnace of suffering, He walks with us. The furnace may be real. He is more real.

Blessings,
Pastor O

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