My Struggles Are About Him
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Martin and Gracia Burnham married with mission work in their hearts. For seventeen years they served God in the Philippines. With three children born on the mission field and valuable skills in the ministry's aviation program, they were acclimated and essential to the work. He, single-minded. She, gracious and convicted.
Then why didn't God block the bullets? Why did he let her get shot? And why did God let him die?
On May 27, 2001, while celebrating their eighteenth wedding anniversary at a beachside resort, Martin and Gracia were taken hostage by a militant terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin Laden. Captors chained the couple to guards, marched them through jungles, and rationed their food. They endured seventeen firefights and for over four hundred days and were either running for their lives or bored. Their health deteriorated, but their faith remained sturdy. "We might not leave this jungle alive," said Martin, "but at least we can leave this world serving the Lord with gladness." A premonition led Martin to write a farewell letter to his children.
The premonition proved accurate. On June 7, 2002, Philippine Rangers attacked the terrorist camp, catching Martin and Gracia in the cross fire. One bullet entered her leg. Another took his life. She was left a widow, and we are left to wonder why. Is this how God honors his chosen? How do you explain such a tragedy?
And as you're thinking of theirs, how do you explain yours? The tension at home. The demands at work. The bills on your desk or the tumor in your body. You aren't taken hostage, but aren't you occasionally taken aback by God's silence? He knows what you are facing. How do we explain this?
Maybe God messed up. Cancer cells crept into your DNA when he wasn't looking. He was so occupied with the tornado in Kansas that he forgot the famine in Uganda. He tried to change the stubborn streak in your spouse but just couldn't get him to budge. Honestly. A bumbling Creator? An absent-minded Maker? What evidence does Scripture provide to support such a view? What evidence does creation offer? Can't the maker of heaven and earth handle bad traffic and prevent bad marriages? Of course he can. Then why doesn't he?
Perhaps he is mad. Have we so exhausted the mercy of God's bank account that every prayer bounces like a bad check? Did humanity cross the line millenniums ago, and now we're getting what we deserve? Such an argument carries a dash of merit. God does leave us to the consequences of our stupid decisions. Think Egyptian soldiers in Red Sea, Hebrews in Babylon, Peter weeping with the sound of a crowing rooster in his ears. Bang your head against the wall, and expect a headache. God lets us endure the fruit of sin. But to label him peeved and impatient? To do so you need to scissor from your Bible some tender passages such as:
GOD is sheer mercy and grace;
not easily angered, he's rich in love.
He doesn't endlessly nag and scold,
nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve,
nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth,
so strong is his love to those who fear him.
Don't blame suffering in the world on the anger of God. He's not mad; he didn't mess up. Follow our troubles to their headwaters, and you won't find an angry or befuddled God. But you will find a sovereign God.
Your pain has a purpose. Your problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles cooperate toward one end-the glory of God. "Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory" (NLT).
Not an easy assignment to swallow. Not for you. Not for me. Not for the blind man on the side of the road. When Jesus and his followers passed him, the disciples had a question.
As He [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." ( )
Born blind. A lifetime of darkness. Never saw a mother smile or a sunset fade. Who did this? the disciples wondered, anxious to blame someone. Such a bad plight can be traced back to a bad deed. Right?
Wrong, Jesus replied. Don't search the family tree. Don't request a copy of the man's rap sheet. Blame this blindness on a call from God. Why was the man sightless? So "the works of God might be displayed in him."
Odds are, he would have preferred another role in the human drama. Compared to others, his assignment held little glamour.
"Mary, be a mother to my son."
"Peter, you'll be my first preacher."
"Matthew, the first gospel? It's all yours."
Then God turns to this man, "And you?"
"You'll be blind for my glory."
"I'll be blind?"
"For your glory?"
"But I don't understand."
The blind man wasn't the only candidate for a complaint. Consider the case of Martha and Mary. Personal friends of Jesus. Confidantes. He stayed at their house and ate at their table. And when their brother, Lazarus, became ill, the sisters blitzed a message to Jesus. If the Nazarene would heal anyone, it would be Lazarus.
Wrong again. "But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it'" ().
Feverish, clammy, knocking on the door of death-why? Because he ate the wrong food? Didn't guard his health? Drank too much? None of these. He was sick for the sake of God. Call it the assignment of sickness. How else do you explain the puzzle of the next two verses?
"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was ().
Talk about a left turn. You'd expect the verse to read: "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarusso he made a fast dash to their house to heal Lazarus." Just the opposite occurred. Because Jesus loved the trio, he lingered until Lazarus died.
Blindness displays the works of Christ? Death glorifies the power of Christ? How can this be?
I'm looking around my office for an answer. A frame displays my favorite picture of Denalyn. A metal stand displays an antique pot. My brother gave me a stained-glass window from a country church. It is displayed by virtue of two wires and two hooks. Picture frames and metal stands, wires and hooks-different tools, same job. They display treasures.
What these do for artifacts, the blind man did for Christ. He was the frame in which Jesus' power was seen, the stand upon which Jesus' miracle was placed. Born sightless to display heaven's strength. Do you suppose the sight of his sight showcased the work of Christ?
And the fading pulse and final breath of Lazarus? You think the news of a three-day-dead man walking out of a tomb amplified God's power?
And you? Now it gets a bit sticky. What about your struggles? Is there any chance, any possibility, that you have been selected to struggle for God's glory? Have you "been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" ()?
Here is a clue. Do your prayers seem to be unanswered? What you request and what you receive aren't matching up? Don't think God is not listening. Indeed he is. He may have higher plans.
Here is another. Are people strengthened by your struggles? A friend of mine can answer yes. His cancer was consuming more than his body; it was eating away at his faith. Unanswered petitions perplexed him. Well-meaning Christians confused him. "If you have faith," they said, "you will be healed."
No healing came. Just more chemo, nausea, and questions. He assumed the fault was a small faith. I suggested another answer. "It's not about you," I told him. "Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God's song."
Oh, that you could have seen the relief on his face. To know that he hadn't failed God and God hadn't failed him this made all the difference. Seeing his sickness in the scope of God's sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. "I reflected God," he said, smiling though a thin face, "to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen."
Bingo. His cancer paraded the power of Jesus down the Main Street of his world. He, the blind man, Lazarus, and millions others form a unique society: selected to suffer for God's glory. His light prisms through their aching lives and spills forth in a cascade of colors. God-glimpses.
God will use whatever he wants to display his glory. Heavens and stars. History and nations. People and problems. A kidnapped couple in the Philippines. My dying dad in West Texas.
The last three years of his life were scarred by ALS. The disease took him from a healthy mechanic to a bedbound paralytic. He lost his voice and his muscles, but he never lost his faith. Visitors noticed. Not so much in what he said but more in what he didn't say. Never outwardly angry or bitter, Jack Lucado suffered stately.
His faith led one man to seek a like faith. After the funeral this man sought me out and told me. Because of my dad's example, he became a Jesus follower.
Did God orchestrate my father's illness for that very reason? Knowing the value he places on one soul, I wouldn't be surprised. And imagining the splendor of heaven, I know my father's not complaining.
A season of suffering is a small assignment when compared to the reward.
Rather than begrudge your problem, explore it. Ponder it. And most of all, use it. Use it to the glory of God.
Martin and Gracia did.
During their captivity, they not only spoke of Jesus, they lived Jesus. Didn't complain. Did their work and volunteered for more. Chained every night to a guard, Martin always wished his captors a good night and told them about Jesus. The Burnhams allowed God to use their suffering for his glory.
Because of Martin's death, nations around the world heard the name of Christ. I heard the report on a London, England, news channel. Millions saw the forbearing figure of his wife and heard a moving interview with his father, who said God would get them through this. Every major network gave priceless minutes to the story of a man who loved Christ more than life.
Through the Burnhams' struggle, God was seen.
Through Martin's death, God was seen.
Through your problems and mine, may he be seen as well.
Excerpted from It's Not About Me by Max Lucado, copyright © 2004 Integrity Publishers.
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