Sunday, September 4, 2016

Overcoming through Suffering in Ministry and the Salvation Army

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. -2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV

I’d like to begin with the example of Richard Wurmbrand. His is a famous struggle against true evil. He was born in Armenia in 1909. He was a minister in Romania during the spread of communism across the globe. Communism swept through Russia, and into Romania, which was controlled by the Soviet union. Richard Wurmbrand watched as communists took over the churches in his country and begin using those churches to spread communism. He instead preached against communism, and preached the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which the communists despised.

For this Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned. He had to be isolated in solitary confinement because every time they put him in with the general population he would preach the gospel to the other prisoners. They offered to release him many times if he would just reject Christ and become a good communist atheist. He refused.

They tortured him to discover the names and locations of the secret underground churches in Romania. In 14 years he gave no names. His imprisonment separated him from his wife and his son. He was left in solitary confinement for a total of 14 years. He never gave up.

Have you been through struggles? Have you been through suffering? Has it made you question your faith? Has it made you wonder if God is really good? Asked the question: If God really loves me why would he let me go through this?

Pastor Wurmbrand recalled in his book “Tortured for Christ” how he had to sit in a straight upright position and listen to the propaganda on the loud speaker “communism is good, communism is good, Christianity is stupid, Christianity is stupid, No one believes it anymore.” On and on and on. And he recalls a time when the walls of the cell seemed to shine like diamonds, and he knew Christ was there with him and he didn’t even know he was in jail anymore, he was so close with Christ.

Pastor Wurmbrand said that he could see no colors, only the gray of the walls and the gray of the jail uniform. He could not see sky, nor sun, nor moon, nor stars, he could see nothing. He forgot that such things existed over the years of time. He saw no women, no children. He heard nothing, for the cells themselves were sound proof. He lived underground, in this jail, harassed and beaten and abused, and left alone, fed perhaps a piece of bread a week. He heard silence.

And one day he prayed to the Lord saying, Lord I have no one, I can see no one, I do not have your word even Lord, I am in silence, I have nothing, I have become nothing, so would you speak to me Lord and talk with me?

And he heard God say in an audible voice a single question: “What is your name?” He didn’t know how to answer. He wasn’t Richard anymore. He wasn’t simply a Christian or a pastor. He paused & replied, “Jesus, I have no name. Allow me to bear your name.” He said that Paul understood this when he wrote, “Not I live, not the old Paul, not the new Paul. The “I” has been abolished. “Not I live, but Christ lives in me.“

What is your name?

What makes us think God owes us a perfect existence? Our suffering is guaranteed. We can expect it. We must endure it. And remember that we are nothing, and Christ is everything.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live now in the body, I live for the son of God who loves me and gave himself for me.”

I’d like to share about a few experiences in my life where I’ve experienced the grace of God, which enabled me to overcome through suffering.

Let me preface by saying I’ve rarely had the opportunity to suffer for Christ. But I have seen times when God has gotten me through the dark times.

The first one I recall is when I was in jail about 10 years ago. I spent over two weeks in jail detoxing from drugs, shaking, sweating, hallucinating, weeping, unsure of what reality was, in a state of intense confusion. I was having nightmares every night. I was so scared. All I had was a Bible. I wasn’t saved at this point in my life. But I clung to that Bible. I read it day and night. I hugged it to my chest, because I was so scared.

But Christ was there in the darkness. Let me tell you, some might say all those years of drug addiction, jails, institutions, probation, family chaos, and isolation were meaningless. But they weren’t meaningless to me. Because God was giving me exactly what I needed, to crush my ego, to crush my pride, to burn away all the “self” and “selfishness” of my life, so he could replace my me centered life, with a Christ centered life. Sometimes God allows suffering to teach us not to sin and to free us from pride and ego.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. -1 Peter 5:10 ESV

A second example is when I was newly clean and sober, and when I had just called out to Jesus Christ. I had called out to Him. Jesus was at work in my heart and life. But there was foot work in front of me to do. If I had just called out to Jesus and done nothing, I would be dead today.

Christ does the inner transformation, he does the miracle, we do the daily footwork. So the first thing I did was I found a church in my area and started going to it every week. I started attending 12 step groups, tons of them, I went to 5-8 meetings a week. I filled myself with that message of recovery. I had a Bible my grandpa gave to me as a gift, and I started reading it everyday. Every night I got on my knees, very low before my Lord and worshiped Him and spoke to him from the heart. I kept doing it, week by week, month by month, even when I really didn’t want to.

I was suffering through those times, quite a bit. I was very depressed. I was very anxious, and broken, and disturbed. I was a mess, overall. But I fought through the darkness, believing that God would lead me through all of it. I brought all the sorrow to God in prayer. Through the suffering he molded me into a new growing Christ follower.

Third example, 2 years later I started working at the Salvation Army homeless shelter. I got hired there. And I knew it was of God.

I was a bit naïve at this point in my walk with God. I thought that perhaps this would be a break through of blessings. And it was, just not in the way I expected. On my first night I had to work the weekend alone, because there was a staff shortage and they were in the process of hiring new people. The 36 bed homeless shelter was packed to the brim, and they all knew I was the new guy. And they decided to see how far they could push me.

On that first night, a young man came to the office complaining of severe chest pains, and I had to call an ambulance for him. Not a few minutes later the fire alarm started going off. Someone had burnt a pizza, no big deal. Around 9pm that night several residents ran to the office and told me Paul and Mike were fighting. And I ran into the commons area and had to get between them. I led Mike back to the office and realized he was roaring drunk. So I gave him a breathalyzer, and told him to leave. I called Paul to the office and I realized he was drunk too. So I kicked him out as well. They were very angry. And I was feeling a bit threatened. A resident told me most of them out there were drunk, and they having a little party at the expense of the new guy. So I brought the breathalyzer out there and lined up all the residents, and gave each of them a breathalyzer. I kicked out a total of five people that night. After I’d completed that process, I came to back to discover that Paul and Mike had snuck back and were slamming beers in the bathroom together. Mike snuck off, but Paul refused to leave, a large man about 2 inches taller than me. He insisted I find him a place to stay. I brought him back to the office, and had to call the police when he started becoming angry, and threatening to kill himself.

I still think of that first day as my baptism by fire into the Salvation Army. Over that long year of struggles, I experienced many things. I had to call the police to come pick up a young girl with blacked eyes who was very drunk and facing a lot of jail time. I met a man in his fourties who had been a drug dealer and gun runner, a monster, who had come to Jesus Christ, and was putting his life together, and was a minister in training at the SDA church in town, later he was found in a coma in our bathroom, and died days later. I did case managing for troubled souls. I led alcohol and drug recovery groups. I had the chance to share the gospel with dozens of people. God was preparing me, through suffering, for a mission ahead. And boy was I surprised.

When we suffer in life, it can cause us to become disillusioned, and to question God. But maybe we don’t understand as well as he does. Maybe we can't see it from his perspective. And as we go through struggles everyday, we maybe don’t realize that on the other side of the planet, Christians face the possibility of death and imprisonment.

All suffering in our lives should lead is in one direction, to God. To Christ. In all these situations I fled to Christ. It forced me into His arms time and again. And each time I fled to Christ and wept in his arms, I knew more and more, it wasn’t really about me. More and more I would realize, I am nothing, Christ is everything. Christ is all. All to his glory, my wants and desires are nothing, His will be done. 

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