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Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada

God is Good… All the Time

Think about the best things that have happened to you lately. If you’re a Christian who has received a promotion, a raise, a new car, a bigger home, a newer home, a good report from the doctor, a healthy baby delivered, or that job you’ve always wanted…you’ve probably said these words:

“God is so good!” And you’re absolutely right…He is.

But could there be more to His goodness than just the bright side of your story? It seems like our first response when things are going right is to declare His goodness, but the Bible paints a picture of God’s character of goodness even in the darker times. Was God still good when He allowed Satan to afflict Job with suffering? Was God still good when He didn’t answer Paul’s prayer to remove the torment of Satan via the thorn in the flesh? Now personalize it. Is God still good if you lose your job, lose your home, can’t have a child, or doctor says you have 6 months to live?

It’s a sobering thought that will test the core foundation of how we view God.

God’s goodness is based on His character. Which means that your career advancement and good health are unrelated to whether or not He is good. He is good and He is good all the time – no matter what our circumstances might be.

Consider the following biblical examples of how God’s goodness means more than just good times:

The Example The Extent The Edification
Job (Job 1-3, Job 38-42) Job loses his kids, his health, his wealth and friends; His wife says, “Curse God!” Job experiences a deeper relationship with God, is blessed by God, restored.
Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) A messenger of Satan that torments Paul like a thorn in the flesh. God won’t alleviate his torment. Paul experiences the extravagance of God’s grace and learns that God’s power is perfected in weak people.
The Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) They suffer. The devil is allowed to cast them into prison, yet they must be faithful unto death. They received the crown of life and enter into the eternal glory of God as honored martyrs.
Peter (Luke 22:31-34) Satan asks permission to sift Peter like wheat – is allowed. Denies Jesus and fails Him. Peter is restored, becomes a pillar of strength in the early church. Suffers faithfully; never to deny His Lord again.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. When we search through the pages of Scripture we quickly find that God is good no matter what we’re going through, and that His purposes and methods are beyond what we can comprehend. That doesn’t change the reality of our pain at certain times, but as real as the suffering is, the rewards and blessings for those who remain faithful are monumentally greater – and priceless.

Though God may allow Satan to roam the earth on His leash for a time, there is coming a day when Satan will be bound and cast into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev. 20:1-15). In the grand scheme of things, he is simply a pawn on God’s chess board as He works all things together for His good (Rom. 8:28).

Always remember, God’s allowance of your trials is rooted in love. He loves you so much that He will grow you and sanctify you until eternity, then reward you for being faithful – how good is that?

Enjoy the daily battle in the faith as it is used to test you, shape you, and grow you for the glory of God (Phil. 1:6).

God is good…. all the time.

Mourn With Those Who Mourn

I’ll never forget meeting Mark Anderson. Our common ground went beyond our faith in Christ: we both had ice running through our veins. Hockey ice, that is.

Being that I’m a Canadian-bred, hockey-loving pastor in Southern California, it’s not every day that I meet Michigan-bred, hockey-loving people like Mark. His wife, Chelsea, is no less a fanatic either. If their favorite team (the Detroit Red Wings) beat my favorite team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) on a Saturday night, Chelsea would go out of her way to let me know about it on Sunday before the service even started! Their friendship within the church has been a refreshing gift from the Lord in so many ways, which is why my wife and I couldn’t contain our excitement when they announced they were pregnant. We knew just the gift we’d get to welcome little baby Joselyn Grace into the world.

Against every fabric of my being, I mustered up the courage to even touch another team’s jersey, let alone buy one. I still have time before she arrives, I thought, as I stared at the “Purchase Order” button on the website I was on. I could still change my mind and buy her my favorite team’s jersey. But for Baby Joselyn, I’d make the exception – she was worth it.

We customized her name on the back of the jersey and my wife added the rhinestones one by one around the jersey number. “It has to be girly,” she persisted. We wrapped it, boxed it, and it was ready to go.

Then the news came.

Baby Joselyn would never get to wear her jersey. The Master had called her home.

In Mark and Chelsea’s own words, here’s what happened:

From the very beginning, our pregnancy journey was a difficult one. The hardest season began in the second trimester when we discovered our daughter had multiple abnormalities. Every doctor’s appointment seemed to include a new abnormality to add to the list as her prognosis worsened. The doctors suggested termination as her life expectancy was grim. At one point, we were given a 2% life expectancy for our sweet girl and faced potential health risks for Chelsea if we wanted to continue carrying our daughter. We clung to God’s word, standing firm in our belief that God ordains the length of each life. Termination was not an option, regardless of a prognosis, no matter how difficult or traumatic the circumstances were. We believe that God is always sovereign and in control, and that if He has willed such pain and hardship in our lives, then He would grow us and sustain us through every moment. That is exactly what we experienced.

During the traumatic thirty-eight weeks of pregnancy, God sustained us. Through the ups and downs of crippling morning sickness, through countless doctors’ appointments, hospital visits, and monitoring sessions. It was the absolute best and the absolute worst thirty-eight weeks of our lives. To be in such despair, and yet have so much joy. To feel so weak, and yet watch our faith and marriage be strengthened. To be consumed with all the “what ifs” and worries, and then to be able to turn to the Bible and renew our minds with His truth brought such joy, peace and understanding. It was so painfully beautiful. And still is.

We’d be lying if we said our hearts aren’t broken. Every time we see other parents enjoying their children, it is a stinging reminder of our sweet Joselyn. It is so very hard to express our pain, especially to friends who may not understand that our grieving process takes time, sometimes much longer then we had even expected. We know what the Bible says, and that brings us such hope and peace, but sometimes it takes a little longer than we’d like for the message to mend our broken hearts.

“But God.” Those two words have become the life raft we cling to when the waters of pain are so deep we cannot swim. His grace is sufficient in our greatest times of weakness. That is a promise we hold on to each day.

The Russian Roulette of Christian Response

When people in our lives go through this sort of pain, the response from Christians can be like a game of Russian Roulette: you just never know what you’re going to get. Some of us aren’t sure what to say, so we say nothing. Others are scared to say the wrong thing, so nothing is said at all. Still, others try to say the right thing, but end up doing more harm than good. But there is even another group – those who are selfishly indifferent to the pain that others are experiencing for any number of reasons. We all may may fit into this last group from time to time, no matter how much we don’t want to admit it.

Like an archer painting a bullseye around where his arrow hits, we tend to act like we know what we’re talking about when, in reality, far too many of us are unable to construct our responses upon a foundation of biblical understanding.

We are left wondering what it actually means to come alongside those who are experiencing great loss. But exactly how do we do it?

In light of our great need to represent our Great Savior to those experiencing great pain, here are four ways to biblically mourn with those who mourn:

Show Empathy Towards Them

Now, before all the tough guys who never cry roll their eyes and scroll on, think about Paul’s words in Romans 12:15. Instructing the church on how to serve one another he writes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” In the most basic sense, it is a downright Christian behavior to show emotion that is appropriate for the moment. Feelings matter, and empathy is one of those feelings that Christians should cultivate for the good of those around them. We serve a compassionate God (James 5:11), we have a Savior who wept over a loss (John 11:35), and the One who holds the world in His hands holds our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). Emotions are not bad, they’re a tool for bonding.

It may take some effort, but you are called to show empathetic emotion towards those who are mourning.

Listen to Them

We can all do a better job at this one. I’ve spoken with numerous parents who have lost babies and the majority of them want to talk about it. They need to talk about it. We do well to listen and put our emotional tool boxes aside – they don’t need fixing.

One of the most awe-inspiring examples of listening in the Bible didn’t even involve talking. Job’s friends “listened” to the pain of their friend by simply saying nothing. Job 2:11-13 does the heavy lifting here as it says, “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each from his own place…to sympathize with him and comfort him…then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw his pain was very great.”

Want to be a listening ear? Sit silently and hear the pain of those around you. Sometimes we comfort those around us best when we have the courage to just sit with them in the process of pain.

Serve Them

In his book, Comfort the Grieving, Paul Tautges charts bereavement plans that last up to three years (pp. 58-59). How’s that for serving? Not every Christian will be able to hold down the fort for a three-year plan, but the idea behind this sort of thing is something everyone can and should do: serve those who are in pain. Jesus served to the point of laying down His life (Matt. 20:28). He was the ultimate example of selflessness and humility (Phil. 2:3-7) and we are to be devoted to one another with the same attitude of service (Romans 12:9-13). That’s going to mean looking in the mirror. Does pride keep you from serving others? Are your own idols barricading your heart from being able to show more love to others?

Maybe it’s time to say to someone who’s grieving: “What do you want? Consider it done.” “What you need? We’re ready to do it right now.” “Please inconvenience me, I am here for you.”

Journey with Them

Reminding people about the sovereignty of God is a great thing. Telling people to “consider all joy” when they encounter trials is also a great thing (James 1:2). But without applying any of the strategies on this list, rapidly discharged sentiments, no matter how biblical, have little impact if a relationship isn’t present. We need to inconvenience ourselves, crush our selfishness, and embrace the annoyance of “effort” to forge relationships. Every ounce of “me” must be squeezed out of our sinful hearts, that is, if you want to really walk with someone the way Christ intends us to.

Relationship opens the door for trust, and trust enables us to say the things we need to say to one another. Speaking the truth in love is possible all the time, but it is especially effective when we do so with people that share relational trust. Drive-by one-liners like, “Stay focused on eternity, you’ll see your baby in heaven one day” or “Keep your perspective during this time, millions of babies die every day” are useless maxims when the pain of searing loss is present. Journeying with people enables us to spend time with them and, therefore, opens the door for us to share wisdom with them. Encouragement – and even correction – from a trusted source wins every time.

We Need Each Other

Notice what mourning with those who mourn is not about? Yep, you guessed it! It’s not about you. Your opinion on timelines, perspective, or even well-intentioned sharing of how you conquered previous pain is not essential to this process. It is Christ who provides the best recipe for restoring the broken heart. Selflessness is the mark of Christ-likeness, and there is no better way to be the church to those around you than to live in light of His model.

Your moment will come too. Pain is a reality that we are all going to experience. Taking practical steps enables us all to bear one another’s burdens and be the hands and feet of Christ.

Is it Always God’s Will to Heal Now?

Jesus is getting a lot of really confusing press when it comes to physical healing these days. This post will answer one of the biggest questions that arises from all of the confusion.

As of right now, miraculous healing is one of the most popular subjects inside and outside the church. Preachers are preaching it, televangelists are guaranteeing, desperate people need it – it’s a healing-hungry world out there.

Recently, I was on a camping trip with my family and thought I was free and clear of any healing ministry enthusiasts. That first night a man walked up to my campsite out of the blue, introduced himself, and proceeded to spend 2 hours telling me about his divine healing ministry. The crescendo of our campfire pow-wow? No, he didn’t heal my wife’s asthma (or even offer). But he did give me two copies of his most recent book on using the power of positive words to speak healing into every sick person I know. After I declined his offer of 400 copies for our church, I shared truth, and he didn’t return again. houston-1You probably experience the same kind of chaotic intrusion from time to time as well. Peruse through your local TV stations or mainstream Christian bookstore and it won’t be long before you’re promised divine healing and a miracle of some sort. On the flip side to all of that, there’s a whole slew of authors and teachers who will tell you that God does nothing supernatural, so not to get your hopes up.

All of the opinions can be downright confusing for people who just need a clear answer to one begging question:

Is it always God’s will to heal everyone during their life on earth?

To find this answer we don’t need a faith healer’s FAQ webpage, or a blanket guarantee from someone who has “seen and experienced some things” in a healing room or a jungle overseas. We need nothing more than to incline our ears and fill our minds with answers from the word of God.

Here are six clear truths that explain God’s will in regards to healing:

I. GOD DOESN’T HEAL EVERYONE ALL THE TIME

This is the most important point to start off any discussion on God’s will and miraculous healing. God doesn’t heal everyone all the time and the Bible gives irrefutable evidence to support this. Miracles of healing were primarily done through God the Son – Jesus Christ, and His Apostles. Jesus healed just one man out of a multitude of sick people at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:3-8). Jesus didn’t heal people in His hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:58). After a healing-spree in the district of Galilee, Jesus plainly decided to go somewhere else to preach even though desperately sick and hurting people were looking for Him (Mark 1:38). His reasoning was simple: “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Christ didn’t come to earth to hold a healing crusade, He came to bring salvation! As for the most prolific Apostle and writer of 13 New Testament books? Paul wielded miraculous gifts yet told Timothy to take wine for his stomach issues. Why didn’t the Apostle wield his gift of healing? (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul also left one of his faithful ministry teammates, Trophimus, sick at Miletus. Why didn’t he heal him and bring him along? (2 Timothy 4:20). Clearly, God heals as He wills and even sovereignly controlled the specially gifted Apostles. God’s will in healing is not a formula that man can master.

II. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED SOLELY ON FAITH

Can you “believe” your way into getting healed? This view on faith healing was first popularized in the early 20th century by faith healing evangelists. They made a lot of money off people by making them repeat customers to their healing crusades. If someone didn’t get healed, the faith healer blamed the sick person and told them to come back with more faith – and usually an offering (we’ll deal with that one next). Fortunately, the Bible clears the air on this abusive teaching. When Jesus healed the cripple at Bethesda, the man didn’t have a clue who Jesus was, let alone have enough faith (John 5:13). In Luke 5:17-26 Jesus did heal based on faith – He healed a man’s soul through salvation. When the Pharisees questioned His authority to forgive the lame man’s sins, He healed the man to prove it. Other times Jesus was in fact moved by people’s faith, but this doesn’t mean that His healing touch was bound to whether or not they had enough faith. When the woman with issue of blood crawled through the crowd just to touch the hem of Christ’s robe, He felt power leave Him (Luke 8:46). In this case, as in others throughout the gospels, Jesus is moved by her faith and heals her, but He tells her of the true healing that has taken place when He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). Jesus calls her “daughter” because He has offered the greatest healing of all; she is now part of the family of God. So can the healing power of Christ be coerced by faith as a force? Not even close. Jesus is the Great Physician who places a priority on healing the wayward sinner’s soul, more than He does the physical body.

III. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED ON GIVING MONEY

Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy it (Acts 8:9-25), fortune-tellers and witch doctors will sell it, and faith healers will tell you to sow your biggest seed to get it. As it has been throughout history, people are convinced that healing, like houses, is FOR SALE. When a beggar asked for a blessing in his cup, the Apostle Peter offered him something better – and gave it to him for free! (Acts 3:6). This truth is pure biblical logic. If God can’t be convinced to heal by a guaranteed formula, and Jesus can’t be forced to heal by the right amount of faith, then it’s unthinkable that the Alpha and Omega can be “bought” into healing with a bribe. No Apostle, no New Testament writer, and not even Jesus Himself, ever told someone to give a financial seed of faith for a healing, a breakthrough, or protection from sickness. It is not God’s will that you give money to be healed.

IV. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED ON POSITIVE CONFESSIONS

Positive confession teaching asserts that if you have enough faith, and speak your healing by that faith, then you will be healed. Based on this view of healing, your sickness is caused by your negative confession and wrong thinking and you can control God’s will in healing. Growing up I experienced this belief system first hand and was often scolded if I woke up with a runny nose and said, “I’m sick.” A parent would quickly remark, “Don’t confess that! You are well! You are the head and not the tail! You are healed in Jesus Name – now get ready for school.” This view on healing goes back over a century and has been the cause of much confusion in the body of Christ. This teaching has no foundation in Scripture but if certain verses are twisted and taken out of context, it can be taught. The late Charismatic apologist Walter Martin desperately tried to help his own theological camp understand this unbiblical view on healing with sermons about this erroneous teaching. Ultimately, 1 John 5:14 serves as a helpful clarification for praying “in Jesus’ name” as it says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Confessing something “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t work as a blanket promise if what you’re asking isn’t the will of God. You’ll know God’s will in regards to your healing based on what actually happens – not based on what you confess.

V. GOD SOVEREIGNLY HEALED THEN AND HE STILL SOVEREIGNLY HEALS TODAY

So does God still heal today? As an immutable (unchanging) and sovereign God – of course He does! His will cannot be thwarted and there are those who He has decreed to be healed during life on earth. But He does so according to His will and He does so for His glory. Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done”, multiple times throughout His life and ministry on Earth. At one point, He even prayed this when He was sweating blood (Luke 22:42). Under the greatest weight a man has ever carried, and in preparation to take the sin of the world on His divine shoulders, God the Son still submitted His will to the glorious plan and purpose of the Father’s will. This is a model that should resonate with every believer today. Can God heal? Yes. But sometimes He will glorify Himself through your suffering, your sickness, and even your death. This counter-intuitive way of thinking is foreign to this world. No wonder Peter called us foreigners (1 Peter 2:11), and James said to count it all joy when you encounter trials (James 1:2). Just think of how God will use your story for His glory – no matter what your temporal circumstance may be. That is the greatest honor in this life. Greater than even a healing.

VI. GOD’S WILL GUARANTEES THAT ALL WILL BE HEALED IN HEAVEN

The atonement bought and paid for everything you and I could never afford. Christ died and paid the penalty of sin, sickness, tears, fears, the wrath of God, and the eternal fire of hell. While all of this (and more) is provided for in the atonement, many of the blessings we’ll experience won’t be fully realized until heaven. For example, while we have assurance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ here on earth, we don’t live eternally until after we die (John 3:16). Similarly, this old decaying body is promised to be replaced by a glorified one (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), but we don’t receive that until heaven. Finally, Christ said He is going to prepare a place for His disciples (John 14:2-3), and that means us indirectly too. Yet, some of us would hardly call our current home a heavenly mansion! Yes, all of the benefits of the atonement were bought and paid for by Christ – but heaven is where we’ll eternally enjoy them in the fullest sense!

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One day the trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ shall rise, death will be no more, He’ll wipe away every tear, cancer won’t exist, wheel chairs will be scrap metal, downs syndrome will be an old diagnosis, blindness will be overcome by marvelous light, and the glorious blessings of the atonement will be realized once and for all eternity.

Some will experience the sovereign healing hand of God in this life. While some will suffer and not be healed until heaven. In every circumstance, let these truths from the word of God bring comfort to your soul, and to your body. Your years of suffering and uncertainty are but a vapor here on earth. Your eternity of perfect joy will never end.

Marriage Advice from Oxen

One Sunday a teaching-pastor dared to go where few pastors are willing to go. He called marriage, “work”, and had the audacity to compare a delicate bride and handsome groom to two dirty, bulky, yoke-pulling oxen. Of all the nerve!

In a day and age chock-full of Disney romanticism, post-modern liberalism, and LGBTQ fanaticism, he had managed to de-romanticize marriage in all its blissful glory and call it something few are willing to, only to illustrate his point with a picture that couldn’t have been further from Cinderella’s happily-ever-after ending. Every hopeless romantic in the room gasped for air, every lazy lover looked for the nearest exit, and I’m almost certain that some of the young single women fought back the urge to shout, “Heretic!”, for fear of the ushers – we’ve got some burly ones.

But you know what? The pastor was dead on. He couldn’t have been more right and the illustration couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Marriage has always been a challenge and will continue to be in every generation. With so much at stake when it comes to marriage, we need to enter it spiritually prepared. As laughable as a 300lbs hot dog eating contest winner thinking he can be an NFL lineman, is a biological man who thinks that because he is a biological man, he is ready to lead a bride and a home. The divorce rate takes no prisoners, an adulteress lurks at every turn, and a marriage made in heaven can quickly become a living hell when it’s put on cruise control.

When asked about divorce and marriage Matthew records Jesus’ poignant response as he declares, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Look at how binary Jesus was when it came to marriage! From gender, to function, to format, God purposed marriage to be a life-long marathon that produces a generation of godly worshippers, sanctifies bride and groom unto holiness, and bears fruit from the work they put in to see it through. All that work means that unity will be essential to production.

Many talk a big game when it comes to bible knowledge and marriage, but the real test is not how much you know but what you actually produce. Does your marriage resemble two oxen pulling a yoke in unity? Or do you find that it can be more like two oxen fighting to pull the yoke in their own direction? Whether it’s your first year, or your fiftieth, we can all learn a lot about marriage from those beasts.

Here are three things to consider based on the bold pastor’s illustration:

  1. OXEN MUST BE PROPERLY YOKED TOGETHER

Unity is a requirement for oxen to be productive and marriage is no different. When two oxen are placed under a yoke it’s the farmer who brings them together, the farmer who lines them up, and it’s the oxen who stay in place – submitting to the farmer as he places the yoke upon them. Sounds a lot like the role that God plays in a proper marriage doesn’t it? Ultimately, two oxen won’t need to continually stop and be re-adjusted if they start by lining up straight in the first place. Another important thing to remember: the oxen need to be similar in size and kind or there’s little that can be done to make them productive. A donkey and an Ox aren’t meant to pull together. The Apostle Paul commanded, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?(2 Corinthians 6:14). Always wise practice to go with the God’s word when it comes to life long commitments.

  1. OXEN ARE PURPOSED TO WORK

Farmers don’t yoke their oxen for show and they certainly don’t do it for fun – it’s an important part of their purpose. In short, they were meant for work! In the same way, marriage exists to produce. The “work” of marriage should produce holiness, it should produce godly children, it should produce a dependence on the grace of God, and it should produce a clear (yet still not fully complete) picture of Christ and the church. John Piper famously once write that “God designed marriage not to make you happy but to make you holy.”William Tyndale said, “Marriage was ordained for a remedy and to increase the world and for the man to help the woman and the woman the man, with all love and kindness.”Anyone familiar with Malachi 2:15 understands that God wants godly generations to come out of godly marriages. It’s safe to say that marriage is work and that work is our purpose for being yoked together. Talk about de-romanticizing the Disney version of marriage in a day and age where everything is about being happy and living happily-ever-after. Like it or not, it’s true. But don’t lose heart! Love is still as foundational as ever in marriage because who wants to do all that work with someone they don’t love? And all the hopeless romantics said, “Amen.”

  1. OXEN ARE BETTER TOGETHER

Have you ever seen two oxen plowing together? A quick YouTube search will prove this simple fact to be true: they are better together! One 1500lbs ox can do some damage, but two yoked together are unstoppable. It’s amazing what oxen can do when there’s two – and marriage is no different. God intended for both men and women to accept their roles, follow His design, and stick to His purpose. There’s no success in a lone-ranger marriage. A true Christian marriage is a shared mind, shared body, shared emotions, shared goals, and shared direction. It’s you-win-I-win, you-lose-I-lose. In many cultures the concept of “better together” is so prioritized that as a symbol of unity they chain a young couple together during the wedding and sometimes longer. When Jesus said, “…they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6), He was making the commitment of marriage crystal clear. When a man and woman stand to pledge themselves to one another on the wedding day, they are partaking in a gracious gift God gave humanity, and receiving of His blessings. Consequently, when they break those vows, they are not consciously uncoupling or agreeing to disagree…they are offending God and turning their backs on their vows to Him as the One who declared, “I hate divorce”(Malachi 2:16).

So there you have it. Marriage advice from the most unlikely of places. Thank God for oxen and thank God for grace!