Another Word…by Gus Keiser

February 5, 2018

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”          

                                                                                 Mark 6:38

 A new bakery has just opened not far from our house, one that I pass every time I journey to the west end of town. The counter is set up, the display cases are all in place; but there’s just one problem, there’s nothing in them, or anything on the shelves.  Right now, the only product that ends up there are things people have ordered and that has been shipped there from their Pittsburgh location to be picked up at the new store.  Ovens and other baking machinery have been put into place, along with the promise that they will soon be a fully operational, retail location.  But for now, there’s no bread to be had, so it’s a good thing Jesus didn’t send them there to look for bread.

This is a really fascinating story involving Jesus and his disciples…oh, and a few thousand others. The disciples had just returned from being sent out to do and teach all they had seen Jesus do and teach.  They were filled with excitement and couldn’t wait to tell Jesus all about what they’d just done and experienced.  Jesus, however, had something else in mind, taking his disciples away via boat to find some much-needed rest.  Yet, before they could even step off the boat, they were surrounded a by a large crowd hungry for Jesus who met them on the shore.  Jesus, filled with compassion for the people, began to teach, sharing with them the mysteries of his Father’s kingdom.

For an entire day he taught them, but the disciples, sensing the day drawing to a close, approached Jesus. Since it was getting late, they asked him, “What should we do about food for all these people?” Seems like a reasonable request, doesn’t it?  Yet, rather than give his disciples an answer, Jesus moves the conversation to a whole new level.

Instead of miraculously producing some amazing spread, he turns toward the disciples, uttering what is perhaps one of my favorite lines from Scripture…”You give then something to eat.” And so he leaves standing there twelve very confused people.  So they respond with the only thing left to say, “That would take almost a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

 Do you get the sense here that, for Jesus, there’s something far larger than just finding enough food to feed this large, expectant crowd? So Jesus decides to turn the tables on his disciples: “What are you going to do about it?”

 I’m sure the vernacular of the time had them phrase their response a bit differently, but their shocked response was more than likely something to the effect of…”Are you kidding, Lord? Do you even know what you’re asking of us?”

 Now Jesus has the disciples just where he wants them. While the disciples have eyes to see the need, they’re blind to the solution…a solution that was closer than they ever imagined.  And so Jesus looks into those confused faces and asks another question: “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

Go get ‘em Brilliant Jesus! He answers their question with one of his own, with a question that will lead them to see for themselves the very solution they seek, but only if they have eyes to see it.  You see, the problem wasn’t that the disciples missed the need.  Oh no, they saw the need.  The problem was that it never dawned on them that they might actually have a role in its solution.  So what we have going on here is nothing shy of a miracle.  In the end, well over five thousand people were fed with five loaves and two fishes, all gathered together and distributed by a dozen skeptical disciples…a group to which we to this day belong.

How often and how easy it is for us to see the needs around us…only for us to then cry out to God…”Where are you? If you’re such a loving God, then why are you allowing these people to go hungry, or to hurt, or to die?”  Like the disciples, we see the need, but are blinded to the fact that we might actually have the key to the solution, or to understand that God may well be inviting us to be part of that solution.

God’s always there, always at work, so that means that there are no God-forsaken solutions, only situations that have been forsaken by us…his followers. God’s answering the question we ask with one of his own…”I’m right here; where are you?”

 Do we have eyes to see the needs? Do we hear his invitation?  How many loaves do you have?  Go and see!

Lord, open the eyes of your people; that we might see the solution that’s directly in front of us or that lies within us. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

January 29, 2018

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”  Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans,  and have prevailed.”                                                                                                                                                                                                              Genesis 32: 27-28

 I suppose we could classify God as a “picker,” someone who likes to take broken, the rusted, the discarded and worn out things to repurpose them and make them useful again, only in our case, those broken things are people like you and me.

Let’s take Jacob as a good example. As a young man, Jacob had received a blessing from God, but he hadn’t been able to embrace it because he was always trying to control and manage life on his own terms. It wasn’t until he found himself in an impossible situation at the river Jabbok, wrestling with the angel of God, a day away from facing the approaching army of his estranged brother, Esau, that he was able to experience the blessing that for so long had eluded him.

I’ve often wondered if, during his hard, hard hopeless struggle, if Jacob might have experienced some sort of flashback to a moment many years earlier, when his blind, elderly father, Isaac, had said to him, “Who are you, my son?” “I am Esau,” Jacob had responded deceitfully, trying to steal Esau’s blessing by raw self-will and effort. But the situation he found himself in this time was a whole different ballgame with a whole different set of characters. This time he was dominated by One infinitely stronger, causing him to respond to a similar question with an answer that reflected a heart and will that had finally been subdued by grace.

“What is your name?”

“Jacob.”

There would be no pretending this time, no posturing, no conniving, no self-justifying. This time it would be nothing but the bare, naked truth: “I am Jacob, the schemer, the deceiver, the manipulator. That’s who I really am.” And the moment he admitted the truth, God gave him a new name…Israel…meaning, “prince with God,” representative of a new character. But in the process of conceding his defeat, Jacob won his ultimate victory. With his own natural strength now broken down (and with the reminder of a limp that would stay with him from that day forward), God would now clothed him with spiritual power. God “picked” this broken vessel out of the trash, repurposed it, renamed it, empowered it, and made it useful once again.

You also can become a useful vessel in God’s hands. All you need to do is to call on him, let him take you and empower you so that his blessing and power can flow through you, taking you from broken to beautiful.

Take us, mold us, fill us, and use us for your purpose and your will, Loving Lord. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

January 22, 2018

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

                                                                                                                        Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

 Have you ever heard this phrase used around the church: “We are better together”? What a fantastic slogan.  But even more than just a slogan, “better together” means that when other people are in our lives, we’ll thrive.  Better together is not only a great idea, it’s biblical.

“Better together” also means that God has created us and calls us into relationships with others. Not only has he summoned us into a personal relationship with himself, but he also invites us to have significant relationships with others.  Apart from entering into those kinds of deep, real relationships, there’s no way we’re going to be able to live the lives of abundance that God has intended for us.  But when we do have real, connecting relationships in our lives, we can.  “Know and be known; love and be loved; celebrate and be celebrated; and serve and be served”…that’s God’s invitation to us today, and it should be what we as Christians should want for ourselves.

Real and meaningful relationships should promote friendships, and when I think of friendships, three images come to mind:

Friendship is sometimes like a lump of unformed clay. It sort of just sits there like this gray glob of muck.  It’s undeveloped; not really good for much…but it does have potential.  It’s just going to take some work to shape it.

Friendship is sometimes like a lump of clay that’s being formed. Time and intention have to be put into its formation.  Maybe it’s developing the shape of a bowl or an urn or a mug.  The friendship is nice, it could be functional, but it’s not yet all it’s intended to be.

But friendship can also be like this beautiful vase. Here, that clay that started out as that gray glob has been formed and put through the fire.  When it’s drawn from that kiln, it’s complete.  It’s functional, and it’s all it’s meant to be.  It’s a thing of beauty.

God’s intention for friendships is to let them become all they can be.

It’s these types of relationships that are always within our grasp. God brings them our way, and then invites our cooperation in their forming.  So, if you’ve been holding back for whatever reason, possibly drowning in some pool of isolation, there is good news my fellow Christian…you can change!  But don’t wait.  Find someone.  Connect.  Cultivate.  And then commit to cherish that new-found friendship.  Seize the day!  Because, remember…we’re always better together…both with each other…and with God!!

Lord, draw us together in friendship with you and with others. Amen

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

January 15, 2018

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”                                                                                                                                                   1 Samuel 16:7

From a research study done by Cambridge University comes the following information:

Aoccdrnig to our rscheearch, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oerdr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist ltteer and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lleter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Okay, so now that my spell check has gone berserk and you think my mind has failed me; let me explain… If you did have trouble reading what I typed above, here’s how it should read:

According to our research, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but word as a whole.

Don’t you find this more than a bit amazing? What a fantastic illustration of how our mind works to put words together. It goes against everything we were taught in grade school and totally ends the need for spell check! (well, not really) It’s the perfect example that confirms what you see may not be what you get.

A reminder needs to be offered here…God is always searching our hearts. He’s not really concerned that much about our outward appearances. The truth of the matter is many of us have gotten so good at hiding who we really are, that even we don’t recognize our true selves. And, if’s often we who call ourselves Christians who put masks on so quickly, fearing that if other people really knew us, we would be rejected, condemned, or thrown out like yesterday’s garbage.

So today, if you’re hiding behind a mask, afraid to reveal your true self, why not allow God to peel back the layers of fear, pain, and deception in order to find your true self…the one that was made in the image of God.

Lord, unmask us that the world might see your true essence revealed in our lives. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

January 8, 2018

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

                                                                                                Galatians 6:2

 I can’t believe that it’s been almost three years since I suffered with the medical issues that came close to ending my life. Following my release from the hospital and a stay alone at home while my family visited with Ellie’s sister and her family and her mother; after a week, I made the plane trip to Minneapolis, right after Jordan and Sunshine returned, so that I could visit with them and spend a week recuperating from all that had occurred.  Part of that recuperative process included doing some traveling around the Twin Cities.  It was one day as we were driving back from St. Paul to Minneapolis, that we crossed over a bridge on I-35-W.

It was on that same bridge eight years earlier, during a typical afternoon commute, that tragedy struck when, without warning, the bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River below, killing thirteen people and injuring one hundred forty-five others. In a way it was also amazing that so many others who had plunged into the river managed to survive.

In the Pittsburgh area, we’re very familiar with bridges, as the city has one of the greatest concentrations of bridges in the United States. I’m certain that those who travel those bridges daily rarely give thought as to whether they’re structurally sound.  They simply drive across them with their minds totally preoccupied by other “more important” issues, at the same time taking for granted that they will remain intact.  It’s such a matter of trust for them that they don’t even consider the possibility that the structure they’re on may not be safe.

Think of the many people around you every day, including those who make up your world of relationships. Some bear the physical scars of this life, while others don’t.  Most of us never give a moment’s thought to what might be going on in the lives of these people.  Yet, many people bear tremendous emotional and spiritual damages… interior damages that few, if any of us, see.  Much like one of those unsound bridges that appear to be normal, but have unseen structural damage, most of these people appear as though all is well in their lives.  Yet, many are teetering on the brink of collapse from all the damages done by wounds that have weakened them.

When that Minneapolis bridge collapse occurred, heroes emerged: People caught on the collapsed bridge along with rescue workers who quickly arrived on the scene. These were people who courageously put their own lives at risk to help those caught up in the tragedy.  What a marvelous reminder that we, as Christian followers, are called to be spiritual and emotional rescue workers in the lives of those around us.

In the New Testament book of Jude, we read, “Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment.  There are still others to whom you need to show mercy…”

 So today, why not make the decision to look below the surface of the lives of the people in your world. Chances are, there is someone out there that you know who needs your support.  Through your love and care, you can help to shore up that person and prevent their life from collapsing.

Lord, give us the eyes to see and then equip us with the tools and the compassion to strengthen and rescue the lives of others. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

January 1, 2018

After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years.

                                                                                                                                 Job 42: 16-17

 During my years of living, I’ve had more than one person tell me “You’re full of it!” I, along with you, know what that statement implies…and perhaps at times maybe I am.  But I have yet to have anyone tell me that I’m full of years…which, at my age, I am, although I certainly hope that there’s at least a little room in the old “year barrel” for a few more.

The book of Job ends on a note of contentment and peace after a rather tumultuous collection of chapters preceding its ending one. I read in a commentary a lot of years ago that Job was about my current age when the book bearing his name began.  And when the book begins, Job is this aged, contented man, a picture of peace, one whom God has greatly blessed.

As you’re reading this, you are also likely looking ahead to the New Year that lies before you…a new year, symbolizing a new beginning. The old is past, put away forever.  As we prepare for this new beginning, God invites us to, as he has so many times in our past, forget about all our distrust and fears, all the anxieties of the past, all the resentments we’ve been holding against others, all the grudges, all the criticisms…to put them away and begin anew.

God invites us to close the book on it all, and as we close that book, there may well be a question that hovers over us (one we may feel deeply within our heart)…”On what basis am I going to live this new year? Will it be on the old basis of it-all-depends-on-me, do-it-yourself goodness before God, trying my best to be pleasing to God and meaning it with all my heart but never fully realizing the depths of evil with which I have to deal?”  Or will I accept the gift of God that is waiting for me every day, fresh from his hand, a gift of forgiveness, or righteousness already mine, of a relationship in which he is my dear Father and I am his cherished, beloved child, and in which he therefore has provided for me all I need, all day long, so that I can stand up to and say no to evil and yes to truth and right?

Will we begin this New Year on that basis? If it is, this is going to be a year in which our life will be characterized by peace, love and beauty.  Or, if we insist on living this coming year on the same old basis, we may find ourselves like those friends of Job, arousing the anger and the wrath of God.  Though God is patient and merciful, and slow to anger, our only escape will be to repent of our evil ways and rest upon the righteousness of our perfect substitute and return to God for the blessing he’s waiting to give.  This is the choice before us, each one of us, as we prepare to set that first foot into this New Year.  So, how are you going to live this New Year?

Loving God and Lord… thank you for this New Year that lies before us. We choose you.  We choose to depend on you, trust you, and accept from your hand all that you would give us.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

December 25, 2017

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

First of all, let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas from the entire Keiser family.

The story of today begins in an unlikely town…Nazareth. Nathanael spoke for a generation of Jewish people when he asked Philip, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  God wasn’t deterred by the reputation of the town of Nazareth or the region of Galilee.  He was willing to go to an improbable place to find a young girl who had faith.  He searched the world for the right young woman to carry his Son.

And Mary was most certainly the right choice! The miracle of her choice seems almost impossible, were it not for the historical precedence of it.  Here was a young girl who believed for a miracle that had never been experienced before and hasn’t been experienced since.  She would become pregnant without the involvement of a man.  A virgin would give birth to the Son of God.

Without question, the social implications of her response were staggering. She was engaged to Joseph, but they had not begun to live together.  The betrothal was a full year and then the marriage would have taken place.  However, unfaithfulness during a betrothal period was as serious as adultery after marriage.  She and Joseph, and ultimately Jesus, would live under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of their lives.

Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement was predictable. She was “troubled.”  She was confused and perplexed.  And why shouldn’t she be?  This had never happened before in all of human history.

At the time, Mary only posed one question that made sense: “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

 The angel’s response would show that this would have to be the result of the Holy Spirit’s activity. The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

 As we hopefully realize, miracles just don’t happen without the activity of the Holy Spirit. It was true for this amazing event just as it remains true today.  So here’s a lesson for all of us from this Christmas story, and it applies to us not just at Christmas, but every other day of our lives.  We can’t live the life God wants for us, and achieve the dreams he has for us, without the power of the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit was God’s side of the miracle, but what about Mary’s responsibility? Tucked away in the original language of her conversation with the angel was a word that isn’t noticed from a quick reading of the exchange with Gabriel.  The angel says to Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God,” to which Mary responds, “May it be to me as you have said.”

 Literally, the angel said to Mary, “No rhema of God is powerless.” A rhema is a Greek expression for a “word”.  When God speaks, what he says is never powerless but is able to bring a miracle to pass.  Mary got the message, so she responded literally, “Let it be to me according to your rhema.” What Mary was saying here was, “If the rhema of God is powerful and does not fail, then let that word work for me.”  God wants that to be our response as well.  “Lord, since your word isn’t powerless, let it be according to your word.”

The lesson we learn here through Mary’s response is that should never give up on the rhema of God. There are going to be times when there may seem to be all sorts of obstacles in the path of God’s promises, but those obstacles will not be able to stop us if we hold fast to what God has said to us.  His word remains powerful.  Together, the power of God’s Word coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit will always be available.  On this Christmas Day, I would urge you to take just a moment away from your busy activities to observe what God can do.  It worked for Mary and it can work for us.

Have a blessed Christmas Day!

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

December 18, 2017

It’s too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.

                                                                                                                                   Isaiah 49:6

 By now, I would suspect that most of us are caught up in a frenzied mix of last minute shopping while trying to also enjoy the pre-holiday activities of the Christmas season. But if we take the time to stop with our own self-indulgence and look around at the total pre-holiday scene; we’re also going to see within our midst the broken, the beat up, and the utterly wrecked, all victims of the daily happenings of our world.

When God created life, it started out as complete, God-filled, and utterly amazing. But with that one simple act of rebellion in the Garden, it became grief-stricken, hurt-ridden, and sin-infected.  Because of that one act of disobedience, sin and brokenness entered our world and took what God had made, twisted it, and distorted the good and brought pain and suffering into the lives of God’s children.

But there is still a mountain of hope for our world. As Christmas approaches, it’s nearly impossible to miss the change that happened with the birth God into our world.  It was about two thousand years ago that God decided to “move into the neighborhood” as a human being to bring restoration and healing to his most prized creation.  His impact on the world was instantaneous with the birth of his Son, Jesus, sparking a revolution that continues to drastically shape and heal this slightly screwed up world in which we live.

We have a huge part to play in this revolution, day in and day out. Being one His followers means that God expects us to put his love into action and through the help of his Holy Spirit, that we will be his agents for change in the lives of others.  As we carry the love of Christ along with us, day in and day out, we can become the most effective tool that we possess.  Christ’s love, expressed through each one of us as we live out the moments of our lives, can drastically make this world and our relationships better.

So, even in the midst of all your pre-Christmas preparations; I would offer you one more challenge: as this month moves on and we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus (that miraculous, unfathomable incarnation of God in this world!), take a bit of time to seek God and to ask him through your prayers how you can make a difference in the lives of the people who make up your part of the world. Dream on how you can see his love work through your hands, your words, your time, your gifts and your service to him.  God’s graceful love is a restorer of people, a builder of hearts, and a healer of the brokenness.  But it’s even more than that; it’s something that needs to be experienced each day in and day out, and it brings to the people with whom you interact and so desperately love, the richness, the forgiveness and the fullness that comes with the gift of his Son into our lives.

Loving God…in response to that fantastic gift given out of love from your heart, the words to a beautiful old hymn serve as a prayer to you this day: Into our hearts, into our hearts, come into our hearts, Lord Jesus.  Come in today, come in to stay…come into our hearts, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

December 11, 2017

Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

                                                                                                                               Matthew 18:7

 It seems as if everywhere we turn these days we’re confronted by some type of bad news…massive fires in California destroying people’s lives, the continued threat of war with North Korea, one person of notoriety after another either facing claims of sexual harassment or losing their position of prominence because of it, the continued rise in opiod-related deaths or addiction. It seems as if the bad news is never-ending.

In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel we read much about sin. Sin is that which shatters relationship between us and God, us and one another, and us and the creation around us.  Sin is disobedience and disconnection.  It is selfishness and self-centeredness.  Sin is what results when we act as if we’re the center of the universe, thinking everything revolves around us, and that we’re the sole arbitrators of our own behaviors.

One way of thinking about sin is to compare it to something like an incurable disease and its symptoms. Sin as a disease is a sign of brokenness of all creation, that sense of separateness and alienation that plagues us.  The deepest sense of sin is what is often referred to as original sin, sin which reaches down to the very roots of a person.  The great philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard referred to it as our “sickness unto death.”  He argued that we experience sin as despair and that it is an unavoidable aspect of our human existence.  As we are reminded in Romans…”…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In this we are victims of sin, members of a fallen humanity.

But in addition to being sin’s victims, we are also sin’s perpetrators. This is sin as symptoms of that deeper reality.  We may never be able to cure the disease of sin, but God has granted us the freedom to limit and battle its symptoms.  Despair might drive a hungry person toward the desire to steal from a grocery store, but that person still possesses the freedom to fight that temptation and to seek food by some legal means.

Jesus, in his words to us, uses the term “stumbling blocks”. These are the things in life that quite literally can trip us up, that can knock us off the path of obedience, of doing the next right thing.  When we sin, Jesus isn’t going to just let us off the hook.  He understands our tendency to justify ourselves, minimize our sin, hide behind such phrases as “but everybody’d doing it” or “I just couldn’t help myself.”  And Jesus is rightly concerned that we not intentionally do things to others in order to merely elevate ourselves.

Whether we care to realize it or not, all of this is quite serious when it comes to our day-to-day lives. In the Old Testament, the penalty for some of these sins was to have one’s hands cut off or one’s eyes plucked out; but Jesus doesn’t actually expect us to do that…but his words amplify the dangers of not paying attention to where we go, what we do, and what we see.

As I mentioned earlier, the news today is full of people suffering the consequences of their sins. The words of Luke 8:17 should keep coming back to us… “For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light” (as many of these high-priced entertainers and politicians are now finding out).  Lies, deceptions, sexual harassment, corruption…these are all symptoms of the deepest realities of sin.  Jesus wants us to realize just how serious this stuff is.  It poisons the wells of our lives.

Gracious Lord…from the cross you spoke these words, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”. Such words are vivid reminders of your grace and mercy.  They are also signs of how deeply you know us.  Sometimes our sins are so deeply imbedded in us that we don’t realize what we’re doing.  Far more often, we know but we do it anyway.  Forgive us for embracing stumbling blocks in our lives.  Heal us from the pain over that which we have stumbled.  And light the paths so that we walk with integrity, humility, and care. Amen. 

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

December 5, 2017

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

                                                                                                                           Romans 5: 3-4

             In this world of acronyms and “short-for’s”, I came across one that somewhat baffled me. Do you know what the letters CIP stand for?  I didn’t, though through a little Internet snooping, I found out they are the first letters for a somewhat rare disease called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain.  This medical condition renders its victims unable to feel pain.  At first, this might seem like a blessing (for instance, think back when you’ve had to deal with a severe headache or a toothache).  Just imagine…no pain, no hurting, no suffering.  And yet the absence of pain can inevitably spiral into more harm than good.  Without a sense of pain, an individual becomes unaware of a wound that is in need of attention.  They become ignorant of impending danger that could scald their skin, pierce their flesh, or even sever a limb.  There may be too heavy a pressure, too scalding a heat source, too freezing the cold temperature, but because that person can’t feel the pain, they ignore it, thus running the real risk of severe, continuing and permanent damage to their body.

And although we may not like pain, we need it.  It has the capability of helping us, blessing us, and taking us to the point of desperation and need (and therefore to pivotal moments of prayer and rescue) that we would never experience if left to our own comfortable and avoidance-seeking routines.

Without the painful emptiness of a barren womb, for example, Hannah may have never called out to God from her distress and her, as the writer of First Samuel describes it, “bitterness of soul”, and may have never received God’s miraculous answer to her fervent prayers that resulted in Samuel’s birth, one of the greatest leaders in all of Israel’s history.  Without the pain of a heart frayed by the loss of his family, health, and livelihood, Job might never have cried out to the Lord, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you.” Without the weeping, wailing, and anguish experience by the prophet Jeremiah, he might never have known of that “balm in Gilead.”

One who knew well the pain that this world can inflict was the first martyr for Christ, Stephen.  His body, snapping like a twig under the pelting of rocks being thrown by his accusers; “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God.” Paul and Silas, shackled to the walls of a Roman jail, with their backs freshly bruised from being beaten for their faith, discovered what the true joy of “praying and singing hymns of praise to God” is all about.  It was only through their pain that they could come to know the depths of true worship.

The same is true of the pain that is actually one of God’s mysterious blessings that our hearts instinctively avoid while we strive for endless happiness and comfort.  This pain compels us to more accurately assess the wisdom or foolishness of many of our life choices.  It forces us to seek refuge in God that we might otherwise think is unnecessary.  It becomes a teacher exposing us to lessons that only one with the capacity to feel hurt could understand.  Pain, ironically, it the key to being spared what might turn out to be even greater discomfort.  Because when we feel it, we make those beneficial, needful adjustments to our lives.

So perhaps this would be a good day to thank our loving heavenly Father for blessing us with the gift of pain.  Only heaven knows where we’d be without it.

Lord of Love…through the pains of this life; help us to better understand the blessings of your divine love and mercy. Amen.