The Blog of Pastor Mike Wilkins
"The long run" referred to in the title of this blog is, in the first place, the many years Mike Wilkins served as West London's solo pastor, and then its Senior Pastor, since he and his wife Deb moved to London (and this church) in 1984.
In these past few years (beginning November 2011,) Mike's various health challenges, particularly a serious and ongoing case of cancer, has added another layer to the "long run" metaphor, and lots to blog about. Mike is currently on an extended Sick Leave, but generally worships with the church family on Sunday mornings.
With the publication of a book he wrote in 2016 entitled "Glory in the Face" (now available electronically and in paperback from Amazon.ca, and other online venders), Mike has just launched a new website, which will serve as a sort of scrapbook for readers of the book, with relevant background photos, for example, of That Last Final Solo Canoe Trip in May, 2011, as well as additional information about the book, and--coming soon--a new set of blog posts, mostly about the peace of God and the joy of the Lord and the face of Christ and the strength to face anything. You'll find the new website now at www.gloryintheface.com.
Jul25ThuJuly 25, 2013
This is about what I said in that post about my cancer being the "discipline and chastening of the Lord" (July 3). It has not been uncommon in the years I have pastored a church to be asked by some significantly troubled and spiritually sensitive soul if I thought that this pain and suffering was "the discipline of the Lord." It's usually worded as the question: "Am I being punished for some sin I have committed?"
My consistent practice, which I have never regretted, is to say something like this. "It would be unwise to dismiss the question without first giving it some careful attention. It just might be that some sin you have commited, or some habit of disobedience that you haven't addressed successfully, or addressed at all, is a part of God's purpose in bringing this pain and suffering into your life. But if you DO discern that God is drawing your attention to some sort of disobedience that you need to correct, it would be oversimplifying this difficult part of the story to think that THAT particular sin, or sinfulness, is all there is to it."
In the discussion that follows, the words of Jesus about the man born blind (John 9:3) sometimes come up. Logically so, for it seems like this is exactly the question that Jesus is answering, and he is answering the question with a "No." It DOES seem that the Lord is saying that the blind man's suffering has nothing at all to do with any sin, or all of the sins, that the man (or his parents!) had ever committed. Without thinking that I am daring to contradict what the Lord is saying, I still maintain that to use these words of Jesus as the entire answer to that senstive soul's specific question is to oversimplify a complicated matter.
Every case of significant human trouble is complicated, but not all the complications are bad ones. One really positive complication is that any one thing suffered by any one human being (You, for example) always has an impact on other people, especially the people who love that person (unless, of course, the person doing the suffering is on a desert island at the time, and never does make it off the island.)
If we believe that the details of God's sovereign purposes for each of his people are always his sovereign kindness and his sovereign wisdom towards them, that is, if we think biblically about the nature of God and the nature of our experiences, then this complication IS a happy one. A very happy one, especially regarding those loved ones that we deeply love. Not only is God working all things together for good for us, just because we ARE people who love him and who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), but the things that God is bringing into our lives are always ALSO things that God is bringing into the lives of those who love us and who are suffering along with us. Therefore, our own hard and painful "things" are being "worked" by God not only for our good but also for the good of every one of those loved ones of ours who also love God and are called according to his purpose.
What this amounts to is that the Bible teaches us to believe that God's purposes are embedded in, and woven all through, the details of every one of our trials and tribulations, and calls us to understand that some of the purposes of God that are directly connected to our suffering have at least as much to do with our loved ones as they have to do with us, and in some cases, possibly more.
I think it's really worth noticing here that the Apostle Paul's very next words (Romans 8:29) explain that it is God's plan, and always has been God's plan, to conform every one of his people to the image of Christ. I think we should think of that as Paul's general summary of "the good" to which God is working all of "our things" out. This thought should be an encouragement to every suffering believer in Christ -- that your experience is accomplishing more good than just the good it is accomplishing in you. That some of the good that your experiences of pain and suffering are accomplishing is specifically God's "good and acceptable and perfect" gift to some of the people you love. I think it is a part of why it would always be oversimplifying the complicated story of your life to believe that your pain and suffering IS totally about the sin, or the continuing moral battles, in your life. Actually, nothing that God brings into your life is only about you.
I once stood beside the hospital bed of a young man (An enthusiastic servant of Christ employed in full-time ministry) who had very recently been suddenly and mysteriously struck down with a very serious medical problem. I couldn't help noticing that his mother was standing on the other side of the bed. I began to assure him that the "good and acceptable and perfect" purposes of God were embedded in, and woven all through, this experience, but I was passionately interrupted by his mother. As I remember it, although it was many years ago now, she pointed her finger right at me and said with great conviction, "Don't you dare suggest that what has happened to my son is because of something bad he has done!" A lively dialogue ensued, for at the time I also was a very young man. Her son listened intently, watching the whole thing the way you watch a tennis game. (It might have been the highlight of his day.)
Later, when his mother had left the room, he smiled at me and said, "My mother doesn't really know me very well." And then he told me that he had already figured out a direct connection between the nature of his suffering and a certain sin that he had not yet succeeded in overcoming. If he hadn't already figured that out, I would have told him to give some thought to the possibility of some such connection, and I would have encouraged him to go on believing that there WAS at least some sort of connection between this calamity and his sins and his sinfulness, even if he wasn't ever able to identify it.
To this very point, the author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews (in 12:4-7) quotes from the 3rd chapter of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs (Verses 11,12.)
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
And this, I believe, explains in part why I have cancer. I am aware enough of "the weakness of my flesh" to assume that, to some degree, my present and future pain and suffering is the Lord's chastening. The Father is teaching his always-glad-to-be-adopted but often-slow-to-obey child to obey him more promptly and more immediately. At any rate, my pain and suffering is always his discipline. The word MEANS "child-training."
By the way, right now this six-week Waiting Period is going pretty well. This past Monday, the first Monday of my waiting, I woke up very early feeling really very healthy. Way more healthy than I actually am, I think. It only lasted that day, but feeling good always does feel good under any circumstances. My warmest and fondest thanks to all of you who have been praying for me. It does seem to me that God in his sovereign kindness and wisdom is answering your prayers most wonderfully -- and I am thankful to him and to you.