"A Light Momentary Affliction?"#85-41
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 10, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:A Light Momentary Affliction?)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 2 Corinthians 4:17-5:1
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Dear Lord, in a world of problems and pain, may we always be turned to the Savior who is with us, helping us, encouraging us, and continuously forgiving us. In His Name we pray. Amen.
Nobody can say for sure where the meteorite came from. If it is like most meteorites, it began many years ago as part of an asteroid which disintegrated in the space somewhere between Jupiter and Mars. If it had not been for a collision with another bit of space debris, our meteor might have stayed there, contentedly orbiting the sun until the Lord returns. But something happened, and our meteor was jarred from where it had been and started it on a journey of more than 250 million miles. Even at the top meteor speed of 160,000 mph, it took more than two months for our meteor to reach its destination.
Now I call it "our meteor," but that title is incorrect. Our meteor actually belongs to Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama. On November 30, 1954, Ann was taking a nap on her couch. It was then that our softball-sized meteorite, no, make that her softball-sized meteorite, crashed through the ceiling of her home, bounced off a radio and hit Ann in the leg, leaving her with a bruise the size and shape of a pineapple. Consider, with even the smallest of changes in that two-month-long trip, that meteor would have missed Ann. Goodness, maybe it might have missed the earth by a country mile, but the initial impact which began the trip, the distance, the time, the speed, all added up to Ann being the only human being in history to have been hit by a meteorite. Personally, I could forgive Ann if she thought fate had it in for her.
Of course, if Ann had had such a feeling, she would not be alone. Roy Sullivan would understand. Roy was a National Park ranger. His job made it necessary for him to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. For that reason, it is not entirely surprising that Roy eventually was hit by lightning. Roy survived the jolt which hit him in 1942. And, knowing lightning never strikes the same place twice, Roy was prepared to live a peaceful life. Sadly, he was wrong. Roy was hit by lightning again in 1969. Then he got hit again ... and again ... and again ... and again ... and again. That's seven times in all. Roy also could be forgiven for thinking there was some cosmic force after his hide.
I wonder, should I tell you of Violet Jessup? In 1911, Violet was hired to be a stewardess on the British ship, Olympic. Later that year, the Olympic ran into a British warship and sank. Violet survived without a scratch; in fact, she felt so good she signed on another ship ... this one was called the Titanic. You know the story of that vessel. And yes, Violet was one of the survivors. You might think Violet might have learned her lesson. Apparently, she learned and then she forgot. The year 1916 saw her signing aboard one more ship: the Britannic. Sister ship to the Titanic, that vessel had been commandeered to be a hospital ship picking up the wounded of World War I and bringing them home. The Britannic was on such a journey when it was rocked by a large explosion. The ship sank in less than an hour; Violet survived and never tempted Neptune again.
So, there you have it, my friends: three exceptional stories of three unique people who managed to survive some pretty unusual circumstances. I'm quite sure that nobody listening to my voice today has ever experienced the pain, the hurt, the fear, the absolute terror which seemed to stalk Ann and Roy and Violet. Actually, I'm not sure of that at all. What I'm sure of is this: every one of you has experienced something in your life which left you reeling mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. If you have not experienced such a moment, a day, week, month, year, or decade, then you are among the most blessed souls on this earth. Even so, don't get too comfortable. Life being what it is, the time is coming when you, too, may find yourself saying, "What have I done to deserve this?" You see, my friends, sadness and sorrow, lostness and loneliness, fear and frustration, pain and problems are part and parcel of life.
Don't believe me? Okay, let me ask if you can remember a time when you felt all alone, at the end of your rope, at your wit's end, would you raise your hands? There, you see, I'm right. For example, there's the lady who is listening on radio station KHAR in Anchorage, Alaska. When you got married years ago, you were wed to the finest man you had ever met. But the years have taken their toll, and the booze bottle has stolen his affections. The good times have become fewer, and laughter has died out in your home. You never know who is going to walk in the door: the Dr. Jekyll of yesteryear or the present-day Mr. Hyde who has the short temper and cruel tongue.
Then there's the parents who are getting ready for church and have tuned in on WGN in Chicago. There was a time when your son used to go to worship with you, but not anymore. You checked his bedroom this morning, and he didn't come home last night. That's nothing new. Since he found his new friends, if you can call them that, your boy has been different. His grades have slipped, his attitude is rebellious, and he refuses to listen to your heartfelt pleas. You haven't found any drugs, yet, but you're certain that's only because you haven't looked in the right places. Yes, you understand what I'm talking about. You're not alone. There is a family in Martinsville, Indiana, that's WCBK, who are in the same boat as are parents tuning in on KREJ in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. And please forgive me if I don't mention your station. There are simply too many.
I haven't yet spoken about the man in Mayfield, Kentucky. For him there was a time when life looked beautiful: good job, good money, good future; it was all part of his plan for success. But then the bottom fell out. First, there was the promotions which didn't come; then the company shared it was having some problems. Some people were let go, and the ones who were left could only live in dread of when they might get their pink slip. For you it's hard to make plans for the future since the future is so unsettled. There are so many hands up, so little time.
My friends, these are the tragedies of human existence. Do you understand I have not touched on the families who are losing a loved one to Alzheimer's-who are watching the personality of a dearly loved one being erased day after day. I have not spoken of the couple who worked hard and saved their entire lives but are unsure how they will pay their bills next year. They desperately don't wish to be a burden to their children, but they don't know to whom they can turn. I have not shared the pain of parents whose child is ill, perhaps dying. For them each day is a trip to the hospital, and the only hope they have is the nurse will tell them the situation has not changed.
Yes, it is a rare person who is not suffering terribly. And it behooves me to try and help ease your burden a bit. To that end, I share with you the words of the apostle Paul. To the Corinthian church he wrote, "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." If you are paying attention, I can almost hear you shout, "What did he say? Is he serious? What is he talking about: 'light, momentary affliction'? It is obvious that he really doesn't understand. He doesn't comprehend the pain that people, that I, am experiencing. My problem isn't momentary; it has gone on for a long time, and I doubt if it is going to end soon. And, as far as being light, well, it isn't. My problem is a crushing one. It is the first thing on my mind in the morning, and the last thing I think about before I fall to sleep, if I can fall asleep. It steals my appetite and eats holes in my stomach. It raises my blood pressure and steals away my hope. Just who does Paul think he is calling my problems a 'light, momentary affliction'? It sounds as if he has never experienced a problem of his own, and he certainly hadn't dealt with a problem like mine."
Truly, my friends, I can understand your reactions. It truly doesn't seem as is Paul is being overly sympathetic. Yet, you dare not go too far in your criticism of what he has said. Paul did have his share of problems. In 2 Corinthians he shares, "Five times I received ... forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on (my) frequent journeys (I have been), in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; (I have endured) in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches."
But there is more, and in this writing Paul gives us an insight into his thinking. He shares, "So to keep me from becoming conceited ... a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." In other words, when we are weak, then the Lord upon whom we must rely is strongest.
What Paul was trying to share is this: the world is a sinful place. Because of sin, evil things, nasty things, seemingly unbearable sins thrust their way into our lives. When that happens, we can go one of three ways. First, we can try to deal with all of our problems on our own. Suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, breakdowns, all indicate most of us are not up to the task of working alone.
The second way people deal with problems happens when they convince themselves that the Lord has it in or them. How easy it could have been for Ann in our opening story to believe the Lord had some grudge against her and had divinely directed that meteor to zap her as she lay on the couch. How small a step it would have been for Roy to think God was gunning for him with heaven-sent, but poorly aimed, lightning bolts. Would it not have been a simple bit of logic for Violet to believe the Lord had every intention of sending her to a watery grave? Many millions have come to believe just that.
Far better to believe that the Lord who sent His Son into this world to save us from the condemnation of our sins, has good intentions toward His people. Adopting this attitude, Ann and Roy could have given thanks that the Lord preserved her from that meteorite and him from those lightning bolts. And Violet, how right she would have been if she had concluded the Lord had spared her three very obvious times, and a host of occasions which were not as apparent.
That's the point Paul was trying to make when he said, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." Take a look at what he is saying. Paul says, "We are afflicted in every way." Today I have mentioned a few of those afflictions. There are many more, and they come at us from every direction and they take their toll. But for those who have been given faith in the Savior, those afflictions are kept in their place. Again, Paul says, we are "perplexed, but not given to despair." That my friends is comfort in its truest form. Knowing that a loving Lord has promised to help you carry or work though your burdens reminds us that we are not alone; we are not being left to our own devices. In his list, the apostle says we are "persecuted but not forsaken." If no other friend can understand or is even willing to listen to your heartfelt prayer, your gracious God remains committed. His ear is inclined to hear every word you share.
Concluding his list, Paul says we are "struck down, but not destroyed." How I wish I could visit personally with each of the pained souls who have tuned into this broadcast. How I wish I could look you in the eye and let you know that this misery you feel will not, cannot destroy you as long as the living Christ is living in you. He who has given His life to save you has promised to be with you. It is a promise He has kept to hundreds of millions of burdened souls. It is a promise He will keep with you.
"But, Pastor," I can hear you say, "not everybody escapes their problem. Not everyone who gets hit by a lightning bolt survives; not everybody on those three ships managed to get rescued. What about them?" It is a good question, and one which Paul would like to answer. He would say, "After you breathe your last, after all the pains and problems of this world fade away, as a believer you will find yourself in heaven. There, in the presence of your Redeemer, you will find immunity from that problem-every problem-which seemed so overwhelmingly large here on earth. The tears will be gone; the heartache gone, the losses all will be gone. Instead, you will be given a peace which is beyond the understanding of any human in this world. That is what Paul wanted you to know when he spoke about "light, momentary afflictions." In heaven, with your Redeemer, everything will be put into proper perspective, that is, God's perspective, and you will truly be free of the pains from the past.
Today we have spoken of pains, problems, and the promises of the Lord who can help you carry or take you through them. Today I have shown you various people who had problems. Here is the last one. This letter was written to a friend. The man said, "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me." With a letter and an attitude like that you can understand why Abraham Lincoln's friends hid his razors and moved knives to beyond his reach. Afraid, they kept a suicide watch over him. The Lord took this man and helped him through his depression, his thorn in the flesh, and made him into a man who could save a nation. Lincoln is just one more example of what the Lord can do when we rely on Him. And, if I may be bold, let me say you might be an example, too.
The crucified and risen Lord is there; the Father waits, the Holy Spirit calls. Trust the Lord in your need; believe the Lord's strength can be made perfect in your weakness. If you hear that call, and need to know more, here is my invitation, Please, call us at the Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Reflections for June 10, 2018
Title: A LIGHT MOMENTARY AFFLICATION
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and Pastor Ken Klaus just shared some incredible stories. We welcome Dr. Dale Meyer to comment on them. What do you think, Dr. Meyer?
Dale Meyer: Wow! Were those stories! I mean, a woman hit by a meteorite! A man who was struck by lightning seven times! And then a woman who keeps getting on ships that are going to sink! And I think I've got problems?
Mark Eischer: Well, how do you deal with your problems?
Dale Meyer: Well, my little problems, I don't enjoy them, but I find that they are occasions to learn more about God.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Dale Meyer: I mean there's a hymn that begins, "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." My unwelcome problems show that God is moving in a mysterious, strange way, to train me up to trust more and more in him.
Mark Eischer: How does that work?
Dale Meyer: Well, first, let's understand that God doesn't always stop problems from coming our way. I mean He could have directed that meteorite someplace else. He can direct the lightning wherever He would want. Sometimes our problems come from our own mistakes. Sometimes they come from what others do. The Bible indicates that God sometimes sends problems Himself into our lives. Now, we can't determine the specifics; it is what it is. But we can trust that God is working for good in all things. 1 John chapter 4 says, "God is love." The Bibles I have at home don't have a footnote that says, "Only part of the time."
Mark Eischer: But how is God's love present even when we're hurting?
Dale Meyer: Theologians distinguish what they call God's "alien work" from God's "proper work." They do this on the basis of obvious evidence in the Bible. The Bible is filled with stories of bad stuff and stories of good stuff of God's love. God's proper work is showing us the faith, hope, and love that come in Jesus Christ. Now, to make us appreciate what our Savior does, God can use the unwelcome things in life to get our attention on Him. That's what theologians call God's "alien work."
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Dale Meyer: Mark, think about it, bit by bit, God strips away from each and every one of us all that we hold dear. Work: that goes away, maybe disability, maybe retirement. I know you retired people will say you're busier now than you ever were, okay. But sooner or later you're not going to be busy at all. Possessions: we spend all our lives accumulating these dear things. I'm not putting that down, but you can't take them with you. Health: health is going to be taken away from you, sooner or later. Dear family and friends: as much as we love them, we have all grieved because they are taken away from us.
Finally, this life itself will be taken away from you and taken away from me. I am convinced that God slowly, but in a fatherly, loving way strips away all the things that we hold dear (alien work) so that we can focus on Him and Jesus, which is his proper work. That's His goal in our lives. But for those who may not be looking to God or seeing God's hand at work in all of this, they might take this as just further justification to hate God, to blame God, for all that's been taken away.
Yes, and God has given people the freedom to do that. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, "We live by faith and not by sight." So the person who reacts by pushing God away, blaming God, you know, staying in grief and despair and anger, is living by sight. Think about all the unseen things that are around us. Science is revealing unseen things more and more that make our lives possible. Radio broadcasts go through airwaves. There is a role of faith in daily life. Those times of momentary afflictions are times when we look to the unseen things, as St. Paul says in today's Bible passage.
Martin Luther said, "We trust in the promises of God in the Bible, the promises that He is good and loving, even when our sight tells us that God seems to be against us." It's an occasion, an opportunity to judge whether we are going to trust our Creator and Redeemer, or we're going to continue to judge what happens to us with our own minds.
Mark Eischer: This suggests, then, that we should also have hope even when we're going through those tough times.
Dale Meyer: Absolutely. There's a beautiful passage from Psalm 73: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." That means our afflictions are momentary, and when affliction is upon us we should have hope. In the Bible, the opposites are hope and despair. I mean, we all have feelings of despair during our afflictions; those are times for us to consciously practice hope. That means several things. First of all, hope means focus on the resurrection of Jesus. His suffering on the cross was momentary; Easter came. Believing in Jesus' victory over sin and death means that we understand our present afflictions are momentary. 1 Peter 1:3 says, "Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Then secondly, take the long view. 1 Peter 1:13 says, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled, set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." Look back at all the things you have had to go through. In one way or another, God brought you through, didn't He? I hope that, as you came through, you realized you can trust Him more and more. As Pastor Klaus said, "The greatest look forward is to heaven, where all our present trials and troubles will be no more."
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Dr. Meyer.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)