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The Blessings of Pain

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Ashlyn Blocker’s kindergarten teachers put ice in her chili so it won’t be scalding hot. On the playground, someone stays within 15 feet of her at all times. They keep her off the jungle gym—too dangerous. After recess Ashlyn gets daily check-ups with the school nurse. Why, you ask, does a little girl deserve all this special attention? Ashlyn has a congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, or CIPA, a rare genetic disorder that makes her unable to feel pain.

Ashlyn’s parents, John and Tara Blocker, discovered her problem when she was eight months old. They took her to the doctor for a bloodshot, swollen left eye. The doctor put drops in her eye to stain any particles that might be irritating it. Everyone was amazed to see the infant smiling and bouncing in her mother’s lap as the dye revealed a massive scratch across her cornea.

Baby teeth posed big problems. Ashlyn would chew her lips bloody in her sleep, bite through her tongue while eating, and once even stuck a finger in her mouth and stripped flesh from it.

People with chronic aches and pains might envy little Ashlyn’s condition, but they shouldn’t. “Pain’s there for a reason,” said Ashlyn’s mother. “It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain” (Russ Bynum, “Rare disease leaves Georgia girl feeling no pain at all,” Associated Press, 2004).

Pain comes in many varieties. Sometimes it is sharp; sometimes it’s dull. We describe our pain with adjectives ranging from “dull” and “aching” to “torture” and “excruciating.” Pain can be “biting,” “burning,” “raw,” “sore,” “inflamed,” “tender,” “unpleasant,” “throbbing,” or “irritated.” Sometimes it is all the above. Some people suffer from pain for a day; some deal with it for a lifetime. But however it is described, pain was given to us for our good. It is the body’s alarm system when there is trouble.

The conscience produces spiritual pain when sin creates a problem in the soul. We often refer to it as guilt. On the day of Pentecost Peter’s audience experienced a “cutting” in their heart (Acts 2:37). It may have been uncomfortable, but it eventually led to their salvation (Acts 2:38-41).

Paul said that “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (7:10). If a sinner responds in a positive way to his inward pain, he will repent and obey the gospel. This, in turn, will bring him to God’s salvation. But sinners who try to ignore their guilt eventually die.

When you experience pain of a spiritual nature, follow the procedure prescribed in 1 John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Like medicine on a wound, John’s advice will heal an injured soul.

Does Anyone Care About Sin Anymore?

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Today’s pop gospel is about having fun and being rich. Feel-good religion is what the public is buying, not messages about the danger and ugliness of sin and the wide gate to destruction.

Gauging by book sales and television programming, the most popular preachers of the 21st century preach positive messages to the exclusion of anything that could be construed as negative or judgmental.

Joel Osteen preaches for the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, which boasts of 30,000 members and meets in a stadium that used to house the Houston Rockets. According to Osteen, the secret to his success is concentrating on building people up and encouraging them to lead a life of victory. Winford Claiborne points out that his book Your Best Life Now claims that David did not focus on his faults or on the things he had done wrong. Evidently Osteen has missed the 51st Psalm.

Joyce Meyer attracts a broad audience with her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life. While Meyer concentrates on the dangers of sin more than Osteen, her main push is self-centered–enjoying life instead of pleasing God. The gospel that people are buying these days is extremely selfish. One wonders how this works with Jesus’ teachings of cross-bearing and self-denial (Mt. 16:24).

According to a survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life is considered by pastors to be the most helpful religious book on the market. The numbers support their conclusion, as The Purpose Driven Life was the best selling book in the world for 2003, 2004, and 2005. But critics complain that the book distorts the true message that is at the heart of the New Testament: spiritual death through sin, God’s scheme of redemption through Jesus Christ, and the plan of salvation.

A gospel that doesn’t preach against sin and demand repentance is not a true gospel (Gal. 1:6-10). God does want us to enjoy life and find lasting joy, but not at the expense of truth and righteousness. Too many preachers are taking the easy route to peace–by wearing down the corners of our consciences so they won’t cut anymore (Eph. 4:19; 1 Tim. 4:2).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). These words reflect back to the apostle’s first letter to the church at Corinth, in which he condemned the actions of a man who had been sleeping with his father’s wife. In that letter he instructed them to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13). They were not even to eat with that man until he repented.

The whole process was extremely painful, but it was necessary to bring the sinner real peace and happiness. As long as he lived in sexual immorality, he could never meet his true purpose–seeking and honoring God (Isa. 43:7; Acts 17:26-28). By the second letter to the Corinthians, it appears the man did repent. He was evidently still licking the wounds of the discipline he received, for Paul said to “forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:7).

People have to feel bad in order to get better. This is why the body hurts when something is wrong with it. If the body of Christ never feels the “godly grief” essential to repentance, it will become diseased and eventually die. So preachers, “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). A church full of sin may have the numbers, but it fails to meet its purpose.