Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Honor of a Beloved Sister

For the past two Sundays, our services have focused on the “life of faith” in the midst of affliction. The first of these, “Faith in Suffering: the Fight for Faith”, was preached on the occasion of the relapse of cancer in a dear friend of SGCC, Jennifer Uwarow. The following Sunday’s sermon (both sermons now on sidebar) was preached on the occasion of her death. Our Pastor went to California to minister to her and the family one week as she lay dying; the following week he went to minister at her funeral….

Jennifer’s story is a tragic one and one that countless Children of God have experienced either in their own person, or in loved ones who are experiencing the ravages of disease. I think immediately of my sister-in law Corinne, a dear Christian woman who has suffered with cancer for more than three years, with five operations already. Through it all she has been the source of strength and encouragement to the family (especially my brother) even as we have sought to comfort and strengthen her in the grace of our Father.

Jennifer’s story is similar to Corinne’s in that there was a time when it looked like her cancer was gone. Hope and prayer gave way to joy and gladness that God had purposed to heal! But then the inexplicable: Corinne’s cancer not only returned, but it spread; Jennifer’s cancer not only returned, but it took her life. How could this be? God had “healed” them…why would He allow this cursed disease to return? Isn’t He most glorified when performing a miracle? Aren’t we most blessed when He removes our suffering and affliction?

Jennifer, in her death, and Corinne, in her life (as long as God extends it) continue to teach us about the Grace, Love and Mercy of our Father. We, even as Christians, live as though affliction is to be cursed and avoided at all reasonable costs. We tend to believe that when we suffer, God cannot be glorified and that we cannot be counted as blessed. We conclude that God cannot be glorified because we falsely believe that His glory is only manifested in our “abundant life” of successful living—in our “work” for the Lord, in our church, in our happy homes, in our jobs, etc. We can’t believe we are blessed in our affliction because we falsely believe that God’s “blessing” is antithetical to suffering. The Apostle Paul would have none of this kind of thinking. He understood that not only do we grow in our faith and in our maturity as Children of God through the things that we suffer, but he also recognized that the power of the Gospel is on display through our affliction as the Life of Christ in us is manifested to the world—the Gospel is “preached” through our affliction! Paul understood that our affliction is the means by which God works for our good and His glory!

The lives of Jennifer and Corinne have spoken a loud “Amen!” with Paul. They teach us in the here-and-now what Paul taught us (and continues to teach us) so long ago: “My grace is sufficient for you, for (My) power is perfected in weakness” (2Cor. 12:9). The Gospel is preached and the Child of God is blessed as she, with Paul, suffers affliction in this life; for with Paul she can say, “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with mistreatment, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” This was the life of Jennifer; this is the life of Corinne.

Though we would never wish pain and suffering on ourselves or our loved ones, we need to see them as gifts of God, used by Him for our good and His glory. God not only “causes all things to work for the good to those who love Him, for those called according to His purpose…,” He “causes (the) all things (that) work for (our) good…”! We must not simply confirm in our hearts that God allows pain and suffering; we must recognize that God brings affliction to us as a gift. We live our Christian lives (even our “abundant life” as Children of God) in the context of “death” by God’s design! Paul’s life in the context of “death” bears this out (Rom. 8:18-39; 1Cor. 15; 2Cor. 4; Philippians 3; etc.). He suffered greatly throughout his life, yet he considered himself the most blessed because he was not only bearing in his body the suffering (dying) of Christ, but through his suffering the “life of Christ” in him was testifying to the world of the Gospel (2Cor. 4:10)! Paul was experiencing the most intimate relation with his Lord while at the same time proclaiming the Gospel—by or through his suffering!

The abundant life for Paul wasn’t measured by his health, the material “blessings” of this world or even his successful endeavors for the Gospel; for Paul the abundant life was the life of faith in the context of “death”. Corinne’s life in the context of “death” is a testimony to this. Jennifer’s life in the context of “death” testified to this. Does ours? How does our life look in the context of “death”? Do we simply endure the trials of life? Or do we, as Paul (and Corinne and Jennifer), embrace the goodness of God in them?! This is the “Life of Faith” that we’re called to and empowered by the Spirit to live into! Will it be easy? No…but that’s why we must always come back to the Gospel: the “Life of Faith” is the “Life of Believing God”! Do we?

I encourage you to read this post (and others) from Jennifer’s blog. She was an encouragement to all who knew her and to those who knew of her. I hope after reading we can all share in her eternal perspective. Thanks Jennifer….


Mr. Worm said...

Thanks for your post. Once again, you really did an excellent job communicating, and I really appreciated it.

thekingpin68 said...

A good post in honour of a friend.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Guys,

The two sermons were very good. I encourage you to download them, put them on your ipod and listen sometime. The second sermon is now up.


Greg said...

Hey, Moogly. We're back.

Thank you for your post. I appreciated your thoughtful reflections on the purpose of sickness. Farrah has had an autoimmune disease (most strongly manifested in arthritis and deformity in her hands) for six years now. When we were still attending her step-dad's small church, a dear sister in Christ testified that Farrah was an inspiration of patience and faithfulness, because of the way she was dealing with the illness. Farrah's step-dad promptly shot her down, saying that the only good example would be her healing. He often stated that he believed that there was unrepented sin in Farrah's life, which prevented her from being healed. This was a perplexing stumbling block to him and the source of much friction between them. I believe his own subsequent health problems may have prompted him to soften his position, but his hard attitude toward her illness was part of why we left.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Greg,

I appreciate your's and Farrah's story. I can't imagine how difficult that situation was for the both of you. It's easy from the "outside" to quote God saying that "My grace is sufficient for you", but when we are going through difficult circumstances it is not always so easy to believe it. Thank God for the Spirit who testifies to us that "nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ" and that we "overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us...." But our "conquering" doesn't necessarily mean our "healing".

The idea of the Christian "suffering" is a very tough concept to understand...let alone explain. The whole thing seems antithetical to the ideas of "eternal life", the "abundant life" that He offers, the "blessing" of God, to our new relationship with God as His Children in Christ, etc. It just doesn't seem right that God would not only allow affliction, but that He would actually bring affliction to His Children.

The key, I think, is to remind ourselves that these things are commissioned by God, so-to-speak, not only to bring glory to Him as His grace is on display in us, but equally so to bring us joy as we grow in intimacy with Him as our Father. Again Paul epitomizes the "joyful sufferer" in that he experienced intimacy with God, and gained His strength in and through his suffering. The "dear sister in Christ" that you mentioned is a testimony to the "goodness" of God in these things.

Thanks for the comment, Greg. It was very encouraging.