Bedside Evangelism: Yes or No?

bedside-evangelismSharing the gospel with those about to wade through the river of death can seem daunting and at times inappropriate and unkind. The Clinical Pastoral Education movement ardently discourages ministers from discussing the cross, Jesus, and eternal life with those in the middle of a medical crisis. The group believes pastors should offer comfort through listening and through sharing encouraging thoughts that restate the patients’ beliefs, concerns, and desires.

While this pastoral trend towards therapeutic listening has a certain appeal because it keeps ministers from unnecessarily stepping on the toes of suffering and seems to picture God’s love, it actually hides the love of God from those who need it most.

Illnesses, car accidents, and natural disasters exist because of the fall. They are manifestations of evil. Christians should always seek to rescue, help, and comfort people who acutely feel the effects of the broken world. But sorrow and suffering are not random evils. They are often used by God to accomplish his divine will.

God afflicts the wicked with suffering because he desires their salvation. In 1 Samuel 5-6, the Philistines come to grips with this reality. They had defeated the Israelites and captured the Ark of the Lord. As the begin to celebrate this great victory, God pummels them with divine wrath. Their god, Dagon,  is smashed to pieces. Their people develop tumors and begin to drop like flies. Mice overrun their fields. Because of their great anguish the Philistines realize that the God of Israel is the most powerful God.

C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, wrote,

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victims suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt

When life goes well, people are prone to ignore God. As Jeremiah 22:21 reminds us, “I spoke to you in your prosperity but you said, ‘I will not listen.” Pain gets the attention of the modern man and woman just as it got the attention of the ancient Philistines. But pain does not save. As Thomas Watson noted,

If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the dammed in hell should be most, for they are most in anguish.

Pain only knocks people off of their demigod thorns, revealing that someone else rules the universe. But pain does not fully reveal who that ruler is and how one can enjoy a peaceful relationship with God. The Philistines returned the Ark and escaped their pain. But they did not follow their cows into Israel and become followers of the one true God. The Philistines never found salvation.

Pastors have the amazing opportunity to supply the prophetic voice that the Philistines lacked. When a minister learns that a sinner is dying or hears that a less than faithful church member is approaching death, he should come to their bedside equipped with the gospel. The pastor should share the truth that Jesus has died to save sinners. As the Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter noted,

Even the stoutest of sinners will hear us on their death-bed, though they scorned us before.

The pastor should seize the bedside moment and share Christ with the dying, risking social scorn and a few bruised toes.

Is not the salvation of the wicked worth a little angst in the pastor’s souls? Did not Christ offer paradise to the thief on the cross? Can the faithful minister do any less?

Admittedly, pastors can abuse the suffering. The pastor can wrongfully offer salvation in exchange for physical blessing and peace. The sick and weak can be prone to do anything to get relief. The Philistines made golden tumors and mice. Pastors must offer Christ crucified and not some twisted gospel of self-interest where people come to God in order to get favors from him. God does not want to be treated as a genie bound to do the will of human flesh. God wants the sinner to repent and follow Him with his or her whole heart. Anything less is not real salvation and will not last. Watson rightfully notes,

A passionate resolution…raised in a storm will die in the calm.

Salvation ultimately has to be a work of God. And God often uses suffering to draw men and women to faith. Pastors should not hide the gospel when at the bedside of the dying. Rather as Baxter said, “it is time for us, while there is hope, to help him if we can.”

Pastor…Minister are you ready to help?

Should Our Crisis Become Our Reason For Living?

crisis-blog-2When we experience tragedy, we long to make sense of our hardship. We long to find a positive reason for why we lost our loved one, for why our friends betrayed us, and for why the very core of our being was rocked by evil. We want a reason.  Like Job, we want to know why God allowed our hearts to be broken.

Quite often as the pain of the storm begins to recede, we start throwing ourselves into causes. Those who lost babies begin looking for ways to start a grieving mother ministry. Those who were unjustly fired begin employee advocacy groups, and those who lost a loved one to drugs begin championing every drug rehab facility in town. Often we do these things because we want to ascribe a cause to our suffering. We want to be able to say, “I suffered X Y and Z so that A, B, and D would happen.”

And at one level it is good for us to draw upon our experiences to help others. Paul says that he suffered many things in part, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 2:4).  Paul was almost killed for his faith so that he could care for others who are going through tragedy.

When we suffer and find comfort in Christ, we do have a powerful thing to share with others. Those who have lost babies have unique opportunities to care for others who have lost babies. Those who have had home destroyed by alcohol have an amazing platform from which to care for others who have been abused by a drunk husband. And those who have suffered through their wife’s infidelity can speak powerfully into the lives of other couples that have been rocked by sexual sin.

But notice what Paul says. He says that he suffered so that he could encourage others in ‘any affliction.’ Paul was implying that our dependence upon Christ through suffering is transferable to any and all suffering because the solution and the hope for all who suffer unbearable hardships is Jesus Christ.

Please do not miss this. The reason you suffer, the reason evil touches the very core of who we are is that God is calling us to himself. God is allowing evil into our lives so that we can draw closer and closer to him. This is the point of James 1, Romans 8, and the book of Job. As Kent Huges wrote,

The assurance that he can do all things and that no purpose of his can be thwarted is the comfort that I need in suffering and the encouragement I crave when terrified by evil.

The hope for those who suffer, the reason we get up in the morning, the ability to keep going after we have been touched by evil is this:

 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him

– Lamentations 3:22-24

God is our refuge, our reason for living, our meaning in the midst of despair. If we seek to finding meaning amidst our tragedy outside of Christ, we cheapen the very hope of the gospel.

 I know this first hand. There is no ministry, there is no success, and there is amount of recognition on this earth that makes the death of my first-born son worthwhile. I would happily sacrifice all of them and you to get him back.  I miss him dearly. But I have hope because I have God and because I know that God’s love for my son is even greater than mine because Christ died for him. The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in Him.

I hope and pray that you can say, “that the Lord is my portion.” Resist the temptation to make some part of you trial your portion. Resist the temptation to make sense out of your sorrow by your own actions. Trust the Lord.

Practically going forward, I encourage you to remember both your suffering and the fact that God is the solution to your suffering. And then, use the opportunities that God has given you to comfort others. If you are a NICU nurse who lost a baby, then by all means draw upon God’s faithfulness in your life to teach others how to care for grieving mothers and fathers. If you are a police officer who has seen God’s faithfulness on display through your son’s drug addiction, depend upon God’s faithfulness to shape your drug rehab program. But if you are cupcake store owner who just survived a patch of infidelity in your marriage do not give up your business to start a marriage counseling service. Minister to those whom God has put in your place. As Paul said, our suffering prepares us to help all others as they suffer hardships in a variety of complex ways.

God never intended for our crisis to become our passion. Christ is to be our passion. Is he yours?

Doing The Hard Thing Is Not Always The Good Thing

Why Doing A Hard Thing Maybe Wrong blogOften Christians think that hard equals good. If a decision is super hard, then it must really right. Because people disagree with us and criticize us, we assume we are on God’s side. After all, there is a correlation between suffering and holiness or so we think.

And while it is true that we will suffer hardship when we follow Christ, not all suffering is the result of good works. The Scriptures clearly say, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (I Peter 4:15). At times, Christians suffer hardship not because of their Christian witness but because of their selfish hearts.

As a kid I experienced that type of suffering over and over again. One fall semester, I had to do an extra hour of homework most every night because I kind of ‘forgot’ to read my summer reading list. I missed pickup baseball games, bike riding, and a whole host of other fun things. I was suffering at the hands of my parents (or so I thought). But I was not extra holy. I was suffering for because I was extra sinful.

Many times as adults, we suffer for the same reason. We have broken relationships, we are gossiped about, and we are in and out of drama because we sinned. And while our poor decisions do not justify the sins of others, we must realize that our sins have consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” If we steal, lie, and attack others with our words, we will reap destruction, hurt, and broken relationships. We will experience many hard things because we are being foolish. “The way of the treacherous is their ruin” (Prov. 13:15).

As the great pastor D. Martin Lloyd-Jones said,

If you break God’s laws and violate His rules you will not be happy. If you think that you can be a Christian and exert your own will and follow your own likes and dislikes, your Christian life is going to be a miserable one. – P114 SD

So how do we know if we are suffering for our sin or if we are going through a trial like Job? Consider these three questions:

1. Is there unconfessed sin in my heart?

If we are living in sin, our lives will not go well. There is no blessing apart from Christ. The Christian trying to find comfort, hope, and peace while refusing to obey Christ will only find sorrow, despair, and anger. If you have unconfessed sin and are a believer, God will discipline you. You will feel miserable (Psalm 32:3). The solution is to return to Christ. We must pray the words of Psalm 123:23-24 which says:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!

We must examine our hearts and quickly repent of any and all confessed sin.

2. Is this a direct consequence of my sin?

For example if you get fired from your job for looking at pornography, you are not being punished for being godly. You are suffering because you have sinned. The firing and the ensuing suffering is a direct consequence of your sin. Recall Galatians 6:7. The solution is to repent of your sins. And as you draw near to God, he will draw near to you. You will once again experience his blessing.

But if you get liver cancer the next month, I would not assume that the cancer is related to lust or some other sin you recently committed. Suffering is not always a direct consequence of our personal sin. God brings trials into our lives for all kinds of reasons. If the suffering is not a direct consequence of sin, we should not assume that we are being punished. This was the mistake Job’s friends made. They could not understand suffering apart from the presence of personal sin. But we can. When we suffer and there is no direct link back to a personal sin, we should stop fishing for a cause and place our hope and trust in the one who delivers us from the valley of the shadow of death.

3. Is God Getting Glory?

Often this can be hard to tell in the immediacy of the situation. We cannot directly see how God is getting glory. But if we can pull back and see that our sickness, our financially loss, and our other situations are helping us or others more resemble Christ, then we can be sure that our suffering is not only because of our sin. God is using it for our good. When we confess our sins and repent of our actions, God will turn our trials into good. As Llyod-Jones wrote, “God’s greatest concern for us is not primarily our happiness but our holiness. In His love to us He is determined to bring us to that, and He employs many differing means to that end.” Suffering is not always a result of our sin. Often it an evidence of God’s love for us.

When we take our suffering to Christ, our hardships will always refine our hearts. It helps us shift our hope away from earthly measures to heavenly treasures. If we are becoming perfect and complete, our trial, our hardship, our struggle is a great thing.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2

In short, not every hardship or struggle is a result of our faithfulness. Our life may very well be difficult because we have sin deeply embedded in our souls. But regardless of the reason for our suffering, it is never pointless. And if we responding to suffering by seeking Christ, we will find abundant life. Are you ready to suffer for the right reasons?