I’m doing my devotions and just listened to a message from my home church in Sarasota. It’s lovely here as tiny bits of white snow cover the UK countryside. Still, I finally went to sleep at 3 AM in the morning and awakened at about 8:30 AM.
I awakened and felt numb inside. So darn sorry to be a disappointment but that’s how I spend much of my life right now… numb and crying out to the Lord for mercy and for the peace that just won’t stay. Much of the time, the sorrow in my heart feels too heavy to carry and so when I start feeling myself hitting rock bottom, I put on my snow pants and jacket and head out for a good conversation with the Lord. It ALWAYS helps.
So as you can imagine, people in my position tend to spend lots of time thinking about their own life… it’s a gift from the enemy… focus on SELF. I’m smiling because God always helps by showing me a glimpse of others lives. Here’s what that glimpse looked like today.
A letter from Pastor Tony
Dear Friends and family,
Yesterday, Pastor Silas delivered an excellent message of dealing with suffering and tribulations, while maintaining your Joy in the Lord. His message was given from a theological perspective and is true on all points. Get the CD and listen to it again to catch the subtle nuances you may have missed during the service.
I would like to follow up with a practical side of the same subject – suffering with Joy.
I want to share with you some of my journey over the past three years. Three years ago, at the age of 53, I was at the top of my game. The year was 2008, and I ran a successful computer consulting company, was pastor of a small church on Cape Cod, husband to a most wonderful woman, father of six beautiful children. One day I felt a small lump under my chin, so I went to the doctor to have him look at it. After some initial blood work, it was determined that I had leukemia. I was floored. I was treated for a year on some ‘mild’ chemo pills which didn’t do much to calm the leukemia. I changed physicians, and he suggested a more rigorous treatment of chemo therapy, which we agreed to. After only one treatment, my body contracted a ‘cousin of leukemia, a very rare disease called paraneoplastic pemphigus. I’d never heard of it, and the experts at Mass General had seen only one or two case of in their long history.
To make a long story short, in the period of only 3 months, my body began to rebel against itself. I had 2nd degree burns on my rear end and legs that had to be bandaged every day. The burns were very painful. My esophagus began to twist like a pretzel and scar so that eventually no air could pass through and a hole was punched in my throat and a trachea tube was placed in my body so I could breath. I almost died – twice. My eyes began to grow dim until all I could see were shadows with no contrast – everything was a shade of gray. My tear ducts closed up so I could no longer produce tears. That meant I could only keep my eyes open for a few seconds at a time, unless some very expensive gel was placed in my eyes to lubricate them. Still couldn’t see. My nose constantly dripped and both nose and mouth were continuously filled with mucous. I couldn’t swallow, so I have to use a suction machine or spit – in a cup – and rub my nose until it blistered around my nose from the constant abuse and I’ve lost over 70lbs (not such a bad thing). My backside still hurts, even though the burns eventually healed. I can’t eat or swallow so I have been eating from a feeding tube some kind of formula for the past 2 years. All of my medications are delivered in the same way.
I am still in pretty much the same condition except that my right eye has improved enough to allow me to see just a little. I can read large fonts, but I still can’t keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time.
I say all this to tell you that I know a little bit about suffering. In addition to the physical problems, the emotional problems are sometimes worse. The very things I love to do, I cannot do. I cannot preach the Word of God, which I love. I cannot play my guitar, because I cannot see the music, and I don’t remember the chords. I cannot read, which is a passion of mine. I cannot see the beauty of God’s creation, which was always one of my favorite pastimes – to go on beautiful bike rides and just absorb the wonders our Lord has created. So many wonderful things are missing from my life now.
So, now we come to how this relates to the sermon yesterday which highlighted suffering and tribulation as a child of God. The first thing I must say is that the Joy of the Lord is NOT the same as Happiness. Through all my suffering, I have an inner Joy in my heart that the enemy cannot break through. Believe me, he has tried. My Joy comes from the knowledge that I am a child of God, a beloved son of the King of kings. I have an eternal life to look forward to sitting at His glorious banquet table with all of my family and friends. I have a wife who loves the Lord and her Joy spills over to me.
There are many times when I am sad. I cry a lot. Most people look at my face and do not see a happy person (I am working on that). The Joy of the Lord truly is my strength. I could not have gone through my trials if the Lord was not there with me, holding my hand all the way through
Many of you have or have had trials when you thought you lost the Joy of the Lord in your life. No – you may have lost your happiness or felt fearful, but I would believe that in your heart of hearts you knew the Lord would be with you during that time.
Even now, through my pain and sorrows, I have an inner Peace through Joy that holds me steady to the Rock of Ages. I can cry, yet know that my God is with me. His Word tells us that He stores every one of our tears in a little bottle. I must have a bucket load. I believe when we meet the Lord face to face, He will show us that bottle of tears and tell us He was with us through all of those trials.
Though my heart may fail me, inside I am leaping for Joy at the knowledge that my God is there with me – every moment of the day, and He sees my circumstances. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, to read a letter from St. Paul, as we did yesterday, and talk about suffering in the Lord, it helps to know that people who have gone through it can testify that it is true. God is with us all the time. “Where can I go from Your Spirit?” I may even get mad at the Lord or try to run away from Him, but He is there just the same, with His loving arms spread out to hold us and comfort us. Much comfort and consolation have I received from the Lord, and this I pass on to you.
God’s Word is true. Believe every word of it. But dig in to see what it means from every angle. Those of you who are suffering or going through tribulations right now, take heart. God has not left you. He has not abandoned you nor has He turned a deaf ear to your pleas. He is the Rock of Ages, the unmovable, unshakable God who works all things to the good to those who love Him and walk according to His purpose. Your answer may be right around the corner. Or, maybe God is still polishing the tarnish from some part of your life and soon you will gleam brilliantly with the reflection of Christ.
So my dearest brothers and sisters, don’t confuse Joy with happiness. One is the flesh and one is the Spirit. If you walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, you too will be able to experience the Joy of the Lord even if in a prison cell. You too will be able to have a Peace even though you feel your marriage is on the rocks or your children are in danger of slipping down that slippery slope. It is because your Hope is in the Lord who has given us precious promises that will never fail. Abide in the Vine and you will always have the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit flowing through the vine to the branch to you. Stay plugged-in, tuned in, and turned on to the Body of Christ, which is His Church and God will see you through every trial or tribulation and you will never lose the true Joy and Peace of the Lord.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Tony Marinelli