A Daughter’s Take on Faith and Suffering

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Now that I’m free to share, I’m going to write more openly about what my family has been going through.

My father, who has been battling Parkinson’s, spinal stenosis, and Type 2 diabetes, has yet another burden to add to his list. We found out he has an incurable form of Leukemia. (You can read the longer details here. https://principlesforlife.org/…/principlesforlifeministries/)

We are not unfamiliar with grief and fear, as the last 2 years have been horrific roller coaster rides of watching every aspect of my parents’ lives change due to both gradual and sudden health concerns. It’s a strange place to be, to know they are in such a state to die any minute but that they could also go on living for years.

The reason I want to be honest about it is because we all, essentially, have to live in that same state: knowing any minute it will all be taken away. I just get to feel it thrown in my face a little more poignantly than some, on a regular – sometimes weekly – basis.

The main concern I have is not that the world understand how hard our lives have been the last several years. Life is hard. My concern is that people understand why so many of my posts and so many of my updates go back to Jesus, God, and my thanks for Him.

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Whether you know this or not, I’ve had a lot to complain about. In many ways, my life has sucked. Not much about my days that makes me stand up and cheer. I get to watch two of my favorite people that I depend on the most for love, support, care, guidance, and hope walk through lives of hopelessness that just keep getting worse.

So how come I filter everything (as best I can) through a faith-based filter? And how come I have faith in a good God who is in control of everything when I look around at the universe that is truly filled with so much self-centeredness, indulgent pride, disinterest in the cause of the needy, that is violent and rageful even in the name of peace? Passive and compromising, intellectually engaged and often heart empty? A place where people are destroyed in the name of defending a cause, where love is so absent from so many of the things we strive for and seek to attain?

All of the above horrors? Those are WHY I believe in that God. The death we all await, and fear and dread? That is WHY I know there is a God in Heaven. Our moral compass that drives you and me to do both wonderful and HORRIBLE things in the name of the things we love, it’s embedded in our hearts. And if a greater God than us didn’t, hadn’t created us with souls that knew THIS PLACE ISN’T RIGHT we wouldn’t know, in our souls, that we were made for something better. We wouldn’t keep striving. We couldn’t claim that there is a right and there is a wrong if we didn’t know it deep down that there IS something called GOOD. We’ve all just distorted it to fit a particular mold, and, in essence, we’ve screwed it up.

But my hope, my belief in God, it shows me how there is a plan for redemption. It shows what a life COULD be. It shows me how I want to be and who I want to become. It provides a webbing and brings a framework to the senseless lives we live, seeking in agony a meaningful existence in a world we know will just someday end for us. Because we believe in a Higher Purpose, even when we say we don’t.

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Apart from Christ, I would be nothing. It’s a life and a world I could do without. But unless I have hope of an eternal promise that finally brings fruition to everything I’ve fought for and believed in, in everything I do, WHAT WAS THE POINT? If I can see with my soul’s eye everything my heart wants and desires, all the good God intends for all those of us whom He loves, I can see why all this horrible, terrible mess of this life actually makes sense. It can even show me how and why God has used my parents’ suffering and helplessness for so much good.

It means that the fear, the misery, the agony, as well as the desire to just give up and get out of this place filled with the previews of what Hell is going to be actually keep my feet planted here as long as I can, so I can share the hope we all need. Without God, there truly is no hope. And I’ve seen it. I know it. And for as long as I have to stay here in this godless life of pain and suffering and evil, I will seek after God and impart His goodness into the lives I know. And I’ll do that fearlessly, because God is the only thing we don’t have to be afraid of in this life if we can and will receive His love and gift.

I love each of you. Without hesitation, and ENDLESSLY. Because Jesus first loved me.

Becca

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Romans 5:18-21 (NLT) Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/…)

Gary Requests Prayer

Dear Friends,
This is Cheryl writing.  We are in need of prayer support right now!  Yesterday was a difficult day as we received some very unwelcome news from Gary’s oncologist.  As you know, if you had a chance to read Gary’s recent message, the doctor had told our whole family who gathered in his office to hear the results of Gary’s bone marrow biopsy, that Gary did NOT have leukemia or some other blood disease.  We were ecstatic!
Well….. yesterday late afternoon, the same doctor called and said that a final test came back showing mutations in the genes in his blood cells. Long story short, Gary DOES have CMML (Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia), a type of leukemia that has no cure.  Evidently it is in the beginning stages and the only treatments are not curative but can help the symptoms.
This doctor is leaving his practice to go into research. So Gary will have blood work every two months to follow the disease and will be seeing a new doctor in four months.  We had never heard of this disease and are trying to educate ourselves via the Internet.
We KNOW God is still just as FAITHFUL and PRECIOUS and LOVING and ALL-WISE as He always is.  We are just trying to process the human emotions that come with hearing great news (we thought) to hearing that there is a disease present with lots of unknowns.  We love you and thank you for caring about us!!!!!
Gary adds, “I am calming myself with the words of Job who said, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Our lives are not our own. Jesus made that clear from the moment we began to follow Him. So no complaints here. But surprises are often hard to deal with, especially when you want to live long and minister to family and friends.
Speaking of that, I intend on continuing this blog. However, with very low energy, I may have to keep it to one or two posting per week. Pray for God’s wisdom and strength in all that we do. Remember, I am still battling type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, and spinal stenosis.
In Christ’s Love,
Gary and Cheryl Schwarz

“NIC AT NIGHT” (Part 4)

(For a written copy of this lesson, click WRITTEN. To listen to the recorded message,  click SPOKEN)

  1. The Spirit’s Conversion

The first clue Jesus gives him is in verse 5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

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Spirit, of course, refers to the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to “born of water”? Some say it refers to baptism. But how can that be true? Baptism does not save us. Baptism is a testimony that we’ve already been born from above. Others say it refers to the waters of birth. But that can’t be right either. First century Jews weren’t yet aware of the role amniotic fluid plays in the birth of a child. Nor did Nicodemus need to be told that he had to be born the first time before he could be born a second time.

So what was Jesus referring to? Remember Nicodemus was an Old Testament scholar whose mind would have immediately tracked with Jesus, taking him to passages like Ezekiel 36 where God promised His people, “I will…sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart and…put my Spirit within you and make you walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.”

 

Jesus was referring to the New Covenant that was about to come true in His blood, a promise Nicodemus had known since boyhood. But like all the religious leaders of Israel, he was an apostate Jew who, because he hadn’t experienced the miracle of new life, gave up on God’s promise. And once you do that, what do you do next?

You reject what the Bible says about sin. After all, we are all “good kids” with good hearts, aren’t we? The answer is no! The truth is there’s not one good person among us. But once you admit that, that we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, how do you cope with the fear of judgment to come? The answer is: You ask God for the gift of faith to trust in His promise of new life and forgiveness!

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The second clue is in verse 8 where Jesus adds, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Have you ever done that? Stood outside surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and heard His wind roaring through the trees? I did that the other night. I was watering the flowers when I suddenly heard and then felt a cool breeze blowing past me. I thought, “What a perfect way to describe the power and refreshment of the Holy Spirit!” I didn’t know where it came from or where it was going. Nor could I control it! Ever tried to get the wind to blow when you want to fly a kite? But I could feel the results of it!

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And you can also see the results when the Holy Spirit touches someone’s life because what happens? Just as the dead man heard Jesus say, “Lazarus, come forth!” you come alive in your spirit.

I shall never forget how it happened to me. I was sitting in a college classroom thinking about things I had read in the Bible, when I suddenly sensed a voice saying to me – not audibly, but just as real – “Gary, believe!” And for the first time in my life, I did. I believe in the Lordship of Jesus, His death for my sins on the cross, and His mighty resurrection from the dead. And in that very moment, my spirit, which was dead, suddenly came to life, and I’ve been following Christ ever since.

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But what about Nicodemus? Was he ever born from above? John doesn’t say. Nicodemus fades from the scene midway through this chapter, and we don’t hear from him again until chapter 7 where his colleagues on the Council decide that Jesus has to go. But he takes issue with them on a point of Law. John 7:50, “Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before and was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what He does?’” So he hasn’t taken a public stand for Him yet, but I’m feeling better about him. Aren’t you?

The last we read of him is John 19:38 following the crucifixion. He and a rich friend named Joseph of Arimathea summon up the courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, so they can prepare it for burial and lay it in a new tomb that belongs to Joseph. Now I’m starting to love this guy due to  his loyalty and love for Jesus! But that’s all the Bible says about him.

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Thankfully, church tradition fills in the rest of the details. It reports, for example, that Nicodemus was the only person who stood up for Jesus at His trial, that he was baptized after the Resurrection by Peter and John, and that his preaching of Christ was so powerful that the Sanhedrin he served removed him from his position as teacher, confiscated his property, banished him from Israel, and subjected his wife and children to abject poverty.

His daughter was so poor it was said she had to dig through the dung piles to find a few pieces of grain to eat. A rabbi saw her doing so and took pity on her. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the daughter of Nicodemus.” “Whatever happened to him?” he asked. “He became a follower of Jesus and was banished from Israel.” So the rabbi refused to help her.

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As for Nicodemus himself, he became one of the first martyrs of the church, beaten to death by a mob for preaching in the name of Jesus. This is the true story of Nic at night. He had everything and gave up everything to gain what the world cannot take away. So even though John doesn’t give us all the details, we have our answer: His sins were washed away and he was given new life from above. For so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

“NIC AT NIGHT” (Part 3)

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2.  The Savior’s Counsel

Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi” meaning “teacher.” That was a title with which he was familiar, for that was something he was called every day of his life. Of all the teachers in Israel, Nicodemus was the most respected. But now his soul is in trouble and he’s desperate for help! So he turns to a Teacher who surpasses him in every way saying, “Rabbi, we know that You’re a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

How does Jesus answer? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Sounds like a non sequitur, doesn’t it? In other words, how did what you said have anything to do with what I said? Ever had a conversation like that —maybe with your spouse? But that isn’t how Nicodemus takes it. He realizes that what Jesus has just done is read his mind. He knows his guilt and his fears, and He knows yours too!

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Nicodemus has heard Jesus preach several times by now. So he knows how superficial his own righteousness is. That’s something every hypocrite knows in his heart. He knows he’s a hypocrite. And the Pharisees were hypocrites—every one of them! How can I say that? Because that’s what Jesus said 5 times in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then He adds, “You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when you finally win him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!”

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a hypocrite, and a son of hell! And he knows it! So what does Jesus do? He ignores the flattery and goes straight to the heart of his problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That means He’s about to correct a false teaching Nicodemus was guilty of. What false teaching was that? The false teaching of apostate Judaism that you can earn God’s favor by your good works and self-righteousness! Jesus corrects that saying to him not once, but 5 times in 8 verses, “You must be born again!”

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Jimmy Carter made that a household term when he ran for president claiming to be a born again Christian. Since then it has been misapplied to everything from born-again athletic careers to second-hand books and used cars. So here’s a suggestion when talking to someone about your faith. Use the second, not the first meaning, of the word. What do I mean? The word anothen can be translated in one of two ways—“born again” or “born from above.” The second meaning is what Jesus was saying – without receiving new life from above, you’ll never see the Kingdom of God.

The analogy of birth is the best way to explain salvation to someone like Nicodemus who is self-righteous. Because just as an unborn baby is helpless to contribute anything to his own birth, in the same way you and I are helpless to contribute anything to our salvation. Religion is useless, no matter what group you belong to or how sincere you are, because everything you do is tainted by your sinful nature. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” Consequently, what you need if we want to enter God’s Kingdom is the new life that only Jesus can give you.

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Remember what John said in John 1:12? “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So don’t waste your time looking for self-help books telling you how to be born again. Sometimes you’ll hear that. Here are four steps to being born again. But that contradicts the very thing Jesus is teaching here. His point is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself, except to throw yourself on His mercy and ask Him to give you new life. Nicodemus gets that better than most Bible-believing Christians. He knows he’s helpless to save himself. But like most of us, he thinks, “If I could understand all of this just a little better, it’d be so much easier to believe.” You can see that in verse 9 where he wonders, “How can these things be?”

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But that’s not how it works. Understanding doesn’t come before believing. On the contrary, there are many things about Jesus you will never understand until you believe in Him. So Jesus corrects him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (His lack of understanding was due to his lack of belief, not a lack of information! After all, this was the teacher of Israel who had the entire Old Testament hidden in his heart!)

Read on and you’ll see that yourself. Jesus continues, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. (Remember receiving is just another word for believing!) If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, (Unbelief was his problem!) how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

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Nicodemus has a problem. He is an unbeliever – his mind is blinded by the devil, his will is enslaved to sin, and his affections have been corrupted by the world. So he’s going to need help if he’s to believe. That’s the point of verse 4. “How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

Nicodemus isn’t dumb. Nor is he challenging Jesus at this point. Then why does he ask about entering his mother’s womb a second time to be born again? He’s asking Jesus for a clue which Jesus graciously proceeds to give him. We’ve seen the sinner’s crisis and the Savior’s counsel. Tomorrow we will look at the clue that Jesus gives him and discuss the final part of our study – the Spirit’s conversion.

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