Should We Look Forward to Death?

Last time I wrote (it has been a while!), I discussed the “Sacredness of Life.” If life is inherently sacred, then doesn’t it follow that death is the thief that robs us of what is most precious? Logically, life and death are opposite ends of the spectrum, not only from a physiological perspective but a theological one as well.

Yet, you can hear confusing messages about death all the time. Far from viewing death as an enemy to be defeated, many Christians talk about death as “no big deal.” “We are all going to die anyway.” Lately, these kinds of glib comments have been used to diminish our need to be concerned with the Coronavirus. We are all going to die anyway, so what’s the big deal? Why should we care?

Even before these troubling days, I have often heard Christians describe death as an escape from suffering. There is some truth to that. People suffering with intractable pain, may agree with the apostle Paul who once said, “…to die is gain…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Phil. 1:21, 23). Paul had suffered much. He was not afraid of death. He knew that his reward lay beyond death, but please do not think that Paul thought death itself was the reward.

Today, you hear people throwing caution to the wind because, “I am not afraid of death!” But if you are, “You should stay home!” Such comments are full of false piety and completely devoid of real life situations. They aren’t saying these comments from the solemn ground of a freshly dug grave or as their final words from their deathbed. Rather, they speak them out of the selfish hubris that has consumed a nation.

My comments here are not meant to be political, though politically outraged people will take them that way. I am making a theological point that is also thoroughly biblical. Death is the enemy. The same Paul we heard from earlier said so. At the return of Jesus, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

Death: The last enemy
I’ve seen a lot of memes/captions attributing this quote to J.K. Rowling. Hmm, no, the apostle Paul was first by about 1,965 years!

Yes, death can be a passageway to heavenly reward. And no, Christians should not fear death, because Jesus has defeated it. But treating death flippantly and acting as if there are no consequences diminishes the victory that Jesus has won over death. When I stand on that sacred ground in which we lay a loved one to rest, I know death will not have the last word. That is why I can face it, not because “we’re all going to die anyway.”

When I think of death as an escape from the pain, I understand the sentiment. But it is our culture, not Scripture, that treats death as an ally and suffering as an enemy. While suffering will ultimately not have a place in God’s new creation, it does have a sanctifying role to play in this death-marred world (e.g. Rom. 5:1-5).

I choose to keep living, even when it hurts, because that is the way I honor my Creator and the sacredness of the life he gave me. And though pain is no small matter, God can use it to increase my nearness to Jesus, and through faithful living, I can glorify him. I care about my life; I care about yours too, and so does God. Let’s try to honor the life God has given each of us!

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The Sacredness of Life

A few years ago, I paid Right On Mission to help me develop a personal mission statement. I had never been big on such things, but I had a previous relationship with the professor (Dr. Sarah Sumner), and she offered me a good deal. It also came with another class that helped me develop a plan for the Broken and Mended ministry.

Basically, I shared my whole life story with Sarah. She asked me a series of questions that ranged from my hobbies to what made me angry. But it was her job to craft the mission statement. After about three hours, she came up with this: “To acknowledge the stardom of every person’s life.”

Star - Wikipedia
Everyone’s a “star” in God’s eyes

“Stardom” is connected to my love for the stars in God’s heavens. It had nothing to do with the celebrity of someone’s life or even their accomplishments. The word was chosen to convey the personal sacredness of every human being bestowed on them by a God who makes us all in his image.

It is a meaningful mission statement, but I soon discovered that it was not chosen for me because I had mastered it. Rather, it took intentional effort to regard each person I met as sacred. I had made my own distinctions between people and had catered to my own favorites. My mission statement was an ideal that needed a lot of repentance to take shape in my life.

Let me confess that though I have made substantial progress, I believe I will always be in need of repentance. The moment I think less of a person just because they are different than me is yet another opportunity for me to hear my own mission statement calling me back to a God’s eye view of every human. But the passion that Sarah helped me unearth is blossoming unto fruitfulness for me and with others God places before me.

That’s the backstory to what I have found so upsetting in the midst of this pandemic. I have been shocked at how easily others have dismissed the sacredness of human life. I have heard or read countless dismissals of the 100,000 people who have died in our country alone. They “were on their last legs” anyway. They were elderly. They had preexisting conditions. As if any of these factors could somehow lessen the tragedy of a life prematurely snuffed out.

Do people dying in nursing homes isolated from their families matter less because they were no longer “productive” members of society? Do their survivors mourn them less because they didn’t have long to live anyway? My maternal grandparents are both still living. When my grandpa turns ninety in June, they will both have arrived in their nineties. I know that I won’t have them much longer. Whenever they die, I will mourn them deeply, because I love them. If they happened to get COVID and die even sooner, I would advise you to stay away from me with “well, they were elderly anyway” garbage.

Another disparity has been the reality that this virus has impacted minorities at a disproportionate rate. The virus itself does not regard race or any other human distinction, but communities with greater poverty tend to have greater health risks with less access to healthcare. And then during this time, we have had the reprehensible stories of the slayings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now, George Floyd.

George Floyd Murder: Twitter Left 'Disgusted' as Video of 3 Cops ...
Photo Credit:

The killings are the worst, of course. But then there are stories like a white woman lying to a 911 operator that an African American man was threatening her, a black delivery driver detained in a predominantly white neighborhood–for no apparent good reason–and I am sure a host of others that I’ve either forgotten or didn’t make the national radar.

It is past time for white people like me to listen to what black people and other minorities are saying about what it is like to be a person of color in this nation. But the distressing truth is that most people don’t have the appetite for it. They will excuse, justify, and deny the real problem of racism and white privilege in this country. They will be more passionate and angry over protests that draw attention to the problem than people dying for no good reason other than the color of their skin.

Or maybe we can talk about those kids separated from their parents at our border. I’ve actually read where a Christian brother suggested the kids deserved what happened to them because their parents were criminals. I wonder if that same brother is so readily willing to call his fellow citizens criminals who broke the law when they ignored shut-down orders to open up their businesses. But they were desperate, you say? They had to feed their family, you say? Right. But struggling families trying to flee dangerous situations from other countries are the real criminals?

This is a blog for those who struggle with chronic pain, and as I mentioned above, those who have preexisting conditions are being spoken about as if their lives are less valuable because they are physically compromised. But it is also part of a larger human problem.

Either you believe that God has created everyone in his image or not. You don’t get to choose by race, health, or immigrant status. You can’t wave a flag for the unborn and dehumanize the immigrant, the disabled, or people of color. My mission is and remains “to acknowledge the stardom of every person’s life.” It is also my lifelong challenge. Will you join me?

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My Review of Walking By Faith

Chronic Illness: Walking by Faith by Esther Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was invited to read an advanced copy of this book, and this work is so needed in the chronically ill community. It is written for Christians, who have an invested interest in pursuing discipleship even in the midst of chronic pain/illness.

The book is grounded in solid theological reflection on relevant scriptural texts that are grouped together by large themes. One of the best things about the book is how grace-centered and empathetic it is without giving in to our inclination for self-pity and false identity (i.e. my disease is the most important thing about me).

I felt understood by the author, but also encouraged and even inspired to a deeper walk with God. It could be read several times a year, and the reader would identify with it (and the individual devotionals) differently each time depending on his/her current struggle.

There are also helpful reflection questions and suggested actions that are not overwhelming at the end of each day. I definitely intend to read it again and will encourage others with similar struggles to get Esther’s book. It is a much needed breath of fresh air targeted for an often neglected demographic.

See more about Esther’s ministry on her website:

View all my reviews

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The Resurrection Doesn’t Expire On Easter

We put a lot of emphasis on the day that Jesus was risen, rightfully so. I love to play up the resurrection on Easter. Honestly, I would forget all about the Easter Bunny if I didn’t have kids! I will never tell someone they put too much emphasis on the risen Christ on that day. I am here to celebrate with you, but I’m also here to remind you that he is still risen on Monday too. He’s still risen on Friday (the day I’m writing this). He’s been risen for nearly 2,000 years, and will be for all of eternity.

Our destiny is inextricably linked to his, if we are his (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22). So, if my destiny is linked to his–and he is resurrected forever–then should I not care about his resurrection more than just on Easter? I’ve written about the resurrection of the body before. The Bible teaches a full victory over death. We will be raised, yes our actual dead bodies, and then we will be transformed into a glorious new body.

A lot of people claim to believe in the resurrection of Christ but fail to see how it connects to our resurrection. Paul claims in 1 Cor. 15 that you can’t have one without the other. In fact, if you deny a future resurrection that is the same as denying His resurrection.

Amid this Coronavirus pandemic, it is good to remember we will get a new body that will not be threatened by a virus or chronic illness. Death itself will be completely overturned, and we will never be robbed by death again!

I hope you had a wonderful Easter. I also hope you remember the Easter claim is not “He was risen,” but is always, “He is risen!”

Death Defeated
Photo Credit:
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My Personal Thoughts During the Pandemic

It may appear that I haven’t posted in a while during a time that is very critical to all of us, especially those who are at greater risk for complications if they were to contract the deadly Coronavirus. I did write this a few weeks ago, and though the situation has worsened in the time since, the message is surely still relevant.

However, I have, in fact, been writing, just on a different page on the website. On that page, you will find messages that I have written primarily for my church in lieu of my usual bulletin article that I write for bulletins that we print when we meet together. We are meeting together right now, hence the special page.

All the while, I’ve been meaning to get back to my main blog which is normally addressed to those who struggle with chronic pain and illness. I’m always trying to find an angle or a special topic that relates to this group, of which I am a part. But like everyone, I’ve been overwhelmed in so many ways. I thought I would just use this space as a journal for a moment and share some of my personal thoughts and experiences. If that doesn’t interest you, I won’t judge you! Maybe I just find it cathartic to mark this strange time in history with what was going on through my own mind.

Like most people, I watched the story of a novel virus in China that began spreading around the world unfold gradually. I knew there was some concern when the virus reached our shores, but I never envisioned it affecting my personal life or the life of those I knew.

The moment my awareness of the virus changed, I was at church on a Wednesday night. After Bible class, someone told me they had just canceled the NBA game between the OKC Thunder and the Jazz. Most people where I live are Thunder fans, so they were on top of the news pretty quick. Rudy Gobert, of the Jazz, had been confirmed to have COVID-19. They cleared the arena, and by the time I got home, the NBA had suspended its season.

It was like the first domino in a major chain reaction. Other leagues, industries, and businesses quickly followed suit. The whole world was coming to a stop, and the experts from the CDC and W.H.O. were saying it should. Social distancing became a term known to all. We didn’t immediately cancel church services, as the virus still seemed faraway from Woodward.

The reactions to this fallout was disappointing to me, at least. So many people tried to portray those taking proactive steps to curb the virus as hysterical and panicky. The experts were either conflated with the mass hysteria–and there was some of that to be fair–or dismissed them as being politically motivated. It didn’t help that the President constantly downplayed the crisis, and many who thought they knew better than the experts were following his lead.

This was coupled with an attitude that diminished the lives that were being lost, either by comparing it to something else that people die of–like the flu–or, worse, saying that it was only older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions who were dying. People clamored for evidence that the pandemic was worthy of drastic measures and ignored the evidence where the outbreak had got out of control (like Italy) or that the very measures they were criticizing were preventing the very worst-case scenario they mockingly said had not come.

As the numbers skyrocketed in America and New York and New Jersey became our own dire Italy story, these pandemic deniers mostly disappeared. Of course, I’ve not seen one person admit they were wrong in the beginning!

That doesn’t mean social media has been all bad. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the humor about quarantine and toilet paper and all of it. It isn’t a funny situation; that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some funny moments that allow us to hold on to our sanity! I personally thought the comparisons to Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day” were the best!

As the news got worse, the impact became more personal. School was canceled. Church no longer met in person. Essential businesses were closed. I never felt more like I was in a movie scene than when I picked up my kids’ assignments in school drive-thru’s from teachers wearing masks. Home, where we all spend most of our time, was challenging with three kids of my own and two foster kids. Balancing between my ever evolving role as a minister and extra demands at home has been my hardest challenge. But then again, that is far easier than a loved one being in the hospital, possibly dying, and not being able to be with them.

A sign in my town, Woodward, OK. A “sign” of the times.

How humbling it is to to see the entire human race brought to a standstill by an invisible assassin. But how encouraging it is to be reminded of our common humanity and need for God! It is also been heart-warming to see expressions of solidarity with health care workers and others, not to mention incredible acts of sacrifice.

Like many of you, I am at higher risk for serious complications due to medicines I take that suppress my immune system. It still felt like a remote possibility until another pastor in town got seriously sick with COVID-19 symptoms. I presume that he is in better health than me, so that was a wake-up call (He has recovered). That same day we had our first (and still only) confirmed case in our county. We are not in, by any definition, a hot zone, but I felt vulnerable that day and ever since.

No, I am not afraid, but the entire saga seems so surreal. If I did get sick, I am sure I would experience the fear of the “what-if.” I hate that people are losing jobs. I hate that the world economy is falling off a cliff. Mostly I hate that people are dying and many of them alone.

No, my faith is not hurt. If anything, the Bible teaches us to expect such episodes of human suffering while we await the return of the Lord. But I do worry that some people’s faith may be hurt. Every step we can take toward normalcy will be a good one. Let’s hold on to the Lord and each other.

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Coronavirus and the Immunocompromised

Image result for coronavirus
Photo Credit: Harvard Health

It is hard to know where to start with this crazy pandemic that we are all facing. Every life is being affected, whether people are at severe risk of infection or not. My son’s track meet was canceled. All of my kids will not participate in a big youth competition for Bible related events. My daughter was heartbroken. More trivially, I’m kind of big sports fan: No March Madness, NBA, MLB. Hey, I was even enjoying the XFL, and like everything else, their season has been canceled.

It has been interesting to listen to different reactions. Some think it is pretty much a hoax (it is not). Others have become afraid to go out anywhere. Some have been interrogated because they returned from a zone where there had been an outbreak. A lot of selfish hoarding of supplies and overreactions is happening everywhere. There is also just a lot of speculation and bad information out there.

I’ve heard some people downplay the virus because it doesn’t kill a lot of people (percentage wise) and many more die from the flu. Just because people are dying from the flu, doesn’t mean that more people have to unnecessarily die from Coronavirus! Some of the projections from the CDC are downright scary if significant preventive measures are not taken to curtail the spread of the virus. This is from a New York Times article:

Between 160 million and 214 million people in the U.S. could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to one projection. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.

1.7 million people dead in American alone. By comparison, the CDC, estimates about 22,000 deaths so far this flu season. The estimate is a worse-case scenario if no preventative measures are taken. So, while you might think it is ridiculous that your kid’s event got canceled, it might actually have saved lives. Furthermore, when people act like it is no big deal that the elderly and immunocompromised may die, as long as the healthy live, they commit both ageism and ableism.

Every life matters and every life preserved is worth it. Let’s make sure our words are not calloused toward those who are most vulnerable to the mortal danger of this virus. I know many of my readers are immunocompromised, because of the disease itself and/or the drugs they take to treat the disease.

Not all immunocompromised people are at the same risk. And a lot of conditions and medications remain unknown regarding the interaction with the COVID-19 virus. Here’s an article that I thought was helpful in overviewing the issues. Here’s another article that discusses the issue of biologics and COVID-19.

Going back to the NYT article (link above), one of the concerns is that those infected could overwhelm the healthcare system. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for everyone else is to listen to the authorities and take preventative measures to limit the spread of the disease. You may keep someone from getting Coronavirus, and you may keep someone from getting flu. That wouldn’t be a bad thing either!

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The widespread reach of COVID-19 (

For those of us who have concerns about the vitality of our immune system, I always discourage fear, because fear is not pleasing to God, and it brings about irrational and selfish behavior. But I do encourage prudence and emphatic concern for others. This is what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Take care of yourself. Take care of others. As my Granny has always reminded me, “This too shall pass.”

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When Jesus Gives You Something Different Than What You Asked

Image result for friend your sins are forgiven
Photo Credit:

I had preached on the story of Jesus healing the paralytic before (cf. Matt. 9:2-8, Mk. 2:13-22, Lk. 5:17-26). But this time it struck a different chord. I have been preaching a series through Luke and particularly emphasizing the stories where extreme human need encountered Jesus Christ. The series is called “God in Need,” as in the God who had never known need taking on human need for us.

Anyway, I don’t think I had preached the story of the paralytic since my own struggle with chronic illness. And that struggle has changed the way I experience that story.

I am far from being paralyzed, but I can relate to the intense desire to want Jesus to heal me. I can imagine what it would be like to know that an accredited miracle worker was coming to my town and how a moment with Jesus could change my life forever. No disease was beneath Jesus’ notice. No illness was beyond his power.

Of course, getting to Jesus isn’t very easy for a man who is paralyzed, but his four good friends fought through the crowds and lowered him through a roof right in front of Jesus! Jesus was not annoyed, but instead interpreted their deed as an act of faith. Surely, Jesus would now make this man walk again. Instead he told him, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

I know all of us are aware that we are far from perfect. We have sins that need forgiving. I’m sure the paralytic knew that too. But that wasn’t why he came to Jesus. He wanted to walk again. Did he take Jesus’ pronouncement as a refusal to heal him?

We don’t know for sure, because the conversation shifts its focus to the internal thoughts of the Pharisees and Jesus’ surprising remarks (surprising, because Jesus was basically reading their minds!). Jesus does heal the paralytic to prove to the Pharisees (and to others) that he had the authority to forgive sins. The paralytic takes up his bed and goes home praising God! What was he most joyous about? The forgiveness of sins or being able to walk again?

What would I be more excited about? What about you? Our struggle with chronic pain and illness has often left us desperate for God to heal us. We have cried out to God for miraculous intervention, and have not received the answer we were looking for.

So, here’s my question. When Jesus gives you something other than what you have asked, can you trust him enough to know his answer is what you needed more than what you had requested?

The door is still open for Jesus to tell us “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home,” anytime. If he doesn’t do so on this earth, then he will in the world to come. In the meantime, are the words, “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” enough for you?

Your answer to that question illuminates just how much you think your sins really need to be forgiven. Can those words produce even greater joy and praise than “Get up and walk”? May we find in Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness the greatest healing we will ever experience!

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Judgment and Chronic Pain

Image result for judge not"
Photo Credit: 119 Ministries

Matthew 7:1-2 in the NLT reads thus, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” This may be one of the most ignored commands of Jesus despite the warning Jesus attaches to it. I imagine Jesus gives such a strong warning, because he knew the stubbornness of human hearts. We judge others like we are addicted to it!

The homeless person is just lazy. The immigrant wants a free ride. The prostitute wanted that lifestyle. He’s fat because he has no self-control. She just has more children to take advantage of the system. On that last one, I saw a bumper sticker recently in my hometown of Woodward that said, “If you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em!”

If you agree with sentiment of that last exclamation (or any of the above), then you likely have a judgment problem. By the way, I might have a judgment problem for judging you for having a judgment problem. It isn’t easy escaping the cycle of judging others.

Those dealing with chronic pain and illness are regularly judged by others. Most of the people I’ve talked to about their path to diagnoses have shared with me that they have been told some version of “it’s all in your head” by at least one medical provider. Countless friends and associates have told them or implied that they just want attention. Maybe some have even been called a hypochondriac. Others have been called a “drug addict.”

Sometimes people don’t mean to be this way. A statement like, “You don’t look sick,” may seem benign on its surface, but underneath it sounds like an accusation to the one who IS sick that there shouldn’t be anything wrong with them just because you can’t see it! (A lot of chronic illnesses are what we call invisible illnesses).

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I’ve heard judgmental statements from the chronic pain community as well. Out of bitterness, people with chronic pain can be dismissive of others’ pain, because they couldn’t possibly understand what “real” pain is like. None of these judgmental attitudes are helpful. That’s why Jesus told us not to do it!

We are all likely judgmental in ways that we haven’t previously detected. If you are saying things that demean large groups of people (like immigrants), then you are being judgmental. If you say things that dismiss other people’s experiences (like the chronically ill), then you likely have a judgment problem. Judging others hurts other people. It drowns out their voices, which is sometimes the point of the judgment.

When you begin a sentence about a group of people or an individual that is about to assign motives and cast blame, stop yourself and hear the words of Jesus again, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

Refusing to judge others doesn’t mean we approve evil behavior (Actually, sometimes judging others is a way of justifying our own evil behavior toward the ones we are judging). It means we don’t pretend to know what we cannot know. It means we refuse to belittle a fellow human being just because their story or situation makes us uncomfortable. It means we see someone’s suffering and know that we too suffer, even if in different ways. It means we give full attention to voices of others and that we believe them as we would want to be believed.

This isn’t advice from Jesus; it is a command that comes with what should be a sobering warning. But what good news that we don’t have to be judged by the one who knows our hearts the most, the one who knows our own false motives even when we don’t! The is the one who promises not to judge us any harsher than we judge others.

Those of us in the chronic pain world, know what it is like to be judged. We also know what it is like to judge others, because we are all human. Asking God to help us eliminate our judgmental tendencies going forward will take serious prayer and self-reflection. Is it worth it? You can’t afford not to do it!

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Crying Out to God

It is not uncommon for me to hear from chronic pain sufferers who think that they are being selfish when they cry out to God. Because they are so selfless, it feels so wrong for them to pray for themselves instead of praying for others, even when they are in desperate pain.

However, the Bible paints a different picture. Crying out to God in your pain is the most natural thing you could do. This doesn’t mean that you forget to pray for others or fail to acknowledge their suffering. In the words of a now famous meme, “Why not both?”

Image result for why not both meme

When you cry out to God, you are acknowledging he is your Redeemer. When God commissioned Moses from the burning bush he told Moses, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Ex. 3:7, emphasis mine). The connection between the people’s cries and God’s concern is directly stated, leading to God’s dramatic rescue of his people.

Throughout the Old Testament are those who cry out to God, who are not answered, and others who cry out to God and are answered. Sometimes the oppressed and the suffering have to wait on God’s deliverance. On some occasions, God did not answer, because they had cried out to other gods instead of him at first.

In the New Testament, the theme of crying out to God is present. When Jesus told the story of the persistent widow, his encouragement was to keep praying to God. He concludes with this encouraging word, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (Lk. 18:7, emphasis mine).

When you want to cry out to God, please do! This is an act of faithfulness and acknowledgment of his status as Savior and Redeemer. To keep our pain within ourselves is to imply that we don’t need God to rescue us! Those in chronic pain may have to wait for deliverance, but we cry out to him because we know that eventually God will rescue us!

Don’t believe Christmas hymns that tell you Jesus was a baby who made no cry. Imagine in those first moments after Jesus was born, and his lungs were clear. How precious was the sound of his cries to his parents, but most importantly, to his heavenly Father. Thirty-three years later, he prayed in a garden, “Abba, Father!”

If the one who is God in the flesh cries out to God the Father, then we should as well. All the evidence proves that is what God wants from us, an authentic relationship that includes cries from the depth of our souls. He will hear, and he will answer.

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Chronic Pain and Mission

It was late October in 2015. I was traveling with my best friend, Chris Blair, and one of my church elders, Jim Chandler. I had always wanted to go to China, and the opportunity had come through the Let’s Start Talking ministry (LST). It was a dream come true. There was only one problem; I was in agonizing pain.

In Shanghai, these comfortable chairs were not so comfortable to me!

The flare had started back in June of that year and was unrelenting. The 15 hour plane ride to Shanghai was excruciating. By the time we landed, I struggled to walk. Our main activity, one-on-one conversation sessions, in a coffee shop hurt me every moment that I sat down. Another long flight loomed on the horizon.

When I got back, I began the process of radiofrequency ablation to relieve the pain in my lower back. The results were disappointing. In late 2016, I had a 2nd hip surgery, was in pain all the time, and was fighting my first battle with depression. Though my trip to Shanghai was my tenth overseas mission trip, I could not imagine boarding another plane for that length of time. If I did not improve, my overseas mission days were behind me.

I am writing this post because I just got back from an LST mission trip to Recife, Brazil. Obviously, I am feeling better. I was not pain free, but the pain was manageable enough that the trip was worth it (I’m not saying the Shanghai trip wasn’t worth it, but only that I couldn’t do it again under those circumstances). Part of the reason, I took advantage of the opportunity is because I don’t know how long I will feel good enough to do it. So, I would like to offer a few reflections on this recent experience as it relates to chronic pain:

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In Recife, Brazil after our Hawaiian Party

  • Do what you can when you.

I know that “carpe diem” is an overused phrase, but there is good reason for it! When you are feeling well enough to participate in something you love, don’t assume that your renewed health will last forever. Those of us dealing with chronic pain know better than most that good days and good seasons are fleeting.

On the other hand, to do nothing because you are afraid you might hurt one day in the future is no way to live life! Pursue that career. Join that mission. Run the 5k. Go to church. Maybe you feel better for only a month, but why wait until you feel too bad to do what you want to do? Maybe that month stretches out to a year or longer. You will never regret living your life intentionally while you can. However, you will almost certainly regret passing up opportunities that were before you once your health brings those opportunities to a close.

  • Find a mission that even chronic pain cannot rob you of.

I love mission work. Every one of my eleven overseas trips have been meaningful for me. However, my identity and mission for life were not tied to my ability to pursue mission work. A couple of years ago, I worked through a mission statement with a ministry called Right On Mission. My mission is “to acknowledge the stardom of every person’s life.”

This means I help others to see their incredible worth before God. I help others to envision living their lives as God intends them to live. This mission can be lived out when I am hurting and when I am healthy. Even if I am confined to a bed, I can live this mission.

You may or may not ever go through a formal mission writing process, but you can choose to live for something greater than what your health allows you to do. I know people who have had to give up careers they were passionate about due to their health. This is a tragic loss worthy of profound grief. Even in facing such loss, some of those same people have found their purpose in living again.

  • Don’t give up on living a meaningful life.

This third reflection is perhaps just a way of restating the 2nd. I state it this way because there are times when the pain is so bad and the loss so draining that you cannot find any meaning in life. You are just focused on somehow surviving the day. But it is important that even in our worst of times, that we do not lose hope of having better and more meaningful days.

On our worst days, we often ask, “What does God want from me?” It might be better to rephrase the question, “What does God want for me?” God doesn’t need anything from you. In his love for us, he does want something for you. God intends for every person’s life to be meaningful. Chronic illness cannot rob us that meaning. Let’s end these reflections with a great reminder of God’s love from his word:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).

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