Why Me? Why This? Why Now?

In my book (Dancing In The Dungeon: Suffering With Hopeful Joy For God’s Glory), one of the chapters is titled: “Why Me? Why This? Why Now?” What I wrote there is a compendium of many things I’ve read and considered over several years (If I could remember where I first read them I’d give them credit, but my memory has faded). So I hope these things will be of help and encouragement to those who might read this. It is best to read and meditate long on the Scripture…

Chapter 8: Why Me, Why Now

Since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever… what Paul wrote that God did in him is also possible for God to do in us. Consider what is recorded in Philippians 4:11-13…

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Since there is nothing God cannot do, there is no reason whatsoever to doubt that God has, can, and will work the same contentment in us. The way this is accomplished by The Spirit is as we “hide His words in our heart so that we will not sin against Him.” Thus the purpose of this chapter, to expose you to as many passages of hope as possible in a few pages.

Paul asks a question worthy of us asking ourselves in Galatians 3:4, “Did you suffer so many things in vain…?” The implication is that suffering multiple ways over time is intended by God to have  particular positive and desired results. Depending on your view of God, understanding of Scripture, and how those things effect the way you process life… you will either look for and find reasons to grow in Christ, OR you will be a fatalist living life without much hope or purpose. My prayer is that as you read through this chapter you will purposely process your life events through the sieve of Bible truth. I pray God will help you redeem your hardships for His glory and your comfort.

Meditating on God through Scripture is one way God comforts those in affliction. I have found it helpful on numerous occasions to return to God’s Word and meditate on His truths to help me refocus my heart on God’s reality rather than my emotional false omniscience. And so this chapter is designed to present a truth, briefly comment on it, and provide supporting Scripture. There are many ways to apply what follows. You can read each truth; read each truth and a passage of Scripture; or take one truth and Scripture to meditate on for a day for sixteen days. The important thing is to drive the truth of God’s Word so deep into your spirit that The Spirit will comfort you. These are written in the first person by design to address the question, “God, WHY is this happening?”

The Scripture foundation begins with James 1:2-4 where it is written…

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It is easy to agree intellectually with James, but hard to be joyful when hurting unless the reasons to “count it all joy” are embraced. Joy isn’t because of the trial… but rather WHAT God is accomplishing through the trial. Thus a list of reasons to “count it all joy” in suffering. These are in no specific order, after the first two…

God’s Glory. The single most important thing in the universe is God’s glory. The fact is God will glorify His name in all things, including His children’s suffering, is more important than ease, comfort, or temporal blessings. Only when God’s glory is more important than anything else will anyone be able to count it all joy when they suffer.

For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another. (Is 48:9-11)

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Is 46:9-10)

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Cor 4:15)

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. (Jn 21:19)

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (Jn 12:27-28)

Suffering is God’s will. God’s will and glory are above… beyond… and more significant than anything I want or desire. God’s will is for me to be blessed through suffering. While every Christian wants to be in God’s will, most don’t understand is it is God’s will for them to suffer in order to be blessed. As it is written…

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake… (Philippians 1:29)

All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17)

Through Suffering Humility Is Accomplished. An enemy within me is pride, AKA selfishness, AKA self-centeredness. It is impossible for me to be conformed to the image of Christ as long as pride is in my heart. Thus God takes action to eliminate a boastful attitude that opposes humility. A powerful example of God attacking pride is the preemptive strike God took in Paul’s life which is representative of what He does in all His children. By knowing God is accomplishing humility through hardship, there is reason to count it all joy.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Suffering Reveals The Need For Sanctification. I don’t know what I need to become more like Jesus. The danger of prideful conceit creeps into my heart easily. Paul was unaware of his need for sanctification in the area of pride UNTIL the messenger of Satan came into his life. Only then did he begin understanding the thorn of suffering as a blessing from God. In suffering I see for myself what God always sees and needs correcting. Thus a reason for joy. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

Suffering Teaches Complete Rest In Christ’s Power. Everyone has a breaking point. Sooner or later everyone is at the end of their rope. There are times GOD purposely puts me in such a position to remind me who IS and who can’t. Those who are wise learn quickly to trust God in good and bad times knowing He controls them all. Those who walk with God delight more in their weaknesses because then God is glorified as they rest and rely on Him alone. Thus a reason for joy. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

Suffering Is God’s Method Of Sanctification. Knowing what God is doing… glorifying His name, doing His will, humbling His servant, revealing the need for sanctification, resting completely in His power (See points above)… means I am conscious of the big picture of God’s work in me. Being conscious of God making me more like Jesus is a blessing Job didn’t have. Thus I can have joy knowing God is in the process of sanctifying me. (Job 1-2)

Suffering Conforms Me To Christ’s Image. God is so determined to make me more like His Son that He does not leave it to chance. There is no possibility whatsoever that I will not become more like Jesus because both the process and the result are predestined by God. There is no possibility of God failing what He’s willed to accomplish in me. There is no possibility of not becoming more holy, more Godly, and more like Jesus. This is reason to count it all joy.

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29)

Suffering Draws Me Closer To God. “The same sun that softens wax, hardens clay.” When dark days invade my life I find my heart is drawn to God, not repelled from Him. Whatever draws me closer to God and makes me more like Jesus is worth it. As is found in the hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Ps 119:67, 71)

Jesus Is Manifested In Me. It is because of Christ in me that I am better able to suffer in a manner that glorifies God. As a result the more of Jesus I have AND the more people see Jesus in me. As God comforts and sustains me in the hardest and most difficult times, the resurrection power of Jesus is manifested in the world and as a result He is glorified. Thus a reason to count it all joy.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:7-12)

Suffering Results In Spiritual Maturity. The Biblical attitude toward suffering is found in embracing what God is doing and participating with Him in it. The joy is not in the trial, but rather the eventual result and outcome the trial will produce… namely spiritual maturity also known as conformity to Christ. Thus a powerful reason to count it all joy!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Suffering Results In Sharing Christ’s Glory. Since suffering is God’s will to sanctify me and conform me to the image of Christ, I will not be surprised when hard times enter my life because they have been ordained by God for His glory. I am therefore able to rejoice because sharing in Christ’s sufferings means also sharing in his glory and rewards. Thus a reason to count it all joy.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Suffering Results In God’s Comfort. Paul wrote he was willing to suffer the loss of all things IF that was what it took to be more like Jesus and closer to God. One thief on the cross in essence said, “Get me off this cross and I will follow you.” The other, “If it takes this cross for me to be with you it is worth it.” Therefore, if it takes suffering to be closer to God and experience more of Him and His comfort, it is well worth it. See # 8 above. That is a great reason to count it all joy.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction… (2 Cor 1:3)

Suffering Equips Me To Comfort Others. I am not to live my life on an island, but to be God’s hands and feet to help His kingdom of peace to spread abroad. Therefore I am called to look for, search out, find, and comfort others with the same comforts God has effected in my life for comfort. My own suffering will lend credibility to others who suffer to know that God does comfort as they hear my testimony of God’s comfort in my suffering. This is a reason to count it all joy.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, 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 1:3-4)

Suffering Emboldens Other Christians. Surprisingly, suffering is God’s chosen means and way for the Gospel to spread. As Christians suffer in a manner that joyfully glorifies God other Christians see and as a result are infused with The Spirit to follow their example. As I joyfully suffer in a manner that glorifies God, there will be others who see what God does and will fearlessly respond to God’s call on their life to follow Him. This is a wonderful reason to count it all joy.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Phil 1:12-14)

Suffering Perfects God’s Power In Me. Athletes prepare to win a contest by “suffering” (training) so that when the time comes they can overcome their opponent. If athletes know this maxim, how much more should I embrace the truth of weakness and suffering as THE best way I am vested with the power of Christ?! Suffering exploits my weaknesses which as a result are overwhelmed with the power of Christ. This is indeed a reason to count suffering as joy!

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:9)

Suffering Increases My Rewards. If I live over 100 years it is nothing compared to eternity! Therefore it is better to submit to God who is increasing my eternal rewards than to have ease in this life. Afflictions that are “slight” (Think death) and “momentary” (Think 80 years) is but a small thing compared to what God has prepared for me in heaven. That indeed is a reason to count it all joy!

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

Since God IS accomplishing at least these things in my life, how can I not “Count it ALL joy?” How much of an insult is it to push back at God when the only thing He wills and desires is His glory and my ultimate good?! Even a dog does not bite the hand that feeds him. How much more is it only right to thank God for what some consider suffering when there are at least these sixteen reasons to count everything that happens in life joy? As Larry Crabb wrote, “Every event of life is God calling you to a closer walk with Him.” I am convinced that those who walk the closest with God are those who suffer most… joyfully… for His glory!

Dancing In The Dungeon

9781462734993_COVER.inddOne reason for a blog is to disseminate information. Thus, I have published a book titled: “Dancing In The Dungeon: Suffering With Hopeful Joy For God’s Glory.” It can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as of this date. The Kindle edition should be available soon (God willing).

I wrote DITD first for my children to have a resource one day when life kicks them in the teeth… then for all my brothers and sisters in Christ to experience the God of comfort by considering how God comforted me in my trials (2 Cor 1:3-4). DITD is filled with practical ways God comforted me. It is written as one who’s walked a somewhat difficult path and found God faithful. DITD isn’t a philosophical treatise nor a bunch of ivory tower Bible studies about suffering. Three men who endorsed DITD say it better than I can…

Dr. Rick Lance (Executive Director of Alabama Baptists)

The problem of suffering has always haunted Christians. If you are a follower of Christ, why do you suffer? The answer to that age old question is not easy, but it may be obvious. Because we are followers of Christ, we experience suffering.

Ron Ethridge has transformed his story of dealing with suffering into a book which is a helpful guide for all of us. Dancing In The Dungeon is a personal story. Ron is very transparent in telling about those moments when he suffered most in life. He does so knowing that our God can use suffering for His glory. That is the theme of this book.

Dancing In The Dungeon is not only personal in nature, but Biblical in content and practical in application. As a fellow-sufferer, you find comfort and hope in the pages of this book. You will be encouraged to worship, pray and serve our Lord, even in the midst of suffering.

I am grateful that Ron Ethridge has shared his story and the redemptive lessons which can be learned from it. Experiences of suffering can be and should be a laboratory of learning for Christ followers.

Dr. Timothy George (Founding Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University)

Ron Ethridge is an ordained Baptist minister whose past service in the church follows a well-trodden trajectory. Brought up in the church, followed by undergraduate studies in a denominational setting, and then seminary at a fine theological school, Ron was ready to pursue a life of pastoral ministry in fulfillment of what he was sure was God’s calling on his life. Then, midstream, Ron found himself on the outside of the church looking in when he was asked to leave two of the churches he had been called to serve. Rather than precipitate a knock-down floor fight at the church business meeting, Ron decided to walk away.

Ron admits that he himself made mistakes along the way and that, in hindsight, he would do some things quite differently. This book is not about victimhood or retaliation. Rather, it is the anguished cry of a wounded shepherd, one who has come to understand that healing only happens in the broken places. Through Redemption Ministry, Ron Ethridge is now reaching out to all who are hurting with an emphasis on fellow ministers who find themselves the situation of conflict, and possibly termination, on that part of God’s flock they have been called to serve. Ron wants to come alongside his fellow struggling pastors and hurting Christians to offer encouragement and counsel.

Dr. Ray Pritchard (Keep Believing Ministries; Author of: An Anchor for the Soul, The Healing Power of Forgiveness)

We all go through hard times. As Ron Ethridge wisely reminds us, no one gets a free ride through life. That certainly includes pastors who serve in vocational ministry. If that’s the bad news, then the good news is that God uses those hard times for our good and his glory. Dancing in the Dungeon takes us to the ragged edge of life to show us that when we feel most forgotten, God is doing his best work in us. Of all the good things about this book, the best is that Ron brings us back again and again to the Bible so that we will discover what God has said about the hard times of life. Read it so that you will be equipped when your time comes to dance in the dungeon.

Here are a few chapter titles:

What God Can Do. Reflection: One Night From Hell

A Theology Of Encouragement. Reflection: Satan’s Achilles Heel…Forgiveness

Why Me, Why This, Why Now? Reflection: The Problem Of God And Evil

When God Is Silent. Reflection: Before All Hell Breaks Loose

Comfort When Betrayed. Reflection: Enemies As Emissaries of God’s Grace

Comfort In Personal Failure. Reflection: Mind Over Heart

When Sheep Attack Shepherds.

How To Fire A Minister.

Blessings.

Last Post of “Ron’s Reflections”

RM Logo 500“Ron’s Reflections” has a new address: http://redemptionministry.org . Along with the new location will be a new blog name: Redemption Ministry. The address is: http://redemptionministry.org/blog/ . It can be accessed through the Redemption Ministry (RM) website or directly by the previous link.

My goal, desire, and prayer through God’s providence in my life and ministry (My unique experiences as pastor) is to “Comfort others with the comfort by which I have been comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-7). I’m asking God to help me find hurting, wounded, and struggling ministers so I can (If He so allows) help them through the unique trials ministers face. Here are a few of the resources from Redemption Ministry…

You are not alone.” Testimonies given to RM from Junior Hill, Rick Lance, Mike McLemore and others with more to come (GW).

Healing For Hurting Ministers.” This is a process I’ve relied on for years during my difficult times as a pastor (Minister Resources).

Helping Staff Reconcile.” For when there are problems between staff at a church (Church Resources).

How you can pray if you are so led…

For God to be glorified through Redemption Ministry,

For God to “make the connections” with ministers and churches to encourage and help as He wills,

For a project I’m working on titled, “Dancing In The Dungeon.”

I close this blog address with “I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow

True…

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said— To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not harm thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

God, Where Are You??

DrRvrBdI’m troubled most when God is quiet. When living water seems to have dried up. Consider Psalm 77:7-9…

Will the Lord spurn forever, & never again be favorable? 8 Has His steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His compassion?

When God is silent I get anxious. I start questioning… wondering and wandering… my mind tends toward discouragement. I identify with the uncertainties of what is written in the Scripture above. What about you?

Intellectually I know God is omnipresent. It’s the personal sensed favorable presence of God I/we need. We are like the little kid scared by thunder at night who crawls into bed with his mom and dad for safety. God’s “stuff” (Material blessings) mean nothing in comparison to His felt presence. Houses, land, money, and men’s recognition is crap compared to everything this world offers (Don’t get offended, Paul said it first in Phil 3:8. “Rubbish” is better translated “barnyard dung.”).

Therefore there are other Scriptures I go to which answer Psalm 77’s questions…

You who have made me see many troubles & calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. 21 You will increase my greatness & comfort me again. Ps 71:20-21

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? 9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? Ps 56:8-11

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. 2 He only is my rock & my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Ps 62:1-2

You (God) who have made me see many troubles & calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth You will bring me up again. 21 You will increase my greatness & comfort me again. Ps 71:20-21

What I feel (God’s absence) is not reality (God is present). Sometimes He causes us to feel absence of His presence to long more for Him and be satisfied with His presence above all things.