Thinking Out Loud

April 25, 2020

Objections to Faith: The Apostle Paul’s Life is an Apologetic

…”I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee…”
– Paul in Philippians 3:4-6 NIV

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished…”
– Paul in Acts 22:3-5 NLT

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
– Paul in 2 Cor. 5:17 NLT

After the Gospels, the New Testament proceeds to give us a glimpse of what following Christ will look like after He ascended and after He sent the Holy Spirit. Much of this was written by Saul/Paul who is personally completely absent from the gospel accounts.

What we know about his life can be instructive.

The Apostle Paul:

Shows us what following Jesus means when you didn’t see it firsthand.

In a way, Paul is a stand-in for all of us. There’s nothing in either the gospels or Paul’s own writing to suggest he was part of the crowd when he taught in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany or performed miracles in those places. There is a natural skepticism when you didn’t see something extraordinary up close and personal. Even Thomas doubted after following Jesus for three years. Paul would be in this category. Because he never met or conversed with Jesus, in I Cor. 15:8 he goes so far as to call himself “one abnormally born.”

Shows us what following Jesus means when you follow an other religion.

Paul is an example of what it means to convert (verb) or become a convert (noun.) Here was no nominal Jew, but a man steeped in religious training who knew his faith inside-out and would go on to boast about this aspect of his life even after committing to Christ. He in effect becomes the poster boy for conversion; his life allows the possibility for anyone to walk away from their spiritual past into a new chapter.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are an intellectual.

Even if Paul had never boasted about his training, the grammar and sentence structure of his writing betray his thorough education. I personally believe that the “Philippian hymn” which is set off as poetry citation in most of our Bibles could be an example of Paul quoting a popular early Church song written by someone else or it could be Paul quoting Paul, since training in music was part of that classical education. Today we see objections from people who think they are ‘too smart’ to believe the Gospel, but Paul showed that formal education doesn’t make one too sophisticated an intellectual to reject the simple concepts of faith.

Shows us what following Jesus means if you were formerly opposed to Christianity.

It’s one thing to be atheist or agnostic, or to follow another faith, but if you’ve been particularly vocal about it, you have to be willing to swallow your pride and say you were wrong. Most biographers of Paul characterize what happens to him in the wake of the Damascus Road encounter as being a dramatic, 180-degree turnaround. This is the simplest definition of repentance: ‘My life was going in one direction and then, in a moment, I changed trajectory and started walking toward a completely different objective.’

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are being spiritually formed.

None of any of the significant events in Paul’s post-conversion life happens until after he has been inactive while undergoing a time of discipleship and spiritual formation and simply considering the claims of Christ in a world about to be turned upside down by the life of Jesus. Some put this as a three-year period, while others have it as high as 14 years, though the latter number might have some overlap with early ministry. This might have been a tough period of Paul who would have been anxious to share his post-Damascus testimony, and it shows us that just because people aren’t entering into high-profile Christian service right away, it doesn’t mean their life hasn’t been dramatically changed.

Shows us what following Jesus means while you are suffering.

We can only speculate as to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” though some commentators are more certain than others. There can be little doubt that it dogged Paul continually, three times bringing him to a point where he either enlisted the fervent prayers of other or spent time apart crying out to God to take the condition away. If anyone had time to wrestle with the question as to why God allows suffering, it was him. And let’s not even talk about being hungry or shipwrecked. He is convinced that when we are weak we are made strong.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are now the one facing opposition.

From a literary perspective, the story comes full circle; the man who opposes the teaching of Jesus ends up facing the same type of opponents; the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. Many of the epistles are called “Paul’s prison letters” because he spends a section of his life under house arrest. A faith in Christ needs to be anchored firmly and be resilient in the face of challenge.

Shows us what following Jesus means … period.

From Paul’s famous love chapter, to the fruit of the spirit, to his message of economic, ethnic and gender egalitarianism, to his imagery of living the Christian life as one running a race, to his theological treatise in his letter to the Romans; in all these things Paul shows us what it means to live the Christian life.



March 26, 2018

The Excruciating Pain of Losing a Spouse

Filed under: Christianity, testimony — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:29 am

NLT Psalm 22:2 Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Yesterday in our worship gathering, the pastor began his sermon by pointing out that we get the word excruciating from two Latin words meaning out of and the cross. The excruciating pain we sometimes face in life was felt by Jesus on the cross and as our high priest he is able to sympathize with our pain.

But then he took it a different direction; providing a clear example of what that pain looks like.

We have known the Bayer family for 25 years now. Their son, Andy and his 3 brothers were the same age as our boys and no doubt sat in the same classroom for Children’s Church. Andy Bayer lost is wife Julia to ovarian cancer days before Christmas, 2016.  You can read her blog, Anchor of My Soul on which Andy is now occasionally posting. Or watch the video below:

Words can’t describe all that Andy shared yesterday about how, as Julia’s spouse, he has tried to carry the pain of her loss. There is still anger, and frustration and wishing God would speak more directly as to the purpose of her death.

My reason for posting this today is to make you — or people you know — aware of a website that Andy has started, My Spouse Has Cancer. Resources like this are so important when a person is in the middle of this battle, and Andy has taken the time to write some things he wished he had known ahead of time, to try to be a help to others.

I don’t know who is reading this and what your own need is, but I really felt led to share this with you today. Bookmark the website so you can pass it on to someone in the future.

September 18, 2017


Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog, Voice of One Whispering, click this link.

I had never been one to have heroes, or “idols/role models/etc.” My classmates in school would admire celebrities or athletes but I never really got that. I recognized good traits in the grownups around me and I would feel appreciation and respect but never anything like awe.

Such remained the case until last summer. I had just graduated university and I stumbled into the world of apologetics and I quickly discovered Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel’s powerful testimony was a bestseller and his personality and academic prowess strongly impressed upon me. I watched his debates and lectures, always admiring how he could be so firm and passionate in the truth and yet respectful and irenic at the same time (and the world of Christian apologetics can be rather deprived of irenic personalities.)

There’s a scene in The Hobbit where Balin, upon seeing the heroism of Thorin, says “There is one who I could follow. There is one I could call king.” My impression wasn’t quite that strong but I think I now know where Balin was coming from.

I felt rather insecure for a while. Perhaps I had put the man on a pedestal. Basically I felt as though I could never be content with myself until I had reached his level. There was a jealous corner of my heart that thought “I just have to be like him.” Specifically, just as smart as him.

Then, after only a few months of getting to know his work, he was diagnosed with advanced stage stomach cancer and given a grim prognosis. He vlogged his experience over the next year and his physical conditioned worsened. Then on the 16th of September, 2017 he passed away. Obviously this is to be taken seriously and his and his family’s experience of all this is what matters most, but I hope the reader won’t mind if I share my own experience of this.

In a year, Nabeel went from being someone I new nothing about, to being the person I admired the most ever, to being dead. So what happens to a man of such reserved admiration as myself when his hero suffers like this?

In my case, he only admires him more but that admiration changes. The hevel (the word in Ecclesiastes that is translated ‘vanity’ or ‘meaninglessness’) of health and academic achievement blow away and we see what really matters – a soul that loves God. Doctorates are hard but loving God is accessible enough a concept, I think. We also see a spirit that hopes and trusts in the midst of suffering which is a far more important (and more practical) lesson than anything taught in the halls of academia.

I wonder how Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion, having seen the great man they had followed and in whom they’d hope die.

As for my own experience, I now get how how unabashed childlike admiration for a person can transform you. I was drawn to Nabeel for his knowledge of books and histories and theologies, but he taught me (and I hope all of us) a greater lesson: He showed us what it looks like to love and hope in Our Father.

As for my envy over academic accolades, I now feel that disquietness lifted. While his mind was impressive, it is for his heart that I will remember him as being great. Perhaps that is the more effective apologetic. As the church does, remembering great writings from her history such as the letters of Clement or the 95 Theses of Luther, I hope we also remember Nabeel’s Vlog 43, his last public words to the world, as a pattern of conduct for how we are to share our faith.

If you allow yourself to admire a person you might just get hurt. You might just agonize over their suffering. But the strength of God is made perfect in the weakness of man and I cannot at all reflect on the life of Nabeel Qureshi without seeing the love and the power of God behind it all. The Spirit of God has not left us. And He just as might shine through us as well.

Choose your heroes well. I know I did.

October 11, 2015

Sometimes, Life is Short

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:12 am

If you like happy blog posts, please skip this one, okay? …

…Today at 5:30 PM I’m posting an article at Christianity 201 from John Richardson, who blogged for years as The Ugley Vicar. That’s not a typo for Ugly, it’s a place in the UK. The article was quite long, so I’m running about 40% of it.

The way it works is that, like Thinking Out Loud, with C201 I give myself permission to go back a year and instead of repeats (like we do here) I simply go back to writers we used before to see what they’ve written anything lately that fits the C201 style. So right now, any repeat pictures or articles or sources there or here have to relate to October. (At C201, some writers who fit really well fall under a six month rule instead, and I now have a regular writer who has been featured every Wednesday for the past year.)

So I was back in October 2013, and I found the post in question, and then linked for an update and thought the one I was seeing was from March of this year, though it was actually from 2014. Anyway, I liked the content and did the necessary formatting. But something about the post haunted me. I couldn’t get past the three rather serious spelling errors in the title:

Christrian Csomology; Incarnarion and ‘Evil’

instead of:

Christian Cosmology; Incarnation and ‘Evil’

Hmmm. In the comments section, someone named Father Ron asked “What, on earth, does this title mean?” The reply was:

Father Ron,
In answer to your question, I point you here:
Pray for the Ugley Vicar
Let all of us pray for John at this time.

The link went to a sad update from Richardson which contained so many spelling errors as to make the headline above look skillfully edited.

A very short online search led me to the information I had already assumed, a mass on the brain from which John did not recover.

…I think the thing that bothered me the most about this — and death isn’t exactly something new that was invented yesterday — was when I looked at the last things John had posted on his Twitter feed:

  • OK, so I can’t remember the bit in “Journey Into Life” where it says, “and your life will work out OK.”
  • Either there’s more than one “Valley of the Shadow of death”. Or, “We’re LOST!”
  • Am I going mad? Or did the cat not just say, “You’re in my spot.” Certainly she thought it – nothing new there.
  • Off fora brain scan
  • Wqiting to hqvew my canula tk
  • And my spolling’s gonw to pitt.

And finally,

  • Off to speqk qbout evangeliSm. Being driven. Pray I zpeak clearly.

I wonder how that speaking engagement went.

I can’t imagine having enough clarity to want to write, ‘And now my spelling’s gone to pot;’ and yet not be able to type the words clearly.

I have no idea what the second post in the above list means. Any suggestions?

Life is short sometimes.

As Christians, we do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Still, the death process can be long, or agonizing, or painful, or debilitating. For most of us who have faith in the promise of resurrection, it’s not death that is the issue, but the process by which we get there.

(I really hope there are no typos in this piece…)

John was right. There is no promise that “your life will work out okay.” But there are far greater promises to those who put their trust in Christ alone.

Ugley Vicar - John P. Richardson


  1. The scripture reference allusion is to I Thess. 4: 13-14
  2. My wife suggests there is another issue at play here which has to do with the difficulty of taking down social media after someone has died. Today, I am very thankful that the article we’re using at C201 was available, but you could make a different argument for the Twitter feed.
  3. The C201 post is now available; click here to read.

November 9, 2010

Rob Bell — Drops Like Stars — The Video

It’s been over a year since I reviewed the over-sized coffee table book, Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell; a review of a book where the format left me somewhat puzzled and where I eventually retreated to quoting other bloggers‘ treatment rather than forge ahead with my own.

Fourteen months later, I am delighted to report that the video is a much more focused product and a much more satisfying experience.   We sat through a non-stop viewing of all 2 hours and 5 minutes of this electrifying lecturesermonperformancemessage, presentation.   Whatever you call what he does, this is Rob Bell at his best.

And did you note the length?   The video Everything is Spiritual was 70 minutes, while The Gods Aren’t Angry was 90 minutes; but this time around Bell pulls out all the stops and passes the two hour mark — sans notes — in a way that keeps the audience riveted to their seats.

The subject matter crystallizes here as well.    While everyone else is writing as to the “why” God allows suffering; Bell starts farther down the road and takes our crisis situations as a given, and then asks the question, “So what do we do next?”    He proposes five areas where there are “gifts” which may be imparted to us for that part of the journey.

I know there are people reading this who find the prospect of a two hour sermon rather daunting, but I would suggest you simply don’t know Rob Bell.   For those who find him somewhat controversial, I looked, and found this presentation more palatable to those kept awake by fears of doctrinal contamination.

I think that the video presentation also will connect strongly with people who have a bent for fine art or sculpture or literature or music; as the arts play heavily into Bell’s illustrations, analogies and quotations.

But the supreme connection here will be made with people who find themselves in crisis, or in a valley; or are slowly emerging from one.

The Drops Like Stars Tour Film is now available from Zondervan on DVD at $19.99 U.S.   The large coffee table book has now been released in paperback, also at $19.99 U.S.   His next book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and Every Person Who Has Ever Lived releases on April 1st, 2011.

May 8, 2010

The Grief Ripple

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:56 pm

A year ago at this time I was asking blog readers to join us in praying for Ben Elliott, an 18-year old who was stricken with leukemia.   Ben and my oldest son Chris were briefly in the same Sunday School class together.    Sadly, Ben’s body lost the fight; it would be wrong to say that Ben did, Ben really didn’t lose anything.

But his family definitely felt a loss.   In the time leading up to Ben’s death, his mom, Lisa, kept a Facebook page going titled “Pray for Benjamin Elliott.”   In it she chronicled all of the medical and emotional highs and lows of Ben’s battle with this disease.   Afterward, she kept posting articles and the page was renamed, “The Ben Ripple.”   Like the concentric circles radiating from the a center, there have been many, many ripple effects from all who were involved in or heard about Ben’s life and passing.

My wife forwards these to me, as I’m not on Facebook, and I was struck by something this week that was so trivial that Lisa had placed it in parenthesis.   I want to release it from its parenthesis for your consideration:

…Have you ever given thought to the fact that there’s no word to define a grieving parent? Someone who has lost parents is called “an orphan”. Those who have lost spouses are called “widows” or “widowers”. But there is no word that depicts what it is to be someone who has lost a child. Hmmm

In all of the debate over the doctrine of God in The Shack, many people missed the author’s primary purpose:  Dealing with “the great sadness” that presents itself in many of our lives.    It may be a loss such as Lisa and her family must deal with.   It may be relationship that ended, or one that never happened, or the one you’re in that leaves you totally unfulfilled.   It may be the children you lost in childbirth, or were never able to conceive.   It may be the opportunity that passed you by, the business that failed, the promotion that you didn’t get.    No matter what, many have a “great sadness” in their life, and often find ourselves saying, as Lisa put it so well:

There’s no word to define it.

All we can do is cry out to God:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.   (Rom 8: 26-27)

If you wish to read some very well-written expressions of a mother’s pain in the loss of a son, I cannot recommend Lisa’s page enough. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere online I can direct you at this point, other than to join the Facebook group and subscribe to future items.   If you live in Ontario, Canada; Lisa is available as a public speaker for events including all-day women’s retreats.

If you got here from WordPress or Google tag-surfing, and you’re going through your own great sadness, let me encourage you not to “write off” Jesus just because of some previous experience with church or organized religion.    Speak to him in prayer, believing he hears our cries, and trust him to meet you in some way.   Leave a comment here and I’ll send you some off-the-blog possible next steps.

September 9, 2009

Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars – The Book

Filed under: Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:31 pm

drops like starsIt’s like a trip back in time.
Like, perhaps when I was five.
We read a few words from the big picture book
…and then we turn the page.
Some pages are all pictures.
No words there.
We turn the page.
Some pages have a lot of words.
We read the words.
We turn the page.
Some pages have lots of words and pictures.
We turn the page.
We turn the page.

I think the only way to truly appreciate Drops Like Stars is if you’ve heard Rob Bell speak; either in person, on audio, or on DVD.    The format of this book — not terribly unlike his previous tomes, but for the page size — really reflects his spoken communication style.  What some have termed “visionary preaching.”  Drops Like Stars is is his fourth book for Zondervan, following Velvet Elvis, Sex God and the recent Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

Some have criticized the ecological aspects of this large coffee-table book, while others have complained that the book is priced out of range of the average Christian consumer at $34.99 US/$44.99 CDN.  (Personally, I suspect a standard paperback will happen sooner than later.)   While the critics and complainers have some case, the medium is certainly appropriate to the message.

Since we’re going to miss Rob’s Drops Like Stars tour appearance in Toronto next week, the book provides a good overview of what the tour will include.   There are some good thoughts here that fire the imagination.  Some quotations from authors many of us probably wouldn’t know or read.   Some interesting parallels to a few scripture passages.    (They should do a book for the Everything Is Spiritual and The God’s Aren’t Angry as well, as both were compelling presentations and the script is already out there waiting to be transcribed.)

It’s a book about what it means to hurt and to stand with those who are hurting.   It’s a book about how suffering reduces us to exposing what our core is made of.   It’s a book about pain contributing to the creative process.   It is, and I don’t mean this impolitely, a book about a lot of things, though all related to the less joyful times in life.

The coffee-table book format is suited to art books, and Bell is definitely the consummate artist as he weaves various stories together.   But at the end of the day, I’m asking myself what I’ve just finished reading.   My fear is that, as much as I’m a huge Rob Bell fan, the whole doesn’t begin to equal the sum of the parts; that while the individual stories are powerful and evocative, it’s possible to miss the  ‘big picture’ message front and center this time around.   That message has to do with suffering and pain and God’s place in all of it.   But will everyone see the same thing here, or do different readers take away different things?

The potential for photography in this print format is gigantic, yet the number of pictures is surprisingly few.    Worse, on page 129 there is a promise of something greater to come;  something that will be revealed at the end of the book; then about 50 words later on page 133, he is wrapping everything up.

So bottom line, I enjoyed it.

I just didn’t get it as I have his previous works.

Here’s some comments from people who did perhaps more than I:

-Brandon Vogt at The Thin Veil

Most pages only have a line or two of text, some only one or two words. In fact a good number of pages don’t have any words at all. But I don’t think that the scarcity of words necessarily dampens the book’s impact.

What Rob does say in those few words is deep and engulfing. Suffering is a topic that has been discussed for millennia, even back to the first words of the Bible—the miseries of Job are purported to be the earliest writings of Scripture. Instead of attacking the ‘why’ of suffering, though, Rob sits in the reality of pain and then asks ‘now what?’…

Like many of Rob’s writings, the words aren’t as significant as they are in typical books. In Rob’s writings the words are only one medium that the message is communicated through. They only contribute to the experience, which is a great way of describing what reading through this book is like.

An experience. Sitting down to ponder these words isn’t ‘reading’, it’s participating in an experience.

The pictures and colors engulf you into the narrative that Rob paints in a way that can’t be described without reading the book yourself. After finishing the book, there wasn’t really a pithy quote or grand idea I came away with, but instead felt my soul refreshed by the experience.

– Rachel at Choosing Joy

GOD SCREAMS.   I love that picture. I love that I have a God who matches and indeed surpasses my emotion. I love that I have a God who doesn’t sit back and look at all of the injustices of the world and say in a calm voice…It will get better (although it will and HE knows that) but instead He screams right alongside us and His screams are louder and filled with more love and sorrow than I could hope to understand.

-Mike Todd at Waving or Drowning?

If you don’t have a story of suffering you might not appreciate this book. And the prevailing logic of the world would say that you should count yourself fortunate. Or, I have Christian friends who would say that you were ‘blessed’. However, I would disagree. No growth without pain. Redemption through suffering.

-Preston at A Fresh Focus

It is a piece of art wrapped in an enigma that drips with fragrant truth.  Rob weaves together a variety of stories and unlikely analogies – producing a cogent mix that did more for my understanding of pain and suffering than most books on the same topic seem capable of doing.  …  It’s definitely a creative approach to Christian literature and I strongly encourage anyone who has faced suffering to pick up a copy.  My wife and I read it on the couch last week and it was beautiful.

-Benjamin Zimmerman at Down Write Honest

Although similar in writing style to all of Bell’s previous books you will be surprised at the over sized and highly visual coffee table book that drives you to ask yourself difficult questions about the connections between suffering and your response to suffering. Bell’s dramatic pauses and short sentences continue to draw out the best in the reader by provoking countless inter-mingled thoughts about what is really happening when suffering occurs. Regardless of who we are or where we live; suffering will happen.

So there you have a number of comments.  Suffering is a huge topic on a lot of peoples’ minds right now and it’s an unresolved issue for people who are close to the Kingdom, but not willing to cross the line of faith until they can get it sorted.

… If you’ve read the book or attended the tour, what did you think?

August 19, 2009

Benjamin Elliott: An Exemplary Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:12 pm

For the past few months, in the upper right corner of this site, there has been a prayer request for an 19-year old young man named Benjamin.   A year ago, Ben was diagnosed with Leukemia and after a courageous and inspiring fight against this form of cancer, today was welcomed into the presence of the Lord.

Yesterday his mom wrote on Ben’s prayer page on Facebook:

Something I heard via my brother from a fellow sojourner whom I’ve never met rings in my heart so loudly that I couldn’t keep it to myself.  He said, “All year I’ve been praying for a miracle for Ben.  I just realized that the miracle IS Ben.”

Because of Ben’s mom’s eloquence and transparency in describing the details of Ben’s last year, and because of the communications medium that Facebook and the internet offer, we as a family we have walked this journey with the Elliott family, step by step and have prayed more fervently and more intensely than with any other prayer request that has heretofore crossed our path.

I think it’s only fair to let Ben have the last word.   First, an introduction from his mom:

This past Sunday (August 9) the Lord enabled Ben to not only rise earlier than he’s been accustomed to as of late, but to have the strength to stand (unassisted) for 10 minutes in his weak, nauseated and pain-stricken state while he conveyed some of these same thoughts to our packed house, church family.  The physical strength God gave him was nothing short of a miracle, not to mention the inner strength He provided to allow Ben to speak one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever personally heard (not to downplay any of my pastor/husband’s sermons).  To say that many were blessed and impacted deeply as a result of Ben’s response to God’s nudging would be an understatement.

Ben Elliott – Sunday, August 9th Memorial Baptist Church, Stratford, Ontario, Canada

Good Morning! It’s good to be here and to see everyone again. It’s been quite a long time and I wasn’t sure if this day would ever come…but it’s good to be back…finally!

I’m not going to be very long this morning because I’m kind of weak, I have a pounding headache and I’m a little nauseous to be honest with you.

I don’t want to have this morning focus on me at all. In fact, I was quite hesitant to even do this because I thought that by me coming up here it would get the focus of this last year on me and that’s the exact opposite of what I want this to be. This whole past year has been all about God entirely and His ultimate plan and purpose for my life and everyone’s.

The FIRST thing I want to say is …THANK YOU!

Thank you for all your love and support and encouragement and prayers. I’m positive they went a long way in allowing me to keep my sanity throughout months in hospital and through all the ups and downs and everything. The power of prayer can’t be matched at all. Thank you very much for that.

Thank you to everyone who came out this past week and wave to me as I was supposed to fly over the church building. It didn’t work out that way. We got up eventually and it was very good.

Thank you also for letting my dad and family have some extra time off so to spend time together. It’s been good and I’ve appreciated it a lot.

SECONDLY I want to talk about SUFFERING a bit.

I think I’ve learned a thing or two about suffering the past 12 months and I wonder what has been accomplished for God’s ultimate will because of my suffering? If I had had just a “normal year”, life would have continued as normal. BUT…how many opportunities for God would have been missed if I hadn’t endured that?

I’ve learned this past year that it is possible to suffer and go through terrible circumstances with a smile on your face and not have to ask the question “WHY ME?” Gods’ plan is bigger than all of us. His plans always work out perfectly, according to His will. So why should we waste our time asking “why” when instead we can sit back and just say “wow!!!”

I can keep a smile on my face because I’ve learned that suffering isn’t a punishment from God or a curse from Satan. Instead, I’ve learned that my suffering is a rare opportunity from God to showcase how awesome He really is.

While battling leukemia I have also learned that suffering has a way of connecting people…sometimes in weird circumstances…but the result is usually for the better. These past 12 months I have met and been helped by many, many incredible people; many people who do not have a relationship with God. I guess I won’t really know fully until eternity what impact my story may have had on them. But, if I was able to see a few of those people when I get to heaven…or when they get to heaven… just think of how exciting that will be!

My suffering has also connected me to God in ways that only after living through this kind of circumstance would you be able to understand. I hope that somehow, through my suffering, you have been connected to God in a deeper way too.

A cool thought I just got yesterday while running over this for a final time was that maybe my temporary suffering on earth has brought others to God…ultimately preventing them from eternal suffering in hell! I don’t know…just a thought I had yesterday.

And finally to sum up this whole suffering thing, I read a quote a few weeks ago and here it is:

“…Our healing begins when we participate in the suffering of God. When we don’t avoid it but enter into it, and in the process, enter into the life of God. When we see our pain not as separating us from, but connecting us to our Maker…”

FINALLY … I want to talk about DEATH.

I wonder if you have ever really thought about death. I mean not just a casual crossing your mind or passing thought…everyone’s done that. I mean really, really thought about death….because I have a little bit.

I don’t mean to brag or sound proud or be boastful or anything, BUT…I’m not afraid to die. I’m not worried about my death and I’m not afraid to die because I’m a Christian. I know that death just means I move from this life on earth to an eternal party in heaven. I can say 100% honestly that I am not scared to die…but I’m very excited actually. Just to think that there will be no pain or suffering…just partying and happiness eternally!

My name is written down in heaven! Think about that…“Benjamin David Elliott” is physically written down in the Book of Eternal Life! If that’s not a cool mental image then I don’t know what is!!

Psalm 139:16 says that “All my days ordained for me were written in God’s book before even one of them came to be.” Meaning God was in charge from the day I was born and is equally as is in charge of the day that I will die and takes me home. So…I don’t have to be worried or afraid, I just have to trust Him!

It says in John 3:2 that when we die we will be like Jesus. Now maybe I’m taking this verse a little bit out of context… but just think about this…When Jesus came back from the dead He was able to physically walk through walls. I don’t know, I just think that’s kind of cool!

So yes, God wants us to have a long life on earth and enjoy ourselves…BUT… just think of how incredible eternity will be! We as Christians should not be scared of death. Instead…we should look forward with hope to an amazing eternal life in heaven. Ultimately, it all comes down to our relationship with Jesus. It’s not about religion…it’s about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

So…I guess the bottom line and big question is this: Are you just a religious person…or do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Is your name written down in the big name book in heaven of eternal life? If it’s not…you should definitely take some time out of your day to think about how awesome eternity can and will be…if it’s spent with God in heaven! And, then….I’ll see you there…and we can party forever!!

My ultimate prayer is that God’s will, will be done and everyone will be okay with that. Whether that’s living for 90 more years or going to see Him very, very soon. The truth is, as a Christian it doesn’t really matter. There is no bad option. It’s a win/win either way.

Here is a final verse that I’m not going to read, you have to look it up in the Bible yourself…if you care enough. It’s a verse that has kept me going throughout this past year. God takes care of every single detail in our lives…very, very, very specific details. I think that’s cool too!! Thinking that someone cares that much about me, and knows so much about me is a very humbling thought. So I’ll leave you with Matthew 10:30.

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