featured graphic for Pastor Mike McKay and his wife Kristi of Neighborhood Church during COVID-19

Weekly message from Neighborhood Church: Refined by the fires of suffering

James 1:2-4 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.

There is an interesting tree that is native to southeast Asia and found in the rainforests of Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Northeast India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and other like climates. This ordinary, yet greatly valued tree is called an Aquilaria tree. It’s nothing that special in and of itself until it begins to suffer from an infection of a particular type of mold. This mold affects the heartwood of the tree and produces a dark, very aromatic, resin-embedded heartwood. This heartwood has become one of the most expensive natural raw materials of the world. The resin-wood is called Agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood, or gharuwood. It is used for anything from medicines, to perfume, to incense, to skin treatments, to treat stomach pain, to even treatment for bad breath! This unique wood-resin is mentioned in the Bible as ‘aloes’ Numbers 24:6, Psalm 45:8, Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 4:14. Now, what is interesting is that something terrible, or traumatic, or some abuse has to happen to the tree to break open or pierce the outer bark of the tree so the mold can get in and infest the heartwood. Once that happens, the tree suffers along until it is harvested and the agarwood is carved out. This tree’s suffering brings out great value.

The suffering of the Aquilaria tree reminds me of the value our own suffering can bring.

Romans 5:3-5 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The above Bible verse in James says we can have joy when we meet all kinds of sufferings. We can have joy because enduring and wrestling through difficulty brings on an endurance. The Bible verses in Romans say enduring sufferings is how and where character is produced. Both are priceless in life.

But in fires of suffering we are not alone.

Psalms 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil,for you (God) are with me;your rod and your staff,they comfort me.

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I (God) will be with you;and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Yes, life would be great without any suffering, and one day God will deal with all that causes pain (see Revelation 21:4), but for now there will be trials, difficulties, losses, hardships, struggles, and horrible fires of suffering we will have to endure. In this, we can make the choice not to let these sufferings define us, but refine us. Ask God to help and give you wisdom.

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Let’s be refined by the fires of suffering.

Church can be good place to seek God and get help in times of suffering. Church can even help us find the joy in it all as well. If you don’t already have a church you regularly attend, we would like to invite you to attend Neighborhood Church either in-person on our patio or online. Our webpage has information on how to connect with us or find us on line at neighborhoodchurch.com. As well, if you would like to view any of our past worship gatherings or videos visit our YouTube channel, or just search Neighborhood Church Cypress on the YouTube site. We also have small groups called Life Groups. So, let’s connect.

Seeking to be refined by suffering along with you,