Why does God allow suffering

 

There is a song called Hurricane by Jimmy Needham that has always resonated with me because in the song he sings “I need you like a hurricane… to tear my walls down.” The song is about needing God to come into our lives and remove the walls we have built up. The walls as I see it represent anything from the places in our lives we have blocked God off from to the protections we place around our sins and insecurities. We all have walls we have built and whether we realize it or not only God tear down those walls.

In chapter Ten of Spiritual Friends Kelleman goes over five possible purposes of suffering and while the topic has long been discussed by many I do find three suggestions by Kelleman to be important to the conversation. Kelleman’s first suggestion that “in suffering, God is drawing us to Himself” is of interest because we do not often think of suffering as something that can draw us to someone.[1] Typically suffering pushes us away from something or someone yet when we stop to think that God is a Father we should be able to adjust our perspective of how we relate to the one allowing us to suffer. When faced with a situation that is causing or has caused suffering we find that God, the omnipotent and omniscient One, is the only one we can turn to give us help in our time of need. I do not want to seem as if I am making light of suffering but regardless of the situation, God is the only one who can give us peace.

We generally view things and look at life as Kelleman says “with eyeballs only” however God’s peace is not meant for the eyes but for the soul.[2] We see struggles and suffering but we feel defeat. God could, being all powerful as He is, change the circumstances but how much better is it that He gives us Himself in the midst of the suffering (Deut 31:6). Rather than miraculously make everything better, God chooses to make us new in the process which brings up Kelleman’s second point that “God is conforming us to the image of His Son.”[3] These two ideas, that God is pulling us in and changing us, are virtually inseparable.

By the very nature of the relationship the closer we get to the Father the more we develop Christlikeness. This is because it is God’s desire to make us more like the Son (Rom 8:29). Part of suffering and drawing near to God is the removal of walls that block us from submitting to His lordship. Once those walls are removed new construction can take place and we are transformed into something new. In suffering, we become more than a six-million-dollar man because we are not just better, stronger, and faster, instead, we are new.

Lastly, Kelleman says that “in suffering, God is demonstrating just how needy we are for Him” and again to sound like a broken record this follows the first point because the closer we get to God the more we should realize that we are weak.[4] If the goal is to be more like the Son, then suffering shows us how we need God to make that happen. Additionally, it shows us that we are not nearly as strong as we imagine we are. Suffering reveals our frailty.

As my wife and I continue to foster two boys my twelve-year-old daughter is starting to think herself a mother because she can point out right and wrong to the boys. She has a higher understanding of this then they do. For some reason made the connection that “I know more than they, so I am like mom” and this is a mistake on her behalf. This a mistake because she does not know nearly as much as she thinks she does. She is protected from dealing with the real issues that parents face. However, as she decides and shows she wants more responsibility we allow her to be privy to and involved in certain things. She quickly becomes overwhelmed and realizes that she needs us to be the parents. She cannot be a parent on her own, nor should she be. We allow her to suffer a bit in order to teach her that she needs us to be the ones in charge so that she can be a child.

God, in suffering, allows us to be children even though the goal is maturity. In suffering, we see that we need Him because we are weak. In suffering God makes us more like Christ because intimacy changes who you are from the inside out. In suffering, God pulls us into Himself to reveal a Fathers’ heart. What we often need is the thing we most often avoid, we need God to be a hurricane and tear down the walls we build.

 

[1] Robert W. Kellemen, Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2005), 200

[2] Ibid 201

[3] Kelleman, 200

[4] Ibid., 200

But Now

Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him. – Col 1:21-22

The main thing that sticks out to me in this verse is “But Now.” But now is powerful because it transitions from what was to what is. Those in Christ used to be alienated but now they are not. They used to be far from God but now they are not. They used to be enemies with God but now they are not. The but now transitions and I love transitions. The problem is transitions are not always smooth and we have to remember that.

People coming to Christ, those who have recently come, and even those who are deepening their walk are transitioning. They are in the but now phase and honestly, we are all in the but now phase. The but now phase is where we spend our entire Christian walk because we are constantly in a place of growing and changing. We are, or at least we should be, constantly growing in Christ and learning what it means to walk in the new man. Because of this, we need to have grace for another and support each other.

As I have said before I love analogies so here is one comparing the life of a Christian to a child. When a baby is born, it can do nothing on its own. It needs constant support and nurturing from the parents. Everything is new and different so we don’t get mad when they cry or need feeding. Instead, we understand that are weak and fragile so we treat them accordingly. As they grow they start the but now process. They begin to speak and we expect them to learn to articulate their wants and needs. We do not expect full sentences or even proper words but attempts. As they become toddlers they should be better are communicating and becoming more independent but they are still learning. We expect more from them but only what is appropriate for their age and intelligence. This continues as a toddler moves into childhood and then teenage years. We have constant expectations and desires for growth but they are always in a but now transition.

You and I are always in a but now transition too. We do not reach full maturity on this side of heaven. Paul says that we press on towards the goal because we have not reached it yet (Phil 3:13-14). We are always in a but now transition moving towards Christlikeness. The beautiful part is that the Bible says that Jesus has reconciled us. This means we move from a position of acceptance and not to a place of acceptance. The starting point makes all the difference in the world. We start in Christ, move in Christ, and finish in Christ. We have acceptance and will be presented holy, faultless, and blameless to the Father in Christ, we just need to walk in it.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

Submission and Worship

Abraham put himself in a position of submission before God and God spoke to him.

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I love that Abraham put himself in a position of submission. When we see God for who He is our only response can be submission. When we see that His love is great, when we see that His righteousness is great, and when we see that His holiness is great our only response can be submission because we see that we are not but that He is.

Worship is partly an act of submission to God. When we think worship we typically think singing or even monetary offerings but worship is submitting to God and acknowledging that He is great. There are so many ways we can worship God and honestly I would rather not list some here because I don’t want to stifle your creativity but instead inspire you to find ways to worship God today.

I would encourage everyone to take some time to read something in your Bibles. Pick two or three chapters and read them straight through with a prayerful heart and just see what God would say to you. Then respond with worship to Him. I am sure He will speak to you on how you can worship Him. The important thing is that you submit to Him and acknowledge His greatness today.

How marvelous God’s greatness,
How glorious His might!
To this the world bears witness
In wonders day and night.
In form of flower and snowflake,
In morn’s resplendent birth,
In afterglow at even,
In sky and sea and earth.

– Valdimar Briem

Just a thought,

Mike

Ravens, Doves, and Godly Counsel

In Genesis, we read that after the rain stopped and the flood waters receded Noah let out a raven and then a dove to see if the ground was dry. If you read carefully you notice that the raven takes off and just flies back and forth while the dove when released flies out and then returns.

This might not seem like much but if you think about this it makes sense. A raven will eat just about anything and it can fly longer than a dove. A raven is not a delicate bird and according to Leviticus 15, it is considered unclean. The dove, on the other hand, is used for sacrifice in burnt offerings. It has a better purpose to it so it needs to be treated with more care.

There are times when we need wisdom from God and God expects us to seek Him for wisdom (James 1:5). In those times, it is easy to just go around asking everyone for their opinion and thought but the Bible commands us to be wise and discerning. We should ask not only God for wisdom but also seek counsel from wise people because it leads to blessing (Prov 1:5; 11:14, etc.) but we must be wise in who we seek counsel from and how we go about it. It is not enough to just walk up to someone on the street and ask their advice, instead, we need to wise like Noah and weigh our options.

Sometimes when I am trying to work through a problem I talk about to a friend. Someone who has no stake in the game. I can test out my idea and see if it makes sense. Then depending on how I feel after that conversation I can take it to the next level and talk to someone who is better versed in the thing I am working through. I do this because I have flushed out my initial thoughts and reformed my ideas. I have thought them through and got the raven parts out of the way. I am better equipped to have a more detailed discussion and get to wise counsel. It is not that my friend cannot give wise counsel. On the contrary, they helped me flush it out. This is one of the reasons the Bible says to seek multiple counselors. If I went straight to the top then I would be presenting ravens and not doves.

The whole point is this; be wise in your thinking and how you go about seeking help. Seek God for wisdom but also seek wise godly counsel.

Just a thought,

Mike

Overdone

There are a lot of things that could be discussed in Ephesians chapter 1 but I want to focus on right now is found in verses 7 and 8 and verse 19. Now ideally, you do not want to just pull verses out willy nilly but these, sort of capture the essence of what is being discussed in chapter 1.

First in regards to verses 7 and 8 we can read and see that not only does God give us grace but he lavishes it upon us as the HCSB says. The word in the Greek is perisseuō and it means to exceed a fixed number of measure, to be left over and above a certain number or measure or to make to abound. I want to take just a minute on that.

Not only does God give us grace but it gives it to us in excess, He literally over does it. God’s love is so great and so big that His grace towards us is overboard. If you have ever fallen in love with someone then you can probably relate to that idea. You not only show love but you show it in abundance. You go out of your way to show that love you feel and have no problem with it. That is God’s grace towards us it is over and above. 1 John says that God is love which means He does not do love, He does not show love, but instead He is love. He is love, He is holy, and His love is a holy love. He has desires and plans but that all come from a place of Him being.

The second thing is that everything God does towards, for, and through us is done by His vast strength. God is so good and so gracious towards us that He knows that He cannot only give us His grace but He needs to also hold us up, give us wisdom, and show us His ways by His own power. Paul goes on to say that this power is the power that raised the Messiah from the grave. What Paul is getting at is that if God can raise Christ from the grave then surely, He can keep you and give you wisdom. If we think of it in terms of difficulty (not that anything is hard for God) which is harder; to know something or raise the dead?

The point is this; God gives you a crazy amount of grace, literally more than you will ever need and then says I will keep you and give you my strength so you just rely on me. He has covered all the bases and all we must do is let Him do His work. Now the catch is that this a partnership. God will give you the wisdom, God will give you grace, God will give you the strength, but you still need to do what He says. It will not always be easy Jesus promised that but He said we will not be alone. We still need to go where He says to go, say what He says to say, and do what He says to do but we don’t do it alone or by our own strength. Once we get that it gets a whole lot better.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Bottle Lamp

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What do a broken lamp and an empty bottle of wine have in common? Usually, unless you drank the bottle and got mad at the lamp not much, but what if they could be recreated into something new. What if by taking the uselessness of an empty bottle and the parts of the lamp you could make these two things into something new and special? That was my question so I did what anyone with tools, ambition, and no budget would do; I made a new lamp.

The Bible says that when we come to Christ we are a new creation. Specifically, it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” You are not just a new creation but the old is gone. Just like I cannot put the lamp back together and cannot refill the bottle you cannot go back to what you were before. Sure some people try but there is always this feeling inside you that you can’t shake. Something that keeps nagging at you that this is not your purpose.

The reason for this is that the old you is dead. I’m sorry to tell you this but that person died and you were not invited to the funeral. Galatians 2:20 says that we died with Christ and now live by His life (in faith). You cannot go back because that life is gone. Jesus did not die on the cross and rise three days later to make you better. You are not the six million dollar man. He did not want to make you faster, stronger, or more faithful, that was not the intent. No, God wanted to make you new. He was not looking and is not looking to patch you up. God wanted to make you new. Just like the bottle lamp you are not a better bottle you are a new thing altogether.

You still have your memories, your desires, your talents, and all those things. Coming to Christ does not change those things but instead, you are new in that your spirit is alive and your bondage to sin is gone. You no longer have to obey the desires of your flesh. The desires are there and must be conquered but you do not have to obey them. You are new. Think of it like this; if you quit your job and get a new one you still remember working there, you still learned things from that job, and you might even have a little coin left over from that job but that old employer can no longer tell you what to do. You do not have to listen to them even if they call you to ask you questions and try to get you to come back. It is kind of like that. The old you still calls but you don’t need to answer because you have been made new. You are a new creation.

God is in the business of recreating people and making them into new things. He has new purposes and plans for you. He has new dreams to put inside you. He is calling you (the new you) into new things. They might be scary or hard but He is calling you to them because the new you can do that thing by His power. He does not just make us new to sit us on a shelf and look nice. He makes us new to use us. Just like I am going to plug in my lamp and let that light shine, God is going to use you because He made you for a purpose.

Just a thought,

Mike

All Are Needed

I have been thinking quite a bit about James 2:1-4 and while James mentions money in the example I think a common principle is there. I take two things from this passage first, we should not favor one group over another. Not the young or the old, not the rich or the poor, and not the “elite” or “the common.” Each “type” of person has value they can and do bring into worship and each one needs to be appreciated for that. In general, youth brings creativity which is great but with age comes temperance which is often needed with creativity. Rich bring money and the poor bring perseverance (again in general). All are valuable and all are needed.

Second I see that James says that both should be present. James seems to be pointing out that both are in the mix at this congregation and that tells me that we should seek to embrace that dynamic. We should have old and young, rich and poor, experienced and inexperienced. If our gathering is missing any of these then we are missing something

My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:1-4

Just a thought,

Mike

Ring Ring, Hello

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We have to remember when we read the story of Jonah that Jonah knew God. He was a prophet and if we read through the Bible we see he first appears in 2 Kings 14:25 which means he had been a prophet for some time before he was sent to Nineveh. Jonah knew God and he knew God was merciful and compassionate. Jonah ran from God not because he was afraid of the Ninevites, but because he knew God would forgive them.

Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh (the capital of Assyria) because of his hatred for the Assyrians. The Assyrians were enemies of Israel who were a) not to be messed with and b) by all accounts had no interest in turning to God. They were perfectly happy in their wickedness. Jonah as far as he could tell had no business going to preach repentance to a people who would not want to hear and that he did not even like. As is often the case God, however, had other plans.

When we read the Bible we are constantly confronted with the fact that God has plans that differ from ours. In Isaiah God says my ways are not your ways, in Psalms, it says God’s plans stand forever, and in Ephesians, it says He works all things out in agreement with His own will. Even we look at Jesus coming we see that it did not transpire the way the people expected and because it did not come as they expected they could not accept it. Over and over again God shows He has His own plans.

Jonah knew this about God and did not want to go to Nineveh because even though God did not say He would forgive them Jonah knew it was in His nature to show compassion. Jonah knew God well enough to know that about Him and sure enough the people repented and God showed compassion. God still shows compassion too. He has shown it to me and to you even if you do not know Him. We live because God shows compassion. There’s a term called grace that we love and throw around in the church and it basically means unmerited favor or God giving you good when you don’t deserve it.

God’s grace is huge and I think we can overlook it sometimes. Grace means God doesn’t strike you down for the sins you commit or even will commit. Think about this; God knew before you were born you would sin against Him and He still chooses to have you come into being. He knew you would sin against Him and not choose Him and He still loves you. He knows there are people who will never turn to Him but He still calls them. That is a love that is beyond understanding. God might be calling you right now. He might be telling you to call someone else. He might be telling you to go and do something you think is beyond you. He does this all from a place of being merciful, compassionate, and full of grace.

If God is calling, no matter what that call looks like He is calling because He loves you. He is calling because He has plans and they involve you. Maybe you need to go to a far away land and preach the Gospel, maybe you need to go next door and tell the neighbor, or maybe you just need to smile at the cashier. Whatever the case, whatever the call you should answer it.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Just Keep Swinging

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One of my all-time favorite stats come from Hank Aaron and while you might think that it is his home run record of 755 it is not. It is also not his hits, doubles, triples, or RBIs. All of those are impressive but his at-bats are what really get me. Hank Aaron had 12,364 at-bats. Think about that for a second, it took 12,364 at-bats to get his record 755 home runs. That means he was more likely to not get a home run than to get one. Now in all fairness, his slugging percentage is .555 which means there was a good chance he was going to hit something but we don’t typically think about those we just want the home run.

When I think about this I think about Philippians 3:12-14 where Paul basically says “I am not fully mature yet but I keep swinging.” Paul is talking to the Philippians about unity, humility, and perseverance and those are things I know I need to be reminded of in my own life. The point is we are not done yet and we need to keep swinging. My goal is to get to heaven and hear my God say “well done good and faithful servant.” That is what I want more than anything. When I wake up in the morning my prayer is that God will reveal to me His will and ways. Now when I go to bed I evaluate and if I hit it then I rejoice, and if I miss the mark then I pray for strength for tomorrow. I pray that I can keep swinging.

I want to hit home runs at every bat and I want you to hit home runs at every bat. I want you to succeed and that the things God has called you to. I want to shine like stars in the darkness but that will only happen if I keep swinging and it will only happen in your like if you keep swinging. You will not hit every pitch no one ever does. You will strike out more than you hit but you have to swing, you have to keep trying, and you have to wake up every morning and say “Thank you, Lord, for another at-bat.”

There is a new year right around the corner and it will be hard at times and amazing at times but only if you keep pressing forward to the goal promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

Just a thought,

Mike

The Medium is the Message

According to Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.”  Have you ever heard this saying? Have you ever wondered what it meant? What is a medium? Moreover, what in the world does this have to do with the Bible?

First, what is a medium? Per Webster’s dictionary , a medium is a means of effecting or conveying something.

What does it mean that the medium is the message? Well to be honest when I first heard this saying I thought it was about how the medium determines how the message is communicated. If we look at water as the message and a balloon as the medium water takes the shape of the balloon. Water is not a balloon but it takes the shape of the balloon so in the same way the method (medium) of communication determines the how the message is delivered. Now I am not saying this is not true because to a large extent that is true the medium determines how the message is communicated, however, that is not nearly as important as the fact that the medium itself is the message.

Each medium communicates a very specific message and not only that but the medium shapes the way you view and interact with the world. Most people have a primary medium they prefer and that medium has rules, standards, points of view, and more importantly functions. The medium you choose will influence your other choices in life. Notice I said influence and not control because while some might suggest that your medium dominates your decisions I am not willing to go that far. I know you might still be wondering what this has to do with the Bible but track with me for a moment.

I do not intend to debate the merits of various electronic mediums except to point out a few things. If we look at a medium like texting we see that the message is, or at least could be, get your point across as quickly as possible. Full sentences are not needed and are somewhat prohibitive in this. The point of a text message is not to get across a full idea but the essence of what you want to say. You would not say “I think that is a good idea we should probably do that” but “k.” The problem is that the messages communicated through this medium are often taken wrong or out of context. The message of this medium is not to understand complex thoughts but to quickly communicate. A problem that we have is people have mistaken the message to be “here is an effective way to communicate our thoughts” but that is not the message. We have mistaken the message and in doing so misapplied the use of the medium. Texting is not meant for in-depth communicate but for short messaging hence the name SMS (short message service).

Another medium is the TV. The TV is by far a much larger medium and much more influential than texting but it still has a message. Yes, the TV delivers many individual messages but the TV has an overarching message as a medium. What is that message? I am going with relax and be entertained. I think there is also a possibility that the message is to stop thinking or at a minimum think less and think without context (that is without reference). But that is a little combative so I will just work off the entertainment hypothesis. If the message is to be entertained then we have to make sure, like texting, we understand that. Yes, there are programs not specifically designed to entertain but they will still have an entertainment factor in order to compete for your viewership.

So again, the question that must be asked is what does this have to do with the Bible? The Bible says in Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is the exact or express image of the invisible God. It also says that He is the image of God in Colossians 1:7, that He is the Word of God in John 1:1. It is important to know that the medium is the message because Jesus is the medium of the Father. Jesus conveys something from the Father. When we understand that we can look to see what the message is and the message is clear. God loves you, God desires a relationship with you, and God desires you. The message in the person of Christ is you are wanted and loved. You are forgiven. Jesus says for God so loved the world that he gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him would have eternal life and that is a powerful message.

Now if mediums not only have a message but shape how you view and interact with the world then how does the message of Jesus as the Father’s medium affect and shape your interactions with the world? First off to be clear it should. It should drastically shape your world view. Everything you do should be Christocentric meaning that it has Christ at the center. The way you treat your family should be Christ-centered.  The way you treat strangers should be Christ-centered. The way you think should be Christ-centered. Everything should be Christ-centered because you are centered in Christ. As a Christian, you not only have a relationship with Jesus but you are in Him and He is in you. But the questions was not how should it affect you but how does it affect you? You are the only one who can answer that question.

If it is true that the medium is the message, then the fact that Jesus is the medium of God is huge. There is no greater message that can be delivered. It is important to not misapply the message that is Jesus as many have done. Jesus as the medium and the message is paramount in understanding God. If you want to know God better then it comes through knowing Christ.

 

Just a thought,

Mike