The Mystery of Suffering

One of the mysteries of life is suffering.  No one likes suffering.  No one.  It’s awful.  It’s painful.  It hurts.  It’s lonely.  It’s just one of the awful things that we go through in life.

That we go through in life.

That we all go through in life.

All of us.  Me.  You.  All of us.  It’s part of the human condition. It’s part of the human experience.  It’s part of something that every last one of us walks through.  And it’s not just us.  It’s something out God, through Jesus Christ, went through.  Listen to what we read today in Mark 8:31-33:

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

3632426859_70b61ae665_b2Jesus teaches the Disciples that He must undergo suffering.  He had to.  It was part of God’s plan. It was part of His purpose on the Earth.  To suffer.  To die. And to be raised.  To ascend. And to one day return.

But to get to the good stuff (Easter, Ascension, Return), He had to go through the bad stuff (betrayal, mockery, and the cross).

The divine mystery of suffering.  I don’t fully understand it.  I really don’t like it. And I wish that I could keep those I love from going through it.

But in this world there is trouble and pain and hurt. And instead of running away from our suffering, part of the divine mystery is that God, through Jesus, entered into it with us.  So, even when we suffer, remember this.

God walks with us through it.  He has tasted it our pain, our loss, our hurt.  He has hurt as we hurt and wept as we weep.  We do not suffer alone.

And in some way, perhaps ways that we don’t understand right now, and may never fully understand, God will bring something good out of it. What is it?  I don’t know. But I know out of the suffering of the cross, God brought the empty grave.  I know out of this pain that we go through, God will bring something good out of it.

The power of God is not that He stops bad things from happening. The power of God is that He can bring good out of anything.

In suffering, we hold on.  He gives us grace. And we trust.

Today, to all those that are suffering, we pray peace.  And mercy. And strength. And hope.  May you feel the arms of your saviour wrapped tight around you, whispering you are not alone.  And may you feel and see His church walking with you every step of the way.

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Why Does God Allow Suffering?

painThe other night someone text me and asked me, in three sentences, to give my opinion why God allows suffering. Wow, that’s a tough thing to do, especially in just three sentences.

Many folks smarter than I am have written books about suffering and why God allows it. So, what could I possibly have to add to that conversation?

But, I thought about it. Why would God allow suffering? There really aren’t many good or easy answers, because in short, we don’t fully understand the mind of God, we don’t totally understand His power and His control, and the complexity of human free will.

All of these factors come into play on this issue.

I thought it would be interesting to share my answers with you, and do this a little bit different from our normal devotional. What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Do you have a different perspective? A different view? I’d love to hear it, if so comment below, I’d love to hear it.

And I will also say; something I do when thinking through complicated things is do not depart from scripture. I believe that in all things, scripture must be our guide.

Here’s my one bullet point about God’s power and suffering.  I believe this as much as I believe anything in life:

The power of God is not that He stops bad things from happening. The power of God is that He can bring good out of anything.

That’s who He is.

Also, remember this.  Through the cross, God, through Jesus suffered as we suffered.  He knows what it is like feel pain and hurt.  Listen to what it says in Hebrews 2:17-18:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

God knows our pain.  Has suffered as we suffer.  Hurt as we hurt.  Was abandoned as we are abandoned.  We don’t suffer alone.  God is with us (Psalm 23).

So, with that said, here are my three sentence on why God allows suffering, along with a biblical foundation and explanation.

1. He uses all things in life; even those we can’t understand at the time, for our good. (Genesis 50:20) God is at work in ways that we can’t understand, working out all things, even ours and other’s choices, for our good. That passage in Genesis says that what man intended for evil, God intended for God. God uses everything, in time, that is key to remember, for good. We man not know or understand it now. But looking backwards, we will see something good come out of everything.

2. He uses suffering to reveal to us who we really are; he knows us, it is we who sometimes need to know ourselves. (Genesis 22 – Abraham sacrificing Isaac). Abraham was tested, but this test and suffering wasn’t for God’s benefit, but for his. He had made mistakes, and this test shows that he was more faithful than he thought he might be. He was more than his mistakes. Testing from God’s perspective isn’t about us. God knows us, knows what we will do, knows our choices. Testing is for us. It is our chance to see who we are. When we suffer, and we hold on fast to Jesus, we see that we are more faithful than we can ever imagine. It is in times of suffering we find our who we really are. God uses those times to let us know ourselves.

3. He uses all things, in the end, to bring glory to His name. (Romans 8:28). All things, not only work for our good, but most importantly, all things work for God’s glory. God is glorified through our suffering. How? Well, He may do amazing things in our suffering that give us a testimony, and that may impact someone else. He may give us strength to stand that we didn’t know that we had. He may change some life through what we go through. In the end, even terrible, terrible events, God will ring something good out of it. He will.  Perhaps because of what you are going through, you may be able to show grace and mercy to someone that needs it.  You may able to understand their pain, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.  You may be able to to change their life.

I hope these are helpful to you in your walk.

What do you think?

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The Blessings of Struggles

No one like struggles. No one likes trials. We just don’t. They aren’t run. They aren’t a joy. They aren’t things that we like.

Whether it be tragedy, whether it be a an issue in family or relationships, whether it be something in your job, something in your church, none of like what CS Lewis called “the problem of pain.”

But, there are blessings in struggles. There are blessings in trials. There are. We may not see them at the time of these struggles. But there are things that can bless us, no matter what the trial may be.

What? What could that be?

Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 today:

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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

The blessings of struggles are this. First, when we struggle, when we are low, when we are beaten down, God comforts us.

At our lowest moment, God’s grace is the greatest in our lives. At our weakest time and place, God is most there. When we are most downcast, heartbroken, distraught, depresses, ashamed, angry, embarrassed, whatever.

It is that moment that God most wants to give you comfort.

Today, God longs to comfort you. No matter what you are going through, God longs to give you comfort. He longs to console you. He longs to wrap you in His arms.

Let Him. He is there. Even if you can’t feel it. He is there. He will not leave you. No matter what is going on in your life today. He will not leave you.

Paul tell us though, that are are other blessing in our struggles. Because of our struggles, we can console others. We can tell those that are hurting that we have been there. They are not alone. We understand. We know.

God will you use the pain in your life right now, to be a blessing to someone else.

He will. That’s what He does.

If we can give that pain to Him, allow Him to have it, allow Him to give us grace, He will use that pain to help others.

That’s what He does. He redeems everything.

Today, no matter what you are going through, in time, God will use it for a blessing. Today, hold on. Hold fast. Cling to Him.

And know that in His time, He use it. Allow Him to comfort you today. And in time, you will be able to comfort others.

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How to Pass a Test

One of the things that worries me, that worries many of us, is this, how will I be ready when a test comes?

None of us look forward to tests, want tests, desire to be tested.

We all want peaceful, calm, easy lives.

That’s something we all really, really want.

But, we all also know that a time of testing and trial will come. It’s something we all face.

Today’s readings seem to fit together (to me) in a way that showed me some truth about testing that I needed to be reminded of.

First, the Psalmist in Psalm 105 talks about the faithfulness of God, and recounts all God had done. But, he says in the Psalm

17 He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
19 Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the LORD tested him.

Testing will come, even for God’s people.

Just because you love God and He loves you, that doesn’t mean that testing won’t come. Don’t regard your tests as a failure. Don’t thing you’ve done anything wrong. Don’t think you’ve failed. Test come to us all.

Then, in Zechariah, the Lord says these words to His prophet:

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts.

The Lord has just given him a calling to go and proclaim God’s Word. But, before he does, the Lord reminds him – it’s by God’s Spirit that he will accomplish what God has for him.

That really nailed me this morning. So often I try to pass those tests on my own.  I try to beat back tests and trials and temptations on my own.

By my will.

My strength.

My might.

And, I fail.

But the Lord reminds us, not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.

The surest way to fail whatever test we face today is by relying upon our ability.  Our strength.  Our will.  We simply can’t do it alone.

How to pass a test?  The Lord.  His Spirit.  His life.  His power.  Through Him.

We will face tests, each day.  May we remember that it through Him and in Him, we can come through theses tests and cross over to new and abundant life.

Strength

Today as I was reading the New Testament Reading for the day in Colossians, something really jumped out to me.  Here are verses 11-14

11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

We are encouraged to be strong – but not with our own strength, but with the strength that comes from God. Why? Why are we to be strong in that strength in particular? Aren’t we strong enough as it is?

The text tells us we need to be ready to endure everything with patience.  In other words, trouble is coming. Trouble is coming down the road at some point. It could be today, it could be tomorrow. It could be a year from now, a decade from now. Who knows. But, trouble. is coming.

And, Paul tell us not just to suffer through this trouble, but to endure it with patience, and even joy. Now, I can’t do that. I don’t even like waiting at a red light, much less endure troubles with patience and joy. If I’m going through something I don’t like, I want it to be over as quickly as possible.

That’s what I want.  That may not be what God wants.  God may be wanting to teach me something through a time of trial. He may be wanting to teach me dependance upon Him.  Trust of Him. Faith in Him.  To teach me that this world is not my home.  That my life is not not found in the stuff of the world.  He may be wanting to teach me many, many lessons.

But, without the patience that He longs to give me, I will miss them.  And, without His strength, I do not have that patience. Without His strength, I do not have His wisdom. Without His strength, I will not learn, I will just muddle through, whatever I’m doing.  Even the good stuff.

So, that means for us today, if things are great, then we need to be faithful. We need to be worshiping, reading scripture, and praying. We need to be connected to God and to His people. We need to be living His life. Because, trouble will be coming some day. And for us, this may be the day of preparation for that trouble that is to come.

And, if we are going through troubles, remember. Your strength is not found within you.  It is found in God. Don’t rely upon yourself, your strength, you wisdom. Trust in God.  Lean on Him.  Turn to Him. Rest in Him.

And, then you will find more strength than you ever through possible.

Today, and always, for strength, turn to the source of our strength. Turn to God.

April 16, A Remembrance – No Greater Love

I don’t normally read from the King James.  I read from the NRSV normally because it’s the standard pew Bible edition for most United Methodist Churches.  I also like the TNIV, even though they are no longer making it, the NIV, the Message, and most all of them.  I always tell folks read the Bible that speaks to them.

But, when I quote scripture off the top of my head, I quote the King James.  Why?  Because it’s what I grew up reading and hearing, and it’s what scripture still “sounds” like to me.  Especially the Psalms, or John 14 (in Father’s house were many mansions).

And the passage I’m thinking about this morning. When I think of John 15: 13, I always hear it in the KJV

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

I always think of that verse on April 16.

See it was on April 16, 1978 that no great love was shown to me.

On April 16, 1978, my mother was murdered.  She was killed as she was walking out of our house, with me in her arms. She was walking out of the house because she did not want me raised in an abusive situation, in a situation full of drugs and destruction. She was walking out of the house because she wanted me to have a better life.

She was walking out of the house because she loved me.

And in that, she laid down her life for me.  Literally.  I sometimes tell folks I have the burden and blessing in my life of having had two people lay down their life for me, Jesus and Mama Sarah.

And, every day I wake up and know that I am here, I give thanks for no greater love.

And every time I look at my daughter Sarah and mourn over the fact that she will never know the grandmother she was named for, I give thanks for no greater love.

Every time I look at my grandparent that adopted me, even though they had raised their kids already, and had other plans for life, I give thanks for no greater love.

And every time I get the chance to teach my children about what love looks like, I give thanks for no greater love.

Today is a bittersweet day.  I have no doubt that I am and have been loved.  I just wish the price weren’t so high.

But, greater love hath no man (or woman, mother, or father) than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.

I give thanks for no greater love.

The Long View

I had a professor of mine that used to always talk to us about the notion that the Christian faith is not just a future thing, it is a now thing.  It is a present thing. I’ve always liked that.

We’d don’t follow Jesus to simply get into heaven.  We don’t follow Jesus to avoid hell.  Now, both ofthose things are good things and things I’d like to do!  But the great thing about the life found in Jesus Christ is that it is life that is found today.

Right now.

In this moment.

As Christians, we aren’t just living for the future. We are living for today.  We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience the power and joy and grace of God. We can experience that right now.  As Jesus taught us in John 10:10 – we can have that abundant life. Today.  Right now.

And that’s kind of my default position.  I know heaven will be great and awesome and all that. But, I don’t worry too much about it at this point in my life.  I feel like this life, lived to God, is pretty awesome too.

But, Paul gives us (and especially me) a very healthy reminder today in 1 Corinthians 15

30 And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? 31 I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you-a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
33 Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”

If there is no life beyond this life, than this make this life all that matters.  If there is no life beyond this life, then where is the need for bravery?  For courage?  For doing what is right, no matter what?

In this life, we need the courage to do what God calls us to. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes its terrifying. Sometimes we don’t want to do it, we are afraid of the results, we are afraid of the response people will give us.

We are just scared.

That’s when we need to take the long view.  This life is not the end. There is something greater and better for us. There is a true life, beyond this life, we are a peace with God completely and know the life He has truly intended for us.

And to me, that gives me even more courage and desire to fully live here on the earth!  For I know that God is with me, and I have nothing to worry about!

And this moment, whatever it is that is just killing you. That is worrying you.  That is taking your joy, you sleep, you life, you hope.  It will pass.  It is not the end of your life.  Don’t take the short view. The view of only today.

Take the long view.  There is life beyond this that you made for.  Live fully!  Live boldly!  God is with you!  You have nothing to fear!  You were made for more than this moment.  You were made for eternity.  May that knowledge  help us to live for God with all that we are, in this moment.

Nobody Knows the Troubles I Face

Today’s New Testament reading, 2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.

Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

I get myself into the most trouble when I feel like my troubles are worse than anyone else.  I get myself into trouble I when I think I have worse than anyone else.

Surely know one knows what I’m going through.  Surely the suffering I face is worse than anyone. It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s not the way it should be.

I deserve better.

And, since I’m having a tough time, it’s ok for me to fall back into old habits.  Old habits, old destructive things, they can be like an old pair of shoes. We fall back into them when we want that comfort.

No one knows the suffering I face.

But, here’s the thing that spoke to me in this text this morning.  What makes me think I won’t have troubles?  What makes me think I won’t have tough times?  Where in my mind did I get the impression that the Christian life would be without its problems and sufferings?

In fact, did Paul not say this morning that we are comforted in our sufferings so that we can comfort others?  Yes. We will face tough times. We will face troubles, trials, sufferings.

These things, these trials, they are not an excuse to turn from God.

They are a reason to turn to God.

Your troubles, your trials, your sleepless nights, they can either be an excuse for bitterness and old sin.  Or they can be a driving force to God.

It’s your call.

We were never promised a life without troubles.  It will come.  I don’t always respond as I should to those troubles.  It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself or feel alone.

Instead of praying.

We are comforted in our sufferings.  In our lowest moments, hardest times, loneliest day, may we turn to God.  The worse it is, the more we need to turn.

Don’t let the troubles turn you from God.  Today, may they turn us to God.