Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why do bad things happen?

Why do bad things happen?

It's a question for the ages. A question many educated Bible scholars have studied and attempted to answer.

I am not a Bible scholar. I admit I haven't even read most of their conclusions. I'm just a stay at home mom who has kids with questions.

And I'm not God. I can't pretend to know everything He does. I can't even come close to understanding His methods and purposes. I just know what He has revealed through His Spirit and Scripture. So here's what I've come up with so far.

Why do people get cancer or other fatal illnesses? Why do parents have to bury children? Why was I born free in America while someone else was born to slavery or oppression?

Because God.

Oh, that seems a trite answer. A "church" answer. But I mean more than just a Sunday School Jesus answer. It's much fuller than that.

God is working a plan. He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11 - I know the plans I have for you.

I know.

Not you know. Not your parents know. Not your pastor knows. Not your guidance counselor knows.

I - Creator of the Universe, Author of Life, Perfecter of Faith, First and Last, Almighty God - know.

What is He doing now? What He's been doing for all of history. He's drawing people to Himself. He's giving people a chance to turn to Him, to guarantee their eternity with Him. He's orchestrating a symphony piece by piece. It looks like a mess to us because we can't see the completed piece yet.

He works all things to be in accordance with His will (Eph 1:11). He's got a plan and He's working everything together to accomplish it.

Is it His perfect plan? No. Sin entered the world and we suffer the consequences of that every day. From sickness to poverty to oppression to war. God gave mankind over to our desires and we pay the price. But He has a bigger plan. A plan of redemption, rescue, reconciliation and restoration.

Jesus entered the scene. He humbled Himself to become part of His creation. He willingly sacrificed Himself to redeem us. He conquered sin and death upon his resurrection and provides a rescue from sure and eternal death. Accepting His work reconciles us to God, restoring a right relationship with the One who loves us more than any other.

So now we should be sitting pretty, right? Nope. We still suffer the earthly consequences of sin. We will until God sees fit to come again. Being a child of God does not immune us from disease, poverty, oppression, or war. What it does give us is assurance that whatever we suffer in the millisecond that our life is in the grand scheme of eternity is worth the glory we will have forever with Him.

The hardships we encounter have two possible outcomes. We can turn from God or we can let it drive us to Him.

The easy answer to why bad things happen is that God doesn't care. He's not involved in our daily lives. He's left us to our own devices. That makes sense to us. It's what we would do if we'd been in His place, having people we love constantly fight against what we knew was right for them. We'd eventually give up and let them live and learn.

Good thing we aren't God! God still pursues the human race. He can be found in the midst of pain and suffering. He "put my tears in His bottle." Psalm 56:8 To collect your tears He must be there when they are shed. The result of living in a fallen world is that we will always find ourselves in those situations and relief from them isn't often immediate, miraculous, or even possible. But remember who God is. He is eternal. Our lives and our suffering is but a blip in that time. Paul, who was no stranger to suffering, tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 our "momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison." Or consider Romans 8:18 "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." We are being told there is a purpose to our suffering. God has a bigger plan than our egocentric, finite minds can grasp. And when that plan is accomplished "God will wipe every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:17 

Trust the Creator.

Romans 8:24ff tells us "we are saved by trusting. And trusting means looking forward to getting something we don't yet have - for a man who already has something doesn't need to hope and trust that he will get it. But if we keep trusting God for something that hasn't happened yet, it teaches us to wait patiently and confidently. " It's easy to say we trust when things are going well. It's what we do when the chips are down that truly reflects our hearts.

Maybe that's the purpose of bad things happening. To teach us to trust - learn to look forward to what we don't have yet. To point us to God. To draw us into the kind of relationship He has wanted with us since the beginning of time.

Or maybe that's still just a "Christianese" answer. It's definitely an intellectual or practical answer.

There's a problem with suffering, with hurts, with pain though. Head knowledge doesn't help the heart through hurt. The previous ponderings work well enough for the bigger picture of suffering in the world. But what happens when the pain is in your backyard? Your emotions get involved and knowing God is in control and you are supposed to trust Him and draw closer to Him doesn't really make you feel any better, does it?

What is the answer to the reality of this question, when you have the head knowledge but your heart has a mind of it's own? Honestly, I don't know. I haven't worked it all out yet for myself. I'm still working on it but for now I know I have to keep trusting God. Trusting God isn't just for the good times. It's for the hard times, the bad times, the waiting times, all the times.

Are you angry? Tell God. Do you feel like God betrayed you? Tell God. Are you in the pits of despair? Tell God. Hopeless? Sad? Desperate? Frustrated? Tell God. He's big enough to handle your emotions. He gave them to you. Pour your heart out to God. It's what He wants from you. Not hidden feelings and a pretend or false relationship. He wants you to be real. Raw. Honest. And maybe one day we will have an answer for why He let bad things happen.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Lessons from David



A recent Bible reading from my grandfathers one Year Bible was chock -full of gems.
We should totally speak this over our own kids:
1 Chronicles 28:8-
(David to Solomon)
In the sight of God, I am instructing you to search out every commandment of the Lord so that you may continue to rule this good land and leave it to your children to rule forever. My son, get to know the God of your fathers. Worship and serve Him with a clean heart and a willing mind, for the Lord sees every heart and understands and knows every thought. If you seek Him, you will find Him; but if you forsake Him, he will permanently throw you aside. So be very careful, for the Lord has chosen you to build his holy temple. Be strong and do as he commands."
When God gives you a task, as he gives all Christians, remember these words again from David to his son Solomon:
1 Chronicles 28: 20
Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don't be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly.
Did you catch that? HE will see to it. If God gives you a job, HE will see to it that it will be completed correctly. Your job is to be strong and courageous and to get to work!
In chapter 29 King David announces to everyone that he has given everything in his stores of riches and treasures to build the Lord's temple and then encourages them to follow suit. Give of all they have joyfully and willingly. Too often we pussyfoot around matters of finance. We need leaders like David (a man after God's own heart remember) to stand up and set an example of joyful, willing, sacrificial giving and then encouraging those around them to do the same. Not to gain praise and admiration for how much they give but to say with David "Yours is the mighty power and glory and victory and majesty. Everything in the heavens and earth is Yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything...who am I and who are my people that we should be permitted to give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we only give you what is yours already."
And I loved how Romans 5:3-5 is translated: we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are good for us - they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Forgiveness

Forgiveness.

Not such a big word. Huge meaning.

"Will you forgive me?" What are they asking of you?

"I forgive you." What are you saying to them?

Some people would say it means you forget the transgression. Great idea in theory. I mean, if we could forget every time someone wronged us we'd struggle a lot less with distrust, doubt, bitterness, and the like.

Some would say you can't forget so you just ignore it. Yeah, ever tried that? What happens when you ignore something? Usually it keeps knocking on your mind until it's so big it knocks you over. When someone has truly wronged you, ignoring it isn't a great option either.

So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness must acknowledge there has been a transgression. Forgiveness is an ongoing decision, a battle between wanting to seek your own vengeance and desiring a right relationship with the person who wronged you. Forgiveness is more for you than for the person you are forgiving too.

Let's look at Joseph in the Bible again. He offers a powerful look at forgiveness. Actually, we see two distinct options when faced with be wronged. We see a choice Joseph's brothers make and we see a choice that Joseph himself makes.

I'm going to start with Joseph's brothers because I think we can all relate to them on some level. Here they are, flesh and blood brothers to this cocky, coddled boy. The only difference between them and him was who his mother was yet they felt constantly placed below him. It didn't help matters that this same little brother came across pretty arrogant, telling of dreams that showed his brothers bowing before him. Cant' you hear them thinking: "Yeah, right, I am never going to bow to you, you puny little punk!" And their dad bestows gifts on this little know-it-all; beautiful things like a multi colored cloak. I bet Joseph paraded that thing around like he was king of the world.

And then that fateful day. The day when the brothers are faced with a choice. Forgive their brother's proud attitude or take their vengeance! If you know the story of Joseph, you know they exacted their vengeance. They threw Joseph in a dry well and then sold him to slave traders! "That'll teach him to talk about us bowing to him!"

There isn't much word about this in the Bible, but think a moment about how Joseph's brothers must have felt over time. Did they feel a prick of conscience when they looked in their father's eyes as they told him Joseph was dead? Did they look at their own children when they'd fight and wonder if any of them were plotting against another brother? Did they sleep well at night or did they relive watching Joseph dragged away, crying and begging them to help him, to not do this? Did getting their revenge give them peace? Make them feel better about themselves? Gain them anything but guilt and a lifetime of lies?

On the other hand, we have Joseph. Sold by his brothers, tempted by his master's wife, thrown in jail, abandoned by those he thought were friends while he was in jail. He had plenty of time to dwell on all the injustices he suffered as a result of his brother's actions. He had years upon years filled with endless hours to plot ways he could exact his own vengeance if he just had the chance. You know what I mean. Someone wrongs you and you spend hours daydreaming about what you can do to get back at them. I have to believe Joseph had those moments too.

But when it came down to it, when he finally faced his brother's again, he choose differently. Ultimately. It's a very realistic story of forgiveness. His brother's don't recognize him and he sees his chance.

He accuses them of being spies ("Oh, let them squirm, they deserve to rot in jail!"). This is the moment we glimpse how haunted these brothers have been about their action years ago. "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefor this distress has come upon us." Gen 42:21 Joseph hears them and knows without a doubt now that his brothers had heard his pleas and ignored him. Now he will have his justice. He does send them home, minus one brother left as insurance that they will return with their youngest brother.  But he has their money put in their sacks. They can now be accused of stealing. That's not going to bode well for them when they are caught!

We have one brother waiting in jail while the others go home to collect their youngest brother to bring back to Joseph to prove they aren't spies. They have to go back to Egypt to get the brother out of jail. And they have to bring their father's favorite son with them. And they have to do it knowing they will likely be accused of stealing. This is the definition of a lose-lose situation but they set off for Egypt again anyway.

Are you ready to see how Joseph embodies the age old human problem of forgiveness? When he sees him brothers returning with Benjamin, he is overjoyed. He plans a banquet for them all. There is a part of him that desires reconciliation with his family...

...And there's a part of him that still wants to get justice for all those years he suffered because of their bitterness. It's time for them to go so he plants his own silver cup and money in their sacks. They will leave marveling at how well that all went only to be stopped by a servant accusing them of theft. Not only that, but Joseph's silver cup is found in Benjamin's sack - he must return to Egypt to be a slave! What are they going to tell their father now?

They all return to Egypt to beg for mercy. Joseph is still angry. Years of bitterness toward them has built up and now he's in a position to get back at them. But when he sees their anguish, as he listens to Judah speak of his father, it breaks Joseph. Forgiveness is coming again. He reveals himself to his brothers and accepts them, just as they are. He hadn't forgotten what they did to him. He didn't ignore their wrong. He acknowledged it and even was able to show how God used their intended harm to bring good things to them years later.

Joseph went back and forth a couple times between forgiveness and getting revenge. Isn't that the way it is with us too? We want to forgive. We want to pay back evil for evil. We want to forgive. We want to exact vengeance. We want to forgive.

Forgiveness is a process. It's bound to have a little one step forward, two steps back. Forgiveness is a choice though. A choice you have to make time and again as your battle through a situation. But ultimately, forgiving someone benefits you. Joseph's brothers didn't choose to forgive him. They took things into their own hands, and they lived for years with that choice haunting them. Joseph chose to forgive and it resulted in his family being reunited and blessed.

When you are faced with the choice to forgive or have your vengeance, remember what God says in Deuteronomy 32:35 "Vengeance is Mine, and retribution" and that it is repeated in Hebrews 10:30 "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay."  The desire to get back at someone will be strong but keep in mind how Joseph's brothers felt when they gave in to that desire and the years of misery it caused for many people. Leave it to God to do the revenging and offer forgiveness so you can reap the benefits of restored relationships free from regrets.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Biblical meditation

Sunday morning as I get ready for church, I'm also preparing my heart to worship. This Sunday I asked God to have something for my in the service. Music or sermon, I didn't care. I just wanted something that spoke to my heart and soul.

Driving to church I got to thinking about my growing up years. I went to a church based preschool. I went to a Christian school from kindergarten straight through 12th grade. Then I attended a 4 year Bible college. It's safe to say that over the course of those years the Bible became more of a textbook than anything else. Sure, I had devotions and I read my Bible at times it wasn't required for school but it was mainly a textbook. Something to be studied and understood from an intellectual perspective. And I've always struggled with seeing it as something other than that.

We walked in to church and made our way to our seats. As the sermon started the title slide popped up. The sermon was going to be on Scripture. Hmmm...

The Chaplain started out talking about how we know the Bible is true. Yeah, I knew most of those things (minimum 17 years of Bible classes covered that for me). Then he goes into devotions. Okay. I'm listening. I mean, I've done devotions. I've heard speakers talk on devotions. I've read devotion books. Let's see what he has to say about it though.

"There's a difference between Biblical meditation and Biblical scholarship."

This sentence jumped right out at me. I wrote it down. That's the missing piece from all those years the Bible was a textbook.

Sunday School, church, Bible studies are all places for Biblical scholarship. This is where you study the Bible. You dive deep and learn about the cultural implications, the locations, the history surrounding events, etc.

But Biblical meditation is opening the Bible and seeking God's words for your heart. It's needing God to speak to you in that moment, right where you are. And it starts in that time you set apart to focus on God but it follows you all day.

Joshua 1:8 says Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

The Chaplain today took a moment to expand our understand of the word meditate here. It can also be translated as mutter. Mutter it day and night? Conjures up an image of people walking around saying verses under the breath all day long right? You're sure going to get some weird looks from people. That's not really what it's saying though. It's all about reading Scripture and letting it echo in your mind and heart all day. Let it infiltrate all you do during the day. 

I think that's the key I'd been missing. To take the Bible from a textbook to a way for God to speak to me I have to stop studying it. Don't get me wrong - there is absolutely a place and a need to study scripture. Biblical scholarship is important. But when it comes to Biblical meditation, devotions, open God's word with a desire to draw close to God and hear Him speak to your heart. And it's just for you. Don't read the Bible looking for things for your family, friends, co workers, whoever. It's just for you. Then take the words you read and carry them in your heart and mind throughout the day. Repeat them over and over to yourself. See how God is addressing things in your life. See how his promises, his laws, his warnings, his wisdom, his encouragements apply to your every need.

That's how the Bible becomes more than a textbook. It's how it becomes something you can't wait to sit down and read. You become anxious to see what God has to say to you next. And I know this because it's what I've been experiencing recently. I can't wait to sit down with my grandfather's one year Bible and see what I learn. Sometimes it's a revelation of something I haven't been doing that I should. Sometimes it's the words for a prayer my heart has been saying but I haven't had the words for. Sometimes it doesn't seem to fit anywhere but as I meditate on the words throughout the day I almost always encounter something that relates. 

After all, ALL (this is an absolute statement) Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)  See? Meditate on God's Word because it's how God teaches and corrects you, and it makes you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see verse 15). 


Friday, July 29, 2016

God's gentle whisper






There's a cacophony of voices in the world today. All trying to yell louder than the one before to make us hear their point, opinion, problem, whatever. It's hard to know who to listen to, who to believe.

Except it's not.

Where does God tell us He will be found?

Not in the thunder. Not in the earthquake. Not in the noise.

He's the quiet whisper. He's inside us and he's the quiet whisper. Just stop. Breathe. Tune out the world's views, the world's advice, the world's opinion on what's right. Listen for that still small voice that will always lead you straight. Will always point you in the right direction.
Rarely is He going to yell. But He will always be found waiting quietly right where He has always been - on the throne.

I Kings 19:12 - After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
Psalm 47:8 - God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Prayer



Many of you are probably familiar with Eph 6:12 " for our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens." 

Do you consider that when you are praying? When you are looking for answers to your prayers? 

Consider Daniel 10. Daniel had been fasting and fervently praying for 3 solid weeks with no answer. And then an angel appeared to him. Did the Angel tell Daniel God was withholding an answer to test him? Because it wasn't the right time? Because He was busy and didn't have time to listen to the prayers of one man? 

No, no, of course not! The angel assured Daniel his prayer had been heard even as he uttered it and God had immediately sent the Angel in response. So why the 3 week delay? See vs 13 - "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me..." (Princes here are not physical sons of kings but unseen spiritual forces of evil and good). 

The Devil wants nothing more than to frustrate God's children, to drive them to giving up and believing that God isn't listening to them or doesn't care. There is an unseen battle going on, especially when God's people are praying!

Next time you pray, keep in mind the unseen battle going on for you and don't give up!
Luke 18:1 - we ought to pray and not lose heart.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Soar with the Eagles

A recent devotion was centered on a rather popular verse. You know the one - those that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up on wings like eagles; run and not be weary, walk and not faint. -Isaiah 40:31

It's one of my most favorite verses but probably not for the reason most people say it's theirs: familiarity maybe. I don't know what others reasons are but you have to know a little something about Eagles to understand why it's mine (and Eagles are my favorite animal). It was not a mistake that God chose to use eagle instead of hawk or sparrow as the bird of choice.

When a storm is approaching all other birds are diving for shelter; chickens run for their houses, other birds hide in trees or bushes, seeking safe places to cower while the storm rages. The eagle on the other hand mounts up, finds the turbulence the storm is causing in the air and uses it to propel himself above the storm where he can then rest his wings and wait for the storm to pass. He uses the storm to get to a higher place.

Do you see the imagery there? God is not promising no storms. He's telling you if your hope is fully in Him, you will be able to use the storms of life to get closer to Him. Instead of hiding from the difficult times, or trying to fight through them on your own power, God is promising the closer you are to Him, the easier that storm will be to weather.

How much richer is that verse knowing how an eagle deals with storms? How much more encouraging is this familiar verse when you understand what image God was creating for you?

Rest in that tonight. Difficult times will come but when you trust in God, you can use the storm to grow closer to Him where you can then find rest and renewal until the storm is over.