God’s Purpose In Man’s Suffering – Reprise


The recurring question from the time of Job until today seems to be, Where is God in the midst of suffering? The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer.

One purpose, and the one people often camp on, is that God uses suffering to punish the wicked. The best example of that is the flood that wiped out all the inhabitants of the earth except for Noah and his family. Another clear illustration, which I mentioned in “Have We Neutered God?” is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — two cities whose inhabitants maintained depraved lifestyles.

A second purpose for suffering according to Scripture was to test a believer’s trust in God. Satan initiated such a test of Job, and God gave him permission to do so.

Abraham was tested similarly when God uprooted him from his home and told him to go to a land He would give him. Of course that test was followed by years of infertility though God had promised to make of his descendants a great and numerous nation.

When his son was finally born, Abraham then faced the test of giving him up in obedience to God. Some might not count that test as “suffering,” but I suspect the emotional and spiritual testing he endured were equal to any physical pain he could have gone through.

A third purpose of suffering is to discipline God’s people. When Israel, for example, arrived in the promised land, they lived with God as their king, but they continually disobeyed Him and followed after the gods of the nations around them. God would then bring the people of Moab or the Philistines or one of the other people groups against them. They would live under the dictates of these oppressive conquerors until they cried out to God for deliverance, then He would send a judge to liberate them.

This pattern continued, with some variation, even after God granted the people’s demand for a king. The ultimate discipline was when first Israel, then Judah, was carried into exile.

Israel serves as an example of another purpose of suffering. Having forsaken God from the beginning of its existence, the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Their suffering served the dual purpose of disciplining them but of warning Judah.

Luke records that Jesus used two local disasters as a means to warn his listeners of their need to repent (13:1-5).

Finally, Jesus also explained that some suffering was for the purpose of giving God an opportunity to be glorified. He said this specifically about the man born blind whom He then healed. He also seems to have allowed Lazarus to die for the same reason.

What does all this tell us about suffering today?

For one, that we don’t know what God is doing. He’s not limited to the five purposes I’ve identified in Scripture, but even if He was, I still wouldn’t know any better than Job’s friends did, what God is doing in someone else’s life.

Secondly, we should realize that He is using suffering to accomplish His purposes in the same way that He uses blessings. Though they may look un-caused or haphazard to us, they are neither, if God is indeed sovereign.

Sometimes the cause is evil. I have no doubt that Satan employed evil against Job. And Joseph said plainly that his brothers meant evil when they sold him into slavery. Certainly the people who stoned Stephen and the ones who crucified Christ had evil motives. None of that thwarted God’s purposes. Instead, He took the evil and made it good to advance His plans, or He took it and used it to convict of sin, in Job’s case, and advanced His plans.

Third, all suffering should remind us that we are not in charge. We can diagram and explain, analyze and hypothesize all we want, but in the final summation, we need to allow suffering to call us back to God. The message is never for someone else. It’s for those of us who hear. We should examine our own hearts, not point the finger at others.

And finally, suffering affords us an opportunity to reach out in the name of Christ to minister to those in need. We don’t have to be rich. We can always, always pray for those in need — for their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs. We can pray that God provides people to come alongside them. We can pray for His mercy to spare them from more tragedy. And we can pray for His mercy to save their souls.

What we shouldn’t do, is act as if He isn’t involved.

This post first appeared here in May 2011.

Published in: on August 14, 2017 at 5:21 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: ,

Shoe Laces And Life Lessons


Sometimes I’ve thought, as I’ve worked to connect some electronic device or tried to find something on my map or read something I didn’t quite understand, “It ought not to be this hard.”

Those are minor examples, but I think you get the idea. The same thought might be true of something in the bigger areas of life—finding employment, getting involved in a relationship, selling a piece of property. I see other people doing what I’m trying to do, and they don’t seem to struggle as much as I am. Why, I wonder.

I know people who go through such experiences and conclude that someone is out to get them. The boss hates them or their father-in-law is against them. The store clerk is mean to them.

More troubling, some may think God is behind their troubles. Well, He is in the sense that He is sovereign and in control, but not in the “He’s out to get me” kind of way.

The other day I had an experience that clarified such situations a bit. I was getting ready to go for my daily walk, and I had slipped on one tennis shoe, but when I went to tie the laces, I tugged and tugged and couldn’t get one to move. Well, I’ve tied shoe laces nearly every day of my life since that moment I first learned how. That simple act ought not to be this hard.

I figured the lace must have gotten tangled in something somehow, so I took a closer look. Actually the problem was that in the process of putting on the shoe, I also managed to put it, with my foot now inside, on top of the end of the lace. Essentially as I pulled on the lace, I had been pulling against my own weight.

In other words, I was my own obstacle.

I wonder how many times when we’re struggling in life, that might not be the way things are.

Romans 8 gives the Christian some amazing statements about our relationship with God. Here are a few:

* God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son (from vv 28 and 29)

* If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (from vv 31 and 32)

* For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 38 and 39)

In spite of these great promises I come across people all the time, either face to face or on the internet, who say they are mad at God or disappointed with Him or simply don’t believe in Him any more because this or that happened and they don’t think a loving God would do that.

Well, the truth is, we humans are standing on our own shoe laces. And we as individuals are often standing on our own shoe laces. The trouble isn’t with God at all. It’s with us.

God is good and wants to pour out His love on us, but we’re too intent on loving ourselves so we get in His way. We need to stop pulling against our own weight. We need to allow Him to be the God who leads, beside quiet waters and through the valley of the shadow of death. He isn’t beside us in the one but not the other. He wants to go with us through all of life. If we’ll simply get off the lace we’ve been standing on.

Published in: on August 11, 2017 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

What’s Been Happening Since



Last October, a friend of mine died of cancer. In early December, another friend’s husband died from a rather rare lung disease. Just this month, the wife of a former colleague and of two former students passed away as a result of brain cancer.

The reality of life is that we die.

Except I didn’t. Not yet.

I could have died and many people do die as a result of a stroke and/or a heart attack.

Nothing I did separated me from my friends that have gone on ahead of me into heaven. I’m alive today by God’s mercy and grace. My time is in His hands, and the end of my days in the here and now simply hasn’t arrived yet.

I say all this because I want it to be clear that I didn’t survive because I have some magic bullet or pipeline to God. I survived because He wanted me to. I could have just as easily succumbed to my physical ailments as survive. But in response to my call for help, in response to the prayers of His children, and in the perfect working of His sovereign will, I survived.

But I didn’t just survive. I’m recovering from the stroke. It’s not like getting over the flu, but there’s no doubt I’m stronger every day.

I’ve had such tremendous support, not the least of which are the prayers of many. Some of the people who have given me help, I know either in person, or on-line, or from some time in the past. Some, I’ve never met! Imagine that! I tend to think that’s a work of the family of Christ, caring for a sister in need.

So this past month, I’ve been surrounded by people who have prayed faithfully, and have done the work of providing for what I need.

I live on my own in an upstairs apartment. So right after I was discharged from the hospital, friends invited me to stay with them over the weekend to re-hab a bit as a transition. When I came home, they sent me with enough food for that first week. Then a group of former students who had organized to take care of my grocery needs, stepped forward. They have taken turns to bring me what I’ve needed each week.

A writer friend headed up a Go Fund Me page to help provide for my needs while I’m not working. Another couple friends have given me rides to the doctor or pharmacy. A neighbor has taken out my trash, done my laundry, vacuumed my living room. Another friend changed light bulbs. And people have called, sent cards, texted, offered help. Others have provided monetarily through other means.

Friends have stepped up and covered for commitments I couldn’t keep. And above all, people have prayed. I can’t emphasize this enough. God wants to involve His people in His work, whether through our prayers, giving, or doing. He uses those who are available to Him.

I am blessed. And also mindful that God has more He wants me to do.

So I’m in the process of recovery, adding daily to my endurance and to what I can do on my own. It’s not easy. My head says I’m ready to do it all, but my body isn’t quite there yet. Close. And progressing. But the things I can do still take longer than I want, and I’m not able to do all I think I should be doing.

But a number of good counselors have reminded me to take my recovery one day at a time, and not try to get everything back all at once. My head says, “Go for it,” my heart says, “You can do it,” my body says, “Hold on, that’s enough.” So my physical therapist said, I need to listen to my body.

Knowing how much to push and how much to “listen to my body” is now the trick. But by God’s grace, I’m better today than I was yesterday. May His name be praised.

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (16)  
Tags: , , ,

So What Exactly Happened?


On April 12th, as near as I can tell, I had a stroke. Not a massive stroke. I wasn’t paralyzed and I didn’t slur my speech. I had no horrible headache. Just a small dull one. And a loss of balance which I thought was a result of an ear infection.

As a result, I did nothing (well, not quite nothing, but I didn’t do all the things you’re supposed to do for a stroke victim, though I did take an aspirin to deal with that dull headache, and did a couple things to help with my phantom ear infection). Until two days later. By that time I was not getting better and the loss of balance now included some weakness in my left arm.

Long story short I went to the ER and was quickly admitted because I had dangerously high blood pressure. They began to monitor me for stroke symptoms and to work to bring my blood pressure down. They ran a series of tests, including a CT scan and an MRI where they discovered that I’d experienced a 1.7 centimeter infarction on the right side of my cerebellum. They also monitored my heart and gave me several tests, including a stress test, and discovered that I’d also experienced a small heart attack.

The culprit, apparently, was the high blood pressure, and for good measure, they diagnosed me as diabetic, too.

Besides a number of medicines, I went on a low sodium, constant carbohydrate diet, and I started seeing a physical therapist daily.

Each day I could see progress, and when my blood pressure leveled out to what the doctor had set as the new parameter, and when the stress test showed no blockage in my heart, they discharged me.

Ever since, I’ve been on the mend. The “weakness” in my arm, which presented more as a lack of coordination, has almost completely disappeared, which is why I can again type. My left leg was affected more, but I’ve graduated from the walker to a cane, and my home physical therapist said, the day he discharged me, that he didn’t see why I couldn’t regain full use of both leg and arm.

My endurance isn’t there yet, but it’s also getting better. I’ve had wonderful help and support, which has been such a blessing, but more on that another time. Suffice it to say, I walked through the fire, but not alone. (Isaiah 43:2) I did nothing “right,” but in the midst of my distress I did call out to God. He heard my cry for help and has sent me just the people I’ve needed. Praise Him for His provision.

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (22)  
Tags: ,

Praise The Lord


A sneak-peak of my article for my church which is due to post June 14. The passage is Psalm 113:

1 Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
Praise the name of the LORD.
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
The name of the LORD is to be praised.
4 The LORD is high above all nations;
His glory is above the heavens.
5 Who is like the LORD our God,
Who is enthroned on high,
6 Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in heaven and in the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 To make them sit with princes,
With the princes of His people.
9 He makes the barren woman abide in the house
As a joyful mother of children.
Praise the LORD!

On April 12 I had a mild stroke. Praise the Lord.

Yes, praise the Lord. He who is exalted over all the nations, whose splendor—or glory, as the NASB says—is above the heavens, who is beyond compare, lifts the needy from the place of desperation. He bends down, or stoops, to give attention to His creation—to our plight, to our needs.

I know the truth of this Psalm from an experiential point of view. I’ve lived it as God has brought healing and help, often through His people, through some of my church family, the blogging community, former co-workers and students, fellow writers, family and friends.

Yet one day, the truth is, we will all come to our end here on earth. Will God be less worthy of praise on that day? He will not.

Through the life or the death of His saints, God can glorify His name. I’m taking this opportunity to praise Him because He saw fit to preserve, protect, and restore me, but even if He had taken me home, I’d be the winner, and He would deserve praise.

So, one way or the other, I stand in awe of His grace, and I say a loud AMEN to the psalmist’s statement: Praise the Lord!

Published in: on May 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: ,

The Hedge Of God


Maasai_people_in_a_village_on_the_A109_road,_KenyaI’ve been reading in the book of Job recently, and again I noticed the word “hedge.” Satan uses it in chapter one in reference to God protecting Job. Later Job uses it in reference to God trapping him in his circumstances. I think it’s ironic—two different ways of looking at God’s work in our lives.

I wrote about the hedge of God back in January 2013. Here’s that post again, with some rewriting, revision, and editing.

– – – – –

When I was in Africa, we visited Serengeti National Park, known for its abundant wildlife. What surprised me was that people lived there too, particularly members of the Masai tribe. In order to protect themselves at night from lions, cheetah, or any other predatory animal, the people encircled their huts or villages with a bramble fence or hedge. From Wikipedia:

Villages are enclosed in a circular fence (an enkang) built by the men, usually of thorned acacia, a native tree. At night, all cows, goats, and sheep are placed in an enclosure in the centre, safe from wild animals.

Thoroughly practical if you’re going to live in a dangerous environment.

But, then, what environment in this sin-wracked world isn’t dangerous? Here in the US, rather than thorned acacia, those who wish to put a hedge around their homes turn to fences or walls or gated communities.

I find it interesting that Satan, in his first conversation with God about Job, pointed to God’s hedge around His righteous servant as the reason for Job’s faithfulness.

“Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” (Job 1:10)

God didn’t deny it. Instead, He essentially lowered the hedge in order to let Satan put Job’s faith to the test:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” (Job 1:12a)

Flash forward a couple chapters. Job has suffered terrible loss, but refused to turn against God. Satan claims he’s holding to his faith because he still has his life. God gives Satan permission to touch his body but not to kill him. As a result, Job is afflicted with boils from head to foot—oozing, pus-filled, painful boils. Day after day after day. No antibiotics. They are not going away.

His friends come to sympathize with him, but they have nothing to say. Instead they take the posture of grief, tearing their clothes and putting dust on their heads. They sit with Job for a week, not saying anything.

Finally he cracks. “Why?” he cries. Not, “Why am I suffering?” but, “Why was I born?” He’s understandably depressed, but he’s slipped from trusting God into questioning Him.

Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck? . . .
Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:11-12, 20-23—emphasis mine)

Maasai_Enkang_and_HutJob recognizes, as Satan had, that God hedges him in, but in his pain and suffering he gets things backwards. He doesn’t realize that the thing he accuses God of is actually the thing God uses to bless him, not curse him. He doesn’t realize that the problem is God’s removal of His hedge rather than His construction of it.

There is freedom with God:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; the following verses also address the contrast between freedom and slavery)

I imagine, in the same way, people today see God’s hedge as either a blessing or a curse.

I’ll never forget the late Christopher Hitchens saying that if there was such a God as Christians believe in, he would be an insufferable tyrant. Apparently Mr. Hitchens saw God’s hedge as a curse—as a thing that would close in around him and choke out the life he wanted to live.

On the other hand, I see God’s hedge and revel in His protection. I can’t imagine living without it.

In a way, God Himself is that hedge, standing between me and the “host encamped against me.”

The Lord is my light and salvation
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock. (Psalm 27:1-5; emphasis added)

The hedge of God, given for my protection, but viewed by some as restriction. The truth is, God’s hedge provides freedom within the circle. Should God remove that hedge, all hell could break loose. Literally.

The great news is, we Christians have the Holy Spirit in our lives. Part of God’s hedge, if you will. We’re not alone when trials come our way. And the book of James makes clear that trials will come. We can face them with God’s hedges firmly in place or with hedges down so that we’re exposed and vulnerable.

My prayer is that God will hedge me in all He wants!

Published in: on January 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel


profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

– – – – –

One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that the first century apostle, Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians of his day that their suffering meant they were blessed?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God. And some suffered according to the will of God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because . . . why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know, but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were, by and large, at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed, as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute—except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same on the other side for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

Assassination


cover_BonhoefferI started a new biography today: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy by Eric Metaxas. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans who unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate Hitler.

Everything I’ve heard about Bonhoeffer has been positive. Specifically people refer to his strong Christian beliefs. I have a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship, though I’ve never read it. You see, I have this problem with plotting an assassination.

Granted, Hitler was an evil man, but so were the Roman Caesars under which the early church came into being. Yet Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to be subject to rulers and Peter echoed the concept:

Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to the king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him . . . (1 Peter 2:13-14a)

So I’ve always had a problem thinking of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the Christian faith or even of the human race. Is it ever right to do wrong?

Our times are troubled, so assassination hit the news too. As the political conventions draw near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe have had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

In light of the recent assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) the safety concerns seem legitimate.

I thought back to the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I can remember it). He’d been elected by the slimmest of margins, but the whole nation mourned his death. I suspect if there were to be such a tragedy today involving our President or either candidate, we would not pull together. We might actually see a deepening of the bitterness and hatred that has been seething in our country.

All this brought to mind another assassination—perhaps the worst crime in America—that by John Wilkes Booth of President Abraham Lincoln. I say “the worst crime” because I believe, apart from slavery itself, the period after the Civil War is most responsible for the roots of racism and poverty and injustice we see in America today.

President Lincoln had a plan for reconstruction of the South. Had he continued to serve as President until the end of his term, I suspect there would not have been Carpetbaggers or Shanty Towns or Ku Klux Klans or Jim Crow laws or black voter disenfranchisement or segregation.

Change would not have been easy but there were already allies President Lincoln could have called on to implement his ideas for reconstruction—hundreds of white abolitionists who had taken up the call to eliminate slavery and an untold number of heroic white station masters and conductors in the Underground Railroad.

Before the war was over, President Lincoln had begun to put into place piece of a reconstruction plan that would address the new societal realities—Southern plantation owners without a work force, and often with homes and outbuildings burned to the ground; and freed slaves without jobs, uneducated, and homeless.

He established temporary military governorships that would administrate the Southern states. He established The Freedmen’s Bureau which helped

African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves. (Wikipedia)

The Bill that set up the Freedmen’s Bureau expired in a year. Congress voted to extend it, but the new President, Andrew Johnson, vetoed it.

How might history have been changed if President Lincoln had lived! It’s impossible to know.

Considering the possibilities, though, I’m mindful of the influence of one life, one life on an entire nation.

How might the world be different if President Lincoln had lived? How might the world be different if Hitler had died?

Above all the machinations of leaders and rebels and assassins stands our sovereign God. No, He wasn’t pulling strings like a puppet master, but He superintends all that is His—which is everything. So the struggle in our society today isn’t off track any more than the struggle the first Christians endured at the hand of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Humanly speaking we can look at causes and effects. We can play the “what if” game or the “if only” game. But God does more with less, and brings life out of ashes. He restores and redeems.

I wish He had seen fit to heal the racial divide in our country right out of the starting blocks, before the ink was dry on the surrender Robert E. Lee signed.

More so, I wish slavery had never become an American institution.

But I imagine many Germans wish Hitler had never happened, or that East Germany had never happened.

It’s the old story of evil and evil men seeming to flourish while the righteous helplessly cry out to God to be their refuge.

So I wonder. Does it take the progression of evil to make the righteous cry out to God? I don’t know. But I think we’re at the place where crying out to God to be our refuge makes perfect sense. In reality, no matter what our circumstances, crying out to God makes sense. But in times like these, we need an anchor.

Comfort


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, an hour from the MK school where I taught


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, an hour from the MK school where I taught

Of late I’ve railed against Christians in the West who seem more concerned about comfort and ease than about righteousness and godliness. It’s the I’d-rather-be-happy-than-holy syndrome. But the other day I read a response to 2 Corinthians 1—a chapter that talks a great deal about comfort—and realized that comfort, like so many words, has multiple meanings.

I’ve known about the Biblical kind of comfort that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, gives to believers way back when I was teaching at a missionary children’s boarding school in Guatemala. A few other teachers and I got together for a Bible study, and of all things we chose 2 Corinthians to study.

Right away we had to deal with the subject of comfort, and by extension, the reason we need comfort: suffering. Yep. Comfort that the Holy Spirit gives is the kind of arms-wrapped-around-a-grieving-person kind of empathy. An I’ve-got-you kind of presence. A lean-on-Me whisper to one about to collapse under the weight of anguish or despair or bereavement.

Here’s what Paul said after his intro:

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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (vv 3-4)

I admit, I was taken aback when I read the first lines of the response penned by a person in our church as part of our “Ears to Hear” read-through of the New Testament:

I guess that when I think of comfort, I first think of “ease and comfort.” This is like the easy life, or “the life of Riley” as people said a while back.

Somehow I’d divorced the word comfort from its dual meanings. It never crossed my mind that the Bible was talking about anything other than the empathetic care and concern God has for us when we are going through hardship. And as the next verses show, Paul was particularly thinking of the hardship Christians experienced because of their faith in Christ.

So, could the word refer to the ease and comfort notion, especially that which a group of professing Christians hold to be ours for the claiming? Was Paul saying that God greases the wheels for those dealing with affliction so that they’ll quickly move to a place of comfort and ease? That they’ll be relieved of their troubles and will soon embrace health, wealth, and happiness?

I think that’s a perverse interpretation. It cheapens what God actually promises. The original word which we translate as comfort is parakaleō, and it’s first meaning is “to call to one’s side, call for, summon.” Clearly, the promise God is giving to those suffering is His presence. It also means “to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort.” God’s promise, then, is that He will build up the suffering saint in the inner being.

This understanding fits particularly with Paul’s autobiographical illustration, when he and those with him were so hard pressed by the opposition that they “despaired even of life” (v 8b). They were either so overwhelmed they felt like giving up or they saw no way to escape those who were trying to kill them. Either way, Paul needed comfort.

The other thing that caught my attention in these verses about comfort is that God wants us to turn around and give to others what He gave to us. I’ve seen this principle at work often, and it is beautiful. Perhaps the first time I experienced it was when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He hadn’t been in the hospital a day in his life, and suddenly he was gone.

Needless to say, I was in need of comfort. One of my neighbors, who I knew only in passing, took the time to put his arm around me and say, I know what you’re going through. I lost my dad in the same way when I was young. Suddenly I was not alone. I could grieve with someone who understood, and it was . . . a great comfort.

Since then, I’ve been able to put my arm around others and say, I know what you’re going through. I lost my dad suddenly, too.

In God’s economy, He gives us comfort, not for us to hoard, but to share. We generously receive from His hand that we may in turn give to others in their time of need. This kind of comfort, by the way, is not the lie so many give: It’s OK.

It’s not OK that you lost a loved one. Death is the enemy, a result of sin, a foe that needed a Victorious Warrior to defeat it. It’s not OK that you’re suffering for your faith. That’s sin and Satan working to cover your light, to make your salt useless. It’s not OK that you lost your job or that your spouse cheated on you or that your son is on drugs. The sin of this world that affects us personally is not OK. It’s NOT! So why do people trying to bring comfort say that it is?

When we admit that the suffering we’re experiencing is wrong and that it hurts and that it changes all of life, then we can accept the comfort God offers for us. When we’re at a helpless state, God sends the Helper.

He won’t lie to us and tell us it’s OK. He will say, I’ll be with you when the waters overflow, I’ll never leave you or forsake you, I’ll walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. And that’s the kind of comfort a sufferer needs.

Published in: on July 6, 2016 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

God’s Not The Problem


Peter008I read in Acts recently about Peter and John getting tossed into prison over night because they healed a man in Jesus’s name.

Their response?

Peter preached to those in authority. When they warned them to stop preaching and healing in Jesus’s name, they answered with a clear, bold statement:

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

True to their word, they continued to preach Christ and Him crucified. They continued to heal. In fact all the apostles did. Powerful things were happening, and the church was increasing in numbers, to the point that the Jewish leaders became jealous and decided to throw them into prison again.

After consulting, with one another, they decided they’d flog them into obedience.

Of course, they had to re-arrest the apostles because an angel had set them free! But they didn’t go into hiding or leave town. They went right back to the temple and started preaching again.

So once more the Jews hauled them in front of the authorities and confronted them:

“We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Well, yeah! To be expected since Peter told them they had to obey God rather than men. He repeated it since they apparently hadn’t got it the first time:

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

After more consultation, the Jewish leaders decided to beat them into obedience. And here’s the point of this post. Steadily the hostility toward the apostles was turning into persecution. And how did they respond?

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (This and the previous two quotes from Acts 5)

Rejoicing.

Continuing to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.

I find their reaction to be in such stark contrast to Christianity in the West. When we face soft discrimination, we’ve started playing the persecution card, as if there aren’t actual martyrs in the world today, dying because they believe in Jesus as their Lord, their Savior. We’ve begun to take the mantle of victim, and as a result we’re pulling back from opportunities to boldly speak the truth in love—the truth that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

Look at the balance of what Peter said to those standing in judgment over the apostles:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

He could have left out the “whom you had put to death” part in order to be less confrontational, but the truth is, part of their job was to expose sin. That’s what Peter did when Ananias and Sapphira pretended to present the church with the entire amount of money from the sale of their land. In truth, they were lying—to the Holy Spirit, Peter said. He called them out, declared their sin publicly, and in that instance, these pretenders paid with their lives on the spot.

Things are different today. Christians, myself included, are very conscious that preaching Christ might offend someone. We don’t even like preaching in church very much any more.

And should we experience ill treatment because of our faith, we’re much more likely to sue than we are to rejoice because we’ve been found worthy to suffer for His name.

What’s more, we’re more likely to say, Why, God, when I’ve been serving you so faithfully? Why are you letting all this suffering happen to me? That’s the approach of the people of Israel when they were leaving Egypt. They didn’t rejoice in the power of God. They didn’t look forward to the promised land. They looked back to the familiar comforts of Egypt and treated God’s prophet and by extension, God Himself, as if He was the One harming them.

News flash! God is not the problem. Suffering is a result of sin. So why are we so quick to blame God, to suggest that we could do a better job running things—from our health and finances to the Presidential elections and dealing with terrorism. We have lost sight of God’s sovereignty and His power.

When we pray, James warns us about asking with wrong motives, more interested in our own pleasures. Jesus said we are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Is that what we’re praying for? Or are we praying for peace and comfort in our time, so that we will be safe and can do what we do in peace?

I don’t know about others. I only know my own heart, and I confess, I’m a long way from the response the apostles exhibited. I can say, my heart is willing, but there’s that problem with the flesh! Maybe by the time I have to face some actual persecution, God, by His grace, will have shored up that weakness!

Published in: on June 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,