Sunday, March 25, 2012

God and Suffering

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God....” (Romans 8:28)

“When bad things happen to good people, is it God’s ‘punishment’? When evil seems to triumph, where is God? Doesn’t the suffering that Jesus went through in his last days ‘prove’ God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about our human hurt?” These are some of the questions I often people ask in the face of our pain and suffering. How can Christians reconcile belief in a good, loving and powerful God in the face of natural disasters, tragedies, and the spectre of human evil?

There are obviously no easy, pat answers to such complex questions. However, the words of one author that I also shared several years ago I still believe capture the essence of what we need to recognize and remember in such circumstances...

Suffering and tragedy is not God’s desire for us, but it does occur in the process of life. Suffering and tragedy is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn. It’s not given to teach others something, but through it they may learn. It’s not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequences of our bad judgement. Suffering is not given, and tragedy does not come to us because our faith is weak, but through it our faith my be strengthened. God does not depend on human suffering to achieve His purposes, but sometimes through suffering His purposes are achieved. Suffering can either destroy us or it can add meaning to our lives.”
      [–Rev. Ray Firestone, shared by Rev. Adam Hamilton in his sermon “The Gospel In the Face of Grief” in
          the series Questions for God In the Face of Tragedy (May 3, 1998)]

My prayer is that whatever difficult or challenging thing it is that you are facing (including wrestling with the “why” of the pain and sufferings of your own life), you will know that God is with you and all those who suffer, that He wants to redeem those difficulties in order to make something good out of it, that He wants to give all who suffer hope and help to make it through, primarily through the assistance of other people.

Of course, this means that we have a responsibility to do what we can to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are suffering (which is why our church is constantly sharing ways that you can make a difference out of the disasters and tragedies of our world). So my prayer is that in addition to praying for our brothers and sisters who suffer, we will do what we can to help them in tangible ways, as well. God bless you as you remember to be generous to others in the same way that God has been generous to you, so that the suffering of others is relieved and hope is birthed! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thoughts To Ponder

“Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time,
if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

I have shared this “poem” many times over the last few years, but each time it seems that it’s exactly what someone needs to read and hear at that time in their lives, just as it was exactly what I needed to read the first time I read it. It captures the essence of the perseverance and persistence of Jesus in doing what he knew to be right and good, even though it cost him everything…

“People are unreasonable, illogical, self-centered. ...Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish motives. ...Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and real enemies. ...Try to be successful anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow ...Do it anyway.

Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. ...Be honest and frank anyway.

People favor the underdog, but they chum up to the top dog....Fight for the underdog anyway.

What you spend years building can be destroyed overnight. ...Build anyway.

Give the world the best you have and chances are you will get kicked in the teeth.

...Give it anyway.”
[--Though commonly attributed to Mother Teresa, the actual author is unknown]

The biblical principles behind these words can be found in Galatians 6:9-10, where Paul describes the importance of persistence in our faith. Whatever problem it is that you are wrestling with… hang in there and know that God is greater than that problem. Persevere in the name of Jesus! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Power of Surrender

“…Not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42)

One of the spiritual tools that we are encouraged to use during the season of Lent is “surrender”, or (closely related to it) “fasting.” It is the voluntary giving up of earthly things in order to focus more intentionally on spiritual things/things of God. Jesus showed us the fullest example of this practice in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed “not my will but yours be done” in reference to his own upcoming suffering and death.

Yet, both the Bible and Christian history are full of other examples of God’s people willingly surrendering their own wants and desires so that God’s will and plan could be accomplished through them. One of these was the founder of Methodism John Wesley. Listen to words of admonition he wrote to his Methodists in 1755:

"In so giving yourselves to the Lord...Let Him appoint you to your work. Christ has many services to be done; some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests; others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, as when he requires us to feed and clothe ourselves. Indeed, there are some spiritual duties that are more pleasing than others; as to rejoice in the Lord, to be blessing and praising of God. These are the sweet works of a Christian. But then there are other works, wherein we cannot please Christ but by denying ourselves, as in bearing and forbearing, reproving men for their sins, withdrawing from their company; witnessing against their wickedness; confessing Christ and His name, when it will cost us shame and reproach; sailing against the wind, swimming against the tide, parting with our liberties and accommodations for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (--From Wesley's “Covenant Renewal Service", 1755)

Twenty-five years later, he re-wrote his very popular New Year’s Covenant Service and ended it with a prayer that has come the illustrate the power of surrender for many Christians even today.

"I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
To thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen."
(--The “Covenant Prayer” from John Wesley's Covenant Service, 1780)

My hope is that whether you use Jesus’ simple prayer or Wesley’s, during this season of Lent you would open yourself to whatever God is calling you to – to surrender your will to His! You’ll find power in doing so! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!