Where is God when it hurts?
2002-02-04 – “Not alone”
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, O king.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
We begin a new series today. In response to a number of requests we’ll be looking at the issue of suffering.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in big trouble. They had refused to worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. They were therefore to be cast into the furnace! The furnace was so hot that the soldiers who threw them into the furnace were burnt up.
To Nebuchadnezzar’s amazement the 3 men were not burnt up, but instead they were joined by a fourth person who looked to Nebuchadnezzar like “a son of the gods” and the three emerged unscathed.
Nebuchadnezzar was only half wrong – the fourth person wasn’t “a son of the gods” but I believe that the person Nebuchadnezzar saw was Jesus – the Son of God.
When trouble and hardship come, we often find ourselves thinking that God has abandoned us and that this is why the trouble has come. We tend to think that God’s presence should guarantee the absence of trouble and therefore trouble signifies God’s absence. The Bible teaches us something different: When trouble comes into our lives:
– God is not on the sidelines watching,
– He is not stoking up the furnace,
– He’s not standing in judgement on us like Nebuchadnezzar arguing that we deserve what we get.
—- No! He’s there with us – in the fire – bringing us through.
2002-02-05 – “Comfort”
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 2Co1:3-5
The presence of Christ in our lives is not a guarantee for the absence of heartache. Trouble will cross our paths from time to time…Paul describes two kinds of people and their God.
God the Father is compassionate and ready to comfort. His comfort is real and revitalising. It enables us to pick ourselves up and not only keep going, but help those who are in turn in need of comfort. He sends comfort to people through other people.
Why is He able to do this? Because He is the Father of our Lord Jesus. He sent His Son into our midst to share in our sufferings to experience our humanity. Just as Jesus comforted Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus and just as He wept with them, so He comforts us and weeps with us. The Father’s sacrifice of his Son is the extent of His desire to be near us and to comfort us. The Son experienced separation from the Father so that we never have to.
As people we can be in need of comfort – in which case we need to draw near to a strong gracious Father who will help us through our trouble and help us to keep going – be humble enough to accept that God may send another person to help us through!!!
We can also be people who have received comfort – if this is the case let’s be caring, sensitive, and God-revealing…
2002-02-06 – “The straw that breaks…”
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it 1Co10:13
Have you ever thought “This is it! I’m going to crack! I’m going to explode! I’m not going to make it!” and then you make it through? Although God is not the author of trials and temptations, He does have the final say and His promise is that He will never burden us beyond what we can bear. He will not add the straw that breaks the camel’s back!
Sometimes it feels different. Sometimes it feels like we won’t make it. Then we find reserves that we didn’t know were there, or we get help, or the problem diminishes. God is faithful. Not only does He know our limits, but He also helps us to stand when the limits are being pushed.
So why do some people have breakdowns and why do some give up? God does not promise that we will never break. His promise is that the test is never too big. The reality of this is that those who do crack have buckled under something that should not have broken them. The problem is that we will need God’s help to stand underneath the pressures that surround us. If we rely on ourselves, our money, or our friends then our potential is not the same as when we rely on God.
Bruce Wilkinson says “Dependence is another word for strength!”
2002-02-07 – “James the Masochist”
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
We woud be quite justified in saying that James sounds like a masochist! Who in their right minds enjoys pain??? James urges his readers to consider trials with pure joy. From the historical background we have, James’ congregation suffered from poverty, persecution, and even division. How on earth can James tell them to consider a trial to be something to be joyful about?
To make matters worse(!), James goes on to affirm something we have expected all along: Trials are not optional – they are an unavoidable reality. He does not say “Consider it pure joy IF you face trials of many kinds” – He says “WHENEVER” Trials are not a matter of “if” but “when.”
So how can James be so positive? He has his focus, not on the trial itself but on one of the possible outcomes of a trial. Depending on how we face the trial it can either break us or strengthen us. It can either weaken us or strengthen us.
As far as James is concerned, a trial can be a trail to a new destination. The testing of our faith is an opportunity to stick it out and to develop spiritual toughness. We don’t develop muscles and fitness without sweating. When hardship crosses our path, it is an opportunity to grow in perseverance, maturity, and faith.
Learning to see the difference between and attitude that turns a hardship into a trial and the attitude that turns a hardship into a trail is not easy. This is why we need God’s help to give us wisdom and insight. This is always a leap of faith! We can’t sit on the the fence!
(Tomorrow : Does God sit in heaven and say “Hmm Theo’s getting spiritually flabby… Let’s send a car accident or some tragedy like that to get him right?”)
2002-02-08 – “Is God the author of suffering?”
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. Jam1:13-17
This question is way bigger than a few paragraphs in a daily devotional can answer! Here are a few points.
1. God is Sovereign – this means that nothing happens without His permission.
2. God has given us freedom – which means that He has made space for us to do things that He may not like. Freedom also means that we can experience its consequences.
3. Our own sinfulness is the source of temptation and our succumbing to temptation (which is what sin is) is the author of suffering.
4. This must be understood in general and specific terms: If I choose to sin by drinking too much – I may destroy my liver. But I may also kill someone else if I chose to drive “under the influence.” Sometimes the sin of humankind in general affects us too: Our pollution of the environment means holes in the ozone layer and may mean that I suffer from skin cancer. Suffering is caused by sin: sometimes my own sin, sometimes the sin of others, and sometimes the sin of humankind.
5. God does not send suffering. It is a consequence of our abuse of the freedom He gave us – but He does limit it. He will, as we saw two days ago, prevent us from being over-stretched, and He will intervene to help us when we are overwhelmed.
God is not the author of suffering. He allows it, limits it, turns it around and brings good out of it, He bore the brunt of our suffering on the cross, and one day, when Jesus returns He is going to bring an end to it.
2002-02-11 – “He turns suffering around”
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom8:28
Not only is God NOT the the author of suffering, but He intervenes when we suffer. If we allow Him to He will turn our suffering into something good: either we will grow stronger, or we will learn to appreciate those who help us through, or we will learn to trust Him, or there will be some other benefit.
This is not an easy truth to accept. Sometimes it feels as though the suffering will _never_ end and that _nothing_ good will come of it! But this is the heart of our faith – the central symbol of our faith is a cross – an instrument of execution and extreme suffering – but the cross is empty – Christ has risen! He knows how to turn the most devastating events (Good Friday) into the most incredible victories (Easter Sunday).
Our inspiration should be the oyster. The oyster experiences suffering when a sharp grain of sand wedges itself into the soft fleshy folds of the oyster’s inner flesh. The oyster patiently coats the sand with layer upon layer of milky translucent material and from the problem produces a pearl. The heart of every pearl is a problem that has been turned into something good. God would help us coat our problems with His grace and love and produce something wonderful in us.
Next time you face a difficult situation remember Tony Campolo’s words: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin'”
2002-02-14 – “Gold”
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1Pe1:6-7
Happy Valentine’s Day! Go to the Emmanuel Church Website to get a special valentines message ( www.emmanuel.org.za )
Peter has just ben talking about the mercy God showed us through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is God’s ability to turn tragedy into new hope that is at stake here.
Gold to be purified has to be melted. Being a heavy metal, gold sinks to the bottom and the impurities (dross) float to the top. Although God is not the author of our trials, He does allow them to come and then transforms our suffering to bring about our growth and development as people and as believers.
This is not easy – the smelting of our faith – reducing it to the fragile liquid form – is traumatic for us. We fear the process, even though the results, if we remain in the hands of the Master Craftsman, are beautiful.
The good news is that Jesus went before us and so we are not alone – not even in death!
2002-02-15 – “Getting perspective”
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. Psa73:16-17
This psalm is written by a man named Asaph. We don’t know very much about him, but what we do learn from the Psalm is that he maintained his personal integrity and blamelessness at great cost. While his efforts to be righteous seemed futile in the light of his personal circumstances he also had a battle raging in his heart when he saw how carefree and trouble-free the wicked people around him seemed to be.
“It’s not fair. It’s not FAIR! IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!!!!!” One can almost feel the anger building up inside him and he admits at the beginning of the Psalm that he almost lost his grip:
“2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Something arrested his slide down the slippery slope of discontent. Something prevented him from plunging into the abyss of self-pity and the mire of comparisons. Asaph went to WORSHIP. That’s what going to the sanctuary was all about: – being reminded that God is greater and longer than our circumstances.
We see the here and now – God sees it all.
We think it will never end – God knows when it will
We think the wicked are invincible – God knows about their downfall
We think we are all alone – in worship we experience God’s presence and interest
We think that we have to cope on our own – in worship God empowers us.
I find it tragic that one of the first things people who are having a hard time do is to stop attending church. This is a big mistake – it is precisely when we have doubts and when we are being swamped that we should go! When we don’t understand, when the reality of evil seems overwhelming, and when we feel like we are out of strength let us turn to worship.
Steve Wiggins says: “Take the biggest thing that’s got you down and stand it upright next to God – anyone can see who’s bigger now!”
And so Asaph finishes the Psalm:
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Have a great weekend!
2002-02-18 – “Clay Pots”
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2Co4:6-9
Human beings are like a row of hand-made clay pots. Each one unique, each one fragile, each one with its own beauty and its own imperfections.
God chooses to fill each of us with his Spirit. It is His working in us that enables us to do over and above what a clay pot can do. It is His strength that is made perfect in our weakness. It is His fullness that overcomes our emptiness. This does not mean that the pot will not be tested – but it will overcome. The pot does not have to be perfect – it must just be full.
Our survival in difficult times does not depend on our ability or talent or even our tenacity, although these things play a part. Our survival has to do with our relationship with the One who would see us through!
We should not be frustrated at our weaknesses – these are God’s opportunities. Robin Jacobson once said “Sometimes the cracks in the pot let the light inside shine through.”
2002-02-19 – “Wisdom needed”
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. Jam1:2-8
Today we need to begin talking about how to actually survive a trial.
We’ve covered the theory: That God is not the author of evil, that trials can make us stronger, that trials are a way for God’s light to shine in us, and that God is always with us. But how do we actually get through a trial? How do we get through this? If it were easy it would not be a trial. A trial, by definition, is hard.
James tells us that we can ask for wisdom. His implication is that wisdom is what we need to come through our trials. But what is wisdom? Is it knowlegde, common sense, or a mature outlook on life? Maybe all three and something more. Throughout the Old Testament wisdom is connected with the worship and love of God. There is a sense in which wisdom is the “God perspective” on life.
Life is like a tapestry – when we look at a tapestry from the back, it is a mess – a tangle of knots and colours in apparent chaos and uncertainty. Wisdom is learning to allow God to give us glimpses of the picture as He sees it – from the right perspective.
A trial is, at the end of the day, a battle in the mind. The cause of the trial can be physical, emotional, or spiritual but the battlefield is in our hearts and minds. Wisdom is a balanced view that looks beyond the chaos of the here and now.
Wisdom looks BACK to God’s faithfulness in the past and
it looks FORWARD to the future where God wipes away our tears.
Wisdom looks UP to God in faith,
it looks AROUND to those who can help us,
and it looks DOWN on our problems.
We need wisdom.
2002-02-21 – “Groaning”
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Rom8:18-27
Our devotion is all about groaning.
(I have included the full passage below and it is well worth reading.)
Paul talks about three kinds of groaning:
1. Creation groans. If humankind’s rebellion against God was the nuclear explosion then the dark side of creation is the fallout. Natural disasters, disease, drought, famine, earthquakes, floods – these are all the aftereffects of the sin of humankind. Creation was created good and while it is now subject to the wages of our sin, there will come a time when creation will be restored.
2. We groan. When we see the effects of our brokeness – when we suffer or we see others suffer we groan. Instinctively we rebel at the incongruity of death and suffering, somehow knowing that there is more to it than this. Somehow we know that there is something greater coming, but it is not here yet!
3. The Spirit groans. Did you know that you are a prayed in, prayed for, prayed through person? The Holy Spirit who lives in us is praying 24/7 for us lifting us to God. Especially when we suffer. It is He who asks the Father to strengthen, renew, and restore us in the midst of our struggles.
None of this groaning is in vain: Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
2002-02-22 – “Longing”
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Just as creation is longing for God’s Kingdom to come, I believe that God is itching for the day when He will say “No more!”
No more sickness
No more crying
No more pain.
That is God’s intention: – suffering (all though we inflicted it on ourselves) will not last forever. Its days are numbered and God is counting down!
The sea was the symbol of all that was scary and unknown for the Jewish people and for many of the early Christians. The sea represened evil, suffering, and fear for most of the people who first believed. The new heaven and earth is missing all of the fearsome things that the sea represented to the Jew.
God holds evil on a leash and one day He will lead it away for good. And then He will personally wipe away the tears from the eyes of those who have suffered.
He will make everything new – this is our hope…