Why me?

Why me?

That’s a question we sometimes ask ourselves – and God – when we suffer.

There is a feeling that we – or our suffering loved ones – don’t deserve the trouble we are going through.

Unconsciously perhaps, we may feel that God should prevent trouble in our lives.

Yet, as I look at the great Bible characters, none of them managed to get through life without suffering.  And Christ told his followers that they must expect trouble and persecution.

So, what’s the good of suffering?

I believe God permits pain and suffering as part of a greater plan for us and for the broader world.  But often that plan is not at all clear to us.

Ultimately, it was clear to Joseph, son of Jacob, in the Old Testament.

His story, described in Genesis 37-51, is one of unremitting trouble.

His brothers sold him into slavery because they hated him.  His slave-owning Egyptian master put him in charge of his household because he was so trustworthy.

His master’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape and he was jailed for years.  Yet he was again so outstanding and wise that he was made responsible for everything in the prison.

God had given him the gift of interpreting dreams and he was freed by the Egyptian Pharaoh after he interpreted that monarch’s frightening dream.  He was then made second-most-powerful man in the country.

As a speaker at our church pointed out, the Bible says God “was with him” throughout.

When his brothers came to Egypt for food during a famine, he revealed himself to them.  They were terrified because they expected him to exact revenge.

Instead, Joseph told them not to be angry with themselves because “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance”.  The brothers had meant to hurt Joseph but God used it for good.

On the other hand, God never revealed to Job why that Old Testament patriarch lost his entire family and endured terrible bodily pain.  Job questioned why God would allow this in his life and the Lord made clear to him that he – God – was in control of all things and his thoughts and plans were far higher than any human being’s.

I am convinced that the apostle Paul is right when he says in Romans 8:28: “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.”

The man who said those words was beaten, stoned, imprisoned and ultimately executed for his faith.  But, as a follower of Christ, he shook the world – for good.

I must always remember Paul’s words when the thought “Why me?” leaps into my mind.



My wife and I are learning that much of what we have we don’t need.

We are downsizing from a house to a smaller condominium.  We are forced to give up a lot of things we have collected – and sometimes prized – over a lifetime.

Which brings me to what is really important in life – Jesus.

The words from Psalm 16:5 caught my eye last night: “Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.”

David, writer of Psalm 16, is saying that the greatest gift and treasure he has is God himself.

This is a strong reminder to me that my focus is often on the wrong things – achieving and collecting and, even, hoarding.

Like many people, I was driven to achieve a measure of success in the eyes of others through much of my life.  As well, I love books – old and new – and acquired many over my nearly eight decades of life.

There is nothing wrong with either of those activities.  They only become a problem when they tend to block out of my sight my real treasure – the Lord himself.

In a sense, God is prompting me to release my iron grip on things of this world.

This brings me to Jesus’ great parable in Luke 12 of the man who built giant storehouses for his bumper crop of grain.  Jesus was responding to a request by a man to order the man’s brother to share his inheritance.

Jesus refused to judge their dispute.  Instead, he warned them against greed, telling them the story of the rich man who decided to build bigger storehouses for his grain.

The rich man then told himself: “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come.  Now take it easy!  Eat, drink and be merry!”

Then, God told the man: “You fool!  You will die this very night.  Then who will get everything you worked for?”

Jesus finished with this punchline in Luke 12: “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

A “rich relationship with God” will stand me in far better stead than all my books and other possessions.

The Lord is my treasure and inheritance and will be throughout eternity.


When I think of Billy Graham, a word leaps to my mind – “compelling”.

When I listened to him, I was drawn irresistibly to Jesus. This quality he shared with other great followers of Christ.

This is more than passion or great speaking skills.  It is speech pouring out of a heart that is resting on the rock of truth.

He knew Jesus heart-to-heart, he trusted him, he loved him, and he wanted others to know him as he knew him.

My wife and I attended a Billy Graham crusade in Ottawa in 1998 towards the end of his career preaching to mass meetings.

Gone was the fiery passion of his younger days.  Instead, here was an old man, filled with wisdom, appealing winsomely with a loving heart to the many thousands filling a large professional hockey stadium.

He was compelling.

People poured down to the stadium floor to receive prayer and counselling – many to enter the family of God for the first time.

Certainly, there was a lot of work behind the scenes.  Churches organized prayer before hand; a mass choir was trained; people invited friends; ushers helped welcome attendees and so on.

But I believe the crusade would have had a far smaller effect if it had not been for the genuine love of Christ that Graham exuded that evening.

Graham was not perfect – other than Jesus, no one has ever been perfect.  Some, inside and outside the church, have criticized him.

But, like the apostle Paul, he could say: “For me, to live is Christ.”

The impression I gained was of a man who enjoyed God and was humble at heart.

For me, those inner qualities stand out.

They are what mark great men and women of the Bible and of Christian history.

And they mark people who may not be famous in our world, but are beacons of light in God’s eyes.

Self-esteem or God’s esteem?

It’s easy to beat yourself up.  I know – I have a lot of practice doing it.

But God doesn’t want us to wallow in our woes.  He wants us to get up from the ground, put our hand in his, and carry on – knowing that God loves us just as much as he ever did.

For many years, I was so aware of my failings that I felt that God was displeased with me. But in recent years, I have learned the real good news – God loves me even with my faults.

In fact, as many Christian writers have pointed out, there is nothing I can do that will make him love me more or less than he already does.

That is the essence of God’s grace and mercy.  It depends not on me, but on Jesus who died for me on the cross and rose again, conquering sin and Satan.  He did it for me so that I could be with him forever.

I now see that I have put the emphasis in the wrong place – on myself.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross because I was perfect – I certainly am not.  He did it because he loved me – and all others who put their faith in him.


God realizes I am weak and has provided me with the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to live a godly life.  And he picks me up, dusts me off, and forgives when I mess up.

That lifts a crushing weight on me.

“Performance-based acceptance is a diabolical game with no winners and plenty of losers,” writes Paul Ellis in his book The Gospel in Ten Words.

Even those who draw the applause of other Christians can fall into this performance trap.  They may begin to feel they are special.

“The love of God is not for sale,” says Ellis about this human drive to perform.  “Like everything with grace, his acceptance and approval is a free gift that comes to us through Christ alone.”


The eldest son

I love Jesus’ story of the prodigal son which tells how a loving father ran out and embraced his contrite son returning home after living a wasted life.

But Jesus’ story in Luke 15 ends with the angry older son who is hurt by his father’s arranging a party to welcome the younger son home.

In effect, the older son says: “You’ve never done that for me!  And I’ve been a good and faithful and hard-working son all my life.”

I understand that feeling.  I have felt it myself.

When we were discussing this passage in a Bible study group this week, a woman said that she sometimes fights jealousy in her life.

The older son may have been jealous.  Or, he may have simply felt he was being treated unfairly.

Most Christians feel that the story is really about God’s Father-love for his children and how ready he is to embrace us wayward children when we come back to him humble and contrite in heart.

But the Lord probably also used the story to point out God’s love does not depend on us following a rigid set of rules.  We tap into God’s love through humble and loving dependence on him.

So, how do we believers deal with feelings of unfairness or jealousy?

I believe the answer lies in the response of the father to his two sons in this story.

He cherished both of them. The two sons were different, but the father loved each one.

In Luke 15:31, the father tells his angry, older son: “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.  We had to celebrate this happy day.  For your brother was dead and has come back to life!  He was lost, but now he is found!”

As a follower of Christ, I need to remember God loves me just as much as any other child of his.  We are different but we are all loved equally by the Lord.  Jesus gave his life for each one of us, showing how much he wanted us to be part of God’s family.

What more could I want?


Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the truth.

But God calls us to tell the truth in love when we’re dealing with other believers – and with non-believers, too.

This morning, my wife and I were attending a Bible study aboard a cruise ship when another group member said failure to tell the truth is a problem in our North American churches.

He suggested the church needs more godly mentors to help people who are struggling.  He seemed to be saying that allowing truth to go unspoken can be damaging – to the church and to the strugglers, too.

I agree, while admitting that I shrink from facing up to difficult issues.

Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church, said in a leadership seminar a few years ago that he now insists on his staff members telling him the truth.  And he has extended the same offer to his congregation.

But he has one proviso – the truth must be shared in godly love, not anger and vengeance.

Hybels says that Christians often resort to gossip, attacking people behind their backs rather than seeking resolution of their issues with the persons involved.  If they’re upset with the pastor or the leadership, they may simply leave without ever resolving their differences.

There are, of course, people who love to fight.  They stand at the opposite extreme.

My wife and I have been part of a church where annual congregational meetings were a battlefield – often between the same two or three people.

Paul and the apostles in the early Church believed in speaking the truth.  But their motives were to draw people closer to Christ – not for personal glory or dominance.

Paul stepped in strongly to defend the gospel and to denounce divisions within groups of believers.

In 1 Corinthians, he was concerned that people were lining up in opposing groups, some claiming Paul as their leader and others Apollos. He pleaded with the Corinthians to see that each had his value, but the church should pull together and focus on Jesus.

In Galatians, he was clearly struck to the heart by the attempt of some Jewish believers to push new Greek believers to abide by the Old Testament religious laws even though they came to Christ by faith.  You can sense his anger at this perversion of the gospel, but all his letters shine with his love for the people he is writing to.

Paul urged believers to deal with serious moral and spiritual issues by discussing them among themselves and working to resolve them in love.

Ultimately, we Christians are to love one another.

May we pursue truth in love.

Lifeboat Christians?

Paul Ellis says many believers are really just “lifeboat Christians”.

Ellis, author The Gospel in Ten Words, says that “the lifeboat gospel is the idea that salvation is all about avoiding hell and gaining heaven”.

“The problem with this gospel,” he continues, “is that it has sidelined entire generations of believers by telling them the earth is nothing more than a waiting room for eternity.”

They have “opted out” of the current world they live in.  “They want nothing to do with this filthy world lest they get entangled with it.”

Ellis has a point.

Like many believers, I feel the temptation to live only in church circles with church friends.  It seems safer and easier that way.

But that was not the way of Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

They stepped out into the highways and markets of the world and talked with people, befriended them, healed them and argued with them.  They saw their role as bringing the kingdom of God into the world – not withdrawing from it.

Ellis pinpoints a major reason why so many Christians have jumped into the lifeboat – they feel life is all about being good enough to get into heaven.  And they are afraid of messing up.

He acknowledges that most evangelical Christians declare that once they have put their faith in Christ, they are guaranteed a place with Christ in eternity.

But, in their heart of hearts, they feel that they must be good enough in their everyday lives to gain God’s approval.  If not, the Lord will be displeased with them at the very least.

However, Ellis argues that the Bible is really about God’s grace which is not about us and our goodness.  It is really about God’s forgiving love in spite of our weakness and failures.

I love this truth.  The apostle Paul hammers it home repeatedly in his letters to the young churches in the first century.

In fact, an entire letter – to the Galatian church – is about calling back believers to their initial joy in salvation through grace and rejecting attempts by others to impose new rules of spiritual life upon them.

Ellis’ view is that we believers can never make God love us more, no matter what efforts we make to be perfect.  He loves us because Jesus died for us so that we would be acceptable to the Father and become his sons and daughters.

When he looks at us, says Ellis, he sees Jesus – not our imperfections.

That should inspire us to love God more and more.

And it should make us want to share the glad news with others.

Ellis is calling us – as God calls us – to jump out of our lifeboats and reach out to people struggling in the troubled waters around us.

Cracked pots

The apostle Paul says believers are just jars of clay – nothing special by themselves.

But what lives inside them is very special – the Spirit of God.

“We have this treasure (the Holy Spirit) in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” says the apostle in 2 Corinthians 4:7.

Paul is telling his readers that he is not despairing despite all the troubles he faces because the power of God is working through his very human self.

“We have become convinced that God wants to use ordinary, broken, sinful, weak, foolish people, just like us and just like you, to advance his kingdom,” say Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft in Everyday Supernatural: Living A Spirit-led Life Without Being Weird.

Pilavachi and Croft say that in Paul’s day, people kept their money in old cracked pots because there were no banks and they figured thieves would search the best pots for their treasure.

That puts an extra shine on the apostle’s words about God putting his treasure – his Spirit – in us “cracked pots”.

“The history of the church has never been about great men and women of God,” the authors say. “It’s always been about the great God of men and women.”

Indeed, we need only look at people like Jacob and David and Moses and we can see their human weaknesses.  But God used them powerfully because they turned to him in their need.

Pilavachi and Croft offer stories where they felt God asking them to do things they really didn’t want to do.  But when they obeyed, God acted in wonderful ways in the lives of the people they were dealing with.

“God wants to pour his treasure into your cracked pot,” they write.  “He wants to use you – even when you feel weak, broken, vulnerable, fearful and confused – to bring him glory.”

I find that encouraging.  I am weak but God can still use me.

God or Satan?

Who is winning the battle for the minds and hearts of North Americans – God or Satan?

On the surface, Satan seems to have the edge.  But I believe there is more to this than meets the eye.

It is true that there is a major assault on Christian values such as the sanctity of life.  It is also true that the Christian church is declining overall in numbers in North America with many young people abandoning church.  A lot of churches are closing.

But it is within the power of God to turn the tide – if we believers turn to him.

This week, our church joined with four other churches to pray for our city.  This was part of the third annual city-wide week of prayer in January for the people and institutions in our area.

One of the pastors at our meeting pointed us to the well-known passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 where God tells Solomon that trouble will come to Israel if the people reject God.  Then, he adds these wonderful words of hope:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

This declaration is aimed at followers of God.  We need to examine our own hearts, confess our sins, turn back to God and pray.

Then, God will act.

God responds to people with repentant, humble hearts throughout the Bible.  And we have seen the same through many revivals over the centuries since Christ ascended to heaven.

Like many believers, I find the growing anti-Christian wave alarming and even discouraging.  From Christian history, I know that the once-dominant church virtually died in North Africa and parts of the Middle East over the centuries – leaving only a few vestiges behind.

But in recent times, there are reports of many people turning to the Lord in Muslim-dominated countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.  Some observers say it is the greatest ingathering of new believers in these areas since Islam toppled the church more than a thousand years ago.

The apostle Paul said that the real battle is not an earthly struggle of kings and presidents, but a behind-the-scenes battle in heavenly places between God and the dark forces of Satan (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul tells us that we should arm ourselves with spiritual armour such as the word of God – and pray!

Many Christians are now taking up this challenge in Canada and the United States.  They are putting aside denominational differences to pray together to our all-powerful God.

Praise God!


It has taken me all my life to discover how clueless I am.

It’s a kind of blindness – spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.

I don’t think I’m alone.

I’m glad, though, that I have found this out.  I believe it is Christ working in me.  He is changing me.

I am forever grateful that Christ opened my eyes almost 60 years ago to the most important truth in the universe – he is the only way to God.  As he said, he is the way, the truth, and the life.

It is not unusual for young people to feel that their way of looking at things is the only real way.  I was one of those.

But adults are not immune from this tunnel vision.

Like many other believers, I came to feel that my view of Christ and the church was the right way.  I was suspicious of other views and approaches.

I believe that there are completely wrong ways of looking at God and the world around us – views that have no scriptural basis.

But there are areas which are much less certain – opinions which should not keep believers apart.  Christ wants all believers to be one in the Spirit.

Perhaps the most difficult areas for me to see well are in the areas of the mind and the heart.

Gradually, the Lord has worked through others – particularly those I love – to show me that my way of thinking is not the way everyone else does.

The Bible certainly makes that clear.  Jesus was always dealing with people who disagreed with – and even denounced – him.  Most did not understand him.

Over time, I have learned that I should listen and ponder other ways of looking at things.  And sometimes I have started changing how I live.  In this area, I realize I have a long way to go.

This leads me to my heart.  With my mind, I know what God wants of me, but I still resist in some areas.  This is a heart issue.

But I am hopeful.

I seize on the words written by the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

He was writing to the Philippian church which was actively sharing Jesus’ love and words with others.

But I believe this is true of everyone who loves Jesus and is committed to him.