Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Joy in suffering

It’s natural to avoid suffering if we possibly can.

In the Western world, we probably take it to extremes.  We rely on medicines and drugs to deal with emotional and physical problems.  People like me try to steer clear of conflict even when dealing with issues may be vital.

In essence, many people consider freedom from suffering to be a human right.  They accuse God or government of letting them down because they are hurting physically or mentally or emotionally – or spiritually.

But Jesus never promised his followers that they would live a pain-free life.  In fact, he assured them they would face persecution and trouble (John 16:33).

So why does God allow suffering?

People have wrestled with that question over thousands of years.  I can’t give a full answer or even offer anything original.

However, I suggest that suffering and pain is not originally from God, but flows from man turning away from the Lord and seeking to satisfy his own selfish desires.  Basically, he chose to listen to Satan rather than God.

Still, God can use pain and suffering for good in our lives. That is hard for us to accept – all we see is evil when we are hurting.

But I know that my horizons are short.  I don’t look much further than tomorrow.  I want instant peace and self-gratification.  Yet, as our pastor said this morning, God has a longer view.

So, how do we cope with suffering as believing Christians?

We realize that ultimately we are in God’s hands.  We believe that he loves us and is working things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

And we celebrate the fact that we are his – we are beloved children of the great God.

One of my favourite passages in the Bible is from the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 3, verses 17-19:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”

Is Habakkuk a polyanna?  No.  Not if you believe God loves you and has a place for you where there are no more tears.

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Heavenly-minded

Heaven is on my mind.

There are various reasons why – our pastor gave a series of sermons on heaven in January; I read a book a while ago called Heaven is for real; I am now dipping into a book entitled Heaven by Randy Alcorn; and recently I have been meditating on some of the apostle Paul’s writings on eternity.

I have been a believing Christian for more than 50 years, but I haven’t thought much about heaven.  My focus has been on my day-to-day life on earth.

I think I’m typical of today’s believers in the Western world.  Many of us don’t see a need for a better world because our existing world is so comfortable.

As well, some believers may have a misunderstanding of what heaven is like.  They may think of it as a place where people play harps or endlessly sing choruses to the Lord.  They may see heaven as a boring place.

But, clearly, that is not how Jesus and the apostles saw eternity with God.

In fact, Paul yearned to be with Jesus.  He thought it was far better to be with Christ, but he felt a responsibility to stay as long as he could on earth to serve other believers (Philippians 1:21-24).

The other day, I was reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where he says the troubles he has faced – beatings, stonings, near-drownings, imprisonment – pale in comparison to the eternal glory that awaits him in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).

He then goes on to say that he makes a practice of fixing his eyes on “what is unseen” – the eternal.  He knows that even better things are on the way.

I heard a sermon a few years ago by pastor and writer Sam Storms about Jonathan Edwards’ view of heaven.  Edwards, a great American theologian in the mid-1700s, talked of heaven as a place where joys are continually increasing for believers.  New wonders open up for them all the time.

It strikes me that believing Christians must simply accept the words of Paul and Jesus that we will be filled with great joy when we see Jesus and spend an eternity of variety and interest with him.

This can bring us joy and hope and expectation in our own lives today.

Advice for dads

A visiting preacher at our church had some good advice for dads today – don’t take a back seat in leading your family spiritually.

It’s familiar advice, but still critically important.

He chose the familiar story of Isaac in the Old Testament who was basically a hands-off father.

Isaac had a spectacular beginning in life.  God promised his father Abraham that he would have a son even when Abraham and his wife Sarah were well beyond child-bearing years.

Then, Isaac survived a near-death experience when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.  But God stepped in at the last minute to prevent the sacrifice after seeing that Abraham’s trust in God was solid.

But when Isaac married Rebekah, he and his wife moved in different directions – he favouring the oldest son Esau and she indulging the youngest son Jacob.

The preacher said that Isaac basically was a passive father, giving up leadership in the home to Rebekah.  He drew parallels with many Christian men today who throw all their energies into their jobs and neglect the home.

In the end, Jacob, under Rebekah’s guidance, deceived his old blind father Isaac and cheated Esau out of his inheritance.

It is hard these days to discuss leadership in the home as it was in Isaac’s time.  We live in a far less authoritarian age.  Husbands and wives are expected to share in family decisions.

But there is no doubt that men should take a leading role in the spiritual growth and nurture of their children.  And the relationship of husbands with God should shape the way they act in any family activity – from changing diapers to looking after things around the house.

When I look back at my own role as a father, I believe I was stronger on leading on the spiritual side than on the practical side.  Both are needed.

The great thing about God is that he is a god of grace and mercy.  I had my weaknesses as a husband and father and so did Isaac.  But God used Isaac anyway and he played a significant part in the story of God.

The key to being a good husband and father is the same as it is for any good man or woman – staying close to God.  He will show us what we need to do and give us the strength to do it.

Even though I am now a grandfather, it is advice I still need to take to heart.

Is Jesus more than a friend?

For several years now, I have been preoccupied with Jesus as my friend.

He IS my friend – he tells me so in John 15.  That gives me hope, confidence and security.

But something our son said this week caused me to return to a passage in Revelation 5 that reminds me that Jesus is much more than that.  He is awesome – fall-down-on-your-face awesome.  He is God.

That passage speaks of the apostle John, caught up in a vision of heaven and weeping because no one seemed to be worthy to open a sacred scroll.  But a lamb steps forward who seems to have been killed and come back to life – Jesus.

As he takes the scroll, songs break out in heaven – songs of praise.  Elders fall on their face before him and declare that he is worthy to open the scroll because he has redeemed people with his blood.

Then, a magnificent choir of angels – many millions of them – start singing: “Worthy is the lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing.”

And, wonder upon wonder, every creature – every created being – in heaven, on earth, and in the sea join this song of praise.  What worship!

Intellectually, I know that what Jesus did on the cross was world-changing, history-making.  I am thankful to him for redeeming me.

But, it takes reading this passage to make me realize how great this act was.  The angels know.  Those who are in heaven know.

Yes, Jesus is my friend.  But he is not a cuddly toy.  He is God and he is not to be trifled with.

He is patient, but rejecting him carries a cost.

When the helpless lamb opens the scrolls, God’s judgement falls on earth and the final act in human history begins.