Is God behind all this global suffering?

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News agencies world wide report droughts, floods, murders, homelessness, job loss, disease and more.

Christian organizations such as Open Doors post pleas for prayer:

  • Unprotected, Christians murdered in Nigeria
  • West Africans suffering from Fulani, sickness and little food
  • Locusts in East Africa destroy crops
  • Daily assaults on Christians in Asian country

Is all this suffering from God’s hand?

I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the true word of God. I thus accept as fact what God teaches, that nothing happens outside His sovereign will. (some thoughts about ‘two wills’ of God)

Isaiah 46:9-10  I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

I am thinking, thinking a lot these days and reasoning from what I know, from what God says in His Word. He doesn’t answer all my questions, but there is enough truth for me to ponder and think clearly.  He expects me, as one of His, to apply my mind. ‘Think on these things’, Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8.

I know that all that has befallen me in my 6 decades: the bad, the painful, the shameful, the sicknesses, the sin, the blessings, the rescues, the deliverances, the joys, the ‘pleasants’….all have been planned for my good, to bring me to Jesus (rescuing me from the right judgement of my guilt and fair eternal penalty) and to make me holy like Him.  If God is God and if He is good, wise, all-powerful, faithful and loving, then He has good reason, good purposes for what He does.  Whether I see His reasons. Whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t struggle with that anymore IN MY OWN LIFE. 

But recently I’ve been thinking those who are REALLY suffering in the world, in what we call the 3rd-world areas. (Is there a ‘second-world’ label??)

My pain and struggles have been those of an advantaged American born in the second half of the 20th century.  Past and present – far more people have been and are overcome by poverty, hopelessness, violence, hunger, sickness, disastrous weather and terrorism.  Does God work all those imagination-defying ‘awfuls’ to bring SOME to Christ and make THEM more like Jesus? Are these conditions His tailored will for their lives, just as my circumstances are for me?

That is what I have been wondering.  And it’s a new idea for me.

Not for a moment do I think this is merely an intellectual exercise, that God intends for me just to ponder logically when I read of 3rd-world suffering.   Why not? Because all through the Bible, God’s people are commanded to take care of and provide for the down-and-out in our reach.

  • Deut 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.

In just the week that this topic has been on my mind, my conclusion is that somehow, in God’s wisdom, those who are His, those whom He is calling from each people group, He has placed in the designed location, time and circumstances best suited for their hearing and responding to the Gospel.  No, He doesn’t condone violence and oppression of the poor. But He does ordain what is at the ‘moment’ an evil for a greater good since He KNOWS has PLANNED and will bring about the eventual outcome. All through the Bible we read that His hand is behind droughts (think Naomi and Ruth), slavery (Joseph to Egypt) leprosy (Naaman), murder plots (Esther and the Jews), imprisonment (Paul and the Philippian jailor).

I choose to hold fast to what I know is true about our God.  I have learned that He is trustworthy.  I don’t have to understand or see His reasons to accept that what breaks my heart will one day be the cause of my praise for the resulting beauty of his Grace revealed.

In the meantime, may He keep my heart soft both to call on Him for justice and relief and to be part of His provision.

When did God wake you up?

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How do I know if I TRULY believe?  What if I am fooling myself in thinking I have saving faith?

Have you ever feared or wondered if you really were saved?  In other words, is the faith you have, I have, is it enough and is it the ‘right’ kind of faith?

I occasionally flirt with these thoughts.  But when I think about how I now enjoy reading and studying my Bible, I find reassurance.  Not that one is not a Christian if one doesn’t read his Bible.  There have been and will always be illiterate Christians, young and old.

But since for years I never READ my Bible and now it’s what I look forward to most each morning, I fall back on that change in desires as a substantial piece of evidence for having genuine faith.  That’s evidence for me.  I DO know that there are Bible experts who are not believers, even some pastors who are not authentic Christians.  So, when I say I love reading God’s Word, it’s because I NEED it.  I come hungry to the Scriptures. And those few times when I feel stone cold and NOT hungry, then at least I know that I need this kind of spiritual feeding.  The French sometimes cajole their children with this advice: “Eat so you’ll be hungry!”

I say all this because I found reassurance of the genuineness of my faith this morning from reading William Perkins.  Perkins, a preeminent reformed protestant theologian (1558-1602) shaped many fellow English scholars and pastors in Tudor times.

Perkins Here’s what I copied in my journal from chapter 17 of his writings:

(Caveat: this is not a step-by-step process I’m writing, just some conclusions.)

When Jesus endured the curse of the Law in my place, I, too, as one in union with Christ by faith, was set free from the law.  Romans 8:2 goes like thisFor the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

This good news means that I don’t have to heed the hard but righteous taskmaster of the Law who has one standard: “Do this and live!”

Perkins writes on page 73: The law requires perfect obedience at our hands, yet God of His mercy looks more at the will to obey than the perfection of obedience. (bolding is mine)

When I was 16 and 17, sitting in the Episcopal church, nonchalantly assuming I was a believer, I NEVER wondered or worried or even pondered about my faith?  Sadly, I was not one of Christ’s, though I had been baptized and confirmed and participated in youth group each Sunday night.

What comfort I draw now, knowing that the Father accepts as enough the DESIRE to believe, the WILL to please Him through obedience, the LONGING to have a Savior. That I know that I don’t have to keep proving myself is one evidence of my belonging to Jesus, of being IN the family of God. Savoring and resting in that freedom pleases Him!  For it means I take Him at His word.

In many ways, I am thankful for having that pre-believing time of indifference and nonchalance. I know what it felt like to be on the other side of the dividing line.  I DO rejoice most days with amazed thankfulness and praise for the God who woke me up to my sin and to the Savior.

Who determines your outcome?

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Romans 9:16 So then, it depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.

Do those words make you feel stymied or relieved?  Angry or grateful?

Fellow pilgrim, this fact about our God and those who receive the gift of a permanent place in God’s family achieves two ends.  First, we are humbled.  If ever we entertained the idea that our works were good enough to leverage God into owing us anything, this verse in Romans affirms otherwise.

But doesn’t our world trumpet the opposite with THIS success formula:

Dream big and work hard.  Results go to the man in the ring who perseveres!

Second, and for me, this is burden lifting, Paul teaches that God alone determines family membership.  If I rightly suspected that no amount of good works or sincere effort to avoid sinning could meet God’s standard of perfect holiness, my gut feeling correctly aligns with reality.

Illusions dispelled should leave in their place only stunned awe and awakened gratitude.  If meriting this privilege never was likely, but God in His mercy has freely given it, then I have more than hit the jackpot.

Moreover, energy spent trying to drum up desire and work hard enough to impress the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of all with my ‘worthiness’ can be properly channeled.  And you probably know the counter-intuitive truth that shifting one’s life’s energy and focus off of self and onto God and His Kingdom satisfies us far more. Celebrating God’s sheer goodness and inviting others to step out from the crushing weight of performance won’t sap us of energy but multiply our joy.

Too remarkable to be true?  Not for the God of Truth!

 

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

The blahs or joy-less-ness

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Psalm 51:7–12 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.  Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

By God’s gifting, I am more a joy-filled gal than not. I wasn’t always so, but as I have come to know more and more the Biblical God, I have grown happier.  Multiple events each day cause me to look forward to getting up.  But occasionally, God blesses me with a short period of the ‘blahs’.  My dad used to say he had lost his ‘perk’.  He meant physical energy to move about, but I apply the same principle to the state of my emotions.  I say this is a gift, because feeling like there is NOTHING that excites me connects me to those I love who live in that place more time than not.  My empathy grows as a result.

depressed Snoopy

I’m not sure what prompted this recent attack of the blahs, but they came on last Thursday and lasted through Friday. Nothing appealed.  Nothing beckoned.  I felt bored and in that state of mind, I could see no change on the horizon.  I know, it sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?  And pathetic!  That’s what emotions do; they cloud our reasoning.

Knowing WHAT to do, I started preaching to myself, on my commute home from school, instead of listening to myself as many advice.  Truths about my identity in Christ; facts about God’s character; my treasure awaiting me in heaven….everything that I knew to be true.  None of that seemed to lift the mood.

But ‘out of the blue’ came a new thought: “The best is yet to be!” That’s a line either from a poem or a song but those 6 words actually express a truth taught throughout the Bible.  I took it and ran – in logical fashion:

  • If we live in a fallen world and are flawed people…..
  • If one of the consequences of the fall is painful labor…..
  • If God gives not only faith in Himself but suffering as gifts (for it is granted to you to believe and to suffer in Christ – Phil 1:29….)
  • AND if in the presence of God, there is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore (Ps 16:11)…..

Then….I don’t have to expect that I will experience fullness of joy HERE and NOW!!

It’s so easy to self-medicate to erase the joylessness.  Numerous times have I turned either to food or to purchases or to withdrawing into my world of books.  But if periods of joylessness are to be expected, then there is nothing that needs remedying.

Those thoughts in themselves were liberating.  “Well no wonder that I experience some of the blahs….true full joy is promised later!  I can wait,” rang this fresh understanding.

After a sigh of relief, my rescued thoughts (still in the car) turned to the possibility of calling ‘so-and-so’ and catching up with her.  I reached her and sealed my renewed thinking by getting my mind off myself, a comfort.  By the time I reached home, I had forgotten that I was feeling blah.

Okay, I can hear you say, “Well, bully for her!  My condition is chronic. I seem to have been born melancholic by temperament.”  I recognize that compared to you, I don’t even know what suffering is. And my heart goes out to you. I think after these 2 days becoming familiarized once again with what you awaken to daily, I can better understand your struggle.

Here are my two cents’ worth of advice, for what you can glean from it:

  • DO NOT beat up on yourself.  You are not being a bad Christian.  Soak in the fact that the Father loves you and chose you IN THIS STATE, if melancholy is your natural bent.
  • DO take care of yourself physically and keep up the habits of Bible-reading and prayer, especially when you don’t feel like it!

I bring up prayer because David models for us a Godly man who experienced periods of the blahs or joylessness.  Why would he ASK God to restore to him the joy of his initial salvation, if he were not missing it?  And look how he frames that request?  Make me to HEAR all about true joy and gladness.  Initial and on-going hope and assurance, i.e. FAITH, come from hearing the Word. But if we are talking to ourselves about how flat we feel, then we can’t give any attention to facts contrary to our feeling.

So prayer which arises from within Bible reading is life-rejuvenating.  In fact, the two most encouraging words I know from Scripture are:  But God!

He is the unpredictable (at times) God who does more than we can ask or imagine.  Those 2 words happen to pop up in numerous passages, but I’ll leave one to encourage you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Psalm 73:26

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